Valdosta Daily Times

August 4, 2013

Crowds flock to downtown barbecue competition

Kay Harris
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Billows of smoke from the huge grills that ringed the Lowndes County Courthouse Saturday wafted like a low-level cloud over the city, enticing young and old to the 18th Annual Downtown Barbecue Competition.

Sponsored each year by the 100 Black Men, Valdosta chapter, the competition is one of their largest fundraising events of the year for the club’s educational endeavors, in addition to all the local organizations who enter the competition to raise funds for their programs as well.

Organizers changed up the contest a bit this year, with amateur and professional pit masters competing head to head in chicken and ribs. With 18 entrants, the seven judges had a daunting task, but ultimately named the winners in both categories.

In the chicken category, Jerry Mack won first place, Holy Smoke BBQ won second, and the VHS Class of 1980 won third. In the ribs category, Flames of Flavor won first place, Carlos Jones won second, and there was a tie for third place between Pony’s Slow Smok’n BBQ and Creations of Mike.

Willie Head, the chairman of the organizing committee for this year’s event, said the competition is “such a treat and a pleasure to organize. There’s just something about barbecue that brings people together.”

An aspiring chef himself preparing to attend the Wiregrass Tech culinary program, former city councilman Head said he too hopes one day to have his own downtown restaurant and be one of the participants in the competition.

The vendors were given the opportunity to set up Friday afternoon this year for the first time in conjunction with the downtown First Friday event, and Head said about 60 percent of the vendors came, cooked and sold BBQ. Surprised a bit at the large turnout, Head said the 100 is considering expanding to two days

officially next year.

“We want to do anything we can to help the downtown folks, Main Street, and the First Friday event. The only thing missing this year was a band — we couldn’t find a sponsor — but hopefully we’ll have all that worked out next year,” Head said.

With 18 competitors and six vendors, the area all around the courthouse was packed, and Head said some of the cookers were larger than they expected, so some last minute reconfiguration had to take place, but the crowds never noticed a thing as they swarmed the venue for hours Saturday.

The tables in front of the bandstand stayed packed as people enjoyed their meals while listening to the sounds of Zeal, a band of local musicians who played a variety of classic songs to the delight of the crowd.

Sam Watts, of Sam’s BBQ downtown on Hill Ave., has dominated the competition for a number of years, winning “at least 12 times” in either the backyard or professional categories over the years. He posed proudly in front of his large table of trophies while handing out free crab legs to passersby.

Watts is also known for his annual holiday dinners for the homeless and less fortunate, serving hundreds each year, along with providing clothing and other items for the needy as well.

Bobby Wiseman, the grill master for the Omega Psi Phi fraternity showed off his culinary skills with turkey legs and ribs on the grill. Fraternity member Johnny Ball said the money the group raises goes to the annual essay contest and scholarships awarded during their founder’s month in November.

The event stayed crowded through Saturday afternoon, with long lines at the food booths and lots of happy faces, despite the 90-plus degree heat.