South Sound cooks had meat on their minds Saturday as they prepared their seasoned, bacon-wrapped and cheese-filled delicacies in Lacey’s Huntamer Park.
Eight amateur cooks competed in the South Sound BBQ Festival’s Backyard Joe cook-off, an annual event that began six years ago when the festival was founded.
“It’s a lot of fun. Some of the cooks even come and stay overnight,” said Sierra Burton, executive director of the Lacey South Sound Chamber of Commerce.
Lacey native Michael Johnson competed in the cook-off for the first time last year and came away with several wins: first place in baby back ribs, first place in seafood, third place in brisket and third place in chicken. He hoped to bring home the trophy again this year.
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“I’m really hoping for a back-to-back win,” Johnson said. “That would feel pretty good.”
About 11:30 a.m., he prepared chicken thighs. He took the skin off the meat, scraped off the fat, marinated the meat, and re-wrapped the meat in the skin. He said that when the judges bit into the chicken later in the day, the skin would stay on and the meat would be delicious.
Johnson said he’s been cooking as long as he can remember, and got started in barbecue after his dad caught some salmon and wanted to smoke it.
“He asked me if I had a smoker, and I said no. So he said, ‘Well it’s time to get you one,’ ” Johnson said.
Across the way, a Thurston County Sheriff’s Office team was hard at work on their barbecue. Undersheriff Tim Braniff said the team gets together to compete every year.
Braniff spent the morning wrapping chicken around pepper jack cheese, and then wrapping that in bacon. He said the creation took second place last year.
“We have a lot of fun,” Braniff said. “It’s a great way for everyone to get together.”
In the end, Johnson fell short of his goal. Alan Gruse was named the overall grand champion, with Brian Pillsbury named reserve champion and Noel Oscrander coming in third place.
Walter Haley won the chicken thighs category, Oscrander won the seafood division, Pillsbury came out on top of the pork baby back ribs competition, and Gruse won in the beef brisket category. Oscrander also was the open winner.
Aside from the cook-off, the Chamber of Commerce-sponsored event featured a dunk tank, vendors, bounce houses, face painting, live music and a beer garden.
Burton said about 1,500 people attended last year, and she expected a similar number this year.