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GRILLIN’ ON THE RIVER: Champion cookers from across the South descend on Columbus for ‘family-friendly’ event

 

Allen Baswell

 

A chance to spend time preparing favorite barbecue delicacies such as chicken, pork, ribs and brisket, along with the chance to win cash prizes, is some of what brings many people from Alabama, Louisiana and other states to Columbus for the fourth annual Grilling on the River. 

 

The event starts today with the gates opening at 4 p.m., and continues through Saturday. It is along the Columbus Riverwalk, near Reubens, at 117 Moore''s Creek Drive.  

 

Motor homes and other recreation vehicles hauling massive cookers, meat and wood to cook it with, began making their way into the Friendly City Thursday as competitors began setting up with plans to start cooking late tonight. 

 

For Don Feil of Decatur, Ala., it is a chance to get back into the competitive cooking arena after a 18-month layoff. 

 

"This is my second Grilling on the River. I didn''t make it last year because of my mother''s failing health. She has passed on, but I remember she came with me to the first one. She was part of the cooking team, and always enjoyed being here," he said. 

 

The cooking team Feil refers to is called Piggin'' and Grinnin''. He and Doug Williams make up the team, and they have been to four other barbecue cooking contests this year in Pensacola, Fla., Mobile, Hammond, La., and Slidell, La. 

 

Feil said ribs are his specialty, but he said he wants to work on other items. 

 

"I need to work on my brisket. Because it has been so long since I have cooked, it is going to take me some time to get back into a rhythm," he said. 

 

Feil said one of the reasons he came back to Grilling on the River is the work and efforts of Harvey Myrick, the organizer of the event. 

 

"He just does a good job organizing this. He has gone out of his way to make us feel welcome and to have a good time," he said. 

 

Myrick said proceeds from the event will benefit the Columbus-Lowndes Humane Society. There is no admission, but donations to the Humane Society will be accepted. 

 

Myrick said the event is open to the public, and offers a family-friendly atmosphere. 

 

"We will have face painting for the kids both Friday and Saturday, as well as Jump-N-G''s inflatables, and much more, including Mother Goose," he said. 

 

For sports fans, radio talk show host Max Howell will broadcast his "Sports Drive" show from GOTR from 4-6 p.m. today. Other activities will include a Landstar "No-Zone" 18-wheeler display from 4-9 p.m., a Mississippi Products "Anything Butts" contest at 7:30 p.m., and music from Fast Scarlet from 8-11 p.m. 

 

"The ''Anything Butts'' contest is new. This is where judges will decide on Mississippi-based products such as Superior Catfish and sweet potatoes from the Mississippi Sweet Potato Council," Myrick said. 

 

On Saturday, the gates will open at 10 a.m. with an open bike show from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., and an open car show will also take place during that time slot.  

 

Myrick said for the whole family, competition barbecue samples prepared by cook teams will be available at the Food Giant "Peoples Choice" tent Saturday from noon-2 p.m.  

 

"This is where you can be the judge," Myrick said. 

 

From 2-4 p.m. is music by "Mookie" Wilson, and the awards presentation is scheduled at 4 p.m. 

 

Craft vendors as well as food vendors will also be at the event today and Saturday. 

 

The gates will close at 6 p.m. Saturday. 

 

Coming back to defend his title as the overall grand champion is John Swift of Atmore, Ala. He along with his wife Kathy comprise the team known as the Wild Bunch Butt Burners. He said in order to win the overall title, you have to score well in four cooking categories -- ribs, brisket, pork butt and chicken. 

 

"I want to make sure I can do well in all four again this year," he said. 

 

Like Feil, Swift said he came to GOTR because of Myrick. 

 

"If an event is going to be good, it has to be well organized, and Harvey does just that," he said. 

 

Dan Watson of Smyrna, Tenn., is back again, and hopes to do well in the pork butt and brisket categories. 

 

"I''ve been on a good roll lately with the pork butt, and have done well with brisket. This is my third event this year," he said. 

 

The grand champion will receive $1,500 and the reserve champion will receive $750. 

 

"The grand champion will automatically qualify to cook in the American Royal in Kansas City in the fall, as well as the Jack Daniels Invitational in Lynchburg, Tenn.," Myrick said. 

 

Myrick added the event, which is sanctioned by Kansas City Barbecue Society, is recognized by a proclamation from Gov. Haley Barbour as the State of Mississippi Barbecue Championship. 

 

The event continues to grow in terms of competitors and prizes. According to Myrick, last year, 59 teams from 10 states competed, and 46 teams from eight states took part in 2008 as they competed for over $10,000 in prize money. In 2007, 43 teams from seven states competed for $7,000 in cash prizes. 

 

This year, the prize is $8,000 based on 40 teams, $10,000 based on 50 teams and $12,000 based on 60 teams.

 

Allen Baswell is a former staff reporter for The Dispatch

 

 

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