The largest event in Zephyrhills is gearing up for its 10th anniversary — with a few more fixins’.
The Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce’s annual Pigz in Z’Hills BBQ & Blues Fest is set for Jan. 18 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., at the Zephyrhills Community Venue, 5200 Airport Road, Zephyrhills.
Admission is free, but parking is $10.
To kick off its 10th year, festivities have been added for a special Friday celebration on Jan. 17 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. It will include a steak cookoff and kid’s grilling competition sanctioned by the Steak Cookoff Association, as well as a second-day cornhole tournament, “People’s Choice” dessert contest, and a local band showcase featuring Hired Gun, The Groovediggers, Time Travelers, and Jase Randall Band.
“We just wanted Friday night to be a local celebration where people could come relax and have a good time,” said Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce Executor Director Melonie Monson, who’s organizing Pigz in Z’Hills.
As usual, Saturday’s main event is the Florida BBQ Association-approved barbecue competition, with 60 competition teams, both professional and backyard, vying for top honors and trophies in four standard categories: chicken, pork, brisket and ribs. Professional teams have the added incentive of potentially winning $10,000 in prize money.
While attendees munch on barbecue, live blues music will be going all day long, with a lineup headlined by Sean Chambers, along with the Chris Walker Band, Chuck Riley’s All-Star Band, and Sauce Boss.
There will be plenty of other entertainment on hand, too.
A business expo also will be featured, and there’s the return of a two-team, double-elimination cornhole tournament with a chance to win a cash prize and a trophy.
Car enthusiasts are welcome to participate in the car show, or to simply check out the motorcycles and vehicles on display.
Visitors also can get a free tour of the Zephyrhills Military History Museum, and take a look at refurbished wartime planes and other unique memorabilia.
Youths can get in on the fun in the Kidz Zone, which will have face painting, arts and crafts, and games.
Last year’s festival marked its largest showing ever — with over 13,500 attendees. The figure represents how far the event has come in a decade, when it drew about 2,500 patrons in its first year back in 2011.
Monson feels the event’s success lies in the community involvement and the 200-plus volunteers who come together to help out, to ensure everyone has a good time.
The event also serves as a large fundraiser for scholarships, youth leadership programs and children’s charities.
The chamber director put it like this: “When people come, they have a positive experience, so they’re telling others. We have a real strong motto that we want everyone to be happy. We want everybody to feel like, ‘This is exactly what our town represents.’”
Over the years, Pigz in Z’Hills has distinguished itself to be a qualifier for three prestigious championship contests: Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational in Lynchburg, Tennessee, long considered the Super Bowl of barbecue contests; American Royal World Series of BBQ in Kansas City, the world’s largest and oldest barbecue contest; and, the Sonny’s Smokin’ Showdown Invitational in Orlando.
Many of the competitive teams coming to Zephyrhills are professionals who travel to barbecue events all over the United States.
Zephyrhills resident and business owner Randy Light, of Puroclean Cooking Team, outlined what all it takes to ensure a strong showing in the barbecue contest, during a recent Zephyrhills Chamber breakfast meeting.
He explained cooking teams begin prepping at least a week before the contest, deciding which types and cuts of meats to purchase, and testing out different sauces and seasonings.
Light noted the chicken category takes the longest to prep, compared to other meats, as there’s a lengthy process of trimming, weighing, brining, injecting and so on.
“Chicken’s one of the hardest things to do,” he said. “You don’t just take it out and grill it.”
Light added a lot of thought also goes into which types of barbecue sauce to use for each judge that will appeal to the competition’s 75 judges. Because some judges might prefer hot sauce, while other prefer sweet, he said his team tries to find a “happy medium sauce.”
Light acknowledged the entire process takes much time and effort, and he enjoys every bit of the experience.
“We have a lot of fun cooking for the community. It’s awesome,” Light said.
For more information, visit ZephyrhillsChamber.org, call (813) 782-1913, or visit the Pigz in Z’Hills BBQ & Blues Facebook Page.
Pigz in Z’Hills BBQ & Blues Festival
Where: Zephyrhills Community Venue, 5200 Airport Road, Zephyrhills
When: Jan. 18 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Cost: Free admission; $10 for parking
Details: Guests can enjoy smoked barbecued foods right off the grill, listen to blues bands, play cornhole, and check out car and aviation shows.
Info: Call (813) 782-1913, or visit ZephyrhillsChamber.org.
Published January 15, 2020