- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 22, 2008

Barbecue is typically the subject of lazy weekends spent outdoors chatting with friends and downing cold drinks to beat the summer heat.

But at the 16th annual Safeway National Capital Barbecue Battle on Saturday, cooking teams from around the country had no time for leisure as they tried to smoke and barbecue their way to first place in four competitions.

“It’s a sport for some and a hobby for others,” said Carolyn Wells, executive director and co-founder of the Kansas City Barbeque Society. “It’s what they do instead of playing baseball and golf or bass fishing.”

Thirty-nine teams from 12 states competed to produce the best cut of meat during the two-day event held on Pennsylvania Avenue downtown.

While thousands of visitors purchased everything from homemade kettle corn to ribs and chopped pork sandwiches smothered in barbecue sauce, barbecuers were busy checking temperature gauges and meat tenderness.

Cash and prizes totaling more than $40,000 were up for grabs as world-class barbecuers squared off to produce the best-looking and most delicious cuts of meat.

Sweet, hickory-scented smoke arose from big, black smokers in the competition area. Many chefs staked out their booths and began preparing their meat Friday night for the high-stakes competition that stressed the more technical aspects of barbecuing.

“A lot of people confuse grilling with barbecuing,” said Brett Brown, a competitive barbecuer. “Grilling is an excellent pastime, but barbecuing is about cooking things on lower temperatures with indirect heat.”

Barbecue Battle organizers said turnout was smaller than usual and blamed high gas prices and a slow economy, but the competition was as tough as ever with the world’s two largest barbecue organizations participating for the first time.

The KCBS, a group made up of more than 8,500 barbecue enthusiasts and the world’s largest such group, made its first appearance this weekend and sanctioned one of Saturday’s featured competitions, the D.C. Lottery BBQ Challenge.

Teams submitted anonymous samples of chicken, beef brisket and pork to the judges, who will decide a winner Sunday based on the meat’s taste, appearance and texture.

Memphis in May, host of the annual World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, held the National Pork Championship as a nod to chefs and other enthusiasts who see pork as the only true form of barbecue.

“It’s a regional thing, but we feel like ours is the right way to do it,” said MIM Vice President Diane Hampton.

The pork competition featured taste tests in three categories - pork shoulder, pork rib and whole hog - and was judged using the Memphis in May cooking rules, which included inspections of grill setups and preparation methods.

“There’s a sales-savvy element involved, but the taste is what convinces,” Mrs. Hampton said.

More than 20 teams competed in the first-ever Rancher’s Reserve Beef BBQ Championship, which tested cooks’ ability to take the provided product and prepare a winning brisket.

The event also featured a people’s choice competition because health code regulations do not permit the public to taste meat from the other competitions. Participants voted for their favorite of the 18 restaurants and caterers selling barbecue.

A winner is declared in various categories, but no one team wins the overall competition. Discrepancies in judging methods make it difficult to compare teams across different categories, said Suzanne Tubis, who co-owns the rights to the Barbecue Battle with her husband, Allen.

Robin and Chick Auerbach of Silver Spring were enjoying some spicy Old Glory ribs Saturday.

Mr. Auerbach, who had been to the event with Robin once before, considers himself a novice barbecuer and enjoys the entire event.

“It’s the food, people and music that keep us coming back,” he said.

The Barbecue Battle benefits the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington and a portion of the $10 entrance fee, food sales and other revenue is donated to the clubs each year. More than $1 million has been donated to the clubs over the past 15 years, including $100,000 from last year’s event.

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