In respect to the Texas time-honored tradition, 12 masters of barbeque packed-up their supplies and camped out at the Kampgrounds of America in Rusk to strut their secret recipes and grill tricks for the honor of being named the best in a blind taste test.
The barbeque cook off was one of several events at the Cherokee County Fair at the KOA last weekend.
Tony Celli, with Silver Bullet Barbeque, said it was the fourth competition he has entered this year, though he likes to stay in the East Texas area.
Celli, of Frankston, said he cooks as a hobby and a passion, and competes for a mixture bragging rights and the enjoyment of meeting new people.
“I just always cooked,” he said. “I guess it's my Italian roots.”
Celli said he prefers a dry rub on his ribs and said the secret to a tender set of ribs is slowly cooking them.
“For ribs, cooking time is important, and maintaining the pit's temperature is real important,” he said.
Mike Dominy, with Confederate Cookers, said he got into the hobby with his late brother-in-law, Bob Gunderson. The pair racked up 175 barbeque trophies over the years. About a year after his death, Dominy said he was cooking in honor of his late brother-in-law and his sister, Peggy.
The Rusk competition was the first competition on his own, but he had his wife, niece and nephew cooking with him.
Dominy, of Rusk, said he is also a fan of a dry rub versus a sauce on his meat.
“It penetrates better,” he said. “I think it does, but some might argue with that.”
And as far as helping odds in the competition, Dominy said he believes it is always best to get the entry into the judges early and presentation is No. 1.
Jim Simpson, with Win or Lose Cookers, said he got into the hobby because he loves to cook and surrounded by family and friends at the KOA, he said it's an opportunity to spend quality time together.
Simpson, of Tennessee Colony, said he is fairly new to the competition scene, but has competed in several cook-offs within the prison system before he retired.
“To me it's fun,” he said. “If I win it's a bonus. I wouldn't want to do it for a living, I can tell you that.”
Simpson, who is originally from Chicago, said getting his barbeque pit in tune with Mother Nature makes the smoking process easier.
“Yesterday it was warm, and you have to cook one way and today (it's colder and) you have to cook another way to keep the temperature right,” he said.
He said the fire pit should always be positioned toward the wind, allowing the fire to naturally keep going. The vibrant green Chicago Bears flags outside his cooking arena are not only for pride, but to help judge where the wind is coming from.
Simpson is also a fan of the dry rub. He said sauces affect the moisture in the pit, whereas a rub allows him to control moisture with the temperature for the fire.
Shane Carlisle, with Down-N-Out Barbeque, said he is a newcomer to the scene in his second competition. He said he has always loved to cook outside but he and his friend Eric got into the hobby together.
I was the first time he tried his hand at barbeque chicken, joking that he “chickened out” at the previous competition.
Carlisle said for his brisket, he used injectable marinades, covered the meat in a dry rub, and vacuum sealed meat for a day to allow the flavors to sink in deep. Fat can play a large part in the tenderness of te meat, so to be sure the team made three briskets and picked the perfect one.
“It's a whole lot of guessing right now,” he said. “Figuring out what you like and what the judges like.”
Though Carlisle said he thinks he has the sweet and spicy mixture almost right.
Surrounded by his family in matching green and pink T-shirts, Carlisle said a family tradition is beginning. As a pet project, he and his stepson, Taylor, plan on building their own barbeque pit together.
Robert Stovall, with Lone Star Barbeque Society, was in charge of the judging. He said it is a blind taste test where each judge takes a bite of each offering and gives the entry a rating from one to 10. Each of the judges' scores are added and the one which received the most points is the winner.
Pickles and crackers are eaten between bites to cleanse the pallet.
It was a sanctioned competition with total points awarded going toward the distinction of being named “Cooker of the Year.”