Fred Weston would like to win the Big BBQ Bash on Saturday, May 10.
Winning, however, isn’t his primary motivation. Weston says if he can’t have fun feeding his friends and sponsors, he’d rather just skip it.
Bash organizers will shout “Amen,” at that philosophy. It is exactly what the Second Annual Big BBQ Bash is all about.
The Bash will be May 9-10 at Springbrook Corporate Center in Alcoa, adjacent to the Alcoa Municipal Building. Teams began signing up last week, and Weston had his application in hand the first day they were available. Rick Hudolin did, too, and he beat Lakehead Fred as the first person to sign up this year. Both had teams last year and were eager for the contest/community party to continue.
The Big BBQ Bash entry form is in Blount Today (page 5) and is available on the Web site at www.blountbbqbash.com. Deadlines to enter are April 11 (Early Bird) and April 28 is the last day to enter. There are five categories for judging: pulled pork, ribs, chicken, brisket and Most Creative. Prize money totaling $21,000 will be given away to the winners, with half of the prize money going to the winner’s chosen charity. Money raised through the contest, other than prize money, will be donated to Helen Ross McNabb and New Hope Children’s Advocacy Center to go toward a Blount County children’s campus.
Sponsorships are available at four levels: Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze. This year’s event will again include music, the Mayoral Regatta, contest judging, a professional barbecue school led by seven-time world class barbecue champion Chris Lily and food, beer, soft drinks and T-shirts for sale by contestants and vendors. (The Chris Lily school is for the top three sponsorship levels.) The contest is for amateurs. If you’ve ever won a sanctioned event (such as KCBS or NBBQA), you may not enter the same classification.
Marty Millsaps, a member of the original Leadership Blount class and head of Communications and Marketing for the barbecue again this year, said that in its first year the event had 36 teams and one national barbecue magazine proclaimed the Bash to be the third largest in the state.
“This year we hope to have between 45 and 50 teams. We’re not looking for professional cookers. We want neighborhood teams, the guy that barbecues to show how good he is. The slogan has always been ‘Smoke up or shut up,’”
Weston said he has seven or eight sponsors for his booth this year, and he intends to feed them well on Friday night of the contest as they prepare for the competition on Saturday. “That gives the sponsors some place to go Friday night to hang out, eat and listen to music,” he said. “I was told we had 125 people last year.”
Jody Slimp, manager of the Maryville Aubrey’s Restaurant, is also on Weston’s team and is a family friend of Weston. Slimp and Weston have been friends for more than 10 years. Weston even built a special cooker for Slimp that is made out of two bathtubs.
“I made him a cooker out of two bathtubs that I put hinges on,” said Weston. “It is awesome, and it works.”
Weston said he first thought of building a bathtub cooker when he attended a barbecue competition school in Knoxville. “I didn’t learn anything, but I copied his cooker,” said Weston. “I went home and improved on it. Mine has better airflow.”
Weston said he got his Lakehead nickname years ago because he lived on the lake and often barbecued for friends and family. “It doesn’t take much for a bunch of guys to have fun,” he said.
Weston said he had been smoking meat since 1985. “Dennis Allmon got me cooking and taught me to do it. The first one we did was whole pig in the ground. Then we went from the ground to big barrel smoking. England Stoves had had a cooker they would loan us,” Weston said.
Another friend, Bill Russell of Maryville recruited him to help Russell cook for the Blount County Homebuilder’s Association’s monthly meeting. “We wanted to see if we could get attendance up, so once a year in April, we cook,” he said. And attendance, he said, grows on those dates.
Through the years, Russell and Weston changed what they cooked. “We tried to do whole hogs, but that was too much work. Then we went with Boston butts and shoulders. That’s all I do now,” he said.
The long-time plumber by trade said the best thing he barbecues is pork shoulders and that working over a cooker could be a second job. “I could do this for a living,” he said.
Competing began in 2000, when Russell called Weston on a Tuesday and convinced him to enter his smoked salmon in a competition in Harriman. “I went up there with him, entered my salmon. It came in first. That was the first time I had gotten up on a stage since high school,” he said.
Weston learned more about barbecuing when a friend took him to Memphis two or three years ago. “We spent a week just walking around, talking to people, dreaming. It takes a whole week to compete in Memphis in May.”
As for selling his barbecue, Weston is handing that opportunity over to his daughter, Lori Stewart, who is going to involve their church, St. Mark’s United Methodist in Louisville, and will be selling Lakehead Fred’s barbecue to raise money for mission trips.
“I plan on putting on 30 Boston butts for the church and then all you need is two or three for competition.”
Weston said during the competition there isn’t a lot of resting going on. “I don’t sleep Friday night. I’m too wound up,” he said. This year, he will enter all five of the categories, but will only sell the pulled pork from the Boston butts.
Weston said he especially likes the way the Bash concentrates on raising money for charities. He moved to Blount County from upstate New York years ago, after his military service was over, and raised his family here. “I wanted to get back to the slower life,” he said.
He’s thankful for how people in Blount County helped his business throughout the years and that’s part of the motivation for contributing back to the community.
“You gotta give back. I moved up here in 1976 and didn’t know a soul. I didn’t have a job, just a wife and two little kids. Not even a week later, I went and got a job and haven’t been unemployed since then,” he said.
Weston’s wife is Debbie Weston. They have two daughters, Lori Stewart and Linda Hensley.
Weston said anyone interested in being in the competition should get involved. “I would definitely try it,” he said. “I thought I was pretty good last year, but there were a lot of guys, backyard barbecuers, who were really good,” he said.
Rick Hudolin, who was the first to enter the contest this year, said he first became interested in barbecuing when he lived in Memphis for seven years. He remembered going into a well-known barbecue restaurant in Memphis and that whet his appetite for barbecuing.
“I walked into Neely’s Barbecue and tried their barbecue. Tony Neely and Pat Neely were working in that location, and they introduced me to barbecuing,” said Hudolin. “I really learned that just about anything you could cook, you could cook on a grill and that was amazing to me.”
Hudolin said that the first time he went into the Neely’s restaurant, he spent two hours talking to them about barbecue. “They were telling me about prepping and cooking ribs.”
Later, Hudolin was an ambassador at the Memphis in May competition. “I picked the brains of the contestants and got bit by the bug and have been doing it ever since,” he said.
Hudolin said he plans to prepare entries in all five categories for the Big BBQ Bash. Hudolin, who is with TNBank, said barbecuing is a passion for him. “It’s a lot of fun but it’s a lot hard work,” he said.
Hudolin said he enjoys the camaraderie of barbecue competitions. “People are eating your food and enjoying it and talking to other cooks and competitors and trading secrets here and there,” he said. “I take any tip. It’s nice when people ask how you do your barbecue. You get a pretty good feeling.”
Weston agrees. “Why do this? I just enjoy seeing people smiling and having a good time. It’s really not an expensive way to have a good time,” he said. “You can throw on a few shoulders and chicken and get a bunch of people together and have a good time.”
Sponsors to date include: Platinum: City of Alcoa, Massey Electric, Cherokee Millwright & Mechanical, Blount Today, Alcoa Inc. and Joseph Construction; Silver: Eberting Orthodontics and Merchant & Gould PC, an Intellectual Property Law Firm.
Last year’s first place winners were: Smoke on the Water (pulled pork); Soggy Bottom Smokers (chicken); Chairman of the Boar (ribs) and Alcoa Tn Ops Hotline Grillmasters (Anything But).