Barbecue competition expected to draw big crowds

Demopolis’ Christmas on the River and Alabama State Championship BBQ Cookoff are separate events, but the two are so closely connected that it’s hard to imagine one without the other.

In fact, the BBQ Cookoff has been held in conjunction with COTR for the past 24 years, with this year’s cooking contest expected to be among the best.

“The BBQ Cookoff brings big, big crowds in its own right,” said David Anderson, chairman of this year’s event. “We’ve had calls from Huntsville, Jackson, Miss., Oklahoma City and other places,” he said. “And the judges come from all over the United States. I was amazed when I took over last year at where all the judges came from, and how many judges want to come to Demopolis to be a part of this event.”

In the old days, organizers simply rounded up locals who liked barbecue and asked them to judge. Today, judging official events like the Alabama State Championship is much more sophisticated and requires rigorous training.

Anderson explained that there are two levels of judges – certified table captains and certified barbecue judges.

This year’s event begins at 5 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 6. Admission for the general public is $5. While the cooking teams usually do not provide samples for the public, Anderson said his committee plans to have a tent set up and will give away barbecue sandwiches “until they’re gone.”

The Demopolis Water Department is also scheduled to provide free barbecue Friday night, Anderson said.

The festive event will include a DJ, with Friday night’s activities wrapping up at 1 a.m.

On Saturday, judging will begin at 11 a.m., and the winners will be announced around 2:30 p.m., followed by a brief trophy and check presentation ceremony.

“We have two categories of teams – professional and backyard,” Anderson said. “In the professional class, we’ll have a winning team in butts, brisket, ribs and chicken. The backyard teams compete only in ribs and chicken.”

The event will also have a reserve grand champion and a grand champion.

The Alabama State Championship BBQ Cookoff is a Kansas City sanctioned event, meaning the winning team goes to the American Royal Cookoff in Kansas City.

A total of 48 teams are expected to participate.

All events take place at the George “Pop” Franks Field near the Demopolis City Landing.

“We want to thank the judges and all the competing teams in advance,” Anderson said. “They bring a lot of good publicity and a lot of revenue to the city.”

Anderson is already looking ahead to next year, the event’s 25th anniversary. “We plan to have a few extra things for the 25th,” he said.