Backyard BBQ Blast

Amateur cooking contest
pits friends against friends

Event has become a popular
free eating event at festival

By Tess Worrell
Contributing Writer

Helen Bertsch travels from Waterford, Mich., to Madison, Ind., every August. She comes to see her mom. She brings her daughters to reconnect with family. And, oh yes, she joins her sister and sister-in-law as Team Pig ‘n Boots in their favorite cooking contest of the year – the Backyard BBQ Blast, the amateur cooking contest at the Madison Ribberfest.

Mike Horan

File photo by Don Ward

Mike Horan of Scottsburg,
Ind., bastes ribs during a
previous Ribberfest.

Take a side of ribs, add a hot grill and a group of friends, and you have a backyard cook-off. Throw in a few more friends and a view of the Ohio River and you have the 11th annual Backyard BBQ Blast, sponsored by the Madison Courier.
At 6 a.m. Friday, Aug. 17, amateur grill masters from all over the region will gather on Vaughn Drive to set up their grills, begin smoking their meats and spend the day in friendly competition. Teams vie for bragging rights in five categories – chicken, ribs, pork, beef and game/other. Teams can also compete for top prize in best rub, best sauce, best contraption and best team spirit.
The Bash pits brothers against sisters and coworkers against each other for top recognition in grilling prowess.
Bertsch has come for the last decade. “The festival is just great. Listening to the music, connecting with friends every year– it’s just great. I wouldn’t miss it.”
She says she gets up “around 4:30” to get everything together then get downtown as close to 6 a.m. as possible. “You have to get the meat smoking quickly so it has a good eight to 10 hours to smoke. The first couple of hours are very busy. But once I get everything going, I can sit back and see who else is coming.”
Bertsch says she especially enjoys the time with friends and notes that everybody looks out for each other. “I arrive by myself, but there are always people to help me unload and set up. It’s a very friendly competition.”
Steve Thomas, owner of Thomas Family Winery and organizer of the Backyard BBQ Blast, focuses on keeping the competition fun for all. “You know during the summer when neighbors get together to grill out, and pretty soon there’s a competition to see who turns out the best food? That’s the Blast – just on a bigger scale.”
While camaraderie rules the day, the teams also work hard. They can pick from among the categories or enter all five. Entries are judged on appearance, texture and taste. While the meats are smoking, team members visit each other to trade samples and tips. But at 5:30 p.m., when teams begin turning in their entries every 30 minutes, the mood turns serious as teams face the judges.
Thomas presents the final awards at 9 p.m. on the Blues Bash stage.
Carolyn Barnes of Lexington, Ky., says she looks forward to returning to the Blast each year. She competed with her brother, Kevin Phelps, every year as Half Fast BBQ Team. When he moved away, she stopped competing.
Upon his return, they have teamed up again and expanded to other family members, including her son, Joe, and husband, Jack, to form two teams. The entire family will vie for bragging rights within the family. Barnes says she focuses primarily on getting the spices just right. Each year she looks forward to creating a unique taste that will impress the judges.
Barnes encourages everyone to come down the day of the Blast and check out the competition. “It’s a great time to meet people and get tips from the teams and see what they are doing. It’s a great learning experience. Many times people will ask us questions, and we enjoy sharing what we know with them. If you like a smoker, give this competition a try.”
She also notes that the participants truly appreciate when people recognize that the teams are getting to a busy portion of the day – when meats need attention or when turn-ins begin – and let the teams get back to work. But when there is a down time, she loves to share what she knows with others to get them to come compete the next year.
If you would like to test your grilling skills against others and perhaps learn a few new tricks, visit: www.MadisonRibberfest.com, click on BBQ, then on Backyard Blast for all the details and entry forms.

Back to 2012 Ribberfest Articles.




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