–THE JACK IS BACK–
Among the many things that 2021 has had to offer is the return of “The Jack”. The Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue is coming back to the Holler October 8-9. Due to restrictions still in place, the field only includes 76 teams, versus the 99 competing groups in 2019. This is due in part to restricting the field to domestic teams only because of the vagaries of international travel.
But this is still a field of barbecue mavens to be reckoned with. The 2019 Grand Champion Team Clark Crew BBQ will defend their title. Some of the competition will be familiar from the prior event. Shake ‘n Bake BBQ from Missouri took second on the last outing and is coming back for more. Other returning teams include Redneck Scientific, T-Mac Smokin, Timbone Barbeque, and a couple Texas teams Rio Valley Meat BBQ and Boomerang BBQ.
As an invitational event, teams must have won a state championship event with over 25 teams or an open event that has over 50 teams. Teams that qualify are then selected via a drawing. However, the prior winner is guaranteed an invitation. In addition, the winners of certain prestigious events are also on the list automatically. For example, Jack’s Old South, the Grand Champion from Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, will be competing. Other premier event winners will come from the American Royal Open and Houston World Championship Bar-b-que.
As they have done for over thirty years, The Jack brings some of the best names in barbecue to Lynchburg. There will be no resting on their laurels though. Each team competes in all seven categories; Pork Ribs, Pork Shoulder/Butts, Beef Brisket, Chicken, Dessert, Cook’s Choice, and Jack Daniel’s Sauce.
Literally thousands of folks descend upon Lynchburg, although this year may be a bit quieter, the town still makes people welcome. And to entertain when not chasing bbq, there are fun and games such as the Country Dog Contest and Bung and Bag Toss competitions. Of course a good event like this has the power to really help a good cause. In this case, admission to The Jack is with a voluntary donation to the Moore County School system.
Over 30 years ago cooking competitions were starting to hit their stride. With the successful advent of chili cook-offs, barbecue enthusiast had been motivated to start their own events. And the classic outdoor cottage industry of competitive BBQ cooking was born. Like all worthy competition, there needed to be filtering and ultimately a head to head event with the best of the best.
Is it unlikely to have one of these penultimate events in the small town of Lynchburg Tennessee? Perhaps, but surely no less likely than a major distillery calling that burg home. With the value of wood necessary in the whiskey making process, there is an obvious overlap that presents itself. Or maybe, someone just wanted some exceptionally tasty barbecued food to enjoy with a glass of whiskey. That’s hard to argue with, but for whichever reason the event began, and we are glad that it did.
It is great fun to read accounts of teams attending for the first time. Keep in mind that these are teams that have already won multiple accolades and awards. This is an invitational event, so you have to be a champion team to even get an invite. And then you have to have your bung drawn from the pool of winners to be a competitor. So no spring chickens, even these competitors are awestruck as they roll into the holler.
Teams start rolling in the Thursday before the competition in early October. Usually that means a pleasant misty haze in the air from the night’s dew evaporating in the autumn sun. This elite group are mostly familiar to each other, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that they are in the company of the royalty of their arena. Thursday is time to get set, learn the lay of the land and be ready to literally fire things up Friday morning.
The Kansas City Barbecue Society are the overseers and they inspect the products Friday morning which is the go ahead to get started on prep work. The low and slow items, brisket and pork butts, are first on the list to get trimmed, and seasoned, ready to smoke. But there is a little wrinkle in this event that is unique. If you gather the elite that calls for a little pomp. In this case a parade.
The local High School band leads the procession of teams with their flags from all corners of the earth. They meander through the streets toward the Jack Daniel’s distillery. They get to load onto buses for the last leg, right up the hill past the mashing stations for the distillery. With music, food and a view of the sunset, the opening ceremonies are complete. Next is the o-dark-thirty process of getting the long cooks started.
Then Saturday is the judging staggered through all the categories. The drama really starts with the re-convening of all the teams in the barn for the awards event. Who will get the call to join the rarified group that are the best of the best, bragging rights, and for one team a guaranteed return the next year? Even the most experienced teams feel the thrill when the name called is their own.