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Pro cooks are fired up for day of pickin and lickin
Serious grillers gather at Brenau for Barbecue and Banjos event
Charlie Hellem of Sandy Springs chats with Laurie Wentworth of the Hall County Environmental Health Department on Thursday afternoon at Brenau University as he prepares for this weekend’s Memphis Barbecue Network-sanctioned barbecue contest Brenau Barbecue and Banjos on the school’s campus. Hellem’s business Que-N-View Inc. features state-of-the-art television, a Wii gaming system as well as a full kitchen and large smoking grills.

Brenau Barbecue & Banjos
What: Memphis Barbecue Network competition with bluegrass music
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Brenau Amphitheater, 500 Washington St., Gainesville
How much: $5
More info: 800-252-5119

The barbecue brigade rolled into Gainesville on Thursday, armed with enough charcoal and sauce to keep the campus of Brenau University awash in the aroma of slow-cooked pork.

About a dozen professional cooking teams were expected to set up their stovepipe-topped trailers and smoking rigs by the end of the night in advance of this Saturday’s Barbecue and Banjos festival at Brenau.

"I’m here just to prove I’m the best cook out there," rib specialist Alvin Meyer of Columbus said.

Meyer, who traveled to Gainesville with his wife, calls the 10 or 12 competitions they travel to each year in his $15,000 custom cooking rig "an expensive hobby."

He took two days off from his job at a credit card processing company to come to Gainesville and cook ribs. The leisurely pace is part of the appeal of barbecue weekends, he said.

"We get here early so we can set up and then relax," Meyer said. "It’s kind of a vacation for us."

Teams are expected from Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida, said Brenau University Senior Vice President of Institutional Advancement Jim Barco, the head organizer of the inaugural event.

Judges from eight states will taste-test under the rules of Memphis Barbecue Network, one of the nation’s biggest sanctioning bodies for competitive barbecuing.

The event is a fundraiser to provide scholarships for local students to attend Brenau. About 350 women’s college students and another 350 in the evening and night programs are local, Barco said.

"We’re retaining intellectual capital that already knows this community," Barco said.

Charlie Hellem of Sandy Springs arrived at the Brenau campus on Thursday with his massive "Que-N-View" rig. Hellem, who operates a side catering business that combines barbecue with multimedia visuals, is cooking with friend Quito McKenna’s "Holy Sow," team, currently ranked eighth in the MBN’s national standings.

Barbecue for Hellem "is more than a hobby, but it’s not my full-time job."

"I love it," Hellem said. "The people are just absolutely fantastic; there’s great competitiveness but also camaraderie. It’s just a great diversion from reality. With such doom and gloom going on, you wouldn’t know it was happening at a barbecue competition."

Said Meyer, who will rise from his hotel bed before 4 a.m. Saturday to get the lump charcoal started by 4:30, "All this is a big, traveling tailgate party."

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