Following one’s nose Saturday at the Laughlin River Lodge was a sure ticket to Hog Heaven.
The seventh annual Porkin’ on the River barbecue competition featured 26 teams vying for bragging rights, with ribs and pulled pork as weapons.
They were competing for $5,000 in prize money and trophies for grand champions, other high finishers and a visitor-chosen people’s choice award.
Event organizer Scott “Smokey” Hayes said teams came from Arizona, Utah, California, New Mexico and Nevada.
The judges, with similar geographic origins, were looking at three criteria, Hayes said: appearance, taste and tenderness.
The appearance portion, to some competitors, means sauce — even if to a purist, good meat doesn’t need sauce.
“They want (the ribs) to shine,” said Steve Barns, of The Well Hung-over BBQ Team. “You taste with your eyes and your nose before your mouth.”
Barnes said that his Laughlin team sticks pretty much with the sweet-and-spicy Kansas City style of cooking.
Gary Williams, of Phoenix’s All About Smokin’ Q, said his team uses a St. Louis style characterized by uniformity in rib lengths and softness to the point that the meat just about falls off the bone.
Williams said the team’s pulled pork entry was a loin of pork butt (actually cut from the shoulder of the hog) cut into medallions and topped with a light sauce.
“We usually do pretty well with them,” he said.
Erik Drake of the Vegas Grillbillies said his team was trying something new in the pulled pork category: nachos.
“It helps to stand out a little bit,” Drake said. “With the People’s Choice award, you want to be remembered.”
Many of the teams are extensions of their members’ hobbies. But Williams said All About Smokin’ Q does a little catering.
“We do that primarily to make money to keep doing this,” Williams said.
The event was a fundraiser for the River Fund, Inc. Cancer Connection. Festivities began Friday night with one-bite pork loin and beef challenges.
Buzz Little, of Big Water, Utah, has brought his Blazing Buzzard BBQ team for the past four years.
“Smokey puts on a great show,” he said. “There’s entertainment, things to do ... it’s just all good.”