Teams are sizing up their competition trays.   Image By LMM Photography

Barbecue Capital Cook Off

From Barbecue to BBQ: The BBQ Capital Cook-Off Brings Thousands and Invites You to Be the Judge

By Melissa Sheets and Rebekah Cansler McGee

Each year during the fourth weekend of April, the smell of barbecue wafts through the streets and alleyways of Uptown Lexington. Doors throughout the town are ajar, inviting in both out-of-town guests and the sweet and spicy aromas of Southern barbecue. Locals are reminded of a long gone era when these scents tempted the taste buds of the Uptown lunch crowd during a time when many barbecue restaurants crowded the streets of the then furniture industry-driven community.

Today Lexington has a proud heritage of barbecue which continues with the BBQ Capital Cook-Off. It’s not just the typical chopped pork that is offered in local restaurants. Instead the Cook-Off calls for teams to challenge each other in chicken, ribs, pulled pork and brisket categories.

It all begins on a Friday night. Trucks, campers, and vans pull in by the dozens, all eager to begin their setup. Once teams register with the Uptown Lexington office, they are given their own piece of grass in an expansive lot just behind the Edward C. Smith Civic Center between East Second and Third Avenues. The teams will call this home for the next two days.

There is camaraderie on the lawns; tents and lawn chairs dot the aisles. As the sun sets just behind Main Street, excitement builds. Chefs begin to prime their grills. Chunks of wood are piled high next to open pits. Smoke rises from some of the larger grills. Men stand in groups talking and laughing, while others quietly mix spices and sauces into secret recipe rubs and marinades. The Cook-Off is large, stretching a city block. However, with the mix of tents and families, it is very quaint.

Spending the evening meandering through this gypsy-like hamlet is an experience one will never forget. Music not only beats rhythmically from the stage, but also from banjo players and guitar pickers sitting with circles of friends. For now, friends who travel from state to state chasing the title of grand champion share stories and tips, but by Saturday morning it’s all about game faces and determination.

Teams are sizing up their competition trays.   Image By LMM Photography
Teams are sizing up their competition trays. Image By LMM Photography

With prize pots swelling every year, this competition is fueled by a desire to win big money and bragging rights. Competitors come from far and wide. The playing field here is a level one. Teams from New York, Australia, Texas, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee — all over the Southeast and Midwest — join North Carolina in the competition. This isn’t just for the out-of-towners though. Lexington natives join in the fun, too. The only prerequisite for this competition is a love to cook and pounds of meat that is ready to grill. Teams bring their own pork, ribs and brisket to be inspected by the Uptown staff.

This Kansas City BBQ sanctioned event gained Lexington a spot on in the Old North State Series. This was huge step for the event that began in 2013 and is now in its third year. The 5th Anniversary Cook-Off also welcomes back the Great American BBQ Tour, where guests can sample barbecue and enjoy cooking demonstrations.

But in a twist to welcome more spectators and introduce something new to the fifth anniversary event, the BBQ Capital Cook-Off invites you to be the judge! Uptown Lexington is excited to partner with Tourism Recreation Investment Partnership to bring the People’s Choice Award. This area will invite spectators to taste competition barbecue and vote for their favorite. On Friday night, spectators will judge chicken wings and on Saturday they will judge pulled pork. Tickets will be sold the day of the event.

Just one of the many things you are likely to see at the BBQ Capital Cook-off. Photo by LMM Photography
Just one of the many things you are likely to see at the BBQ Capital Cook-off. Photo by LMM Photography

Live music will begin Friday and continue through Saturday with a mixture of genres and sounds. Visitors can enjoy great eats with tastes of barbecue, snacks, Italian ice, funnel cakes, and much more along with craft beers and Yadkin Valley wines. Families are encouraged to attend with an area set aside just for children. In addition to enjoying the atmosphere of the cook-off area, just a block away is historic uptown Lexington with unique shopping and dining venues.

Come dig in to the 5th Anniversary BBQ Capital Cook-Off Friday and Saturday, April 24-25, 2015, where for the first time ever, you can be the judge.