Pit masters square off in Fort Valley’s Hambone Jam

wcrenshaw@macon.comSeptember 7, 2013 

FORT VALLEY -- Pit masters at the annual Hambone Jam barbecue competition Saturday seemed to agree on the secret to cooking lip-smacking pork.

“You can’t hurry good barbecue,” said Tim Coleman, of Swainsboro, shortly after he pulled racks of ribs off his grill.

Where many cooks today look for meals that are quick and easy, pit masters will spend hours tending a wood fire to produce dinner.

“Patience, patience, patience,” said Gary Cliett of Fort Valley. “That’s the secret for all barbecue.”

It was the first time Cliett had entered a barbecue competition, and he was a finalist in the pork loin category, which means he was in the top three out of 32 competitors. The three finalists then resubmit an entry and an overall winner is picked.

There were three categories, with the other two being pulled pork and ribs. The judging was blind, and about 50 judges determined the winners.

A grand champion is determined by combining the results of the three categories. The winner is the Georgia Barbecue Association’s state champion.

Cliett may have proved that having an expensive grill is not the secret to making good barbecue. Many of the teams had large, custom-made grills that cost thousands of dollars. Cliett cooked out of a modified metal barrel he bought on eBay for $200.

He was thrilled when he was notified he had made the finals in the pork loin category.

“It was amazing,” he said. “It was a dream come true.”

Sta-C Hale of Johns Creek was the grand champion at last year’s Hambone, but she wasn’t the pit master on her team this year. That duty fell to her 8-year-old daughter, Paris, and she really did do all of the cooking, Hale said.

“She’s done everything, except the setup and cleanup,” she said.

Paris was the only pit master whose secret to barbecue didn’t involve the word “patience.”

“Believe in yourself,” is how she answered that question. “That’s mine. I like to believe in myself.”

Hale has been cooking competitively for four years, but her victory at the Hambone last year was her first championship.

“I’m still on cloud nine,” she said.

If anyone wonders why someone would spend hours tending a fire on hot day, Hale and other competitors said it’s about more than the food and possibly getting a trophy.

“I love fellowshipping with these guys, camping out, and just being among some of the great barbecuers,” Hale said.

The grand champion of Hambone was the team Cooking With Stump’s Smokers. The reserve champion was Sauce Hog Smoke Shack.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.


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