James Cruse, pitmaster, chef, partner of Central City BBQ, in New Orleans, a restaurant doing as well or better than anyone downtown, and when compared to any barbecue place on the Gulf Coast, is the kind of quality competition that professional cooking teams throughout Florida and Georgia like to go up against.
There has been only half the events on the Florida Barbecue Association this past year, so last weekend’s Butts and Clucks, in addition to attracting high-quality grillers, was a welcome addition on the calendar for the gathering, drawing 46 competing teams, 10 more than last year, to an encampment in Battery Park.
The purse was unchanged, even though there had been no effort made to draw sponsors or local attendees, due to COVID-19. Health advisory protocols were put in place to the best you can at a competitive grilling event, going well beyond the usually sanitary rules that waft across food-handling matters. (See related story).
Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce Director John Solomon, mastermind of making Butts and Clucks a high-profile event, fiercely competitive – and generous – with his grill and chef talents, pulled off another well-run event in this coveted getaway place by the Gulf. This was no mean feat given the rules that were stressed at every turn to an audience that brings together restaurateurs and other food service professionals needing to rebuild their industry, with business people, various foodie-types and neighborhood partiers yearning for a familiar and delicious break from the pandemic.
Cruse, familiar with dealing with his 35-employee, 400-seat restaurant operating at 25 percent capacity in the Big Easy, called up his friend Dave Frosch, from Flame Boss, and he drove up from Orlando, and they took on Butts and Clucks.
For whatever reason, such as turning in their meats – brisket, ribs, pulled pork and chicken – within seconds before being disqualified, the team scored second in brisket and chicken, and the Grand Champion, for a $3,750 total payoff.
“Every time we had an issue, every time we had a hiccough, he worked around it,” said Frosch. “It’s going to be a good ride home.”
It was a good ride home for Nice Racks BBQ, chicken winner, worth $450, and for Belly Up BBQ, best ribs; Keeping It Smokin, best pork; and Flying Pig Bar-B-Cue, best brisket.
Keeping It Smokin, took Reserve Champion, good for two grand; and Boog-a-lou Smoke Crew, third, and Sweet Smoke Q fourth. Prize money was scattered among competitors down to 10th place in each of the four categories.
One team, last year’s state champ, Backyard Bros, did not have a big money finish, a third in chicken their best result.
Together with Mike and Monica Jones, and Greg Platis and others, Bros’s Tim and Patti Maloy were enjoying at their cooking site the state champ trophy they earned during an event-shortened season, a year that included trips to Haines City and Davenport, and Savannah, Georgia.
“We worked hard,” said Maloy. “When things went wrong, we didn’t fall out,” bragging that the team finished in the top 9 in each of the 15 contests they entered.
They’re not food professionals, Jones owns an auto repair shop, Maloy is a painting contractor.
Maloy is also a big part of helping out with raising monies to serve local needs in the places where the team competes.
He and Buck Freeman raised $1,586, through the Blue Bucket Challenge, that will go to the Elder Care Community Council.
That’s in addition to the 16 pans of pulled pork, a pan of brisket and a pan of ribs, that Solomon, Sam Gilbert, Nancy Hodgson and a crew of volunteers picked up after the event and delivered in a refrigerated truck to Holy Family Senior Center, which is closed, but still busy serving meals to go.
“With donating all this food and helping with Blue Bucket, we were able to provide meals and funds to help support a organization that helps our seniors,” Solomon said.
There were other goodies given out, Rose Griffin won the raffle of a Traeger Pro-34 grill, donated by ACE Hardware, one of a slew of sponsoring businesses and other supporters that gave money, trade, plumped up the goodie bags with giveaways, like coupons, can openers and assorted tchotchkes.
They had a deviled egg contest, but there were just seven entries. Winner was Cluck Yeah!, the team of Erika Sheats from Decatur, Alabama.
Without a crowd, the event ended up selling a small fraction of the pork butts that were sold last year, Solomon said, but it did succeed in bringing a decent-sized wave of tourist dollars washing through the community to what is a distinguished event on the barbecue calendar.
“We hope that people understand we did something safely, and it showed if you work and try at it, you can do something safely,” he said. “The key word is ‘do something.’ You have to adapt to your environment; this is just a little more challenging than, say, rain. But the chamber mission is to be here to help.”
This article originally appeared on The Apalachicola Times: Central City reigns as BBQ champ