Fluvanna’s Award-Winning BBQ: The BBQ Connection
The Governor’s Cup delighted the family team, who hauled the mobile smoker over the hills and through the tobacco fields of rural Virginia to compete. For official competitions like the Danville gathering, it’s not a simple matter of lighting the gas grill. Serious barbecue cook-offs, like this one sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society, specify that the sweating cooks use only charcoal, wood or pellets. The championship traditionally goes to the team showing versatility by claiming victory in several events. Since the Danville event, “Pigs on the Run” have scored points in Asheville for their treatment of a Boston Butt. John Atkins, owner of the BBQ Connection with wife Teresa, said the winning butt got several treatments: injection with apple juice and brown sugar, a dry rub with spices, and a good dousing with barbecue sauce. Atkins likes the “Eastern North Carolina” barbecue, a style that’s less sweet than the barbecue produced on the other side of the state. And, he says, if you go to Kansas City, you’ll get only dry-rubbed barbecue; if you go to Texas, the ribs will be beef rather than pork. Despite the regional differences, good barbecue is appreciated by all, Atkins says, and the chefs love to learn from one another at these events.`
Atkins, his wife, father-in-law, brother-in-law, and son are generally the “pigs” and they arrive at the competitions the night before the judging, prepared to cook all night. The first stop is at the judges’ stand, where the meat is inspected to make sure the it hasn’t been pre-treated in any way. At midnight or so, the team begins cooking and there are a lot of informal competitions all through the night, like “Anything but,” a test of the team’s familiarity with its grill. The ideas is to prepare food that’s not in the typical barbecue contest (anything but chicken, pork ribs, pork butt or shoulder, or beef brisket). Atkins prepared oysters for the crowd in Asheville, pairing them with bacon, asiago cheese and a spicy sauce. Atkins is so familiar with his portable cooker – which is really a wood-fired oven when the lid is closed – that he makes pies and cookies as well as meat. Atkins has been fascinated with barbecue for years, but the transforming moment came when he was providing a critique of someone else’s barbecue while out with his wife, Teresa. Her response was essentially that it was time for him to stop talking and start basting. They compete several times a year and are next on the line in Lynchburg in the fall.
The team doesn’t just compete. They’re also available for hire, but don’t expect to visit them in Palmyra and come away with cartons of shredded pork and barbecue sauce. They cook in your yard so everything is fresh, and Atkins will come up with a menu or follow your instructions. Although he prefers the vinegar-based East Carolina barbecue, he’ll cook to your taste on your own lawn, and cook any kind of meat or fish. He’ll also produce the sides – potato salad, dessert, anything you’re hungry for. The “pigs” will be on hand at the Daylilly Festival in Fishersville July 17, so stop by and have a taste. To reach the team for your next big gathering: 434-589-5375.
There’s a lot of mysticism and superstition surrounding barbecue. If you ask 10 different barbecue cooks what their recipe is, you’ll get one answer, “It’s a secret.” So learning how to make your own barbecue might seem difficult at first. For those who want to invest the time and money, and risk the occasional stomach ache, your best bet is to turn to the Internet for advice. is a site filled with all kinds of information on Barbecue, from equipment to recipes to essays on spices. It’s not the prettiest site on the Web, but it has tons of information. is another site to give you a good start on barbecue. It’s much prettier than Barbecue’n, but not quite as thick with information. It does have a good selection of recipes and even some classified ads, in case you want to buy a branding iron with your initials for custom-made steaks or perhaps a barbecue pit that you can attach to a trailer hitch.