The first thing to know about a barbecue competition – from a spectator's perspective – is to learn to follow your nose.
You'll smell the unmistakable savory smoke of oak and hickory embers flavored by the drippings of barbecue – probably pork.
First-time spectators almost always have the same complaint: “We're hungry and we're surrounded by all this wonderfully grilled meat. Why can't we just buy some from a barbecue team?”
Well, the answer gets kind of smoky.
It depends on the event, but most – like Blues, Brews & BBQ, which invades Uptown this weekend – are set up as competitive events, not publicly catered meals, and local health department regulations prevent foods from being sold directly to the public.
However, don't despair. Vendors, many whom have won national barbecue titles, will be selling the smoked protein.
“No one goes away hungry,” said George Hearn, a Memphis BBQ Network judge who is judging his third year here. “The quality of the ribs you'd be tasting might not be world championship, but it is likely much better than anything you've tasted in anyone's backyard.”
Hearn's advice to spectators: Stroll through the cooking area and observe anytime over the two-day period, particularly later Friday night.
Keith Roberts of Keifer's BBQ in Concord adds that spectators can simply approach the cookers – when they're obviously not on deadline – and most will be glad to chat.
“We're kind of the unofficial ambassadors of barbecue,” said Roberts, a Johnson & Wales grad who won last year's “Anything But” contest with hickory-smoked chicken thighs. “My suggestion is be polite, don't just come up and just ask for free food. But if you're interested in the rig and how the meat is prepared, ask about it. And if the cooker has some extra food, he'll probably offer you a bite.”