For many Americans, there are few aromas more enticing than those wafting from a backyard grill on a summer afternoon. Those sweet and smoky smells will fill the air this weekend at the Jack Daniel’s Atlantic City Smoke on the Water New Jersey State Barbecue Championship at Golden Nugget Atlantic City. The outdoor event takes place 11:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 16 and 17. Now in its seventh year, the festival has become more popular than ever, drawing competitors from around the country with both bragging rights and big money on the line.
“Barbecue is one of the hottest things going right now,” says event organizer Ron Cates. “If you turn the TV on, almost every channel has something to do with barbecue on it. It’s amazing now compared to several years ago with the amount of people who are now competing and also making a living at it. Nowadays a lot of these guys are multi-millionaires with their own TV shows, spices and rubs.”
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One the highest-paying contests on the East Coast, Smoke on the Water features $15,000 in guaranteed prize money with $4,400 going to the Grand Champion, $2000 to the Reserve Champion and $1,000 going to the third place finisher. There are also cash prizes for first through fifth place in each of the individual categories of chicken, ribs, brisket and pork. Last year’s competition featured 59 teams and this year will be even bigger with over 70 competing.
One could argue that those attending the event have it even better than the competitors themselves, as they get to enjoy delicious food and shop at vendors’ tents, listen to live bands and DJs, watch football on big screen TVs, enjoy beverages at the Budweiser Sports Bar, play beer pong and watch grilling demonstrations from professionals. The biggest draw however is the barbecue itself.
“If you’ve ever tasted competition barbecue, you’ll never go back and eat in a restaurant again,” jokes Cates. “That’s what great for the public, they get to sample this world champion barbecue. In Kansas City they use a different sauce and rubs than they do in Texas. The local people from New Jersey or Philadelphia get to try all of this barbecue from all over the United States with the different tastes and textures.”
Although the roots of barbecuing can be traced back to the first time a cave man held a stick with piece of meat over an open flame, there has definitely been a popularity explosion of the pastime in recent years in the U.S. While reality television shows such as “BBQ Pitmasters” and “BBQ Blitz” have definitely raised barbecuing’s profile, Cates believes that the current popularity all starts with the fact that it’s an art form that is so accessible to many Americans.
“If you think about it, there are no demographics with barbecue. There’s no racial lines, no demographics, everybody loves barbecue. It’s phenomenal that over 78 percent of U.S. households own a barbecue grill so everybody has some type of grill or something in the backyard and they can cook on.”
Smoke on the Water prides itself on being a great event for the whole family. Even if your child isn’t salivating at the thought of devouring a mountain of ribs, kids are definitely not left out of the fun with inflatable rides, games, burgers, cotton candy and other treats available.
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“It’s a family-type affair and a really neat atmosphere,” explains Cates. “There’s nothing in the world that smells like a hundred barbecue teams. You can smell it from miles down the road.”
While the smell of the salt air has always led people to Atlantic City, it’s easy to see why plenty of folks will follow the intoxicating scent of barbecue straight to the Golden Nugget this weekend.