Every nationality has its own unique cuisine. Here in the United States, that means barbecue, according to Frank Pendola, organizer of this weekend’s Great Maine Barbecue Challenge at Smuggler’s Den Campground in Southwest Harbor.
For visitors, the three days of the event, which begins Friday, give them the opportunity to listen to music, drink local brews and eat good food. It’s much more serious for the competitors, who are coming from all around the country to vie for $12,500 in prize money and, more importantly, bragging rights for the best barbecue in the state.
Pendola, who owns and runs the private dinner venue Nostrano and Frankie’s Barbecue, has long been the organizer of the annual Nostrano Garlic Festival. This year, he decided to combine the garlic festival with his other passion, barbecue.
“It’s always been my dream to have a barbecue competition because it’s a combination of art and science,” Pendola said.
There is no admission charge for all three days. Revenue generated from other sources at the competition will benefit the Children’s Miracle Network and Acadian Youth Sports, Pendola said.
The event opens Friday at 5 p.m. Attendees can watch as teams prepare for Saturday’s competition, visit the Sea Dog beer tent, sample food from various vendors and listen to the music of the Juke Rockets.
Twenty teams are expected to participate in Saturday’s competitions. Gates are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The People’s Choice Contest gives attendees their sole opportunity to taste food prepared by the competitors and vote for their favorite barbecued spare ribs through the purchase of “pig bucks.” Ribs will be available at the sampling pit after 2 p.m.
Also on Saturday is a Kansas City Barbecue Society-sanctioned cook-off where contestants will prepare chicken, pork ribs, pork and brisket. Clearly the most prestigious of the weekend competitions, its grand prize is $5,000.
Pendola said there will be 53 certified barbecue judges attending the competition and rating the quality of the prepared food.
Music on Saturday is by the Lost Boys, Between Dead Stations, Black Cat Road and the Blind Albert Blues Band.
Sunday features a grilling competition using the rules of the North East Barbecue Society and a special competition for young people. Again, gates open at 10 p.m. and close at 5 p.m.
About 10 teams are expected to compete in the grilling competition, Pendola said. The categories are chicken wings, pork loin chops, dessert (yes, dessert) and a “mystery meat” that Pendola declined to specify. The grand prize is $300.
The Kids Q on Sunday is an effort to get youngsters interested in barbecuing. There is a $25 entry fee; contestants can sign up the day of the competition. Participants get a grill, charcoal, a talk on fire safety and hamburgers and rib eye steaks to cook.
Music for the day is by the Lost Boys and Memphis Lightning.
Pendola is confident that the barbecue challenge will become an annual event and only get bigger and better.
“This competition is going to be the premier competition for all of the Northeast,” he proclaimed.