BBQ’s back this weekend in Itawamba County

ICT-0710-BBQ-2c-300x300Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times

The county’s third annual Kansas City Barbeque Society sanctioned Stand By Your Grill BBQ Championship returns this Friday and Saturday, bringing a total of 62 professional barbecue teams from across the Southern United States into Fulton 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.

Festivities will kick off on Friday with BBQ, chicken tender and rib plates for sale at the Itawamba County Development Council building. Each plate purchase will help fund future Stand By Your Grill BBQ events, so residents hungry for a bit of pork (or chicken) should stop by and pick one up.

Beginning at 3 p.m., vendor booths and other attractions will open for business. These will include a bit of everything, from snacks to artwork to rides, giving festival attendees plenty of things to do. Live music is also planned, with musicians performing inside the downtown park gazebo from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m.

The festival will continue the next day, beginning at 8 a.m.

Saturday also features the real “meat” of the event: The professional and amateur competitions.

First, the pros. Professional teams will be cooking Friday night and Saturday morning, plating their best sauces, chicken plates, rib plates, pork plates and briskets for a panel of KCBS-licensed judges. Turn-in begins at 11:30 a.m. and continues in 30 minute increments until 1:30 p.m. While residents are welcomed to walk around the Whitten Center Campgrounds to check out the professional cooks at work, vehicles will not be permitted in the competition area. This will help ensure there are no complications in competitors transporting their plates to the judges’ tables on time.

The winners will be announced at the Whitten Center at 4 p.m.

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 $12,000.

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.

Each year, more and more professional teams have entered the competition. Last year, 50 teams competed; the year before, 40. Event organizer Kim Graham said Itawamba’s event is popular among the pros because of its setting.

“The cooks all comment on how nice it is to come here in mid-August and cook inside the campgrounds,” she said, adding that most similar events aren’t held in shaded areas. “It’s a lot cooler than being in a parking lot or fairgrounds.”

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 an annual amateur event in downtown Fulton.

Called the Backyard BBQ Competition, more than 15 teams are expected to pit their best sauce, chicken, ribs and butts against each other in hopes of winning big cash prizes. Competitors will be spread throughout downtown Fulton and attendees are encouraged to drop by and check out these grillers in action.

For those who want to have a little say-so in which team takes home a prize, the People’s Choice Rib Contest will kick off at 1 p.m. For every $5 a participant pays, he or she will be able to sample five ribs from among the entries and vote for his or her favorite. It’s a blind-tasting contest, so ribs will be judged solely on flavor. The money raised during this competition will go towards funding next year’s event.

In its short lifespan, the Stand By Your Grill BBQ Championship has become Itawamba County’s single largest event. It’s no surprise: Barbecue contests have been growing in popularity around Northeast Mississippi. According to Graham, that’s good news for growth.

“Communities like to host big events like these because they bring in a lot of tourism dollars,” she said.

For more information on the event, contact the ICDC at 862-4571.

adam.armour@journalinc.com