Thousands of meat lovers attend annual South Sound BBQ Festival

Meat was the main attraction at the fourth annual South Sound BBQ Festival, which lured thousands of people Saturday to downtown Lacey.

Several local restaurants set up smokers around Huntamer Park to serve pulled pork, ribs, brisket and more. Lucky Eagle Casino even smoked salmon filets over an open fire with crackling logs.

“The smoke adds another element to the fish. We season it with salt and pepper and just let the natural flavors come through,” said Kevin Bray, the casino’s executive chef, noting that the smoker always sparks interest in passersby. “It’s a good way to connect with a lot of the people that we’re cooking for.”

Aside from professional barbecue maestros, a few amateurs joined the fun and camaraderie. Lacey couple Alan and Molly Gruse served meat-laden beans under the name Yabba Dabba Q.

“He didn’t know what he was doing last year, but it was so much fun,” said Molly Gruse, whose husband manned the smoker while she ladled beans. “I’m along for the ride.”

Saturday’s festival was organized by the Lacey Chamber of Commerce. Up to 20,000 people were expected to attend, said volunteer Andrea Peters, who was working the festival’s first beer garden.

“It brings everybody out,” Peters said of the festival, which attracted 15,000 people last year. “We’re projecting a higher attendance this year.”

In addition to live music and activities for kids, another highlight was a chicken wing eating contest. Seahawks mascot Blitz, two Seagals and two human-sized chickens from ACU cheered on the contestants who vied for $100 and a chicken wing trophy. Roxy radio personality Jerry Farmer cracked up the crowd as emcee.

Remington McKnight, 14, won the teen competition – but was quickly “chased away” by Blitz after taking the microphone and saying “Go Broncos.” Remington lives in Denver and is spending the summer with his father, Greg McKnight of Olympia, who won second place in the adult wing-eating contest.

“I taught him everything he knows,” said the elder McKnight before heading to the table.

However, Johnny Kim of Bellevue won first place in the adult contest by gobbling 2.5 pounds of sauce-covered chicken wings in four minutes. Kim said he could eat more.

“I didn’t eat since yesterday at lunch,” Kim told The Olympian moments after devouring all those wings like it was his job. “I was pretty hungry.”