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Even governor can't get barbecuers to share secrets

September 13, 2009|By DAVE McMILLION

GLENGARY, W.Va. -- For those competing in a barbecue contest here over the weekend, winning dishes are shrouded in mystery, much like the carefully picked smoking chips and sauces that go into making them.

The recipes are also coveted and guarded.

Mike Fontaine -- who on Sunday won the backyard barbecue competition at Pickin' in the Panhandle, the West Virginia State BBQ & Bluegrass Festival -- talked about his winning creations after receiving the award.

But when asked about the ingredients in his sauces during the third annual event, Fontaine was tight-lipped.

Fontaine did say that the ingredients are "nothing off the shelf," and said he gets a lot of them online.

Fontaine didn't even budge on his recipes in the presence of Gov. Joe Manchin, who stepped onto a music stage Sunday afternoon when Fontaine was honored.

"We're trying to get the secret recipe, but it's not working out too well," Manchin said.

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Fontaine's winning chicken, ribs and salmon barbecue came on the second day of the festival at the Lazy A Campground off Back Creek Valley Road.

Fifteen bands, including a Saturday night performance by the Charlie Daniels Band, infused music into the barbecue celebration, and the combination resonated with a record number of fans, organizers said.

All 8,700 tickets for the festival were sold out and organizers continued to let people in the gates for $25 at the door, said Sandy Sponaugle, publicist for the event. Sponaugle said event organizers were able to let more people into the event because capacity was not a concern at the sprawling campgrounds.

Sponaugle said she did not have a firm figure Sunday afternoon on how many people attended.

The first yevent attracted about 3,500 people and the second year, about 5,500 people attended, Sponaugle said.

Manchin said the festival keeps the heritage of bluegrass music alive and he commented on the number of people who came from out of state.

In addition to fans who came from elsewhere, barbecue teams traveled from North Carolina, Illinois and a number of other states, according to festival organizers.

"Just make sure you leave some of that out-of-state money here," Manchin said, drawing laughs from the crowd.

After his comments, Manchin said backstage that festivals of all sorts have been growing and they make a $4 billion impact on the state. In a tough economy, the festivals provide an affordable means of entertainment, said Manchin, who was accompanied by his wife, Gayle.

Manchin spent the day in the area, including speaking at an alumni banquet at St. Joseph Parish School in Martinsburg, W.Va.

After Pickin' in the Panhandle, Manchin was expected to attend a Berkeley County Democratic women's picnic.

Even the pickiest of eaters would have found it difficult to resist the temptations being cooked up at Pickin' in the Panhandle. Smoke rolled out of cookers big and small, and the smell mixed with the aromas of saucy concoctions being smothered over meats.

Fontaine, who is from Fairfax, Va., called his barbecue operation Charcoal Chuck and the Party Pig.

He pulled a recreational vehicle up to his site, and a table outside the vehicle was lined with sauces and spices.

"My ribs have been pretty good coming out of that big thing," said Fontaine, pointing to a giant cooker on wheels.

His barbecue chicken tasted sweet and zesty, with a hint of spice.

"A little after-kick," Fontaine said.

Organizers said 23 teams competed in the backyard barbecue competition and 49 teams met in a professional competition over the weekend.

The festive feel of the festival was also mixed with sadness.

Local bluegrass band Patent Pending performed without banjo player Jim Steptoe, who died recently.

Eldred Hill, the mandolin player in the band, told the crowd that Steptoe's death "left a big hole in our hearts."

Gov. Manchin said he knew Steptoe's father.

"It's really a sad loss for all of us. His memory lives on," Manchin said.

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