BBQ! I’m talking Q! Bar-b-que! Barbecue! No matter who you spell it, BBQ is a big deal in Asheville. After all, our Asheville Bed and Breakfast may be in the Blue Ridge Mountains but we are still in the South. And when Presidents come to Asheville, where’s the first place they go? 12 Bones Smokehouse. 12 Bones may be the best known but there are at least four other better-than-good-restaurants producing home smoked BBQ in town, including Luella’s, a favorite of our guests, not far from from the Carolina Bed & Breakfast.
What is Barbeque? That’s a good question. Pretty much everyone agrees that it starts with a large piece of meat which is cooked long and slow over indirect heat until it falls off the bone. After that, the argument ranges: hickory-smoked or mesquite? Vinegar based sauce or tomato? Sweet or sour? Dry rub or none? Beef Brisket or Pork Butt? Does chicken even qualify? And then we get into sides. Slaw or no slaw? Baked beans or corn pudding? Hush puppies or grits? Faced with all these decisions the easiest thing to do is head to a BBQ Festival, which is exactly what James and I did last Saturday.
The Blue Ridge Barbeque and Music Festival in Tryon, NC is one of the oldest BBQ festivals in the United States (which might make it one of the oldest in the world since I am not at all sure they hold BBQ festivals anywhere other than the USA). This year teams were competing for awards in Whole Hog BBQ, Pork (butt and ribs), Brisket and Chicken. As if that weren’t enough, the festival had two music stages with music throughout the day and evening, a crafts fair, carnival rides and, for the third year in a row, a classic car show.
Never having been to a festival like this before, James and I headed down there early where we met up with our daughter, Abby, and her friend, Joe. Joe wanted to see the Whole Hog Competition which was slated for 11AM. We had read that at some competitions they let the spectators taste the entries after the judging and were saddened to discover that this was not the case in Tryon. Nevertheless it was fascinating to watch the judging and one of the Contest Marshals from the Kansas City Barbeque Society
explained the process to us. Entries are judged on appearance, texture and taste. Each table of judges evaluates six entries. First the food is presented to them by a contest worker, then a portion is placed on a mat which has been marked with six squares. This process is repeated until all of the squares are filled and then it’s time to eat! On average a judge at a BBQ competition will eat 3 pounds of meat. That’s a lot of meat. Pretty much anyone can become a judge. The Kansas City Barbeque Society holds half-day training classes throughout the year all over the country. KCBS sponsors over 400 competitions a year so there is always plenty of work for the judges.
We entered the fair ground by the back entrance which led us past the rigs and trailers of the 97 competitors. Many of the teams had been up all night and were relaxing or napping under trees and canopies prior to the judging. It was fun to look at all the different names on the motor-homes which had come from as far South as Texas and as far North as Pennsylvania. Some were puns (Fowl Butt BBQ) and some were evocative (Smoke In the Mountains). One of my favorites was held by the youngest team in the competition: two 14 year old girls who called themselves “Hogs & Kisses”. People were friendly and happy to talk about their craft. Abby spent ages listening to one contestant explain the convoluted scoring system in the hopes that she would score a taste!
Moving on we passed through the Classic Car show. There must have been at least 50 cars most from the 1950’s on up. They had been well groomed for the show and gleamed in the sunlight. Music from the ’50s and ’60s kept us dancing while we looked at the cars. In the distance Carnival rides beckoned and a craft show called but we were here for the food! So we found ourselves a nice spot at a table near the music and set out to enjoy some BBQ. We took turns foraging, each of us returning with a single serving which we shared. Initially we just went for the meat but later included some sides. Some of the fried foods were tempting and I think if the line had not been so long we might have tried a deep fried PB&J. One line we did stand in was for home-churned ice cream which was being made right there on the spot. It was delicious, all of it. The brisket was a big winner for us but in the end we went traditional and brought pulled pork home for dinner. (As if we hadn’t had enough!)
It was a great day, between the food, the crafts (which were a different selection than we are used to seeing), the cars and the people watching. I do think that next time, I would like to come on the Friday Night when all the cookers are in action. It would be great to see.