Barbecue competitors and connoisseurs will travel to Nelsonville this weekend to flood the streets with the aromas of slow-cooked pork, ribs, brisket and chicken. And that’s not to mention the sweet sauces and peppery rubs.
“When you get that many teams, cookers and smoke, it smells delicious,” John Gambill, a pitmaster of Historic BBQ based in Lebanon, said. “People say they smell it driving past Nelsonville.”
The Ohio Smoked Meat and Barbecue Festival will start at 8 a.m. Friday, when teams begin to set up, and will run until 3 p.m. Saturday, when the winners are presented with their awards on the main stage of Elks Lodge, according to the event’s website. Vendors will sell food after 5 p.m. Friday and after noon Saturday.
In its 20th year, 40 teams are scheduled to participate in several meat-specific competitions and the lauded “Grand Champion” title. The festival is among the bigger barbecue competitions in Ohio, Paul Grant of Slippery Pete’s BBQ from Wadsworth, said.
Hocking College and the Inn at Hocking College hosted the event for the first 11 years of its existence before the Nelsonville Area Chamber of Commerce took on the responsibility of organizing the event in 2008.
Last year, Historic BBQ picked up first place in the brisket competition. Gambill said the team likes to cook at low temperatures using smoke as a complementary flavor. Evoking natural flavors of meat, especially chicken, also garners them compliments from the public, Gambill said.
“The community supports the festival and does a good job of running it,” he said
Nelsonvilles’ Public Square and the surrounding pavement closed to traffic will serve as the location for the smoky gathering. There is no admission fee.
Grant said the competition draws talented and top teams from around the region and throughout the country.
“A lot of teams stay awake the entire night,” Grant said. “For an Ohio contest to be holding 40-plus teams is saying something.”
Gambill noted the atmosphere of the festival has shifted and refined over the years.
“There used to be a lot of people there for the party and only a few serious cookers and now there’s more serious cookers than partiers,” Gambill said. “It’s a tough weekend, and there are a lot of talented teams.”
He said the event acts as a precursor to the Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational held in Lynchburg, Tennessee, on Oct. 22, and Nelsonville offers an opportunity to get one last cook in before an event of such magnitude.
The Ohio Smoked Meat & BBQ Festival is set to award $10,000 in prizes on Saturday to the top teams that reach the podium.
The festival is Kansas City Barbecue Society certified, and local reps will be in attendance.
Along with Gambill, Grant also praised the festival’s historic setup in town.
“Nelsonville is a great host and sponsor,” Grant said. “The organizers are some of the best around and a lot of people look forward to the competition.”
If You Go
What: Ohio Smoked Meat & BBQ Festival
When: Friday and Saturday
Where: Nelsonville Public Square
Admission: Free, food for sale