You could smell it coming.
After 21 years of catering the event, the club hit on a new idea this year: a barbecue cookoff and contest. For blocks and blocks down Iron Bridge Road, you could tell.
“A couple of them came out (Wednesday) and started cooking,” said John Erbach, the co-chairman of the event. He said the club’s goal was to make the event the premiere barbecue cookoff in central Virginia.
“This area of Chester is really known for barbecue,” he said. “It’s just a natural fit.”
To start hitting those big goals, the club came up with a big lineup. Longtime Chester barbecue stalwarts Brock’s, Sibley’s and King’s Korner were joined by Extra Billy’s and F.W. Sullivan’s, a new restaurant in the Fan, in the professional category. There were also three entrants in the amateur category.
But the night was more fun than cutthroat competition.
Brock’s co-owner Jim Brock said he wanted to be next to Dickie King of King’s Korner.
“We’re competitors,” he said, “but we’re friends, too. If I run out of something, I know I can run over to his tent and get it.”
Chopping brisket in his nearly spotless mobile kitchen, King was in the same spirit.
“To tell you the truth, I’ve been in this business 29 years, and this is my first competition,” King said. “The people will tell you what you need to know.
“The thing about barbecue sauce is, it’s like an opinion,” he said. “Everybody’s got one.”
Charles Brock, who opened his namesake restaurant 24 years ago to the day Thursday — he has since retired and turned the business over to his sons Jim and Tim — countered with his own take on barbecue wisdom.
“It’s like your mama’s gravy,” he said. “Everybody’s is a little different. But they can all be good to someone.”
And especially good if you happen to be eating Brock’s, said master chef Dick Drinkwater.
He handed out samples of pulled pork with and without sauce.
“You ever tasted anything that good?” he asked.
The hard job of the night was at the judge’s table, where three men took turns sampling beef, chicken and pork from the five restaurants.
“That was a lot harder than what I usually do,” said Dennis Dohnal, a magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Because every contest has to have a winner, it should be noted that Sibley’s took first place in beef barbecue, F.W. Sullivan’s won for chicken and King’s Korner won for pork. Not that anyone cared much.
As the awards were being announced, lines still snaked around the common ground of the Chester Village development.
“Look at all these people,” said Trish Brock, the wife of Jim Brock. “With this kind of exposure, I think we’re all winners tonight.”