Is that the faint aroma of grilling meat — chicken, ribs, and pork butts — wafting through the air? Could be, because in just a few weeks, dozens of professional barbeque teams will roll into Itawamba County.
The county’s annual Kansas City Barbeque Society sanctioned Stand By Your Grill BBQ Championship will return to Fulton on August 16-17. This year, a total of 60 professional barbecue teams from across the Southern United States are anticipated to compete for thousands of dollars in prize money.
Like the two previous events, the professional teams will be stationed at the Jamie Whitten Center and campgrounds, while a myriad of festivities — including amateur competitions, live music and dozens of vendors — will be on-hand in the downtown Fulton area.
So far, 45 professional teams have registered for the event, representing eight states. The event’s organizer, Itawamba County Development Council Community Director Kim Graham, said she expects to hit 60 teams — the maximum the contest can support — in the next couple of weeks.
“I don’t imagine we’ll have any trouble hitting our goal,” she said.
The 2012 competition featured 50 competing professional teams; in 2011, 40 competed. In both these past events, Graham had a list of teams who wanted to compete, but were shut out due to space issues. It’s a good problem to have, she said.
“Each year, we’ve grown,” Graham said, adding that the contest will now occupy the entirety of the Whitten Center campgrounds. In two years, it’s grown to full size.
Although the event kicks off on Friday evening, the bulk of the competition — both professional and amateur — will be on Saturday. Visitors are encouraged to drop by the campgrounds to watch the professionals at work.
Competition and visibility
In order to compete in the professional competition, a team must have at least one member who belongs to the KCBS — the world’s largest organization of barbecue and grilling enthusiasts. The competition is broken into several categories, each of which has several major cash prizes totaling $10,000.
Judging is handled by dozens of professional, trained judges, some of whom will travel across state lines to be a part of the competition. Competitors will be judged entirely on the quality of their food — the way it looks and tastes.
While the professional competition may be the highlight of the event, it isn’t the entirety of it. In conjunction with the professional competition, the ICDC and City of Fulton also host several amateur events in downtown Fulton.
The highlight among the non-professional competitions is the Backyard BBQ Contest, which pits backyard BBQ experts against one another. There are several categories in which to compete — sauce, chicken, ribs — with large cash prizes awarded for each.
Unlike the professional competition, there’s still plenty of room available in the amateur contest. Although this small competition has grown each year — while less than a dozen participated in the inaugural contest, a total of 14 teams competed last year — Graham said she’d love for this particular event to really blow up. She said she’s hoping to attract both more and more varied teams.
“We would love to have an all-ladies team this year,” she said. “Or, have more of our local businesses and organizations participate.”
Like the professional contest, amateur teams can be small or large. It’s not just about the competition itself; it’s about being involved in an important community event.
“It’s not just about winning or losing; it’s about visibility,” Graham said, adding that downtown Fulton’s foot traffic during the barbecue event is significant. “It’s a great way to be seen by local people.”
The same can be said to those organizations and businesses that take advantage of area vendor space. Last year, there were dozens of vendors spread throughout the downtown area selling all manner of wares — knick-knacks, household items, plants and food among them.
Booth space is available in a variety of sizes and prices — $50 for a 12×12 foot space, $75 for a double space and $100 for food vendors. Businesses that are already members of the ICDC can set up a booth free of charge as part of their membership benefits.
Sure, a large-scale barbecue competition is a lot of fun, but it also plays a tremendous role in promoting what Itawamba County has to offer and bolstering the local economy.
Think about it: Each year, dozens of professional teams flood in from out of state, most of which have multiple members. These people usually spend money staying in local hotels, purchasing supplies at local stores and, believe it or not, eating at local restaurants.
“One of the first things many of these teams ask me when coming into town is where they can get a bite to eat of something other than barbecue,” Graham said.
That’s new money rolling into the area, strengthening the local economy. Plus, most of these out-of-towners leave with a good impression of the area. In fact, nearly all of the contest’s growth was the result of positive word-of-mouth … professional teams sharing stories and photos with other professional teams, who then want to participate.
“The championship has been good for our area,” Graham said, adding that events like this one help define an area. In many ways, they are just as important to an area’s economic development as garnering new industries and businesses.
“Business and industries are important, but once you get them here, it’s just as important to have a certain quality of life,” Graham said. “There needs to be things to do.”
For more information on the Stand By Your Grill BBQ Championship or to sign up for an event, visit http://itawamba.com/bbq or call 662-862-4571.