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Barbecue and bluegrass featured at Pickin' in the Panhandle

September 08, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

INWOOD, W.Va. - The "pigs" were the overall winners of the first professional barbecue competition at the inaugural West Virginia State BBQ & Bluegrass Festival held Saturday in Back Creek Valley.

"It's better to be lucky than good," said John Atkins, pit master of the Pigs on the Run competition team, which is an outgrowth of his Charlottesville, Va., area catering business, The BBQ Connection.

Atkins' team was one of 24 that participated in the West Virginia BBQ Masters competition held at the daylong festival, which Martinsburg-Berkeley County Convention & Visitors Bureau organizers promoted as "Pickin' in the Panhandle." More than a dozen amateurs also competed, CVB board member Larry Hines said.

Berkeley County Commissioner William L. "Bill" Stubblefield served as one of several "celebrity" judges for the barbecue competition involving pork, chicken and the chef's choice.

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"Absolutely superb with a capital 'S,'" Stubblefield said of the barbecue selections that graced his palate.

Though not a "big chicken fan," Stubblefield said one entry was "heavenly" ... "spicy, but not overdone with a subtle, yet distinctive taste."

"Some of the pork was the best I think I ever had," Stubblefield said.

As for judging the entries, Stubblefield said each category had a standout, but as a judge in the blind tasting, he didn't know who prepared it.

Atkins said his competition team received $1,800 in prize money and two trophies for their winning entries, and now will prepare for the national barbecue championship next month in Kansas City, Mo.

Though Saturday's competition was not a sanctioned event, CVB officials have said they hope to have a sanctioned contest for next year's festival.

"We love supporting contests, especially new contests," Atkins said. "The people were wonderful. We love West Virginia."

Aside from the barbecue, the festival also featured a band competition. The overall winner, By & By of Washington D.C., will be invited back next year as a professional act, according to organizers.

"I'm overly pleased with the turnout," Andrea Ball, executive director of the CVB, said of the more than 3,000 people who traveled to the Lazy A Campground off Back Creek Valley Road for the festival and music.

Dean and Karen Ullery of Cumberland, Md., decided to make the trip on the weekend of their 22nd wedding anniversary.

"We decided to sing a couple songs since we're here," said Dean Ullery before the couple got on stage as part of the amateur competition.

"It's new for the Panhandle," said Steve Warner of The Rolling Coyotes, which performed Saturday morning. "And I think it's a real winner. Barbecue and bluegrass. It fits Berkeley County and West Virginia. It's a perfect fit."

Warner said the campground, formerly part of the Ashton farm off Kathy's Lane, was a particularly pleasant venue.

"Back Creek Valley is like a hidden treasure here in Berkeley County," Warner said. "It's off the beaten path, but easy to get to."

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