Chow Town

Postcard from Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue

Serious judging begins on Saturday. Judges love ribs!
Serious judging begins on Saturday. Judges love ribs! Special to The Star

Everyone in the international barbecue community strives to be in Lynchburg, Tenn., on the fourth Thursday, Friday and Saturday of October.

This small, friendly town, home of the Jack Daniel’s Distillery, is host of the annual championship invitational, also known as The Jack.

This year, 72 domestic teams and 20 international teams competed in the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue. More than 20,000 barbecue fans came to enjoy the fun.

Here’s a brief rundown of memorable highlights:

Each year I bring a bag of hickory nuts, marinated in Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey, Chow Town water, and secret barbecue seasonings (known as the Magic Hickory Nuts). The team that draws the one nut that is packed with the most magic will be the Grand Champion. Teams love this ritual. It is unique to The Jack. Most teams save their nut as a memento. Thanks to DennyMike Sherman from Maine and Les Christen from South Dakota for making sure each team got a magic nut.

Thursday night Byron Chism of Bad Byron’s Butt Rub hosted a pig pickin’ party for invited friends at his Butt Ranch in rural Moore County. The pig, the side dishes, the beverages, fellowship and fun was memorable.

Friday morning it was my honor to serve as one of five judges in the “I Know Jack … about grillin’!” contest. Five two-person teams grilled and plated dishes of their own creation from identical ingredients such as eggs, bread, potatoes, steak, mushrooms, pancake mix and Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire Whiskey. Apples with butter, sugar and Tennessee Fire were a required side dish. Each team created delicious creative food. It was tough to choose the winner.

Friday night was the annual party on Barbecue Hill for the contest teams, judges and invited guests. The buffet included country fried chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes, apples in sugar and cinnamon-laced Jack sauce, plus tea, lemonade and the local product.

Primo Grill staff treated guests to fantastic eggrolls and grilled lamb chops. The burning of the grievances happened after country music star Keith Anderson’s performance. Master Distiller Jeff Arnett was assisted by Keith Anderson in hoisting Jasper and his belly full of regrets on the fire.

Saturday was the most serious day of the weekend. Judges assembled in the morning for instructions and the official oath. After that we were free to mingle, socialize and sign each others’ aprons until the first turn-in at 11 a.m.

By around 3 p.m. judges finished a lineup of Jack Daniel’s Sauces, Cook’s Choice, Home Cookin’ from the Homeland, chicken, ribs, pork, beef brisket and dessert. Kansas City was represented by Smoke N Babes BBQ of Olathe, Brew ‘N’ Bar-B-Que of Shawnee, Truebud BBQ of Tonganoxie and R Butts R Smokin of Blue Springs.

At 5 p.m., an overflow crowd assembled in the judging pavilion for the awards ceremony, culminating in Smoky D’s of Des Moines being recognized as grand champion.

Competing or judging at The Jack is a coveted honor in the international barbecue network. Just being there makes you a winner. Kudos to all who made it happen: Debbie Christian, event coordinator, and her exemplary team of staff and volunteers; Steve May, director of Jack Daniel’s Lynchburg Homeplace; Chip Chapman, emcee; the people of Lynchburg, and Jack Daniel’s parent company, Brown-Forman.

A highlight video of the 26th annual competition is posted online here.

Ardie Davis founded a sauce contest on his backyard patio in 1984 that became the American Royal International Barbecue Sauce, Rub & Baste contest. He is a charter member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and an inductee into the KCBS Hall of Flame. He has been interviewed on food shows and writes for barbecue-related publications. He is also the author of books on barbecue. His most recent release is “America’s Best BBQ Homestyle: What Champions Cook in Their Own Backyards.”