Preparing to pig out in Zephyrhills 

The 6th annual Pigz in Z’Hills BBQ and Blues Festival promises to be bigger and better than ever.

The festival, presented by the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce, is scheduled for Jan. 16 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., at the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport, at 39450 South Ave., in Zephyrhills.

Admission is free, but parking is $10.

One way to reduce the mess of eating ribs is to enjoy them on a stick. These are some of the ribs that were ready to be sold at the Pig In or Pig Out BBQ booth during last year’s festival. (File Photos)

One way to reduce the mess of eating ribs is to enjoy them on a stick. These are some of the ribs that were ready to be sold at the Pig In or Pig Out BBQ booth during last year’s festival.
(File Photos)

The event features both professional and amateur barbecue competitions, and is sanctioned by the Florida BBQ Association.

There will be approximately 50 barbecue teams, 70 judges and a total of 60 vendors, concessionaires and exhibitors at the festival.

“I just think this event is probably the best thing we have in the area,” said Kevin Bahr, amateur barbecue competitor and owner of Bahr’s Propane Gas & A/C. “It’s huge in Z-Hills (Zephyrhills). It’s one of, if not the leading fundraiser here. It helps out so many things in the community and as a business owner, it’s really nice to be involved with it.”

The barbecue competition has a total cash purse of $8,000 and will have winners in four standard categories: chicken, pork, brisket, and ribs.

The festival is also a qualifier for three prestigious barbecue championship contests: the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational in Lynchburg, Tennessee; the American Royal World Series of BBQ in Kansas City, Missouri; and the Sonny’s Smokin’ Showdown Invitational in Sanford.

Bahr said being involved as an amateur competitor is “like nothing else.”

“It’s one of the most fun events that you can do, if you’re cooking,” he remarked.

Probably the toughest part of a barbecue cooking contest is waiting for the judges to render their verdict of whose barbecue is best. Dan Haynie of Zephyrhills sat on the edge of his smoker and waited for the judges' decision for the Tri-S BarBQ entries in the backyard division during last year’s Pigz in Z’ Hills BBQ and Blues Festival.

Probably the toughest part of a barbecue cooking contest is waiting for the judges to render their verdict of whose barbecue is best. Dan Haynie of Zephyrhills sat on the edge of his smoker and waited for the judges’ decision for the Tri-S BarBQ entries in the backyard division during last year’s Pigz in Z’ Hills BBQ and Blues Festival.

According to Bahr, what makes the festival even more exciting is the entire process of barbecuing with friends and getting food prepped in advance of the competition.

“Cooking in competition is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life,” he said. “You sit there, and you’ve got to get a specific kind of meat from a specific place. …Then you’re up all night long with smoke blowing in your face worrying about the temperatures and the basting, especially for the chicken.

“It’s very humbling, and it’s incredibly rewarding,” Bahr said.

The event has grown dramatically since it was introduced six years ago and attracted between 2,000 and 3,000 people. Now, it has reached the point where 10,000 people are expected to attend, and more amateur barbecue teams are signing up each year.

“When we started this, we had no idea what it was going to do,” said Bahr, whose business is one of the sponsors of the event. “The first year, I thought, ‘All right, maybe we’ll have a few teams.’ And all of a sudden, it’s just overwhelming how many people came and what happened with getting it sanctioned.”

Tim Linville, president of the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce, said changing the event from its original date in October to its current date in January and relocating it in 2013 from Krusen Field in Zephyrhills to its current site at the airport also has helped the festival expand.

The hope is to make the airport a permanent venue for ‘Pigz in Z’ Hills’ and several other events, he said.

Jason Mistretta of San Antonio, Florida, prepared chicken for those stopping by his booth. Mistretta was ready to serve 400 dinners last year

Jason Mistretta of San Antonio, Florida, prepared chicken for those stopping by his booth. Mistretta was ready to serve 400 dinners last year

“If we get a permanent venue at the airport, then we’ll have a place for nonprofit organizations to have different events,” Linville said. They would have a stage and power and water, and we’ll have more room for expansion.”

The event’s attraction also is buoyed by the varied musical choices brought in each year.

This year’s slate of performers includes Coldiron, Wendy Rich & The Soulshakers, the R.J. Howson Band, and Damon Fowler. Live music will be presented from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.

“We’re always trying to upgrade our bands, because that’s a key part, and also we have different barbecue people every year,” Linville said. “The two things that bring in people from outside the area is one, it’s a sanctioned barbecue, and the other thing is we have lot of blues bands that have a following themselves.”

In addition to a smorgasbord of food options and musical performers, there will be a family fun zone with games, a car show, aviation displays, helicopter rides and amusement park attractions.

In addition to providing more exposure for Zephyrhills, the festival also aims to benefit several local youth and education programs.

The event’s success has paved the way for many donations to scholarships, youth leadership programs and children’s charities.

“I think we’re very fortunate to have a community that volunteers so many thousands of hours to put this event on,” said Rod Mayhew, chamber director.

“Without the community and these hours they put in, we would never be successful,” Mayhew said.

Sixth annual Pigz in Z’ Hills BBQ & Blues
When:
Jan. 16, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Where: Zephyrhills Municipal Airport, 39450 South Ave., Zephyrhills
How much: Admission is free; parking is $10
What: Barbecue teams compete for prizes, blues bands perform, and event-goers can purchase barbecued foods and check out monster trucks, aircraft displays, and other attractions and activities.

January 13, 2016

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