Call it a smoke show.
Sauces were sweet and savory and appetites were satisfied at the first , held this weekend at Lexington's
The festival doubled as the Massachusetts state-BBQ cook-off championship and a fundraiser for the LABBB Collaborative, an educational support program supporting more than 350 special needs students from more than 60 districts, but principally from Lexington, Arlington, Bedford, Belmont and Burlington.
Event organizer Steve Eastridge, a counselor with the LABBB Collaborative, hatched his plan for a weekend-long BBQ event after making a host of friends on the cook-off circuit with his Meat at Slims cooking team.
“Most of the events that I’ve been a part of, maybe even all of them, they all raise money for some sort of charity," Eastridge told Lexington Patch last week. "I just figured why not have one here in Lexington. The town got behind it, that’s what made a big difference.”
Saturday's schedule included cooking demonstrations, a basketball tournament, live music and more. Competitors fired up the smokers in the evening and spent the rainy night preparing chicken, ribs, pork shoulder and brisket. The judging Sunday afternoon that gave away $4,000 in prize money, and the state championship title to Fatback Joe's BBQ, a one-man cooking team from Hampden, Mass.
By virtue of the victory, Fatback Joe's earned the chance to compete in the American Royal Barbecue Competition in Kansas City for the national crown, according to Eastridge, who said he received a proclamation from Gov. Deval Patrick identifying the Battle Road BBQ Festival as the state's championship.
Fatback Joe's beat out 27 other teams, a number that surprised some event attendees, but not the competitors or restaurant sponsors.
"New England BBQ is something that in the past has been really hard to find," said Geoff Janowski, owner of Blue Ribbon BBQ, which sold ribs, pulled pork, burnt ends and chicken, with beans, coleslaw and pickles. "But, as you can tell by the number of people here and cooks here, you can see that it's here to stay."
Cook-off contestants came from as far as New Jersey and attendees came from all over New England, including many who also took in the Patriots' Day festivities going on in and around Lexington this weekend.
"You try to do it to win, or at least, we call it 'The Walk,' when you walk up there to get one of the prizes," said Jim Paquette, from The Devine Swine Smoking Crew out of Hudson, N.H. "But the problem is, the judges are different every time, so you could do the same thing every time with different results."
A firefighter in Hudson, Paquette said he started competing recently with his brother, Moe, after buying a smoker on Craig's List. They plan to compete in about 8 cook-offs through October, and said at least a few competitors are friends.
"This stuff is all low and slow," said Paquette. "This is the real, authentic, wood- or charcoal-fired Southern barbecue."
Art Harmon, executive chef with Lester's Roadside BBQ, agreed.
"It's great for this art form of artistry and food to be shown like this," he said, pointing behind his stand to the tent city of contestants and smokers. "Barbecue is one of those things that those who love it are fanatical about it, and those who don't are missing out."
Grand Champion: Fatback Joe's BBQ
Reserve Champion: Mighty Swine Dining
Chicken Champion: SauceHound BBQ
Pork Ribs Champion: Lakeside Smokers
Pork Shoulder Champion: Mighty Swine Dining
Brisket Champion: I Smell Smoke