Since the beginning of mankind, men and women have cooked meat over an open flame. Centuries later, it still takes place but the techniques have certainly changed since our ancestors first began the tradition.
The new techniques for the art of the grill were on display Saturday at the 16th Annual Otterville Barbecue Cook-Off as 18 teams competed for the title of Grand Champion, and a grand prize check of $500 sponsored by the Bank of Otterville.
“Originally the contest was part of the Otterville Street Fair,” Tammy Schoen, event organizer said. “A few years after they started the contest they decided they didn’t want to continue, so I took over and the rest is history.”
This year the teams competed in five categories: brisket, ribs, chicken, pork steak and the mystery category.
There were also eight teams who competed in the junior chief competition grilling hamburgers and five teams in the teen competition who competed by grilling wings.
“We tried to offer some new things this year, but we also went with the tried and true,” Schoen said. “Early this morning we gave them the envelopes with the mystery category which was fish.
“I think a few of the teams were surprised with that one,” Schoen added. “The grand champion is decided by the highest total accumulated points they receive in each individual category.”
The judges use a point system for each category and Schoen said that in previous years the winning team was granted the title by less than a half point.
With staggering finish times in the categories, the teams kept busy throughout the day at their grills.
For many, the competition started the day before if not sooner.
“We got here last night at 7:30 to find our spot and get set up,” Damian Lemens said. “Officially, I guess we started at 2 a.m. when we started to marinate the brisket.”
Lemens and his partner on the Smokin’Double D’s BBQ team, Daylan Hammond said the weather was perfect for the event.
“The weather can definitely play a factor in the grilling,” Hammond said. “We brought three different grills and smokers because each category requires something special.”
“There are so many techniques out there,” Lemens added. “I think for us the key is we do what we’re in the mood for.”
For last year’s grand champions, The Long Branch Family and Friends Meat Handlers there is a key to winning.
“We cook it as we would if we were at home; a lot of teams try to do something fancy or really spicy and hot,” Cheri Gorrell said. “For us it’s all about family and making this a family event.”
“My dad, (Jerry Page) and I have won three grand championships here,” Gorrell added. “The whole family including the grandchildren are here and in a way it’s like the big family cook outs we have a few times each month.”
The family connection and monthly practice are part of the barbecue success of J R Walter.
“I make my own sauce and rubs so for me grilling is a year round event,” J. R. Walter of Walter and Sons BBQ said. “I’ve been competing since 2010 and I grill 12 months out of the year.
“I used to be part of another teams but since the birth of my sons, Kash and Silas, I decided to form my own team,” Walter said. “They are too young to be grilling with me now but in a few years when they are old enough to hold a spatula, we’ll be a grilling force.”
Walter who won the mystery contest took a unique approach to the category, making fish burgers for the judges to consider.
“Anytime you grill with fish it is a challenge without a doubt,” Walter said. “I just thought a fish burger might be something a little unexpected for them to try.”
For one team, the Young Guns, the competition itself was a little unexpected.
In only their second competition eve,r the three young men, Dakota Kroeger, 18, Garrett Dowdy, 17, and Haden Angel, 18 saw success earlier this year winning first place in the Smithton Town and Country Fair Barbecue Contest.
“Dakota bought a smoker earlier in the year and we decided to give this a try,” Dowdy said. “One of our friends from school is helping us this time (Chance Larsen, 15) so we hope we’ll do pretty good again.”
Kroeger added that the boys had never smoked fish before and that threw them for a loop.
“Some long term friends and family have given us some of their secrets,” Kroeger added. “I don’t think I’ll tell them all to you though.”
For the eventual winners of the contest, Team Bite and Wipe, the secret is simplicity.
“We don’t have any secrets,” team member Sherry McQuitty said. “We just keep it simple and have a blast doing it.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484