National BBQ Festival, Douglas, GA

This is TLW. The General is on his way home from the National Barbecue Festival with the RV and pit after stopping for the night in Kingsland, GA to meet the pit repair guy. No problem with the pit…just general maintenance. The guy charges $85 per hour plus mileage, so we thought it would be prudent to cut down on his miles. Kingsland is about 120 miles south of Savannah on I-95. Exit 1…next stop south is Florida.


Douglas, GA is home of the National Barbecue News and the
National Barbecue Festival. Every year they hold an “invitational” contest called The Best of the Best and only the top teams from each sanctioning body across the country are invited. Since we only cook once a year in sanctioned contests, cooking in the invitational has not been an option. But TG loves to cook in the open, since he figures most of the cooks for the invitational will stay and cook in the open which is held the next day.


The other reason TG likes this contest is that it has no restrictions on what type of fuel a contestant may use. That doesn’t seem like a big issue, but if he cannot use propane to maintain heat in the Southern Pride, then he has to stay up all night to watch the thermostat and add charcoal and wood as necessary. He was able to put the briskets on at midnight and not get up until 7:00 am Those seven hours of sleep make a big difference in your performance the next day…especially for the ‘older’ contestants like us!


Contestants pick three categories out of five to enter. We chose chicken, ribs, and brisket…leaving pork butt and whole hog to others.


It was just TG and TLW…no crew to help as Buckhead Janet had to stay in Atlanta with her husband who was recovering from surgery. After getting set up in our booth, we realized that we had landed in an area that made me smile. We were smack dab in the middle of an enclave of folks from the New England Barbecue Society (
NEBS). Dr. Frank-N-Swine and his wife Tammy are from Orleans, MA where I spent every summer of my childhood. The ‘Lunchmeat’ team is from the south shore of Massachusetts and Firefly’s is from my hometown of Framingham, MA. We couldn’t have had a better location as these folks were friendly and helpful…and very good chefs!

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You gotta admire these hardy folks. Not only do they cook in subzero weather, but they travel long distances to do it. The Lunchmeat team drove 24 hours to Douglas, cooked for two days, waited until awards were over and drove the 24 hours back to MA hoping to get home in time to see the NE Patriots (get beaten) play last night.


The pit maintained the perfect temp and all our meats were prepped as usual. We were feeling pretty confident until we tasted our chicken…something was wrong….very wrong. It tasted nothing like our usual chicken. Having no back up, we had to turn it in. Thinking fast, I gave each thigh an additional ‘baptism of sauce’ loaded them in the box and turned them in. Both of us were dumbfounded. Was our marinade bad? Did TG use the wrong rub? Declaring there would be no recriminations, we moved on to our ribs and then brisket entries. We joked with Lunchmeat, because in the Invitational their chicken entry was dead last. We figured we’d be last in the open.


Going to the awards ceremony with the other 60+ teams, we were sure that our name wouldn’t be called in the top ten in chicken…and it wasn’t. Neither did we get a call in ribs. We did get called for ninth place in brisket! Before the Grand Champion’s name was called, Carlene Phelps called the names of the teams with the top ten overall scores and in tenth place overall….Savannah BBQ!!!! We were stunned. That meant our chicken could not have placed last! It turned out that the chicken scored #16 (one judge even gave it a perfect score in taste) and our ribs were #11. The best part of the whole event is the top ten teams get invited to the invitational next year…and Savannah BBQ is going!


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Now here’s a lesson in the subjectivity of judges. Lunchmeat as I mentioned earlier received last place in the invitational with their chicken. I got to taste one, and I loved it. Very different with a fruity and slightly hot kick. They decided to go with the same chicken in the open….and they scored 7th! It was a good reminder to us…that so often it just matters which judges get to taste your product.

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