Passionate Pit Masters Compete for a Prodigious Purse

Tifton is only days away from hosting the 2016 Rhythm & Ribs Festival  at Fullwood Park, and the competition is expected to be bigger and better than ever. Beginning on Friday, March 5 and ending Saturday night, the festival will host a professional and backyard BBQ competition, children’s games, arts & crafts vendors, food vendors, and entertainment—satisfaction guaranteed.BBQ 27

“Our guests will go home with a full stomach of BBQ,” Tyler Spearman, festival chairman, says. “We hope that they will see somebody they know and enjoy visiting all of our vendors, and we hope they’ll stick around and enjoy the entertainment that we’ve brought to Tifton.”

And entertainment they have brought.  Jointly sponsored by the Tifton-Tift County Tourism Association and the Spearman Agency, a contract agency that handles all the promotions for the TTCTA, approximately $10,000 have been invested into entertainment alone. The festival will host six bands that are expected to be appealing to a variety of age groups, especially the millennials or 20-somethings (which is ideal for the college town).

BBQ 2However, we can’t forget the reason for the occasion—the push for the purse. Between professional and backyard teams and recipes for pulled pork, pork loin, ribs and chicken, approximately $5,000 will be awarded to selected winners. And as one can imagine, all that cash leads to a park full of competitive air.

“Everybody is watching everybody to see who can come up with the best recipe or the best BBQ for the day,” Spearman says.

About 50 highly trained judges from the Georgia BBQ Association will take part in the taste testing. Contestants will bring their masterpieces to the judges’ tent, and the final decisions will be made at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. There is expected to be about 35 professional teams and 10-15 backyard teams competing this year.

Contestants usually come from the tri-state area including Georgia, Florida, and Alabama. Between locals and out-of-towners, the festival is excellent for the local economy. The Spearman Agency is expecting anywhere between five to 10,000 people.

“It will probably have a million-dollar impact with people coming and staying in hotels and motels, eating out, and of course we will have BBQ vendors on site that will be selling BBQ; it will be a tremendous impact for one weekend,” Spearman says.

If you’re in South Georgia and have never attended the Rhythm & Ribs Festival, it’s worth the drive to Tifton. The festival is a southern sanction, including fun times with all the vendors and cookers who want to show off what they’re doing with their BBQ.

Aside from bands, brew and BBQ, the festival will also feature bounce houses, a mechanical bull, a rock climbing wall, spider jump, and a variety of other tents full of arts, crafts, and souvenirs. Alcohol will be available at the event in a designated location; however, guests are not allowed to bring their own beverages.


 In spirit of the Rhythm & Ribs festival, Health & Life dropped in to speak with Danny Meadows, Georgia Barbecue Association President of Competitions to learn just what it takes to become a certified barbeque judge.

Training for judges begins with learning the different cuts of meat, styles of ribs, etc. They are then taught the factors in which they will use to score the serving: appearance, tenderness, and of course, taste. While taste provides each judge with the most freedom (being that preferences vary), it is the aspect that accounts for the most points.

“Taste is the most important portion of judging,” Meadows says. “At Georgia Barbeque, we say it’s all about the taste.”

Simply meeting expectations is a large factor in which contestants are judged on. Did the team show up? Did they turn in their meat? If a team can simply be accountable and provide meat that is done and cooked as planned, they are likely to at least get a seven.

“If you can put it in your mouth and chew it and swallow it, it deserves an A; you know you don’t have to remove it and put it in a napkin,” Meadows says.

Finally, the sauce paired with the meat has to compliment the flavor to the judge’s standards. Judges are taught a two-round scoring system which gets more detailed in the second round, as scores usually use decimals. The Georgia and Memphis Associations are the only two sanctions in the United States that do comparative judging.


Health & Life | March 2016

Tifton, Ga.

Rhythm & Ribs Festival

By Sarah Turner

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