BULLHEAD CITY — Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
But where there’s hardwood smoke, there’s protein-laden joy.
Rotary Park may as well have been Hog Heaven on Saturday, as 70 teams from across the country descended upon it for the fourth Slab-O-Rama Barbeque Challenge.
Event organizer T’shura Elias said she wanted this year’s competition to showcase Bullhead City.
Mission accomplished, she said, considering that the event drew tourists to both sides of the Colorado River.
“It’s gotten a lot of attention,” she said. “The weather is so great in January.”
When the Rotary Club of Bullhead City began Slab-O-Rama in late 2014, 18 teams participated, Elias said.
This year’s version, she said “is probably going to be one of the best events our Rotary Club has ever put on. The public’s happy, the teams seem to be happy, the judges are happy.”
The judges, all certified by the Kansas City Barbeque Society, had the task of determining whose chicken, brisket, pork and ribs were the best. There also was an open category, in which a pitmaster could enter a dish of his choosing, along with a deserts competition.
Each team had its own thoughts as to assembling the flavor that would garner top honors.
“Sweet with a little punch,” said Peter Johnson, of Adelanto, Calif. “And back it up with sweet again.”
Danny Burns of B2 Barbecue of Phoenix described his sauce as “hot and sugary-spicy.”
Josh Dae, of Smokedout BBQ, of Gilbert said the big factor is making sure the meat is properly cooked.
“Sweet, and not too hot,” he said.
Dan Jolley, of Ontario, Calif., had several trophies at his booth; he said he thinks his use of fresh ingredients is what makes the difference.
“And our herbs and spices are the best as well,” Jolley said.
Many teams were based around family connections, including several husband-and-wife teams.
Johnson and his wife, Mariah, wore matching Pete’s Piggy Barn sweatshirts.
“And matching shirts underneath,” said Mariah Johnson. “In case it gets too hot.”
Elias said that Rotarians wanted to make the event fun for locals as well.
Dennis and Lisa Cooper, of Fort Mohave, came out after seeing it advertised; they watch cooking competitions on the Food Network..
“It’s pretty cool for a town this size,” said Dennis Cooper, adding that the couple recognized some names they’ve seen on TV.
The Coopers were waiting to sample what the entrants put out in the People’s Choice award competition, and being tantalized through the wait.
“It’s a shame to walk past all these places,” Dennis said. “It smells so good and you can’t have any of it.”
But one could have some barbecue without waiting — a Bullhead City eatery, Uncle Bo’s BBQ, was among vendors more than happy to feed anyone with a hankerin’ for hog.
Also for sale were fair foods such as funnel cakes and corn dogs.
Other attractions included a petting zoo and a bouncy castle.
The show was managed by Rotarians, with assistance from volunteers who included Interact Club members from Mohave High School and Mohave Accelerated Learning Center.
Elias said she has big plans already for 2019.
“I’m hoping next year we have 100 teams,” she said. “We’re a small town, but we’ve got gumption.”