COLUMBIA — As friends and fellow barbecuers congratulated the Blaster BBQ husband and wife team of Floyd and Terri Murry on their first-place "best overall" award, all Floyd Murry could repeat was, "This is awesome."
Grand champion: Blaster BBQ
Reserve grand champion: Lit and Loaded
Best brisket: Moose Bros.
Best pork ribs: Bugs-b-Que
Best pork: Moose Bros.
Best chicken: Lit and Loaded
Best sausage: Lit and Loaded
The Murrys came all the way from Mustang, Okla., to compete in the Roots 'N' Blues 'N' BBQ Festival's barbecue competition because Floyd is originally from Columbia. After going to competitions with a good friend and top-notch barbecuer, Floyd decided to try his own hand at the sport. This is Blaster BBQ's first year participating in the festival's Kansas City Barbecue Society-sanctioned contest and its third barbecue competition this year.
Floyd said the team made some sacrifices to bring in a victory. "I stayed up all night long," he said, adding that he'd only gotten 30 minutes of sleep Friday night.
Reserve grand champions Lit and Loaded won for best chicken and sausage and collected a second-place "best overall" award.
To win in the overall category, a team must submit entries in the four main barbecue categories as determined by the barbecue society: chicken, pork ribs, pork and beef brisket.
With 70 judges scrutinizing the competitors' cooking for barbecue perfection, playing to their tastes requires balance, said Bill Martin, Lit and Loaded's head cook. He said his team utilizes a variety of store-bought spices to create sweet, spicy and salty "layers of flavor." This way, judges looking for a particularly sweet or salty flavor will get some of both.
Jori Rose, the competition coordinator, said the judges follow a "double-blind" process, which means they do not know which team turns in what meat. They judge the entry on taste, tenderness and appearance, she said.
The festival can be a tiring experience, but Rose said she coordinates the competition out of respect for the barbecuers.
"I like the interaction with so many different people who are really passionate about what they do," she said. "These people love barbecue."
Being best friends with Columbia's "VIPs"
One of the perks of having a Whole Hog Pass is the visits to the Whole Hog Access Tents, which provide unlimited drinks and snacks. But Emily Evans, manager of the VIP tent near the Mediacom Peace Park stage, said her favorite part about working there are the people who visit.
"It's been really cool to meet the different people who come to the tent with VIP access because a lot of people who come I wouldn't expect to have a pass because it's so expensive," she said.
Evans said her job responsibilities, which begin "before the music starts," include making friends with "the VIPs" and talking to them.
"I get paid to be their best friends," she said. "It's been a lot of fun because I'm getting paid to do what I would come to do anyway. And there's a great view of the stage."
Greg Brostoski, another volunteer who worked at the Whole Hog Access Tent, said he also enjoyed working at the tent.
"It's a good spot to volunteer. Right by the stage, get some drinks, meet new people," he said. "There were regulars that came by, and you could watch them get progressively drunker."
Brostoski said he has volunteered at many festivals, but this is his first time working the Roots 'N' Blues 'N' BBQ Festival. He said his experience at this festival is a little different from the others.
"You get a lot more cross-section of people since it's a city festival," he said. "You get a cross-section of people that aren't drawn together for a particular reason. It's something to do. Why not, you're already here; why not make the festival part of what you're already doing?"
Bringing everybody together
Carol Devlin and Christina Wehmeyer introduced themselves as sisters. In reality, they're just good friends — good friends with important jobs.
"We're the taste-testers," Wehmeyer said.
Wehmeyer, Devlin and the rest of their friends and family are supporters of Chick 'N' Pig, the reigning ribs champion from last year. While Cedric Burnside and Lightnin' Malcolm played in the background in Flat Branch Park, the Chick 'N' Pig taste-testers danced, talked and enjoyed the atmosphere.
Though he enjoyed Burnside and Malcolm's performance, Dennis Devlin said he came for the blues.
"I like the blues because I'm old-time," he said. "It's what I call grassroots; it brings everybody together."
Dennis Devlin and Tim Bunton, who is the brother-in-law of Chick 'N' Pig's lead grill master, have been friends for years. They became friends working for the Department of Residential Life at MU. Over the years, they have traveled alongside Chick 'N' Pig to competitions around the country.
And although gas prices have made it a little more expensive, Bunton looked at his smiling granddaughter and said, "That makes it worthwhile."—Missourian reporters Jennifer Gordon, Jessica Showers, Erica Mendez and Anna Beth Blevins contributed to this report.