Early Brenau Barbecue Volunteers Get the Most Tasteful Jobs

Aug 26, 2011
Rudi Kiefer

What is becoming one of the most coveted community volunteer gigs in the Gainesville area is the annual Brenau Barbecue Championship that helps raise money for local scholarships. And, although there is still plenty to do for those who want to help out with the Memorial Day weekend festival, there is one job that is decidedly unavailable.

That’s the spot spoken for early on by Dr. Heather Gollmar Casey, head of women’s studies at the 132-year-old Brenau Women’s College in Gainesville. Coming back for a repeat performance as the self-proclaimed “Queen of Hops and Barley, Casey was the first volunteer to step up for this year’s event – provided she could be the chief dispenser of adult beverages.

“It’s not hard to get people to buy beer on a beautiful spring day, especially when it’s for such a good cause,” said Casey. “I offered to be in charge of all beer sales this time because I had such a wonderful time last year.”I got to see a lot of community friends, meet a lot of new people, and generally just spent the day laughing and talking to people.”

Proceeds from the festival will fund Brenau scholarships for local students. A preview party from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Friday, May 28, at the Brenau amphitheater will feature music by Kimberly Clark and the Sons of Sailors and a talk by Lauretta Hannon, author of “The Cracker Queen.”

Saturday’s family-friendly activities are scheduled from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the Brenau campus. Vendors will be selling barbecue, soft drinks, adult beverages and other products. Ronald McDonald is scheduled to make an appearance and the local organizations, Interactive Neighborhood for Kids and Quinlan Arts Center, will provide crafts and activities for children.

Other events include an inaugural classic car show and free health screenings for blood pressure, glucose, hydration and other health issues by student nurses from Brenau’s School of Health and Science.

Teams of volunteers will be on hand to make sure everyone has a good time, that the festival runs smoothly, and that it is clean and green. Brenau Barbecue Championship founder and director Jim Barco, senior vice president for institutional development at the university, is working with the city of Gainesville to help with recycling. And Dr. Maria Zayas, a psychology professor who is director of Brenau’s Sustainability Task Force, will coordinate efforts with Dana Miller of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce to schedule volunteers to monitor the recycling and garbage bins.

Last year’s inaugural barbecue championship drew more than 3,000 people and raised more than $20,000 for local scholarships. Barco expects an even larger crowd this year and a fundraising goal of $100,000.

The important thing to remember, however, is that the Brenau event is built around a competition – one on which participants, both pro and amateur, build their reputations and credentials for moving up in competition standings. Their work is certified by volunteer judges who have been especially trained to know what to see, taste and smell in a cooking competition. The task of coordinating the barbecue judges belongs to Dana Miller, a Brenau Women’s College alumna who is also vice president for education and community development for the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.

“The Memphis Barbecue Network takes the quality of judges extremely seriously,” she said. “Because I’m trained as a judge, Brenau has asked me to handle the coordination, take applications and choose the right judges for the event. We’ve received applications from at least 15 states.”

About 65 judges will do blind tasting and on-site evaluations, she explained. Then the most experienced judges will do the final on-site judging.

“Professionals are going to judge the amateur Backyard Braggart contestants for the first time this year,” Miller said. “They’re excited about that.”

Winners will be announced at the event Saturday afternoon.

In anticipation of a bigger turnout, Casey said additional beer stations are being set up to ease the congestion they had last year.

“We’re also sponsored by Yuengling this year, which is a favorite in the Gainesville community,” she said.

Brenau students are also getting into the act. Emily Wilbanks, a senior dance major at Brenau, is preparing to accommodate twice as many people this year. She already has 35 volunteers, but would like at least another 15 to help direct traffic, answer questions and offer friendly greetings.

“On Saturday the students’ primary job will be to maintain the barricades,” she said. “We will also be placing students around the inflatables in the kids’ zone.”

Student volunteers will receive a T-shirt to wear on Saturday. Friday’s preview party volunteers are asked to dress in tropical clothing to blend with the Margaritaville atmosphere when the Sons of Sailors perform Jimmy Buffett songs.

All weekend Beth Nott, who teaches French and coordinates the university’s grant requests to charitable foundations and government entities, will be working with a crew of ten volunteers checking and coding the barbecue for blind judging, cleaning up and preparing for the next category.

“It’s a great way to get an insider’s view of the process,” said Nott. “A different group of judges also will judge each site and the presentation, which is an amazing aspect to watch. The pro teams really make elaborate presentations. They are judged for the product, but also for the site and presentation.”

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.

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.”

Admission is $10 for the preview party and $5 for Saturday’s event. No outside food, beverages or pets are allowed. To volunteer, or for more information, go to www.Brenau.edu/bbq or call 770-531-3185.

Originally published on 5/25/10