The Cumming Fairgrounds went to hog heaven on Friday and Saturday.
Barbecue cooks grilled and people ate, both to their hearts’ content, during the second annual festival.
The National BBQ Cup: Que’n in Cumming drew between 14,000 and 15,000, increasing attendance from last year’s inaugural event, organizer Randall Bowman said.
“It’s feeding on what we had last year,” Bowman said. “It’s just growing.”
Cooks gave high praise to the event, he said, and many plan to return to next year’s competition, which Bowman plans to begin working on after a short break for Thanksgiving.
The event was a “success” from the standpoint of the teams and the attendance, he said.
A new format for the people’s choice competition from last year allowed the public to get tickets and sample barbecue at the booths, rather than in a central location.
Bowman said the change was an improvement.
“We served so many people,” he said. “I think we sold almost 4,000 tasting tickets.”
The people’s choice winner, Nice Racks BBQ, gave out nearly 700 samples of pulled pork.
The team names and slogans brought smiles to faces in the crowd, though some may have had parents distracting their children’s eyes as they wandered through the rows of RVs and tents.
The biggest prize went to the overall winner of the contest, who earned the most points from the certified judges.
Munchin’ Hogs at the Hilton, from the Kansas City area, won $4,000 and a ticket to the World Food Championships next November.
An adjustment to their recipe inspired by local tastes brought the team top place in the overall professional division at the second annual event, said cook Rob Magee.
“Personally, this is a big triumph for me, landing a win in Georgia from a team that cooks in Kansas City,” Magee said. “Kansas City has a different style of barbecue. It’s a little sweeter.”
The team attended the 2011 event and took seventh, but this year’s win is important to keep them in the “points race” for the 2012 national title.
Munchin’ Hogs has been competing for 10 years and participates in about 30 events each year.
For some, the competition circuit can be a year’s worth of traveling with an RV and a fancy logo painted on the side, while other professional teams participate as more of a hobby and set up a smoker, a tent and banner.
Like the cooks, judges arrive from across the country to taste the top-of-the-line barbecue and issue scores based on their teachings as certified members of the Kansas City Barbeque Society.
The judging can be stringent at this level of competition, with some prizes coming down to less than a point between first and second place.
In this competition, Munchin’ Hogs edged Holy Smokes BBQ by .0004 for the overall win.
At the awards ceremony, cooks left the stress of the competition behind as they gathered at the fairgrounds stage to celebrate the winners.
Awards for all the categories, from backyard to dessert to the people’s choice, drew excited cheers from the teams and their friends alike.
Billy Carroll and his teammates on DoRagQ wear Guy Fieri-style hair and bandanas at all the award ceremonies to have some fun with it, he said.
His team took top prize in desserts with a chocolate-covered strawberry cheesecake.
Though not one of the big-dollar prizes for the four meats classifications, the dessert category gives teams a chance to show off their creative culinary talents, Carroll said.
The pork, ribs, brisket and chicken categories have certain requirements, he said, but barbecuing those meats is what he loves to do.
Born in south Texas, Carroll said he would often hold outdoor barbecue events for friends before someone encouraged him to start competing in 2006.
“I got hooked after one,” he said. “Once you’re part of this, you just want to do it and do it and do it.”
Carroll said the competition aside, seeing the teams on the circuit and developing those friendships makes the events something more important.
“It really is just a big barbecue family,” he said.
In addition to the food, festival-goers had plenty to do Friday and Saturday, with inflatables for children, musical entertainment and more.
All proceeds from the two-day event will benefit Bald Ridge Lodge and Forsyth County Community Connection.