Risking Smoke Saturation, Our Intrepid Reporter Ventures Into The Dangerous World of Barbecue Cook-offs

Over 30 teams of smokers from around Texas competed on Saturday for the chance to win the Taste of Mesquite Barbecue Cookoff at the Real.Texas. Festival. hosted by the Lone Star Barbecue Society (the punctuation is theirs not ours).The winner, Tom Hoefer from Allen, received a $500 Grand Champion title. City of Ate's Nick Rallo became immersed in the events and saturated by the smoke. The following is his chronicle of the cookoff:

10:40 A.M. Arrive at Rodeo Plaza in Mesquite. School Bus, mostly empty, shuttles from the Mesquite Memorial Stadium to Resistol Arena. Faint smell of Whataburger and horse manure in the bus. Hard to distinguish which is which.

11:00 A.M.Reluctantly walk past sign that reads "Jumbo Deep Fried Corn Dogs." Refuse to succumb to State Fair-ish cravings when BBQ payday just around the corner.

11:01 A.M. Enter BBQ Festival. At least a dozen mini-tank sized smokers attached to trailers are pumping smoke into the air. Mesquite smell saturation into clothes: 2 %

11:15 A.M. The competition is underway, beginning with pinto beans. Thirty-two teams will compete in four BBQ categories: ribs, chicken, brisket and the aforementioned beans. Judges sit in the whipping wind, spooning pinto beans from Styrofoam cups. One judge is yelled at for opening his container too early. Must keep beans aroma quarantined. Another judge anoints himself "The "BBQ Expert." Mesquite smoke saturation into clothes: 5%.

11:25 A.M. A Kansas City BBQ'er offers a taste of his rub. It's an expensive blend of freeze dried mangos and peppers for a sweet and spicy kick. I consider distracting him with a blind punch to his kidney while making off with his beans.

11:30 A.M. Chicken is next. Smoke pouring from EZ BBQ Bunches' Reverse Flow "Smokin' Microwave" Smoker. The half-chickens inside are juicy, and glowing red with sauce. Another smoker, from Backdraft BBQ is custom-made--built with fireman's tools, like axes. Can smell the brisket, even though its ensconced in foil. Mouth begins to drool like cartoon character. Mesquite smoke saturation into clothes: 15%.

11:36 A.M. Chickens clucking. Man sitting in lawn chair in front of cauldron of beans is named "Wolf." He introduces me to his son "Beaner"--no slur intended, it's just that he cooks the beans. Instructed to come back for hot links. Notice Wolf has no front teeth.

11:45 A.M. Invited to judge the chicken competition organized by the Lonestar Barbecue Society. A reporter from the London Times is also judging. So is John Monaco, the Mayor of Mesquite.Pickles and frozen baby carrots are "palate cleansers" on the table. BBQ Chicken smell is unbearably good. Judges are to rate based on aroma, appearance, texture, taste and overall. Desire to rip into chicken, whilst saying "screw it" to judging, is high. Mesquite saturation into clothes: 45%.

12:00 P.M. Chicken competition begins. Mayor says, "Every man should know how to barbecue." Pose idea of a new kind of BBQ restaurant to Mayor Monaco--where the BBQ circles the patrons on a conveyor belt a la the Sushi phenomenon.  Mayor says, "except this [BBQ] is real food."

12:30 P.M. Chicken breasts No. 7-14 are perfectly cooked with crunchy outside skin and juicy breast meat. Light BBQ sauce flavor and tons of smoke. Chicken No.10 is brushed in a mole-stlye sauce. Tastes of chocolate, chiles and smoke. Mind-blowingly good.

12:36 P.M. Chicken No. 4 is OK. Had a mild gas flavor. Too sweet and oily.

12:45 P.M. Finishing up judging. Sampled 14 different chickens. Shake Mayor's hand. See that leftover spare ribs are being served to passersby. Mad rush. Almost drop camera into mud. Eat as many pork ribs as possible. Some juicy, some crisp. Some light on sauce, others spicy as hell. Mesquite saturation into clothes: 75%.

1:55 P.M. Briskets are being closely guarded, unwrapped gently like baby diapers.

2:00 P.M. Brisket being cut. Take multiple photos and hint at wanting a taste. Request accepted. Explosive flavor. The fat melts into the meat, leaving a spicy finish.

2:15 PM School bus shepherds the bloated and BBQ-dazed back to the stadium. Soporific thoughts are all that's left after eating meat all day. Mesquite saturation in clothes: 100%.

Note: Check out the results of the Lonestar Barbecue Society Taste of Mesquite competition here.

See more of the BBQ fest in our slideshow.

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