Hosting a professional barbecue competition is no easy task. Before even registering the first team, an organizer needs to secure a venue large enough to hold dozens of teams, and needs to make sure that each team site has adequate power and water for the weekend. At the site, a building or secure area has to be near the cook team sites for the judging of the entries. The venue also has to be large enough to accommodate spectators, ancillary activities, vendors and parking for everyone involved, including the judges.
Next, the event organizer then needs to come up with the prize money, which has to be guaranteed for most sanctioning bodies. Many times the sponsoring body putting on the contest (City or Civic Group sometimes) fronts the money, but most often it’s a charity group holding the event. In this case, they would typically go solicit sponsors to raise the money needed to hold the event.
Once a purse for the contest is determined, the contest is given a name and logo (traditionally featuring a pink pig) and the event organizer applies for sanctioning from one of the several sanctioning bodies in the United States. It is with the blessing of the sanctioning body that the organizer can begin the process of soliciting teams and judges, which realistically accounts for 95% of the actual competition.
Teams historically tend to wait until as late as possible to part with their entry fee. Judges typically send in their entry form as soon as possible to secure a spot. Judges want to know as soon as possible if they will judge the competition, as many travel great distances at their own expense to judge. This paradox often leads to having fifty judges and eight teams around two months before the competition. Teams will, quite literally, show up the day of the competition and ask if they can have a spot. Most organizers will say yes, because that’s extra income for the event, but it throws the judging ratios into chaos. Most sanctioning bodies require six judges and a table captain, or seven certified judges, per six teams entered, so you can imaging the calculations happening the morning of a contest if extra teams have been added.
If the barbecue competition also holds a festival in conjunction with the cook-off, which many do to attract spectators, then there is an entirely separate set of logistics and planning happening. What kind of activities, musical acts, vendors and events for families should all be considered before any type of promotion of the barbecue competition begins. Really, there are two separate events happening during a barbecue festival— a sanctioned barbecue competition involving dozens of teams, judges and representatives from the sanctioning body, and a community festival with entertainment and activities for the general public. It takes a small organized army to do both consecutively.
Planning for any sanctioned, professional barbecue competition should begin at least a year out for an inaugural event, and eight to ten months out for consecutive years. Obtaining sponsors is the item that has to occur the farthest out, as many corporations require up to a year’s notice to consider sponsorship. The months and weeks leading up to the event will require more than a typical forty hour work week to get all of the work done if it is being planned by only one or two designated chairpersons.
For this reason, very few organizations or cities put on more than one sanctioned professional barbecue competition per year. It’s just too time consuming for one thing, and for another, two competitions put on each year by the same group or person would in itself be a full time job. But just don’t tell that to the folks in Dothan, Alabama. They have two sanctioned professional competitions just six months apart from each other, and both are successful events as both competitions and barbecue festivals for the community.
The Tri-State BBQ Festival held the second weekend in spring each year will celebrate its tenth anniversary in 2015. The competition is sanctioned by the Florida Barbecue Association, and draws both professional and backyard contestants. The show was featured on the hit TV series, BBQ Pitmasters in 2012 and drew a record sixty-eight competition teams that year competing for $10,750 in prize money. Competitors have come from as far away as New Mexico, Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio, but most hail from Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
The Tri-State BBQ Festival is a foodies dream, featuring cooking demonstrations, free samples, a sauce contest, chili cook off and a grilling contest for kids, among the food-related activities. Additionally, there are kids activities, concerts, a car show and many fun family activities all weekend.
PorktoberQue is Dothan’s second sanctioned barbecue competition, now in its third year. It is held on the last weekend of September, the historically preferred weekend for a German Oktoberfest. The Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctioned contest has grown by leaps and bounds since its first year, increasing attendance by 300% and prize money by over 50% in this short period of time.
The concept for PorktoberQue combines an Oktoberfest themed festival with a traditional barbecue atmosphere. Although fall beers are featured along with polka bands and German music, the event offers a variety of fun activities for people of all ages. There is a free Reptile Discovery Program geared toward the kids, a dog dock-diving competition for pet lovers, a car show for nostalgia buffs and plenty of food, both German and Southern.
Each of the two events draws thousands of spectators from across the Southeast United States who fill the Houston County Farm Center in Dothan. Though most competition teams camp on site to maintain their barbecue pit temperatures, the judges, spectators and vendors help the local economy by booking rooms in area hotels. By having both of the festivals encompass multiple days, more out of town visitors can enjoy all the activities, music and food of the event.
While Dothan, Alabama may not be Alabama’s largest city, or have more barbecue restaurants than the larger towns, Dothan encompasses the heart and soul of southern barbecue through their commitment to the community and competitors by hosting two barbecue contests a year, a feat no other city in Alabama can claim.