Culinary come to town

Good food, good music and, most of all, good weather were the main ingredients in Saturday’s successful Smokin’ Blues ‘n BBQ Challenge in downtown Hammond. The annual event combines competitive and casual barbecue competitions with a fun run, cooking classes, arts and crafts and blues music.

 Kansas City Barbecue Society, an organization that promotes a competitive barbecue circuit, awarded points for a first place finish in the professional competition. There were also competitions for the backyard warrior wanting to show off his barbecue skills and for youngsters ages six to 16. 

Jay Ducote (left) and Travis Ducote are members of the Bite & Booze barbecue team. Jay Ducote runs his own food blog at BiteAndBooze.com.

 Attendees were able to pick their favorites in the Backyard Boogey casual competition by donating money to charity in their names with the proceeds going to TARC and Louisiana Special Olympics. Early numbers show more than $6,800 raised just for a taste of what was in the air, and patrons donated another $1,500 in tips at the beer tent. 

Even with the talk of tight economic times, festival organizer Eric Phares said he expected to top the $37,000 the event has averaged the past two years. 

“Everybody has been cooped up all winter long, and people wanted something fun to do,” Phares said. “Estimates had between 16,000 and 18,000 people out for the weekend.”

In the professional competition there were 18 local teams out of 50 entrants, including a couple of competitive newcomers.

“This is our second true year of competitive barbecue,” said Jay D. Ducote of the Bite & Booze team. “We’ve been barbecuing for a tailgating crew for 12 years now.”

Bite & Booze's grill/smoker was specially made out of old beer kegs.

Ducote was joined by his brother, Eric, and cousin Travis, as well as a professional chef, preparing submissions of chicken, pork, ribs and brisket.

“This year we just made tweaks on last year’s recipes,” Jay Ducote said. “Eusebio Gongora is the chef partner at Fleming’s Steakhouse in Baton Rouge, and he came up with the brine. We soak the ribs, chicken and pork butt in that brine overnight. Eusebio also came up with a rub we used on the chicken and a few other things.”

The brisket was a different, but secretive approach.

“Travis [Ducote] came up with the marinade for the brisket and uses a secret trick I’m not sure he wants unveiled,” Jay Ducote said.

Travis Ducote was a little more forthcoming with the secret ingredient, although he skimped on many of the specifics.

“The brisket is something we’ve tailgated with for the last 10 years,” he said. “We start with Dr. Pepper; then I add a lot of seasoning and some alcohol to that.”

Both Jay and Eric Ducote write blogs about their culinary passions. Jay Ducote is fast becoming one of South Louisiana’s top food critics through his blog, Bite & Booze, www.biteandbooze.com, and Eric Ducote, an avid beer enthusiast, runs the blog BR Beer Scene, www.brbeerscene.com.

Eric Ducote added the beer pairings to the barbecue to create an enjoyable experience for the people stopping by their competition site.

“I think the concept of a beer pairing is becoming more and more popular,” he said. “Wine pairings have been en vogue for a while, and there is just as much complexity as beer. Why not try the same thing? There is so much variety in style and flavor of beer.”

He proved his theory by providing several craft beers to pair with Bite and Booze offerings.

Eric Ducote brought along craft beers to pair with each of the Bite & Booze team's entries. This dark brown ale was paired with the ribs prepared by Ducote's brother and cousin.

 

“The ribs would go best with the brown ale I brought,” Eric Ducote said. “And I have a blueberry ale that I think would go well with the chicken. The lightness of the chicken with the spice that it has would go well with the sweetness of the blueberry.”

While not placing in any competition, the Bite and Booze team enjoyed their time and did not finish last. They’re already planning ideas for next year’s competition.

And plans are already under way to expand the offerings at the 2012 event, Phares said. For more information about the competition rules and links to the professional teams who competed, visit www.hammondbluesandbbq.com.

Phares, Cindy Watts and George Baxter remain from the group of five who organized the original event in 2003.

Festival goers watch as Amtrak's City Of New Orleans rolls through downtown Hammond on its daily journey to Chicago, Ill. The train connects towns famous for blues and barbecue like Chicago, Memphis, Tenn. and its namesake New Orleans.

“It took us 18 months to figure out the first one eight years ago,” Phares said. “Now it’s actually starting to get a little easier.”

One of the lessons learned early on came in the form of awards.

“People didn’t want a trophy from a trophy house, so I came up with a Cajun crawfish paddle,” Phares said. “We give away a 36-inch paddle for first through fifth, and a 24-inch paddle for sixth through 10th.”

The unique awards and the good times generated have earned the event a national reputation.

 “The winner, Chix, Swine & Bovine, from Maryland, does a lot of East Coast barbecue,” Phares said. “But everyone he talks to that has come to Hammond has had such a great time that he just had to come down.”

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