VERO LAKE ESTATES – More than a dozen competitors set up tents in Vero Lake Estates and broke out their grills and smokers, ready for the first North County Backyard BBQ Challenge.
“I’m not saying it’s the best, but I’m hoping it’s number one,” said home-barbecuer Freddie Holsonbake, one of the numerous competitors hoping for top honors.
“Everyone thinks their’s is the best,” co-organizer Scott Hamrick said of the barbecue.
That was how he and fellow organizer Jeff Raynor came up with the idea for the North County event.
Raynor and Hamrick were sitting around a few weeks ago when they got to jawing about whose barbecue was better. Instead of putting their own to the test, they decided to throw a competition and invite others out.
The event doubled as a fund-raiser for the Indian River County Firefighters Burn Fund, Raynor’s choice charity, and The Source, a charity Hamrick supports.
“It’s something we wanted to do,” Hamrick said of merging each other’s talents and interests into the family friendly daylong event.
Sequestered in a nearby building, four judges sat around a table sampling offerings from about 16 teams, including chicken, ribs and pork.
The entries were judged on appearance, taste and tenderness.
“That’s a lot of bites,” Dawn Verderber said, noting that they were trying to take the smallest bite possible but still get the full effect of the entry.
None of the judges had judged barbecue before but by the end of the competition seemed to think they were professionals.
“Is too tender such a thing?” Elizabeth Shimmin asked while sampling a rib. The meat fell off the bone, making it difficult to eat, she noted.
While the judges worked to sample each entry and save their palates for the next round, challenge-goers gathered to watch four brave souls take on Raynor’s hot wing eating contest.
Prior to dishing up plates of 25 wings each, Raynor sampled the sauce. His eyes welled up and he suppressed a cough.
The competitors were not swayed.
“Hot wings are the only hot things I’ll eat,” said Becky Partan, of Sebastian, who was the first to sign up for the competition. “And I want them really hot.”
The winner was Arthur Toothill, of Vero Beach, who was the first to eat all 25 wings.
“My mouth is on fire,” he said shortly after the competition.
The youngest of the competitors was 9-year-old Johnny Harris III, who enjoys watching Food Network and Man vs. Food.
“He wanted to do it,” his mom said. “I said ‘have fun'”
After the contest, in which Harris placed third, he said it was fun.
“I have confidence in myself,” he said of why he thought he could compete.
When asked if the wings were hot, Harris said, “Meh – not for me!”
Harris said he didn’t mind coming in third place or knowing how many wings he had eaten.
“It doesn’t really matter,” he said of the wing count, “because, in the end, we all had fun.”
And the winners are….
1st Chillin’ and Grillin’
2nd Presley and Andy
3rd Team XR
1st Presley and Andy
2nd Team XR
3rd Smoke N Gators
1st Roadkill Grill
2nd Presley and Andy
3rd Grillin Cowboy
Grand Champion – Presley and Andy
People’s Choice – Presley and Andy