FORT VALLEY -- The winners of the seventh annual ComSouth Hambone Jam, held Saturday in Fort Valley, will represent Georgia in the World Food Championship this fall.
Mayor John Stumbo said Smokin Grill was selected as the grand champion team, becoming the state champions as well. In addition to the original cash prize, the team was offered $1,000 in travel costs and an invitation to participate in the barbecue division of the World Food Championship in Las Vegas in November.
They say theyre going, Stumbo said, adding the team is from Duluth and Byron.
Its a year of firsts for the Hambone competition, with a new location in the city and a chance at a national competition. Held at the newly named Fort Valley Festival Park on Pine and Preston streets, the competition began Friday evening and continued into Saturday.
The Hambone Jam has been the state barbecue champion-decider since it began in 2005, but this years winner could go onto a national stage this fall.
The World Food Championships will hold its first competition in Las Vegas on Nov. 1-4, and the winner of the Hambone Jam is invited to compete in the barbecue division. The Georgia Barbecue Association added $1,000 of traveling costs to the Hambone Jam champion package, said Carla Gowen, Main Street Association administrative assistant.
Were definitely excited about the prospect of a nationally recognized cooker, Gowen said. She said the invitation attracted more barbecue teams to the Hambone Jam this year.
The 5 oclock Somewhere team, from Milledgeville, was one of them. Cookers Terry Owens and Brian Robinson said the prospect of Las Vegas added to a $3,000 cash prize tempted them to compete for the first time in the Hambone Jam. The team has competed elsewhere in the state for five years.
Were going to Vegas! Owens announced to his partner beneath their trailer awning, though the winner hadnt been announced.
According to a roster, 36 teams cooked in the three categories at the Hambone Jam: ribs, pulled pork and loin. The top three from each category were announced mid-morning Saturday.
Those teams presented another round of samples to judges Saturday afternoon. The team with the highest cumulative scores of both rounds was named the grand champion.
The 5 oclock Somewhere team was the top team in the pulled pork category and contenders in the other two.
The guys said they set up Friday, started cooking at 10 p.m. and watched the meats throughout the night. Teams are required to prep, season and cook on-site. Their food is judged on appearance, flavor and tenderness.
Owens and Robinson said they like the new Fort Valley Festival Park. Theres plenty of power, and theres plenty of water, Robinson said. Thats really all a team needs to be happy.
Those were two of the main reasons City Council opted to move the competition from the streets of downtown to the park. They also wanted to avoid closing the streets for outdoor events that dont aid downtown merchants.
Last year, I was out there all night because they (the cookers) kept blowing breakers, Gowen said.
Gowen said there have been no reports of power or water problems this year.
The Hambone Jam is the first event held at the Fort Valley Festival Park since City Council renamed the old Woolfolk site, as the location has been known to residents for more than two decades.
The site once housed a pesticide manufacturing company that exposed the area to arsenic and other contaminants. The city spent $32 million in federal funds cleaning pollutants from the site and nearby residences. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined the site is now safe for new reuse.
Stumbo said private industry wasnt interested in the site because of its history and use restrictions. So, he and council decided to convert it into a place the city can host all its outdoor events, including the Peach Festival in June.
I got tears last night, looking at it, the mayor of 14 years said. When I got here, it was dirt and fences with No Trespassing signs.
Scooter Wright, of D.W.s Kountry Cookers, said the benefits of the new site combined with the knowledge of how much Fort Valley has done to clean the old Woolfolk site makes him root for the Fort Valley Festival Park.
Hes competed in the Hambone Jam for four years.
I seen what they done to this place, said Wright, a Perry resident. I seen how long it took them to do it and how much money it cost them. I have no concerns about contamination whatsoever.
The city installed water and higher-voltage outlets for the Hambone cookers, as well as additional overhead lighting. Stumbo said that a playground, bandstand and other amenities will be added.
Its important for our (the citys) future to keep the state championship here, and that we have a good festival site, Stumbo said.