Barbecue battle: Don’t Be Cruel BBQ Duel off to a smokin’ start

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By Riley Manning

Daily Journal

TUPELO – If you gave up pork for Lent, steer clear of Fairpark.

Competitors of the Don’t Be Cruel BBQ Duel began arriving on Thursday to set up their rigs and fire up their grills, were in full swing Friday and continue today.

Smokers and RVs of all shapes and sizes filled the area behind City Hall. With some even bearing flame or pig decals, wood grain and chrome pipes, the grills seem almost reminiscent of a hot rod car show.

Getting set up, said Barry Spencer of Tupelo’s own Sultans of Smoke barbecue team, is the easy part.

“We’re like a band of gypsies,” he said. “One minute there’s nothing, the next all these campers have popped up out of nowhere. (Today) from 11:55 to 1:30, things will get real hectic real fast trying to get our stuff turned in to the judges.”

They’re competing with about 100 entrants for $15,000 in cash prizes.

The looming clouds didn’t stand in the way of festival-goers, strolling through the maze of rigs, waiting for Tim Warren to take the stage.

“Once they smell the smoke, they’ll definitely start coming around asking for meat, but that’s kind of a no-no,” Spencer said, craning up at the sky. “If the humidity drops, the cookers don’t cook as well. But the thing about it is, everyone’s got the same obstacles.”

He said Don’t Be Cruel is one of the most respected competitions around. Sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society, Don’t Be Cruel draws teams from all over.

“If you can do well here, you should be able to do well anywhere,” he said.

The Saucy Swine-O’s endured a much more arduous trip: an eight-hour drive all the way from Ohio. But the team was in good spirits as they prepared for their third year participating in Don’t Be Cruel.

“This festival is definitely a big one, and nicely run,” said Swine-O Barbara Owen.

Rick Ballard and John Hannon, the other members of the team flipped shrimp from a steaming grill. Owen said Ballard and Hannon started out by cooking together in their back yards while living in Corinth.

“Lots more people come by on Saturday, but we’ll have our heads down by then,” she said. “We typically do really well in ribs.”

Music blared from more rigs than not, the good will among barbecue-ers is tangible.

“Very few teams will give you their exact recipe,” Spencer said. “But barbecue people are good people, salt of the earth. Any one of them will lend you a hand if you forget something or something breaks down. And we do the same.”

After all, he said, everyone will eat well sooner or later.

riley.manning@journalinc.com