Barbecue is built for bragging rights. Traditionally cooked at home in backyards across the nation, it’s the type of masculine, meat-based cuisine that practically begs for somebody to say “Mine’s better than yours.”


Well, for one thing, the time it takes to prepare properly smoked meats can stretch from two or three hours at the low end, to close to two dozen on the high end. When you put that kind of commitment into a meal, you start to think of it as your baby. A delicious, smoky baby.

And that will likely be the case this weekend, as Golden Nugget hosts the Smoke on the Water New Jersey State Barbecue Championship. Some of the top competitors in the world of barbecue will be on hand, bringing their a game to America’s Playground. And for have good reason.

“We have the best cook teams from all over the world participating in our events,” says Ronnie Cates, CEO of Cates and Co., the company behind Smoke on the Water. “The most prestigious barbecue contest is the Jack Daniels Barbecue World Championship in Lynchburg, Tenn., Whoever wins our event this weekend in Atlantic City will represent New Jersey at the World Championship event, and that’s what makes us so prestigious.”

While barbecue may seem like a simple enough concept — smoking meats until they are delicious and tender, it has taken on the status of an art form since its earliest days in the smoky backyards of places like Memphis, Tenn., Kansas City, Mo., or just about anywhere in North Carolina.

“We have some world champions coming to cook. We expect about 70 teams in total this year. We draw the best of the best,” Cates says.

To be a true master of barbecue, one must be incredibly well rounded, as the list of meats commonly prepared by barbecue masters all have their quirks. For example, your average dad may be able to handle a rack of ribs on a backyard grill, but tackling brisket, chicken, pulled pork and sausage? Not many are up to the task, and even fewer are able to execute each one with precision. Fewer still have a palate refined enough to judge who is the best of the best.

“All of our judges are certified master judges. They have judged over 50 contests. These people (judges), they go to class, they get certified and they learn how to judge barbecue,” Cates explains. “With the amount of money we give away, you can’t just pull somebody off the street to judge. These judges travel on their own dime all over the country — that’s how much they love barbecue.”

While the judges’ opinions are surely valued, the real question here is, of course, “Do the attendees get to taste this delicious barbecue?” Fear not, as the answer is a resounding “yes.”

“We have what we call a ‘people’s choice’ — so yes, the people that come to the event can sample all the teams’ barbecue,” Cates says.

If for some odd reason you are not a barbecue fan, there may be one last reason to get you out to this event — it’s actually all for a good cause.

“The Golden Nugget is charging a $5 admission fee ... they are donating 100 percent of those funds to The Community Food Bank of New Jersey,” Cates explains.

Still not convinced? This competition has more than just meat. Live music will be on hand on Saturday from Eddie Berner and The Rockin’ Road Grill Band, as well as a Sunday performance from Jersey blues rock powerhouse The Billy Walton Band, not to mention a DJ and live grilling demonstrations from Food Network star Chad Rosenthal. All for $5? Now that’s tough to beat.

So who will take home the crown this weekend and qualify to head down to the World Championship?

Only time and (well trained) taste buds will tell.

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