Meat will be sizzling in today's competition

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 23, 2011

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — Rory Connellan of Kannapolis relaxed Friday in his home-away-from-home in the parking lot of Tilley Harley-Davidson.
Under two large tents, Connellan and his teammates had arranged everything they needed for a long night of competitive cooking: music, snacks, furniture, lights, coolers, tables, extra clothes and of course, several grills and charcoal.
“But the most important thing you gotta have is beer,” said Connellan, a member of the aptly named team “Beer Helps BBQ.”
Like roughly 50 other pitmasters at the first Biker, Blues & BBQ Rally, Beer Helps members planned to stay up most of the night, catching a few winks in a tent strapped to Connellan’s pick-up truck.
The cook-off, Salisbury’s first sanctioned by the Kansas City BBQ Society, continues today at 9 a.m. with judging between noon and 1:30 p.m.
Winners will be announced at 4 p.m., and the event shuts down at 5.
“For a first-year event, this is awesome,” said Wayne Blessing, who has competed in 10 cook-offs annually since 2007. “Gary is the hardest working man in barbecue this summer.”
Event coordinator Gary Moss recruited Blessing and partner Kim Hicks, who make up team Midnight Burn, as well as several other prize-winning pitmasters to come to Salisbury.
“There are a lot of really good cooks out here,” Blessing said. “The difference between first and fifth place will be really close.”
Teams compete in four categories — butt, barbecue, chicken and ribs — with points scored for appearance, taste and tenderness.
After hours of painstakingly seasoning, injecting, wrapping, rubbing, smoking and grilling the meat, judging will become a frenzy of activity and stress as competitors rush to submit their entries within a 10-minute window.
“We help each other until turn-in time,” Connellan said. “Come turn-in time, all bets are off.”
Rookie pitmasters like Dennis Rhea and Tim Maltsa — team Big Mother Smokers of Concord — looked to veterans for tips.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” said Rhea, who laughed and bounced around as he seasoned his ribs, which he planned to cook “low and slow.”
Longtime competitive cook Chris Finney of Salisbury took a different approach, methodically injecting his Boston butt with a secret liquid concoction to both flavor and hydrate the meat.
“Look out, this might get you,” Finney warned. “You shoot it in until it gets so full it squirts out someplace else.”
The sole member of team Iron Pig BBQ, Finney said he cooks “fast and hot” in two $1,800 smokers he designed himself for team sponsor Superior Smokers. He planned to light the cookers at 4 a.m. and start the meat at 5 a.m., hours after other competitors began cooking.
“Low and slow is the traditional strategy,” Finney said. “Hot and fast comes from some of the top competitive chefs.”
Apparently, the new-fangled strategy works. Iron Pig BBQ has won both a state championship and the coveted Grand Champion award.
Meat wasn’t the only attraction Friday. Lonnie Murray, 86, of Charlotte sat on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle for the first time, something she said she’s always wanted to do.
“Wonderful!” she said after being helped off the bike.
Daughter Debora Hilton declared the event “exhilarating.”
“The musicians are great, and the big bikers in there, they have a heart of gold,” she said. “They look tough on the outside, but they are warm and fuzzy on the inside.”
Mitch and Mica Jamison of Kannapolis brought daughter Harlie Lambert, 11, who felt right at home among dozens of motorcycles, since her name is a take-off of Harley-Davidson.
“I love it,” she said.

Today’s activity

• Event opens at 9 a.m.
•  Retired NASCAR legend Harry Gant appears as grand marshal all day 
• Free kids inflatables 
• 9 a.m.: Poker run for charity
• Noon: Junior’s 12th Annual Bike Show for charity
• 1:45 p.m.: People’s Choice Award sponsored by Old Stone Winery 
• 3:45 p.m.: Presentation of colors and 21-gun salute by Rowan County Veterans Honor Guard 
• 4 p.m.: All winners announced
• 5 p.m.: Event closes