From seasoned professionals and national champions to wide-eyed first-timers, BBQ enthusiasts from around the country descended on the Nursery Capital this weekend for Smokin’ in McMinnville.
The event included a Wing Fest on Friday night, charity Best of the Butts on Saturday at lunch, and the professional and backyard competitions Saturday afternoon. The cook-off drew record numbers, all with their own stories about what brought them to the contest.
First-timer Bryan McKnight of Atomic Hog BBQ out of Hillsboro made his debut in the professional division at Smokin’ in McMinnville.
“We are Atomic Hog BBQ and ‘Q’ will blow your mind,” said McKnight, adding he has done some amateur competitions but is stepping up. “Now I’m stepping into the big-boy shoes and going all in.”
Brent Nunley of TNT BBQ has been around for quite a while. This his seventh time at Smokin’ in McMinnville.
“We did pretty well last year,” he said, noting they’ve honed their skills and hope to move to the top this year. “Hopefully, we can win the big money.”
Paul Holden of Powder Springs, Ga., says he does around nine competitions a year and specializes in ribs and chicken.
“We use all vertical cooking, pellet cookers,” he revealed. “From Drum Willingham, one of the famous BBQ guys out of Memphis.”
Gary Prater, curator of Prater’s BBQ, participates in all the weekend events. Prater says he is most proud of representing Kids of the Community in the charity Best of the Butts competition where the diners get to pick the winners. The winning charities get cash prizes.
“I look forward to Smokin’ in McMinnville every year,” Prater said, noting he has been involved in the event since its inception, this year sporting a new portable kitchen which not only includes a smoker and grill but also speakers and a TV.
“I like supporting Kids of Community and think more people should get involved in supporting them.”
Prater said he enjoys the competition. “I’m looking forward to kicking butt this weekend,” Prater noted.
Smokin’ in McMinnville regular Dana Hillis of Naples, Fla., has ties to McMinnville and looks forward to competing here every year not just for the competition but also to catch up with family and friends.
“I get to hang out with a bunch of cousins and friends and people I grew up with,” Hillis said, noting he does chicken, ribs and pork brisket. “Whoever wins the competition gets bragging rights and that’s what we’re here for.”
Michael Griffith was also eyeing a win in the charity competition for his Security Federal team.
“I’m excited to be part of this program,” Griffith said, noting they represent the Hamilton Street Activity Center and their Boston Butts rival any in the competition. “It’s a great program for youth in McMinnville.”