World champion barbecuer Chris Lilly has a simple rule about barbecue competitions.
In order for him to come, they have to meet the “fun factor.”
“I’ll typically do about four competitions each year, three cooking schools then a couple of big barbecue festivals like the Big Apple Block Party in the middle of New York City or the South Beach Wine and Food Festival,” Lilly said. “I pick the fun ones and the Blount Barbecue Bash is definitely one of those.”
Lilly, head chef with Big Bob Gibson’s Barbecue in Decatur, Ala., came to Blount County three years ago to put on a cooking class on the eve of the first Big Barbecue Bash. In 2007, the Bash was a Leadership Blount Class of 2007 fundraiser. Class member Randy Massey recruited Lilly to come to Alcoa.
“I have done cooking schools all over the country, and we’ve been very fortunate in our success in barbecue competitions. In a lot of schools I’ve done, I’ve used techniques I learned in competition and techniques I learned at Big Bob Gibson’s,” he said.
Lilly’s class, held the Friday night before the Bash, is an exclusive for Bash sponsors who donate money to help support the weekend cook-off, which is a fundraiser for area charities.
Lilly said he enjoys the Big Barbecue Bash cooking class. “It has become an annual thing. I never return to a barbecue unless I have a great time and the Barbecue Bash has provided that three years running,” he said. “It is definitely becoming an annual thing for me.”
Lilly said he appreciates the unique way the Bash benefits a variety of charities in the community. Overall, proceeds from the Bash go to benefit Helen Ross McNabb Foundation and New Hope Children’s Advocacy in their efforts toward the Blount County Community Campus for social services planned on McCammon Avenue near the Blount County Children’s Home. The goal is for the campus to be a one-stop shop for social services for Blount County residents.
In addition, each winning team splits their winnings with the charity of their choice with half going to the team and the other half to the charity. “It’s phenomenal that the Barbecue Bash would do that, and it peaks more interest within the world of barbecue,” Lilly said.
Lilly said that the many amateur barbecue competitions are for charity. “That makes it all the more special. In the majority of barbecue competitions, charity and philanthropy is close to their heart,” he said. “Lots of contests are leaning toward that, and it draws more interest.”
Lilly is unveiling his new book, “Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book: Recipes and Secrets from a Legendary Barbecue Joint,” and will do a book signing at the Bash. The book gives insight into Big Bob Gibson, the founder of the restaurant and the grandfather of Lilly’s wife. “What I’m most proud of is that the book is a reflection of Big Bob Gibson’s Barbecue throughout the years. He started this restaurant in 1925, and it is still going strong today,” Lilly said.
Lilly said the book is full of recipes Gibson has done through the years. It also features a bunch of recipes the staff is doing now and what Gibson’s particular barbecue style has grown into.
“Barbecue styles are definitely regional. His style is cooking with indirect heat over hickory wood at a very low temperature of 225 degrees,” Lilly said. “Also, he has some things that he has done over the years nobody else has done -- such as use barbecue white sauce, one of his original sauces, on chicken.”
Lilly said the book also goes into detail defining the difference between barbecuing and grilling. “Lots of people don’t realize there’s a difference. It shows how to turn your grill into a slow barbecue cooker,” he said.
The book has ideas, techniques and recipes Lilly has been using for 20 years. “It was definitely a labor of love,” he said. “It’s definitely something I wanted to do because of the history and unique character of Big Bob Gibson.”
Lilly said barbecuing in the United States has its origins in other countries. “But barbecue as we know it today is one of your very few American foods,” he said. “It was a low and slow style. Low temperature cooking developed right here in the U.S., and it’s a cooking style that has been perfected over the years, especially in the South.”
Lilly said the reason it is becoming more popular is because people are starting to appreciate it. “Barbecuing is not only the food on the grill but the time spent and the experience surrounding the food. You are not talking just about food but the celebration around the food as well,” he said.
Lilly said typically barbecuing in the South lasts for more than one meal. “It is basically cooking all day and overnight. Barbecuing is really the celebration that surrounds the cooking of the food,” he said.
Lilly said he’s fortunate that his hobby is also his livelihood. As he remembers the more than 30 contestant’s tents at the Big BBQ Bash site, Lilly said it was plain to see that people take pride in their cookers.
“This often means they’re investing a lot of money into their cookers,” Lilly said. “It’s more of a hobby for lots of people. Lots of folks on teams cook barbecue instead of playing golf or tennis,” he said. “That’s what they love to do. It gives them pleasure to hang out with people who have their same interests and passions.”
The Big BBQ Bash, which is free to the public, opens at 9 a.m. on Saturday. Many of the competing teams will be selling their barbecue to the public. Lilly will be signing his book ($24.99) from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday. To learn more about Lilly’s new book, go to http://www.randomhouse.ca.