As the 30-person crew from the Simple Alien TV production crew were packing up their gear after a weekend of filming an episode for season two of BBQ USA set to appear this summer on the Food Network, they were asked a simple alienating question.
Are any of you vegans?
K.C. Napper sheepishly wafted up her hand.
She’s manager of the New York City-based crew, which from Thursday to Sunday had roomed at the Gibson Inn, taking in the city’s mix of bars and restaurants, sampling its atmosphere.
“We love coming into a new place, and sharing information on it as a community,” she said.
Topping their menu, though, is covering the six teams Chef Michael Symon focuses on, following their stories on their journey of competing, looking at the personalities behind them.
And of course, while vegans were in short supply at last weekend’s sixth annual Butts and Clucks Cook-off on the Bay at Battery Park, the meat eaters was not.
In the traveling kitchen of Central Florida’s GitChewSum, a team that has competed every year since Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce Director John Solomon started the annual January event, that beef, pork and chicken was masterfully handled.
Newberry’s Tom Maticka, a construction inspector at the University of Florida, and caterer Allen Pomerleau, from Venice, brought their food truck up and set about earning a berth at the American Royal World Series of Barbecue, the world’s largest barbecue contest.
Finishing third in chicken, fifth in pork, sixth in rib and seventh in brisket, the duo edged out Bartow’s Hot Wachula’s for the grand championship prize.
“We hit all four,” said Pomerleau. “ From the beginning to the end it’s attention to detail, that’s everything. You just have to make sure everything’s perfect, from sauces to rubs to shapes and temperatures.
“This place is phenomenal every year. There were some very, very good teams here,” he added.
“It’s always cold,” interjected Maticka.”And Apalachicola didn’t let us down this year.”
With at least $3,600 to show for their winning effort, GitChewSum said the very respectable prize money offered, down to 10th place in each of the four meat categories, is a key reason why Butts & Clucks has grown in prestige and competitive quality since its inception.
“John Solomon’s done a really good job. He knows what it takes to bring in the best teams, that want to compete,” said Pomerleau.
“He makes it to where it’s rewarding or at least attractive to the teams that want to compete. That’s why you get the high level teams that want to come. He pays one through 10,” said Pomerleau. “You spend a lot of money and time coming to these contests so a lot of teams want to feel like there’s a reward at the end, aside from the trophies.
“I spend $1,000 to $1,200 every contest, just to come,” he said. “If they’re not going to pay one through 10, sometimes a lot of teams will look the other way.
“Hopefully we’re in the green for this contest,” Pomerleau said.
Also in the clover as a result of this event is the ECCC, the Elder Care Community Council that feeds the homebound elderly each and every week, which received 40 pans of food, 11 more than last year, on Sunday morning from the cook-off’s participants.
This year’s Florida BBQ Association-sanctioned event drew 47 teams, and awarded over $12,000 in prizes. A judging seminar on Thursday helped local foodies learn to become state-certified BBQ judges.
Solomon opened the awards program Saturday night with the awarding of a $700 grill and a $200 gift certificate, from Apalachicola’s Ace Hardware and the Apalachicola Bee Company, to Genesis 2, the winning raffle ticket drawn by ECCC Past President Bonnie Kellogg.
The Sweet Smoke Q Sauce Competition was won by Robbie Royal. The Sweet Smoke Q team of Jim Elser swept the People’s Choice awards in a landslide.
The Best Rig award went to Smokin Ain’t EZ, with Tillmans BBQ from Coral Springs having drove the furthest.
The Highest Scoring Local Team award went to Boug-A-Lou Smoke Crew out of Crawfordville. They finished 12th overall.
The Chicken Sauce prize was a tie between John’s Real South BBQ and Walkers’ Wicked Pig BBQ. The Pork Sauce prize was won by Roni-Kay Elser, on behalf of Que for a Cure.
In the Deviled Egg Contest, the winner was Daren Davis, of Posse Q BBQ.
In the Mystery Box competition, which featured Indian Lagoon oysters and shrimp, Sweet Smoke Q won the belt, with the Sh*T Show Trio second and Smokin Ain’t EZ third.
Smoke-N-Ash won the chicken category, and Cold Beer BBQ took ribs. Boug-A-Lou Smoke Crew, and Nice Racks BBQ tied for first in pork, and Rescue Smokers and Tillmans BBQ tied for tops in brisket.
“Another great event is now in the books. We had the most teams sign up and compete ever,” said Solomon, in penning a thank you to Simple Alien and Symon, and to the chamber and the sponsors, teams, judges, FBA reps, vendors and everyone who came out.
“To the volunteers who worked through shine and rain this weekend, you made it so great,” he said. “After July the world will know how great an event this is and how wonderful Franklin County is.”