Give Billy Sims a hot grill, a fine piece of meat and a barbecue contest, and he”s rarin” to go. Today he and the rest of the River Rat Pig Porkers join dozens of other competitive teams at the annual Roast n” Boast, the Mississippi state barbecue cooking contest at Columbus Fairgrounds that will benefit the American Cancer Society.
Nearly 40 teams, many from other states, are vying for more than $8,000 in prize money. Bragging rights are on the table in two major divisions — the Memphis Barbecue Network competition and the Backyard competition. A grand championship will be awarded in both.
While teams are tending their grills and preparing for all-important judging, the public is encouraged to come out to the fairgrounds on Highway 69 South for arts and crafts, inflatables for children, a dunking booth, multiple food vendors and more.
Gates open at 1 p.m. today, earlier than originally scheduled, to accommodate added activities, according to Mike Law, vice president of the Roast n” Boast Committee. Admission is $5.
After an awards presentation set for 6 p.m., live music will round out the event, which kicked off Friday. Deacon Jones and the Late Night will entertain at 8 p.m., followed by Swing Shift from 10 p.m. to midnight.
“The theme this year is Texas,” said Law, explaining the contest in recent years has used as its themes different states where barbecue reigns. Many teams go “whole hog” in decorating their booths.
“They”re really dressing it up; some have got saddles, hay bales, longhorns and things like that,” remarked Law, who has been involved in Roast n” Boast for 15 years or more and works closely with Committee President Paul Clardy. An award will be given for Best Booth.
After judging is completed later today, the stress level for teams eases.
“You can say, ”whew, we”re through,”” laughed Sims, who has been competing since the original Pig Fest, Roast n” Boast”s predecessor, in the early 1980s.
It”s a time for camaraderie, something that keeps veteran cooks like Sims coming back for more, year after year. Bonds forged in all-nighters over a smoking grill tend to last.
The Roast n” Boast”s Committee has worked throughout the year to raise monies for the American Cancer Society. “We have about four things to raise funds, including a super auction we had last week,” said Law, who credited the events” successes to “all the good folks on the committee.”
Read more about the barbecue contest at roastnboast.com.
Jason Browne was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.