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Arts and Entertainment Friday, Apr. 19, 2013 7 years ago

Largest barbecue contest in Southwest Florida is this Saturday

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by: John Ewing

- Lynn Hobeck Bates moved to Sarasota in 2004 to marry her graduate school sweetheart, Ben, but is a native of Virginia. While she misses the changing seasons and her friends and family, Lynn has grown to love Sarasota for its energy, beauty and laidback lifestyle. She’s even been around the world promoting this fine town. From the sophisticated and edgy arts and cultural scene, to family-friendly festivals and everything in between, Lynn loves to share all that Sarasota has to offer. Her husband Ben Bates is a successful local realtor specializing in luxury and one-of-a-kind properities. She is currently settling into her newest (and most adored) role, motherhood.Trust me folks, barbecue in Southwest Florida won’t get much better than this. The largest barbecue contest in the region is coming to Venice this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. As the annual fundraiser for the Suncoast Foundation for Handicapped Children, Inc. (SFHC), the Suncoast BBQ and Bluegrass Bash presents one of the most prestigious barbecue contests in Florida, along with three smaller cook-offs and contests, live music, family events and what I'm sure will be lip-smacking, finger-lickin' good food.

Fifty of the best barbecue teams this side of the Mason-Dixon line will duke it out for $15,000 in prizes in the main competition, comprising four categories of meat: chicken, ribs, pork and beef brisket. The winners of this competition qualify for the mack-daddy of all barbecue contests, the Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue, in addition to the American Royal World Series of Barbecue and the World Food Championships in Las Vegas.

Barbecue has come a long way in the past several years. With the popularity of cooking shows exploding, barbecue contests are taking on an entirely new dimension. Take, for example, TLC's BBQ Pitmasters television contest with a $100,000 grand prize. If my husband could make $100,000 with his grilling skills, I'd sign him up.But of course, there is more to grilling great barbecue than simply firing up the grill and throwing on a few pieces of meat. It often takes hours, if not days, and an entire team of pitmasters to create a succulent piece of barbecue, especially one worthy of thousands of dollars in prize winnings. Most teams roll out their "pits" the day before the contest, concoct a special "rub"---doubtless from hand-me-down recipes that can never, ever be shared---and slave for hours over hot coals to make melt-in-your-mouth barbecue. And with teams dubbed the likes of Big Papa's Kitchen, Whiskey Bent and Git-R Smoked, I bet the food rivals the characters who are cooking it.

So what makes a barbecue special in a judge's eye, or should I say, mouth? I smoked out the answer. The Florida Bar-B-Que Association sets a strict list of guidelines and enforces them. For starters, gas grills are not allowed. The only approved cooking media are wood, charcoal and wood pellets. The meat is inspected prior to grilling to ensure that no performance-enhancing modifications have been made (i.e., no pre-marinating or injection of juices). After hours of grilling and rotating, the work of culinary art is simply placed in a box, without garnish or decoration, and presented to the judges. Six judges score each entry in the areas of Presentation, Taste/Flavor, and Tenderness/Texture. Scoring ranges from a low of 5.0 to a high of 10.0 in increments of .5 points for each category. Using a weighted average, the maximum score for a category is 200 points.

To make the Suncoast BBQ Bash even more appealing to “foodies,” a new contest will feature four invitational cooking teams who will compete in a two-day event to determine who is the most creative when given a mystery basket of food to prepare and submit to a celebrity panel of judges. A chili cook-off and a contest for the best dessert will also take place. Sample and cast your vote for the chili and dessert entries by purchasing five-dollar sampler tickets for each contest.And what pairs well with zippy barbecue? Twangy bluegrass. Stay for the soulful tunes of some of Nashville's best, The Boxcars, the 2012 recipients of the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards for Instrumental Group of the Year and Mandolin Player of the Year. Local favorites HWY 41 South, Swinging Bridge and the Cry’n Shames will also jam. Bring a chair, sit back and enjoy the music. The Gulfcoast Cloggers will add a flavor of dance to the performances at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Plenty of family-friendly activities from a cornhole competition to crafts and more round out the Bash. Admission is free and you can purchase tickets to taste a fine share of the 'cue. For more information, visit Suncoastbbqbash.com.

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