Battery Park celebrates BBQ at annual Butts & Clucks

Rescue Smokers out to Sycamore, Georgia, one of the most distinguished teams among the 32 to take part in last weekend’s second annual Butts & Clucks Cookoff on the Bay, wasn’t placing all their chips of peach and cherry wood on winning, just mainly having a good old time with friends.

But Robby and Stephanie Royal had a premonition on who would win the Grand Champion belt. They figured it might be Backyard Bros, who had taken the title last weekend in Zephyrhills and seemed to have momentum.

And that’s what happened.

By a narrow margin, less than a point overall, the team of Tim and Patti Maloy, of Oldsmar, and Michael and Monica Jones, of Longwood, edged out Wink’s Barbecue, the Fort Walton Beach duo of engineer Wink Yelverton and wife emergency room physician Dr. Robin Yelverton.

Because they walked away with a tie for first in brisket, a sixth place in pork, and a third in chicken, Backyard Bro’s left Battery Park with a check for $3,850, while Wink’s pocketed $2,900, based on the $2,000 prize for Reserve Grand Champ, $500 for a first in pork, $300 for a third in ribs., and $100 for a sixth in brisket.

Third place finisher GetChewSum, out of Venice, got $1,700, based on a first in ribs, a fifth in chicken and a seventh in pork. In fourth place, Pig-Chicka Cow-Cow, out of Apopka, got $975 for their efforts, with a third in pork, a fifth in brisket and a 10th in chicken.

All told, Butts-N-Clucks handed out over $15,000 in cash and prizes, and with its smooth operation and hospitable atmosphere so impressed the Florida Barbecue Association officials and the competitors who turned out that the FBA is giving serious consideration for having Apalachicola host the 2020 state championship.

“Backyard Bro’s had an awesome time having fun with our barbecue friends at the Butts and Clucks this weekend,” wrote the winning team on Facebook. “John Solomon, you put on one hell of a show with the oyster party Thursday night.”

Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce Director John Solomon, assistant Samantha Gilbert and a crew of local volunteers kept the event turning like a juice-dripping rotisserie, under the trees at Battery Park.

Chamber volunteer Nancy Hodgson, with help from Jean Lane, ran the Deviled Egg contest in the community center and with dozens, no pun intended, of delectable entries, Rebecca Bone, with Becky’s Bay Eggs, emerged as the winner, with a succulent creation of egg topped with crab meat. Tonya Pendray was second in the amateur contest, and tied for third, were Lisa Barnhardt and Ashley Gregg.

The race for tops in brisket turned out to be a tie, and Backyard Bro’s faced a tough adversary in Going Yard BBQ. The two teams will each receive $450.

In ribs, GetChewSum edged out Uncle Kenny’s BBQ for the top place, while in chicken Bull Rush BBQ was first, ahead of Boog-A-Lou Smoke Crew.

In pork, the Royals’ Rescue Smokers team took a close second to Wink’s.

Robbie Royal, who by day is the emergency management services director in Ashburn, Georgia, has established himself as among the best pitmasters in the Southeast, cooking throughout Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee. He and his wife are a rare duo to have won Grand Championships in four different sanctioning bodies, which they boast of as being “the BBQ Grand Slam.” Rescue Smokers has won events in the Georgia BBQ Association, Memphis BBQ Network, Kansas City BBQ Society and the FBA.

Over the last decade they can lay claim to 35 Grand Championships and 18 Reserve Grand Championships, with a total of 80 Top Five finishes, and 110 Top Tens.

Because of his demonstrated expertise, and his telegenic style, Robby and Stephanie competed on Destination America’s BBQ Pit Wars Season 2 and 2015 BBQ Pitmaster All Stars. In 2016 they won Episode 1 of Smoked on Destination America.

But winning isn’t the main thing for the Royals, as they parked their enormous rig under the trees at Battery Park, alongside their good friends Chuck and Carrie East, from Social Circle, Georgia, whose team Off the Chain is now running second in the Georgia Barbecue Association standings.

“Our main goal at any competition is to make new friends who also love BBQ.” Said Robby. “BBQ and grilling is our passion and our relaxation.”

Of course, he also doesn’t fail to mention that he met the Easts when they enrolled in his cooking school, and notes that their performance, as well as several other winners, came following his education of the ins-and-outs of competitive cooking.

Like most Georgia teams, the Royals use a Stump Smoker, and feed it with peach and cherry wood as they favor the “low and slow” method, which means their pork butts and briskets (a Japanese Waygu cut of beef that can easily run them $200) can me prepared at 230 degrees for about 12 hours.

This gives them a chance to get some shuteye on the night before, unlike teams like the Backyard Bro’s, which had to be up at 5 a.m. to feed their flames.

But to Lee and Amanda Thompson, whose Pig-Chicka Cow-Cow team won the FBA circuit last year and brought them in more than $60,000, the style of cooking doesn’t make a whole lot of difference.

“The eventual product ends up being pretty close to the same no matter what,” said Lee, an architectural engineer, and his wife an attorney.

The Butts & Clucks sweetened the affair with several other awards, including a sauce completion for competitors to enter if they wished. Skinny’s BBQ won the overall prize, finishing best among the chicken entries as well. Finishing as runner-up was Pendray BBQ, and in third place was Trippsmoke, which also won for the best pork sauce.

The People’s Choice award, which involved a sampling of the best pulled pork creations from among some of the competitors, was won by Going Yard BBQ. Interestingly, that team finished 21st in the pork category, but it is important consider that presentation and tenderness are factors, along with taste, when points are assigned.

The team coming the furthest, 389.5 miles, was Hootie Q, from Georgia, so they won the Longest Haul award. The Best Rig went to Skinny’s BBQ, while Smoke Show won a QDS Smoker in that drawing.