April 9, 2013 10:05:59 AM
Nathan Gregory - [email protected]
After a one-year hiatus, Grilling on the River is coming back this weekend.
The sixth installment of the annual barbecue cooking and entertainment festival will be held from 4-11 p.m. Friday and will continue 9 a.m. Saturday at the Columbus Riverwalk. Admission for the event, which also hosts multiple crafts and food vendors as well as children's entertainment and musical acts, is free, but donations will be taken for the Columbus-Lowndes Humane Society and the Lowndes Community Foundation.
Grill-masters will compete in professional and amateur divisions for cash prizes. Competitors in the professional division will vie for an invitation to the Great American Barbeque Tour held each year in Kansas City, Mo., the home city of the Kansas City Barbeque Society, which sanctions GOTR.
Twenty-nine teams from eight states will compete in that division, according to GOTR Board President Chuck Cook. He said given the one-year layoff, the number of teams, some of which are traveling from as far away as South Dakota and Illinois to participate, is impressive.
"I'm very pleased with the comeback. People jumped right back on the bandwagon and I'm impressed with all the people who were ready to get back in it," Cook said. "There are barbecue contests everywhere in the state but we want to be their number one choice. With the location of the contest in the city, we've got a lot of pluses that can draw them here instead of somewhere else. We're proud Columbus supports it like it does."
GOTR founder Harvey Myrick, who remains a volunteer with the event, said professional division teams will showcase their grilling skills in four categories -- chicken, pork ribs, pulled pork and beef brisket. The 12 amateur teams must cook chicken and pork ribs. Judging will begin at noon on Saturday and will conclude at 4:30 p.m. with Doug Moulds announcing contest winners.
Myrick said one of the event's staples is its "quiet hour," when gates close Friday night at 11 p.m. and the teams begin preparations for the next day's contest.
"The first thing that pops to my mind is the camaraderie of the cooking teams that come in...getting to know the other teams and comparing and talking about how they do it on Friday night," Myrick said. "When they wake up Saturday morning or after they've stayed up all night Friday night and it comes judging time, they're all very serious about being the grand champion of Grilling on the River."
Winning the competition also puts the winning team in the professional division in a drawing to be selected to participate in the Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue in Lynchburg, Tenn. this October.
"In the barbecue world, probably the pinnacle of cooking is that you've got an invitation to go to the Jack Daniel's in October and cook against some of the best from all 50 states," Myrick said.
Most importantly, Cook said, is that the event is for a good cause and is one of several in Columbus designed to bring residents and visitors together during the spring season in conjunction with other festivals occurring this weekend, including the final weekend of the 73rd annual Spring Pilgrimage and the Hitching Lot Farmers' Market. He said the annual event should be on track to happen each year in the future as it did before last year and hopes as board president to help increase participation in the future.
"My biggest thing is to grow the numbers," Cook said. "To do that, we'll have to update the winning award purses so we can bring more teams out of state. We're fortunate to get 29 teams on board with a late start. Now we have to grow on that and have bigger participation next year."
For more information on the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau sponsored event, visit grillingontheriver.com.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.