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Grillers get their game faces on
Night before event, cooks chill while their fires smolder
Tom Abernathy of Norcross with the Jurassic Pork barbecue team carries a pork shoulder to his team’s tent Friday prior to today’s Barbecue & Banjos festival at Brenau University. - photo by SARA GUEVARA
Brenau Barbecue & Banjos
What: Memphis Barbecue Network competition, bluegrass music
When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. today
Where: Brenau Amphitheater, 500 Washington St., Gainesville
Admission: $5
More info: 800-252-5119,

Barbecuing is a sweaty sport, so competitors make sure to bring a cold beverage and a comfortable chair.

Before there was fire in the grills Friday afternoon at Brenau Barbecue & Banjos, there were hammocks in the shade and big-screen TVs playing afternoon matinees.

They were not part of the program set up by Brenau University, but rather the equipment required for the leisurely competition.

Most of the action on Brenau’s campus Friday was in the competitors’ preparation. A day early for the banjos, a radio station’s choice of rock music played in their place, and most sounds were those of competitors setting up smokers and strategizing.

Men carried pork shoulders with hooves held high and women shaved off the thick, pink skins. Talk of injections, brines and beer filled the air before smoke would inevitably take its place.

Most competitors, whether professional or amateur, had plans to baby-sit their grills and smokers all night and had their cooking area ready for a night of sitting comfortably.

For "The Bastie Boys," an amateur team made up of local health care and social workers, the backyard living was easy. The "Boys" had an outdoor man-cave fitted with a hanging chandelier, an orange shag rug, lamps, end tables and a couple of black couches poised in front of a big-screen TV.

They had plans for an afternoon showing of the 1981 Burt Reynolds film, "The Cannonball Run" and had "The Dukes of Hazzard" on hand for even more testosterone-driven, fast-car fun.

From the couches, the "Boys" could easily watch over their "Big Green Egg," which they hoped would produce some award-winning barbecue, a trophy of masculinity the "Boys" have been training for "since childhood," said Ben Hawkins, who called himself a deck-hand for the team.

Robb Owen, chef for "The Bastie Boys," said all three of the team members had grown up "hovering around a grill."

"I think the proudest moment in a guy’s life is when he gets his first grill," Owen said.

Owen’s amateur team may have had the most luxurious setup at the barbecue competition, but comfort seemed to be nearly as important as a good piece of meat to all of the nearly 35 teams that came to the Brenau campus Friday from across the Southeast.

Even at their first competition, Bob Basile and Howard Betts of Cobb County knew about the importance of keeping cozy. Under their tent, the two-man team of "B&B Que" had two Cabela’s recliners, a strip of carpet and some coolers full of what they called "liquid sedative" to keep them at ease while they checked on their Boston butts and ribs throughout the evening.

But not all of the interior design in the "B&B Que" tent was the men’s doing. The paper Chinese lanterns and strings of hanging cowboy boot and cactus lights were the result of a woman’s touch.

"That’s all about my wife," said Basile.

Bear Sloan, of Lazy Bear BBQ, only needed a hammock under the shade of an oak tree to get through the afternoon. Sloan planned to rest in the hammock instead of pacing back in forth in front of his cooker — a two-in-one oven and grill named Betsy and fashioned to look like a train engine — because he was pretty confident about its ability to produce good pork.

"It’s some of the best you’ve ever tasted," Sloan said. "I’m very confident with that."

Aside from the bravado, the hammock was inspired by Sloan’s manner of operating Lazy Bear BBQ, which he’s done in Oakwood for 30 years.

"I’ve got to be lazy sometime," Sloan said.

Design was as important for the competitors as comfort. Mickey Fromm of the Columbus, Miss.-based team "Barnyard Roasters," said the teams would be judged on the aesthetics of their cooking area. The "Barnyard Roasters" planned to serve the judges on pewter dinnerware and had special tablecloths and seat covers they would use for the occasion.

But for design, the "Barnyard Roasters" just used banners bragging on their accomplishments.

"They might impress the judges," said Fromm. "It’s a lot easier than carrying trophies."

The men of the Toccoa-based team "Pigs in Heat" spent more than six months painting the camper that accompanies them to the competition, team member John Childers said.

The colorful camper included a painting of farm animals grazing on a hillside, American and Confederate flags, Childers’ cabin, a whiskey still and an opossum ( because "they’re usually where food’s at").

Childers sat with three of his teammates in front of the bucolic scene sporting overalls and a long beard.

Putting on airs for the judges did not seem to be Childers’ style and the camper’s mural was not an effort to impress the judges. Instead, the inspiration for the mobile art came with the help of a barbecue staple: a cold drink.

"Natural Light had a lot to do with it," Childers said.

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