Organizers in Kannapolis hope barbecue event at Villagefest becomes annual economic boost
KANNAPOLIS — This weekend’s inaugural Jiggy with the Piggy barbecue competition has already gotten national attention, organizers have said.
In addition to bringing chicken, pork and beef to barbecue aficionados, the minds behind it hope it’ll “bring home the bacon,” in economic terms.
So far, organizer Eddie Smith said, the response has been great.
“Exceeds expectations would be an understatement, when you’re considering 25 teams to be a success, and you get 60,” said Smith, who is both Kannapolis’ deputy city manager and a competitive barbecuer himself.
Smith has not only cooked in competition, but he has been trained as a judge for the Kansas City Barbecue Society, one of the national organizations that sanctions competitions.
Cook teams will be hard at work throughout Saturday, and those who purchase tickets can sample barbecue during the People’s Choice tastings at the Old Cabarrus Bank Building, 201 West Ave.
In addition, a separate chicken wing cooking competition, sponsored by the Kannapolis YMCA, is being held tonight.
Smith said that tickets for both tasting events are expected to sell out quickly.
Those who’ve seen competitive barbecuing on television, such as on TLC’s “BBQ Pitmasters,” can watch the fun for free.
The competition is timed to coincide with the annual Villagefest weekend, which is also the kickoff of Kannapolis Parks and Recreation’s Summer Event Series.
“The biggest impact of the weekend is not just the BBQ component, but the collaboration” with other community organizations, Smith said.
“Everyone is benefiting from this weekend’s events.”
The Kannapolis Rotary Club is co-sponsoring Jiggy with the Piggy.
“To have the level of participation for this inaugural barbecue competition is phenomenal,” said Deborah Carter, president of the Kannapolis Rotary Club.
“We didn’t expect it to be this way, but we’re delighted at the response,” she said.
Carter, who works for the Cabarrus Regional Chamber of Commerce, and Smith both said the economic impact of events like this can’t be understated.
“Anytime visitors come into Cabarrus County, the whole county benefits,” Carter said.
“And oftentimes the exposure will convince people to say, ‘Hey this is pretty cool,’ ” and make the decision to come back, Carter said. “You just never know,” Carter said.
Proceeds from sales of Saturday’s People’s Choice tasting tickets will benefit the Rotary Club’s local outreach projects, she said.
The economic impact on the community of such events can also be profound.
Carolyn Wells, executive director of the Kansas City Barbecue Society, told the Post that, while her organization doesn’t track the economic impact of all events, barbecue competitions can bring hundreds of thousands of dollars into a local economy.
In a phone interview, Wells said that those who measured the economic impact of Greenwood, S.C.’s annual Barbecue and Blues festival had seen it grow from a half-million dollars to upwards of $5 million.
“Competition barbecue is still in its infancy, but it is growing so rapidly,” Wells said.
She said that her society sanctions about 450 contests across the country, with more added every year.
She said that includes competitions in places like Kannapolis that “aren’t traditionally tourist destinations ... small and medium-size cities, and some large cities.”
“We’re in the business of Americana, and barbecue is Americana,” Wells said. “It is the ultimate comfort food. It’s about people being together and enjoying the company of family and friends.”
Wells said Kannapolis and Greenwood share some characteristics — both former textile towns, both trying to draw visitors to a unique event.
She said Greenwood’s festival is “one of my shining stars, an example of everything to do right.”
And, while Wells said she can’t guarantee the success of any barbecue competition, she said Kannapolis’ slate of 60 confirmed teams is “phenomenal for a first-year contest.”
“We tell people, if you get 25 your first year you’re doing really well, so that means they’ve worked really hard,” Wells said.
Already, Smith said he knew of one hotel where some 21 rooms had been booked by those coming to the competition.
“Those are people spending their money in Cabarrus County and Rowan County, bringing their families,” Smith said.
“We spent money in planning this event at hotels, grocery stores, home improvement stores, local print shops,” Smith said.
He also said that leftover pork and brisket from the judging will be donated to Cooperative Christian Ministry and Opportunity House, to be given to the needy.
There’s a lot riding on this weekend in Kannapolis, but Smith said he’s anticipating a successful event.
“It’s a nervous excitement, knowing that you have this opportunity to host professional and first-time barbecue teams,” Smith said.
“You only have one chance to make a good first impression, and we know Kannapolis is going to put forward its best impression,” Smith said. “We always do.”
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.