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Editor's Note: List of winners:
Grand Champ - Stubborn Bull BBQ
1st Place Chicken - Que and A Half Men
1st Pork Ribs- Sweet Chicken
1st- Pork- ZBQ
1st Brisket- Stubborn Bull BBQ
New London — Waterfront Park was smokin' Sunday afternoon as 19 teams competed for the state championship in the Kansas City Barbecue Society competition.
"These guys rolled in last night and started cooking," said event organizer Barbara Neff. "They cooked all night long."
By noontime, the sky was brightening and a breeze off the Thames River sent the mouthwatering aroma of smoked meat, rubs and sauces throughout the downtown.
Crews with names like Smoking Hogzz and Two Little Pigs turned out their best barbecued chicken, pork and beef, then waited to see if they would take home the title.
Certified judges sat in a tent, chewing and reviewing the entries for appearance, taste and texture and cleansing their palates with bottled water and Saltine crackers. Barbecue, once a regional specialty, has evolved into an international cuisine, according to Ken Dakai of Clinton, Mass., a KCBS representative who was overseeing the judging process.
"In the last five years, we've tripled out membership because of the Learning Channel and Food Network sponsoring our contests," Dakai said.
Most of the competitors are not restaurant owners and make their living elsewhere.
"We have plumbers, pipefitters, electricians and IT (information technology) guys," said Dakai. "We all love to cook on fire and we love to eat."
With just minutes to turn in their pork rib entry, Mark Zacherl and Ross Bowen from the Hartford-based Two Little Pigs placed eight of their best ribs on a bed of parsley, packed it in a Styrofoam container, wiped the sauce off their mouths and hoped for the best. Most of the teams could boast of one title or another, including the Pigs, who won the Minnesota State Championship last year. One of their signature moves is grinding a commercially-made rub, mixing it with apple juice and injecting it into the meat, according to Bowen.
The Norwich-based Circle of Friends BBQ team was competing in its second KCBS competition. Like many of the others, they started with backyard contests and were hoping to hit the big time Sunday by winning some of the $6,000 in cash prizes that were available and the opportunity to compete in the 2013 American Royal World Series of Barbecue.
"We do everything and we try to do it really well," said Rocco Micelotta. "We'll see what happens."
Barbecue aficionado Ted Reader of Toronto demonstrated charcoal and gas grill techniques.
"Some people would say I'm a celebrity chef," said Reader. "Some people would say I'm a nut."
Author of 19 cooking books, including his two latest, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Smoking Foods" and "Beerlicious," Reader has 65 smokers and grills in his back yard.
"My business is to get everybody into their backyard to cook," he said. "In the end I want them to say, 'Wow, that was tasty.' ''
The audience salivated over his creations. He grilled boneless, skinless chicken thighs topped with Italian sausage and smoked cheddar and wrapped in wrapped in bacon. He also fired up a 2-inch thick boneless rib eye steak, seasoned with garlic, chocolate-flavored coffee, beer, salt, rosemary and olive oil.
The audience also seemed to appreciate The Readers Rule of Barbecuing: "For every 15 minutes of grilling time, you get a beer."
The organizers of Opsail 2012 used the barbecue event to thank volunteers from this summer's tall ship festival, treating them to pulled pork sandwiches or full barbecue dinners.
"It worked out well, because were able to tie it to this event," said Kevin Cavanaugh, vice president of OpSail 2012 Connecticut.