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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Barbecue and Scholarships

Teams cookoff in support of local high school seniors

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Over 40 teams from across the country will compete for titles at the Ark-La-Tex Ambassador BBQ Cook-off 11a.m. to 5 p.m. April 25 in Festival Plaza.

The event features a competition between teams from across the country made up of top chefs, professional barbecue teams and backyard grilling fanatics. The teams will be judged on categories of chicken, pork ribs, pork and brisket and a grand champion crowned during the evening’s award ceremony.

Judging follows the “Best of the Best” National BBQ Festival rules and teams can place in each category for cash awards.

Many of the teams come in with sponsors or can be adopted, as well.

“When Dr. Eric Bicknell had the idea to start the BBQ Cook-off several years ago, he approached me as one of the initial sponsors of the event. I knew I wasn’t going to be grilling myself, so as a prime sponsor, I had the opportunity to adopt a team. Now, in the third year, I’m still involved and will be adopting the same team I supported last year, Calvin Abram’s Simply Ribs Bar-B-Que,” Robert Poindexter said. “We setup, grill and hangout! We just have a lot of fun with this event, but it’s also all for a good cause – we get to have fun and raise money for the Ark- La-Tex Ambassadors’ college scholarships awarded to area high school seniors.”

Calvin Abrams team, Abrams Simply Ribs Bar-B-Que, entered the competition the first year, after searching the Web for local competitions. “I love cooking. It’s my hobby, and I hope one day to start a business. I’ve spent the past 25 years cooking for family reunions, parties and events,” Abrams said. “My first year in the competition, I placed in all three categories. Last year, I had many chances to win in chicken, ribs and brisket and didn’t show. I tried to duplicate cooking techniques used by others and learned quickly through that experience that it’s like my grandmother always said, ‘Stick to what you know.’ So, this year, I’ll be focusing on those techniques that have carried me for 25 years. This competition is not all about the money and winning, though. It’s about the fun of the competition!” Kell Phelps heads the judging school for the BBQ Cook-off. Phelps fills this role all over the country for similar BBQ Cook-off events. An important part of what he does is the judging school, where appointed judges are trained to follow the comparative process of the National BBQ Festival Rules. These rules were written as a way to not discriminate on any team regardless of where and what the team is cooking in their circuit. Different parts of the country, of course, have different cultural preferences; but these rules are universal in application and allow a numbers system for fairness. “The hardest part of the judging school is training judges how to turn what they taste into a score for the different criteria. Each entry is judged on appearance, taste and tenderness.

Because everyone’s palate is so different, the team that pleases the most palates within the comparative system is ultimately the winner,” Phelps said.

The judges are selected by the Ark-La-Tex Ambassadors from applications submitted. The group looks for qualified persons that will be certified through the judging school process. Once they have judged a cookoff, they are not required to go back through the certification but rather receive a crash course prior to the judging day. “The best part of the judging school is that it’s different wherever you go because of the people and the culture. Shreveport is a pretty big city with a hometown feel. To me, this makes it different than say Douglas, Georgia or other smaller markets. It truly is a special family reunion feeling that makes you feel right at home,” Phelps said. “The Ark- La-Tex Ambassadors make sure you have everything you to need to have a good time, so I try to encourage everyone to just enjoy it. So often these events become more about the fundraising and the winning, but this one does it all well and we are proud to be a part of it, coming back year in and year out!”

Want to go?

The third annual BBQ Cook-off by the Ark- La-Tex Ambassadors is “Grillin’ for Grads.” Admission is $10, and guests receive three tasting tickets and one People’s Choice voting token. Admission proceeds will go toward the Ark-La-Tex Ambassadors’ college scholarship essay contest for high school seniors in the area. Festival-goers will taste a vast selection of food, live entertainment by the Bayou Boogie Band 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and People’s Choice voting between 12:30 to 3 p.m. for an announcement of the winners at the award ceremony 4 p.m. Check arklatexambassadors.com/bbq-cook-off/ for barbecue event activities and hours. If you are interested in entering the competition or sponsoring a team, download an entry form from the website, email arklatexbbq@gmail.com or call 865-5555. The judging school will be 7 p.m. April 23 at Silver Star Smokehouse. For those true barbecue fanatics, catch the Friday night kickoff party 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. in Festival Plaza with music by the Bluebirds Magnificent 7. Admission is $10. Saturday, the first judges meeting is at 9 a.m. at The Depot at Festival Plaza, and turn ins for judging start at 10 a.m. with chicken, 10:45 a.m. for pork ribs, 11:30 a.m. for pork and 12:15 p.m. for brisket.

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