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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue 2014 (Lynchburg, TN)

Every year on the fourth Saturday of October, teams, judges, and fans some 25,000 strong descend on the tiny town of Lynchburg, Tennessee for one of the most renowned and prestigious barbecue competitions in the world. There was no way I could resist. We headed south to the Lynchburg Hollow to bask in all of the smoke-filled glory that is known simply as "The Jack."

This year there were nineteen countries being represented, as well as teams from each of the fifty states. To qualify for The Jack, teams must have already won a competition of fifty or more competitors, or have won a state championship event of twenty-five or more competitors. The teams I was most excited about were Cool Smoke (2013 winner of The Jack), Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q (2014 winner of Memphis in May), Texas Pepper Jelly, and Bar-B-Que Commanders (2014 winner of the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo). No surprise, I saw Chris Lilly hard at work inside the Big Bob Gibson tent. I was also really anxious to check out some of the international competitors like The Meat Sweats (Australia), Gone Fish'n (Bahamas), Sieben Schwaben (Germany), and Flaming Pig BBQ (Sweden). I also had a sort of random connection to team Fire Dancer BBQ from Arkansas, which was their only state representative. We searched diligently for their tent, hoping to score some competition-level samples, but sadly we weren't able to track them down.

Interestingly, although it's home to the Jack Daniel's distillery, Moore County, Tennessee is a dry county. The only admission fee for this event was a voluntary donation to the Moore County high school, although I'm sure the potential alcohol sales revenue would have been much more substantial. Being the law-abiding citizen that I am, I didn't try to circumvent the rules in any way. Wink wink, nudge nudge.

While barbecue is clearly the main draw, The Jack also offers plenty of other non-meat activities. One event that caught my interest was the Butt Bowling, where participants use a frozen Boston Butt to bowl over law pins. This seemed like a waste of good meat, but at least they were having fun. We also found dozens and dozens of booths selling a lot of really cool handmade items, both decorative and edible. There was also some really great live bluegrass music in and around the town square, so every once in a while we'd find a spot in the shade to listen and cool off.

There was certainly a massive crowd, which I'm sure was every bit of 25,000. After a brief warm-up perusing the teams and the vendors, it was time for barbecue!

House of Hickory
1107 Dickerson Pike
Nashville, TN 37207
(615) 226-6266

We decided to start things off with House of Hickory, which is a Nashville operation. It looks like they are mostly in the wholesale and food service business, with some catering on the side. Most of the other food vendors I saw seemed like catering companies as well, so no problem there. Not wanting to fill up on side dishes, I ordered a Rib Sampler (three bones) for us all to share.

These half-mangled ribs didn't really look that appealing, so I hoped they at least tasted better than they looked. There was a good crust, which was only slightly sweet. The meat was tender, but sadly so overcooked that it had already fallen off the bone before we began eating. I found no discernible smoke flavor in the meat, or any other flavors for that matter. The only thing that somewhat salvaged these ribs was the sugary glaze, but even that only made them mediocre.

Texas Rib Rangers
2402 Sherwood
Denton, TX 76209
(940) 565-1983

Based out of Denton, Texas, I had higher hopes for the Texas Rib Rangers. We've seen these guys around some of the Dallas events before, so I was a little surprised that they were way out in Lynchburg. Their banner boasted a "1st Place B-B-Q Sauce" win from the 1999 Jack Daniel's cookoff, but no awards from the past fifteen years. Hmm. I ended up ordering a 3-Bone rib sampler and some brisket. They had combos available, but I saw them scooping potato salad out of store-bought cartons. No thank you.

Their ribs were big and meaty, but lacked the black smoke-laden crust that I expected. The crust also had minimal seasoning and no smoke that I could taste either, making it fairly bland. The rib meat clung to the bone just the way it should. It was also decently tender. There was, however, way too much fat on these ribs, which is an unusual complaint for me to have. Despite my hopes, the ribs were pretty disappointing.

Even more disappointing, our brisket came chopped. Instead of doing things the right way and having sliced brisket for plates and chopped brisket for sandwiches, these guys were lazy and just pre-chopped everything. The meat was tender, but had no smoke and no other flavors beyond the tiniest pinch of salt. The few bits of bark I managed to dig out had a little seasoning at least. This was a poor excuse for brisket, and it makes me sad that this was the sole representation of Texas barbecue.

There were a few other barbecue vendors that I considered trying, but we made the mistake of filling up on fried Oreos and "refreshments." Mediocre food aside, we actually had a lot of fun here. The Jack was worth the short drive from Nashville to Lynchburg, and I'll definitely be back next year.


Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue
182 Lynchburg Hwy
Lynchburg, TN 37352

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