“This is like the Master’s of barbecue,” observes Gary Prater, the renowned Tennessee restaurateur and fellow judge at the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Barbecue. His comparison to golf’s most prestigious competition was on point. Here, beside the historic Jack Daniel’s Distillery,teams from across the country and around the world lit the coals and fanned the flames going head to head in an intense battle of smoking, seasoning and searing.
There’s only one Grand Champion and the 2015 team, Cool Smoke from Richmond, Virginia claimed a fat check and a priceless trophy, barbecue’s counterpart to golf’s Green Jacket.
On a Tennessee Saturday, the 27th year of this event, 96 teams of champions the world over gathered in Jack Daniel’s Hollow beside the renowned distillery to compete for big cash prizes based on barbecue excellence.
For the past decade I have served as a judge at the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue in Lynchburg, Tennessee alongside some of the biggest names in food, spirits, music and media to determine the planet’s best of the best barbecue.
You get a taste of Lynchburg, see the international teams parade and enjoy some of the finest barbecue in the world. Award-winning teams from around the planet compete for the coveted title of Grand Champion in seven categories: chicken, pork ribs, pork shoulder/butts, beef brisket, desserts and sauce.
The experience affirms that barbecue is America’s most popular food style, solid bedrock of our culinary heritage. The reasons are apparent. Barbecue requires only food grown and produced here. It has venerable roots and while there have been changes (grills come to mind), the finished dish remains pretty much unchanged.
Taste preferences vary from geographical region, but not as much as one might imagine. The constant is slow cooked meat or fowl and the smoke that waffles from hardwood or good charcoal.
“The Jack,” as the competition is called, forbids gas grills. Natural preparation is the rule.
Famous Dave Anderson, the creator of the acclaimed sauces and condiments found on supermarket shelves coast to coast, is one of the unchallenged kings of barbecue. He also
serves as one of the judges for “The Jack.” Modest and soft-spoken, Dave is a model for entrepreneurial success. The founder of the Famous Dave’s restaurant chain, Anderson is
a Ojibwe and Choctaw Indian and former Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs in the Department of the Interior. Famous Dave regularly travels the country speaking and is the author of several award-winning books. To him, “The Jack” represents the best of America “combining competition with a celebration of barbecue, our signature food.”
Jack Daniel’s Master Distiller Jeff Arnett brings pizzazz to his fabled Tennessee whiskey and the barbecue event. It was Arnett who was instrumental in the highly successful commemorative Frank Sinatra limited edition of Jack Daniel’s. Through Arnett, I learned that Sinatra so loved this Tennessee product that a bottle was placed at his request by his family into his casket. It’s a long journey and a fellow can get mighty thirsty. The charismatic Arnett is only the seventh Master Distiller in Jack Daniel’s storied history.
If you’ve been to rural Ireland, Lyncburg and nearby countryside will seem quite familiar. Music is everywhere. Children and adults intermingle with ease and there is an overriding custom where strangers are treated as friends. Dine at Bell Buckle Café in the fairyland village of Bell Buckle and you get solid country cooking while being entertained by live country, bluegrass or jazz music. It’s also a reminder that the area isn’t far from Nashville, America’s “Music City.”
Dinner at Cortner Mill Restaurant, an early 1800’s grist mill beside the mighty Duck River in Normandy, Tennessee, is emblematic of Tennessee’s evolving gourmet culinary culture that retains a Southern accent.
David Hazelwood’s romantic restaurant also hosts wine dinners with as much flair and imagination usually confined to big cities like Atlanta. After judging barbecue, I joined an audience of diners there for a South African wine dinner where white and red wines from South Africa were seamlessly paired with local Tennessee food.
Lynne Tolley, the great grandniece of Jack Daniel, studied food and nutrition at the University of Georgia and is one of Jack Daniel’s Master Whiskey Tasters. A noted cookbook author, Ms. Tolley shared some tips about using Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey in cooking. It is a wonderful substitute, she said, for vanilla flavoring and works magic with stewed apples.
A grizzled griller cook offered some advice: a jigger of Jack Daniel’s in a pint of hand crafted barbecue sauce adds some wonderful mojo.Also, slow cooking on the back yard grill using wood from old Jack Daniel’s barrels is transformational. Jack Daniel’s, the top selling American whiskey in the world, goes down smoothly served any way you like and is forever part of barbecue enjoyment.