Aug 26, 2011
Rudi Kiefer

Originally published on 4/21/10

Brenau University will present the second annual Brenau Barbecue Championship on Friday and Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, May 27-29, with top professional and amateur cookers competing for cash prizes and bragging rights.

Launched last year as a fundraiser for scholarships for Brenau students from the Gainesville and Hall County areas, the successful event raised more than $20,000, said Jim Barco, Brenau’s senior vice president for institutional development and the Brenau & Barbecue event director..

“This year’s barbecue will be even bigger and better,” Barco said. “I’m optimistic that we can raise $100,000.” Attendance at last year’s barbecue was 3,000, but Barco expects double that number this year – not only because word is spreading about the barbecue competition but also because of some of the new trimmings that will be available.

The festival technically opens on Friday night with a new preview party at the Brenau Amphitheater that will feature “The Cracker Queen” author Lauretta Hannon and live performances by musician Kimberly Clark and the Jimmy Buffett tribute band, Sons of the Sailor. Gates open at 5 p.m. with $10 admission.

A key new feature on Saturday will be will be an antique auto show featuring a host of mint-condition classic cars, many of which are literally works of art. In addition, thanks to an expanded role by event partners, Quinilan Arts Center and the Interactive Neighborhood for Kids museum, there will be many more activities for children, including programs, inflated playground equipment and a visiting by “super celebrity” Ronald McDonald.


Admission to Saturday events is $5.There will be more barbecue and family-friendly events from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday on the Brenau campus. In addition to booths from scores of vendors, visitors also will have a chance to find out – confidentially, of course – if they’ve overdone it in the foot and beverage area. Student nurses from Brenau’s School of Health and Science will be on hand to provide free screenings for blood pressure, glucose, hydration and other health issues.

But the main attraction, as always, is the barbecue. Sanctioned by the Memphis Barbecue Network, which grew out of the prestigious Memphis in May event, the Brenau Barbecue Championship will showcase 20 of the Southeast’s elite professionals competing for glory and cash prizes and another 25 amateur cook teams who will compete for nothing more than the fun of cooking. Since the teams have to preserve their “entries” for judging, the $5 admission fee does not mean that you get to sample the cooking of the contestants. However, there will be plenty of food and other consumables available for purchase, including offerings of two past winners of the Memphis in May national competition.

One of those vendors, veteran barbecuer Myron Mixon of Jack’s Old South in Unadilla, Ga., has high praise for Brenau’s fledgling festival.

“I compete in 40 contests a year, and this is one of the best I’ve ever been to,” said Mixon, whose team won the grand champion award last year in the whole hog and shoulder categories.

After the judging, it’s up to the teams as to whether they let patrons sample their cooking.

The judges are sanctioned by the Memphis Barbecue Network, Barco said. “We have judges coming from as far away as Pennsylvania and Missouri.”

One of the judges from closer to home is Brenau grad Dana Miller, who also is the vice president for education and community development at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.

“When Jim Barco came up with the idea to host a barbecue to raise money for local scholarships, he asked if I minded going to a class to be a barbecue judge,” Miller explained. That’s the last thing I ever thought I’d be, but I told him I’d do anything for Brenau. So I attended the class, judged a few contests and became certified.”

Judging criteria includes on-site presentation as well as tenderness and taste.

“Everybody has different tastes,” Miller said, “but they tell you to take that factor out and be a neutral judge.”

In addition to the professional competition, 25 amateur barbecuers will vie for bragging rights in the Backyard Braggarts division and renowned barbecue expert Bill Morris of the Holy Smokers, Too, will conduct a cooking class from noon to 4 p.m. on Friday.

“It’s $75 for a four-hour class,” Barco said, “but it’s truly invaluable if you want to learn how to cook barbecue from a world champion.”

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