When Kenny Nadeau woke up at 5:30 a.m. Saturday morning, he was surprised to learn that the temperature in the smoker that was cooking his barbecue had dropped 100 degrees, from the optimal 240 degrees, a change that could impact his entry in the day’s Butts and Clucks competition.
Whatever effect it may have had may well have been flavor-enhancing, as Nadeau’s Uncle Kenny’s Takeaway team out of Clermont edged out Tillman’s BBQ, out of Margate, for the Grand Champion Belt.
“He’s a tough competitor,” said Tillman Lee Nelson. “These guys are tough to beat.”
Nelson’s wife Amie figured it was a slightly better finish in the chicken category (they were 14th, Uncle Kenny was 12th) and in the ribs (Uncle Kenny was 11th and Tillman 14th) that spelled the difference.
Uncle Kenny’s edged out Tillman for second place in brisket, just missing a perfect score, and in pork, the places were reversed, with Tillman nosing out Uncle Kenny for sixth.
In the end. Uncle Kenny came home with about five grand, and Tillman a little more than four, for their many top finishes.
“The charcoal didn’t drop,” said Nadeau, in explaining why the cooking temperature had dipped. “It focused me to constantly be checking things. We adapt and overcome.”
Nadeau is no stranger to Apalachicola, having brought his food truck in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael to help feed displaced people. “This town, and this contest, has always been special to me for that reason,” he said.
The brisk but dry weather had kept teams on their toes, from the time the contest opened Friday afternoon with the Mystery Box competition, in which 11 entrants tried their hand at turning gator tail and crawfish into a winning dish in two hours.
That competition was won by James Golden, from K & E Little Smokers, out of Clermont, for his crawfish crab cake and citrus poutine, and buffalo fried gator tacos.
The teams had to get their entries right on time, so when Joseph Puccio, pitmaster of Smoke Show Mafia, out of Odum, Georgia, saw that their chicken entry had been wrongly boxed, and he had to hustle to rearrange it, and missed getting it in by two seconds, he knew he would be out of the big money, as one-fourth of his options had evaporated.
But there was plenty of high spirits and fun to go around, like the Lang BBQ Smoker team out of Nahunta, Georgia, who competed on behalf of a company that invented and manufactures the highly regarded reverse flow offset stick burner smokers. Lang can boast of five of their smokers owned by the ruler of Dubai, who is a dominant player in the Texas market and used to be a sponsor of the popular TV show BBQ Pitmasters.
Working together, pitmaster “Capt. Darryl” Strickland teamed with Anthony Nicolosi, a retired Lemans race car driver, who was busy in the afternoon watching on his smartphone his son’s mixed martial arts tournament in Miami. Plus there was Trent Cady., a corporate pilot who happens to be a cousin to the Van Zandts of Lynyrd Skynyrd fame, and Tami and Toby Eason, who work in the automotive retail industry in Waycross, Georgia.
When it came time to announce the award, organizer John Solomon had the crowd cheering as he read off the top 10 teams in each category, all of whom get prize money.
The raffle of a smoker from Jim Elser was won by Bill Tanner, with the best rig going to Cold Beer BBQ.
Tillman’s was honored for making the longest trip to compete, while the highest scoring local team went to Richard Wade of Brag N Bones.
Elser’s team of Sweet Smoke Q won the People’s Choice, as well as the best pork bbq sauce. Uncle Kenny took the best chicken sauce, and the best overall sauce prize.
James Golden, from K & E Little Smokers, out of Clermont, took home the belt for the Mystery Box competition.
Hold Your Horses, out of Griffin, Georgia, won the chicken category, while Nice Racks BBQ out of Englewood won the rib prize.
In ribs, a perfect score by Smoke N Ash, out of Orlando, earned them the top prize, while a perfect score for Done Right Smokin’ out of Davenport saw them victorious in the brisket category.
Following the event, 40 pans of ribs, chicken, shredded pork, brisket and sides were donated by the event organizer, the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce to the Elder Care Community Council’s meal program, which feeds 126 seniors daily.