It's "to each his own" in the world of barbecue. With so many different cultural methods of preparing grilled meats, the process alone can render anything from barbacoa to brisket. But for some it's not just about the meat — it’s all about the sauce.
The second annual Gettin' Sauced Festival is a combined national and international barbecue sauce competition and festival celebrating the diversity of smoked meats.
After moving to Texas four years ago from Alabama, and after encountering the Texas Club while studying at Harvard Law, Drew Thornley created a uniquely Texan blog for his new hobby: barbecue.
"I [started that blog] to see what the big deal was with Texas BBQ, as compared to BBQ in other parts of the country. BBQ is a passion throughout the country, so I wanted to dive into the X's and O's of Texas’ brand of BBQ," Thornley said. And so, Man Up Texas BBQ, the barbecue blog, was born.
While writing his blog, Thornley realized a sauce-exclusive BBQ contest did not yet exist and decided to start Gettin’ Sauced.
"The beauty of [Gettin' Sauced] is that it’s a festival that is about sauce. It's not a BBQ cook-off that also includes an entry category for sauce," Thornley said.
Thornley is an equal opportunist when it comes to barbecue sauces. "I am pretty adaptable with all kinds of BBQ. I grew up in Alabama, where pork is king, but beef, chicken, turkey, etc. all have their own appeal. I care more about the quality of the item that is cooked more than which item is cooked," Thornley said.
Prizes for sauce competitors, other than bragging rights and an illustrious title, include media coverage in this year’s Gettin’ Sauced sponsor, Taste of the South magazine. Taste of the South’s editor, Brooke Bell, will be one of the 12 judges this year.
“It would be hard to judge a mustard-based sauce against and vinegar based sauce or a white sauce because they have such different characteristics,” Bell said. She thinks the division of sauces according to bases will make it easier to hone in on certain flavors in the sauces.
Barbecue sauces are a personal preference, Bell said, and for her palate, she favors vinegary sauces with hints of spicy peppers.
“People have very different opinions on barbecue sauces and styles. I think it depends on what you like and what you’re used to. A lot of times, people tend to like sauces they grew up with,” Bell said.
And at the festival this second time around, guests will have the opportunity to taste 190 personalized sauces, a definite spike in entries since the festival’s premiere. From a parsley start with 45 sauce entries, the gathering has expanded into a public festival with a private contest.
"The growth has been tremendous, and we are just trying to handle the growth the best we can. We’re learning as we go, and anything that doesn’t go well this year will teach us how to be better next year," Thornley said.
Hoping to please judges such as Bell is Clinton Cox, co-owner of Tribal Moose, a cranberry barbecue sauce company, in Sublimity, Oregon. Though Tribal Moose has not competed in Gettin' Sauced before, Cox maintains a level head about the upcoming contest.
“From experience [with other barbecue sauce competitions], I think we’ll do well. But I don’t think we’ll take first prize because you’re dealing with different flavor palates and people are accustomed to certain things,” Cox said.
The Tribal Moose will be entering both their Original Cranberry BBQ sauce, a sweet and unique sauce, alongside their spicy version of the same sauce, kicked up a few Scoville units with habanero peppers, red chile, tamarind, cumin and garlic.
For Thornley, it’s the dedication of these vendors and contestants that inspire him most.
“What’s important is not that people know who runs the festival and the program but rather that people see something worth being a part of,” he said.