FOOD- THE DISH- Premier pit crew: Putting our town on BBQ map
By DAVE MCNAIR DAVE@READTHEHOOK.COM
In June, Barbeque Connection owner John Atkins said, "When you think of Charlottesville, you don't think of barbeque. We want to change that."
Atkins had just done a lot to change that, taking the Grand Prize and placing no lower than third in all four major categories at the 2006 Chesapeake Jubilee Barbecue Cook-off, the BBQ State Championship of Virginia, on May 19 and 20 in Chesapeake. Under his competition name, Pigs on the Run, the Lake Monticello-based caterer put himself in the running for the BBQ Nationals in Kansas City on October 6. Well, guess what?
"We finished fifth in the world in the pork category out of 500 teams from around the country," Atkins reports.
After the 20-hour drive to Missouri, Atkins and his partners, David Hansen and Richard Middleton, cooked for two nights, serving up their BBQ chicken, ribs, pork and brisket. "Everything could be cooked only with wood, charcoal, or pellets," he says, "no gas or electricity."
Atkins reports that the judges looked at taste, tenderness, and appearance-- but mostly taste. Although competition was intense (they finished 213th overall), Atkins says their fifth-place finish in the pork category was a real thrill.
"We had a great time," says Atkins, who can't believe his little crew from the Lake did so well.
Atkins' son Bryant, who appears to be a chip off the old BBQ cooking block, was especially thrilled. "It's been my life-long dream to win at the Nationals," says the excited 10-year-old.
What's even more remarkable is that running the Barbeque Connection is only a part-time gig for Atkins, who works full-time as a UVA hospital surgical technologist. ("So I'm not afraid to cut up meat," he quipped to Dish in June.) But Atkins remains humble, saying there's no real secret to cooking great barbeque, just being focused and patient over the fire and cooking it "low and slow."
That may be true, but the little BBQ outfit that could is moving high and fast in the smoky-pit world. In fact, when Dish last wrote about Atkins, we suggested that Charlottesville might have to be renamed a "World-class BBQ City" if he won at the Nationals.
Well, he didn't win. But fifth in the world in pork barbeque? What do you say, Mr. Mayor?