Deep Roots Festival
The ninth-annual Deep Roots Festival was home to many eclectic traditions over the weekend, including the much-anticipated Memphis Barbecue Network cook-off and tasting.
Held annually since 2003, the barbecue competition draws seasoned contenders from across the South, with each hopeful vying for the grand title. This year’s competition awarded over $7,000 in prizes to the cook-off winners.
Frank Pendergast, board chair of the Deep Roots Festival, explained the lengths that competitors go to for a shot at the coveted title of Grand Champion.
“The competitors arrived in Milledgeville last night, and some have been cooking since,” Pendergast said. “Some of them stay up all night cooking; a hog can take 12 hours to fully cook.”
For the 12 teams entered in this year’s competition, the rules were rigid and clearly defined: The competing barbecue could only be cooked on charcoal or wood, and each choice of meat had to meet regulation standards.
Memphis Barbecue Network member and professional cooker John Childers of Toccoa traveled with his team, appropriately titled “Pigs in Heat,” to compete in the fiery competition.
“A lot of preparation has gone into today; I actually got into town and started cooking last night, and we’ve been here ever since,” Childers said. “We’ve competed in other cooking competitions before, for ribs, chicken, desserts and even seafood.”
A selection of four competing barbecue samples were entered to contend in this year’s People’s Choice competition – one of the foodie lures of Deep Roots.
“People’s choice is an opportunity for non-judges to sample professional barbecue,” Pendergast said. “To sample all of the barbecue today, you typically have to be a certified judge.”
On Oct. 20 at 11 a.m., the blind tasting of the barbecue began, with each rookie judge walking up to the cooking tent with an eager palette. Each $5 sampling plate was clearly labeled one through four to allow for easy judging.
The first barbecue sample was remarkably different from the others in appearance – the meat was lighter and more heavily seasoned than the others. Its taste was initially sweet, with a tangy, vinegar-based aftertaste. Notes of curry were even apparent, putting a Middle Eastern twist on a Southern staple.
Choice two proved to be the most succulent variety of barbecue vying for people’s choice. The pulled meat was much thinner than the other choices and embodied hints of robust hickory flavor.
The third people’s choice contender tasted like the down-home Southern pork that Georgians grew up on. With a slight whiskey aftertaste, choice three proved to be satisfying, but played the competition safe by sticking to accustomed flavors.
The final barbecue pick up for tasting was by far the sweetest variety, employing notes of honey into its artisan flavor. Heavy spices were also used to add zest to this choice, subsequently toning down the initial sweetness of the meat.Although she didn’t participate in the tasting, Rebecca Thuns, Georgia College senior exchange student, notes that having barbecue present at Deep Roots added something special to the day.
“I think the United State does barbecue better than any other country,” Thuns said. “Even just smelling the barbecue at the festival was great.”
After the ballots were in and the votes were tallied, People’s Choice was awarded to the Smarr Cooking Crew of the Georgia Barbecue Association. Cooking team “5 o’clock Somewhere” garnered the Local Grand Champion title, while the
coveted Grand Champion title was bestowed upon team “Dixie Que.”According to Milledgeville Main Street Director Carlee Schulte, the barbecue competition will remain a staple of Deep Roots Festivals to come.
“The barbecue contest will continue to be at Deep Roots,” Schulte said. “Having it at the festival adds a Southern feel that everyone loves.”