A new barbecue cooking championship could bring both national exposure and tourism dollars to the Friendly City. The Memphis BBQ Network will be hosting the MBN Invitational March 8-9 at the Columbus Fairgrounds. The event is being sponsored by Roast-n-Boast of Columbus.
The event is one of six national championships sponsored by MBN. The winners of the six challenges will meet in Las Vegas in November for the World Food Championship. This will be the first time Columbus plays host to the event.
“All of the grand champions from 2012 are being invited as well as some of the first place winners,” said Paul Clardy, an organizer for the annual Roast-n-Boast. “We also have three local teams representing Lowndes County — Cotton Patch Cooking Crew which is Hank Vaiden’s team, Mickey and Bill Fomm’s team, Barnyard Roasters, and Billy Simm’s River Rat Pig Porkers team. Mickey and Bill’s team is one of the top 20 teams in the country, Columbus will be well-represented at this event.”
According to Clardy, portions of the event will be filmed by the Food Network as part of a series that culminates with the grand finale in Las Vegas. Clardy said some barbecue legends have been invited to the contest.
“BBQ King Myron Mixon and his son have both been invited,” Clardy said. “Mixon is probably the most well-known pit master in barbecue championships. It would be a pretty big deal if he comes to Columbus.”
Roast-n-Boast organizer Mile Law said MBN had attempted to bring a competition to Columbus a few years ago but the event never came together. With a semi-close proximity to Memphis and with new renovations at the fairgrounds, Law said MBN representatives felt Columbus was an ideal location.
“We have a very nice facility and plenty of space,” Law said. “This event attracts people from all over the South. The organizers felt Columbus was a central location. If it goes as well as we expect, we should have it again next year and I wouldn’t be surprised if we get it for the next five years.”
With 110 invitations sent to various crews, Clardy said 50 teams have already committed to the event and 100 judges will be in town for the event. This could mean big news for the cash registers in the area’s hotels and restaurants.
“We have already booked 120 rooms for the event,” Clardy said. “These people will be getting into Columbus three or four days before the event,” Clardy said. “They will be bringing their families, as well as the judges who are coming in from out of town. This should have a pretty big economic impact.”
With an estimated price tag of $40,000, the MBN Invitational is being sponsored by local businesses as well as by a $9,000 grant from the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“This is a prime example of tourism working in Columbus,” CVB Executive Director Nancy Carpenter said. “These are the types of events that bring people spending money into our community. As most of the participants from the event will be from out of town, this is a great example of a working tourism event.”
Aside from championship barbecue, the contest will also feature food vendors, arts and crafts vendors, live music, bungee jumps, a mechanical bull and a rock climbing wall, among other amenities. The event will kick off with a silent auction Feb. 28 at the American Legion beginning at 7 p.m.
Jeff Clark was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.
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