Ziggy Dick's BBQ Cook-Off 2011
Barbecue competition heats up at Collier festival
Sunday through Friday, Mac McLaughlin doesn’t want anything to do with barbecued meat.
“I won’t go near the stuff,” he says emphatically.
But come weekends, this jovial 71-year-old Tampa man gets more than his fill of barbecued chicken, pork and beef while working as a volunteer judge for barbecue competitions throughout the state of Florida.
“I do this just about every weekend during the season,” McLaughlin said, explaining that barbecue season is anytime is isn’t too hot or too cold to cook outdoors.
McLaughlin was one of the 41 judges who participated in the inaugural Ziggy Dick’s BBQ Cook-Off and Festival, held last Friday and Saturday at the Collier Country Fairgrounds.
“For a first year, this was an excellent contest,” McLaughlin said of the festival that attracted 41 professional cooking teams and about 3,500 visitors.
This sentiment was echoed by professional cooks, brothers Rick and Tony Wolfe of Orlando, who called the event “top notch” and acknowledged that, “The Rotary Club did it right.”
The festival was sponsored by the Rotary Club of Naples Bay and was sanctioned by the Florida Barbecue Association (FBA). The fundraiser featured live music, a bounce house for kids, plenty of mouth-watering food from contestants and vendors, and $15,000 in prize money. Proceeds from the event will benefit Polio Plus, the Gift of Life programs and scholarship money for local high school students.
The prize money was a big draw for a lot of contestants, but it wasn’t the only reason they came. Joe Mazzillo, captain of the Orlando team Smokin’ ‘n Drinkin’, has been competing in barbecue contests for 12 years. He says they are “… all about family and friends having fun, eating good food.”
Bob Barr, also from Smokin’ ‘n Drinkin’, formerly known as Harvest Hogs, agrees.
“There’s a lot of good camaraderie here,” he said.
Indeed, for most of the judges, volunteers and contestants, the festival seemed to be as much about the people as it was about the food.
Judges like McLaughlin, who are certified by the FBA, receive no compensation for their time or travel expenses. But McLaughlin does it because “it’s fun and I enjoy the people.”
First time competitor Mike Russell, owner of Travelin’ Blues BBQ in Cape Coral, admitted that, at first, he felt intimidated by all the experienced professionals in the competition. But once he met his competitors, he found them all to be pretty nice. Many even offered the novice competitor cooking tips.
Friendly as they are, there are still a lot of cooking techniques and ingredients these cooks and teams won’t share. Many competitors use secret rubs and sauces that they’ve spent years perfecting.
Dana Hillis, 51, owner of Big Papa’s Country Kitchen in Naples, claims the key to his success is “in the rubs and sauces, and, of course, the cooking.” And he should know. Big Papa’s won the coveted FBA Team of the Year in 2010 and National BBQ’s Best of the Best in 2008 and 2010. He’s participated in more than 75 contests in the last 4 years and has learned to adjust his recipes for regional differences. He finds that Floridians like their sauces a little sweeter, while people in Georgia and Alabama tend to like their sauces a little tangier.
Todd Noon, 42, from Sanibel Island team Boss Hog, uses a three-part rub that he contends is “the best of all the regions.” Noon says the secret to a good barbecue is “a good rub, a great sauce, and a lot of time on the smoker.” Noon has been cooking since he was 8 years old and previously did competition cooking for Michelbob’s. He now leads his own team and is developing his own line of rubs and sauces. He proudly proclaims, “Most people say our ribs are like candy.”
Each contestant had a chance to participate in any or all of four competition categories: chicken, pulled or sliced pork, ribs, and beef brisket. To compete for Grand Champion, teams had to enter all four categories. The first ever $2,500 grand prize went to Florida Boys BBQ. The Grand Reserve Prize went to Big Bad Wolf BBQ.
Event organizer and president of the Naples Bay Rotary, Roger “Ziggy” Dick, hopes to make the Ziggy Dick BBQ Cook-Off and Festival an annual event, which should please judges, contestants and spectators alike.
As Paul Genco, 69, of Naples, said between bites, “The ribs were darn good,” and “I would definitely come back.”
To find out how to become a judge or to sponsor or organize an event, visit flbbq.org or kcbs.org.