WINTER HAVEN – The real secret to making delectable barbecued ribs, Bill Jones said, isn’t any one critical ingredient, such as the sauces or the brand of meat you cook with. It actually harkins back, he said, to a much older philosophy: practice makes perfect.
“It’s many, many, many years of doing it,” Jones said, as he stood over the grill he uses for cooking up the barbecued ribs, pork and chicken that’s become his specialty. “It ain’t just ribs. You’ve got your beef and chicken, and you’ve got your rubs and marinates and sauces. And it takes time to learn.”
Jones runs Lazy J’s Bar-B-Que of Winter Haven, which isn’t the name of either a restaurant or regular food service. Instead, it’s the name of the brand of barbecued meats that he cooks, which he enters in competitions – like the Smoke on the Water BBQ Competition that he took part in Saturday morning on the open field off Winter Haven’s Lake Cannon. That’s Jones’ passion – entering competitions like this one, and then savoring the look on his customers’ faces as they bite into his cooking.
“This is what he lives for, the competitions,” said Rita Thomas, who helped serve the meals that Jones was cooking. “We have ribs, pork, beef, chicken, potato salad – and his beef jerky is to die for.”
“I do this as a hobby,” Jones said. “It’s an expensive hobby, but what the heck.”
The 8th Annual Citrus Center Boy & Girls Club Smoke on the Water Competition, held at the Boys & Girls Club property off Havendale Avenue, was designed to be the perfect marriage between those who love to eat ribs, and those who have a passion for cooking it – chefs like George Evlogimenos, who likewise enters his ribs in competitions like this one, under the name Boss Hogg World Famous BBQue.
“We have a terrific sauce, and it’s the rubs (spices) that I use,” he said, adding that his passion for barbecuing ribs has happily coincided with a boom in barbecue competitions nationally.
“In the last six or seven years, ribs have exploded in popularity,” he said. “And ribs competitions have exploded around the country.”
Evlogimenos only enters the ones here in the Sunshine State, but he said that’s fine, because there are plenty to pick from.
“There’s a tremendous amount of competitions in Florida,” he said, while adding that Smoke on the Water is one of the best, in part because it’s more like a family gathering than a competition. By now, he said, as the event nears its first full decade, the folks who enter it are all on a first name basis.
“Everyone here has seen one another and knows one another, and we help each other out,” Evlogoimenos said.
This year, Smoke on the Water brought back a special children’s area that included a pony and a black pig in a cage – waiting to either get fed, pose for a photo, or provide a kiss to whoever wanted one.
“It’s called Kiss The Pig,” said Jane Waters Thomas, a Smoke on the Water staff member who supervised the children’s area. “It’s $3 to get your photo taken with the pig. You can do it with your own cell phone. You feed the pig, and the pig will kiss you. It’s been fun to watch.”
Then again, so has the entire event, Waters Thomas said, and it was only 11 a.m. on Saturday, still a few hours before the crowd would likely reach its peak.
“The attendance is already fabulous,” she said.
Since the entire competition is a fund-raiser for the Citrus Boys & Girls Club, it made sense to bring back the children’s play area, she added.
“This is only the second year we’ve done a children’s area,” Waters Thomas said. “We have a lot of kids in the area right now.”
To purchase any food at the event, patrons needed to buy “Pig Bucks” first.
“Pig Bucks are the currency you need to buy things,” said Shelie Ragan, a Smoke on the Water volunteer who was accepting cash for Pig Bucks. “It’s dollar for dollar here. Pig Bucks are good for everything. Usually people will start out with $20, but they’ll come back and buy more throughout the day.”
There were plenty of chefs who entered the competition, and the vendors employed names like Kick Yo Butt BBQ, Habeas Porkus, Collision Course BBE Team, Rub Me Tender Memphis BBQ, and Uncle Chubby’s “Don’t You Trust No Skinny Cook” BBQ. In addition to ribs, the selections included hillbilly fries, corndogs, southern fried catfish, and even fried oreos, which Rachel Downs was selling at the Cowtown BBQ stands.
“They are oreos dipped in funnel cake batter,” she said. “We roll it in the batter and dip it in canola oil. They’re really good. It’s turns the oreo cakeish, soft inside.”
The chefs also had a lot of praise for the event itself, which throughout the day included a Greenwood Chevrolet Ski Show, Polk County Sheriff’s Office K-9 demonstrations, and live music by Band Haven.
“This is a terrific event,” Evlogimenos said. “It’s a great cause, and people come out here every year in droves. The entertainment is always great, the event is always great.”
As a veteran of many barbeque competitions, Jones agreed, saying “This is one of the best. I’d say it’s right up there.”
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