LAKE ALFRED — — Don Nunnery insists there’s a lot to be said about a truly great barbeque — a lot more than some people might initially think.
“It’s tenderness, and taste,” the Lakeland resident said. “I kind of like to try it first without the barbeque sauce. It has to taste good without it.”
He knows to slice into the meat first, to see if it was undercooked and has just a tad bit pink inside — not good.
“And if it’s overcooked, it’s going to show up dark,” he said. “And presentation is important. It’s more than just taste. Taste is important, but it’s not everything.”
Having a high standard for a truly fine barbeque was important to Nunnery today, because he was a judge at the 3rd Annual Lake Alfred Grillin’ & Chillin’ Barbeque Competition, an event held at Lion’s Park in downtown Lake Alfred — and one that attracted vendors who set up booths, activities for children, and, of course, folks looking to enter the competition to see if judges like Nunnery were ready to rank their cooking to be the best.
The event was a collaboration between the city of Lake Alfred and the Bricks And Sticks Barbeque Association of Polk County, an organization organized by Scott Topper and several other Winter Haven firefighters, as a way to create what he said was a “level playing field” for cooks who take pride in their barbequed pork.
“We were a cook team and we’ve been doing contests since 2005,” Topper said. “We started noticing in the contests a lot of the top finishers were using pellet grills, electric grills, and we thought it wasn’t giving the true sense of what a barbeque is.”
That’s because real chefs, he said, prefer doing their cooking on wood and charcoal, not pellet barbeque grills. So why not create a contest that does it the old-fashioned way, he added.
“We want them to think it’s a more fair, level playing field,” he said.
The event opened at 10 a.m. this morning and started attracting crowds almost immediately, while at the same time the weather was sunny and without a hint of humidity — a stark contrast to the previous weekend, when two straight days of heavy rains washed out a lot of public events like this one.
Both of those developments were a welcome relief for Jeff Tillman, Lake Alfred’s parks and recreation superintendent, who said Grillin’ & Chillin’ not only aims to be a fun event, but also serves as a critical fund-raiser for his department, which has been forced to endure some budget cuts as the weak economy takes its toll on city finances.
“All the funds that are raised here, all the proceeds go directly to Parks & Recreation,” Tillman said, adding that his office oversees 15 parks, including Lion’s Park, and a 112 acre nature preserve off U.S. 17/92 — a lot of work for his small staff.
“We’ve had to tighten up,” he said. “We operate on a small staff to begin with. It’s tough. We’ve all felt it in every department.”
Not as tough, he added, was the exceptional, almost fall-like weather that got ushered in overnight — and made it seem perfect for an outdoor event.
“It’s supposed to be even nicer as the day goes on,” he said.
Tillman said the event would have plenty to offer — and not just for the cooks and judges, but for the crowds of people who get an opportunity to sample the chef’s work.
“We had desserts and sauces turned in for the competition at 10 o’clock,” Tillman said. “Then from 11 to noon, people can turn in their ribs, pulled pork, pork butts, and pork loins.”
The event attracted 16 local vendors, including Linda Hitchcock, Lake Alfred’s library director, and Denise Caudill, the children’s librarian.
“It’s awesome,” Hitchcock said of the event. “It’s beautiful to be out here. And we thought we’d come out and promote the library.”
“We also want to promote our children’s programs, like our Excellence in Readying Program,” Caudill said. “We want to promote literacy in children.”
Caudill said her focus during the day would be passing out the library’s literature and answering questions — but not cooking.
“Unless it’s books, no,” she laughed.
Topper said the competition attracted 15 cooks, the same as last year.
“This event grows every year,” he said. “We have teams that sell either their leftovers or they bring food to sell here.”
And while some folks might think barbequed pork is … well, barbequed pork, Topper insisted it truly is an art form to get it right.
“For us, it’s actually tending the fire and watching the coals and watching the meat,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with pellets, but for me, it’s not true cooking.”
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