Bring a big appetite to the International Bar-B-Q Festival on the morning of May 11. Thanks to the backyard cooking teams, festival goers are going to need it.
Each year, backyard cooking teams set up along West Second Street and begin cooking 35-40 pounds of meat each – which they share with the crowd. With 35 teams in total this year, there will be plenty to go around.
Todd Johnson, event co-chair, said the event continues to grow because of local sponsors and the friendly competition. There are nearly triple the amount of participants than there were 10 years ago, and they’re all vying for the title of grand champion – along with a trophy and $1,500.
Teams can come from anywhere. Johnson said people hear about the event from friends, co- workers or family and decide to jump in because there’s a very low cost to get going. Sometimes hopefuls ask questions of the competing teams one year and decide to sign up themselves next year, he said.
“They find out this is not a very complicated competition to enter and can be a low cost start up,” Johnson said. “We feel like we’ve kept this event simple and not complicated.”
The main focus is making sure everyone has a good time.
Johnson’s role requires him to be involved in everything from registration to set-up, as well as selecting judges and securing sponsors. One sponsorship that has helped the event grow is the partnership with Kentucky Legend.
“Kentucky Legend donates meat products – ham, large rolls of bologna and jalapeno-cheese polish sausage to each team participating in BYC,” said Johnson. “The teams cook [the products] and hand out to the crowd.”
This goes over really well with the crowd roaming the BYC area, he said.
Johnson praised the Kentucky Legend sponsorship for how it impacts the event.
“This has taken the BYC to a higher level and has encouraged teams to participate and retain teams with their sponsorship,” he said. “They have been a great sponsor.”
For Johnson, the best part of the event is the awards ceremony, especially “watching teams’ reaction receiving trophy and money for their hard work,” he said.
And it isn’t always the teams with the nicest setup that bring home the hardware. Johnson said several teams have brought in inexpensive, small grills and smokers and won meat categories, while participating against teams with high-dollar grills and smokers.
Johnson and his co-chair Kelly Ward have changed several things over their nine-year involvement. He said they pride themselves on the compliments they recieve, and it seems they get them because they listen to outside opinions. Every year they hand out surveys to the teams to get input about the event, and they’ve made rule changes because of it.
They also focus on using local vendors for all event-related purchases, and have a great working relationship with the city and county officials. Johnson said that has helped the event grow.
Cooking begins at 7 a.m. Saturday morning, with judging at 2 p.m. and the awards at 5:30 p.m. Prizes are given for overall grand champion, best beef, pork and chicken and best booth.