The Best of the Best National BBQ Festival

By Rocky Danner
World Barbecue Organizer

WAYCROSS, GA - This is truly the “Greatest BBQ Show On Earth.”  The Phelps Family and the Waycross Exchange Club came together once again to make this one super festival. Teams came from all around the country, a gathering of “the best of the best” championship teams to win the coveted Bell, gold medallion, cash purse and bragging rights.

Photo by Rocky Danner
Pig cooked and decorated by Chef Jeremy Fowler of the UK.

Joe, Carlene, Kell and Mitch Phelps and the officers of the Waycross Exchange Club plus a host of volunteers worked together to make this one of the best-run contests that I have had the opportunity to attend.  Electricity, water, ice delivery and garbage pickup was spot on.

Kell and Carlene held the cooks meetings and Judges instruction, keeping all on the same page, in my humble opinion this is what makes this contest grow larger each year as the contestants know what to expect with no surprises except good ones.

The Waycross Exchange Club Fairgrounds is located on 40 plus acres along the Okefenokee Swamp boundaries and is a perfect location for a contest with enough room for each team to spread out and not be packed in like a can of sardines.

According to my sheets, there were 48 teams in the Best of the Best Invitational, 56 teams in the Smoking in the Swamp X Open, 16 teams in the Backyard and 12 teams in the Kids Q. The area was filled with vendors. I think there were 25 on site, with everything from rock wall climbing to fried gator; soft drinks; pecans (fresh and fried); great BBQ; pig races; and last, but not least a cooker/smoker demo put on by sponsor, Ben Lang. By the end of the contest, I don’t think Ben took any of his cookers/smokers home. The cooker that caught my eye was I think an 84 that had a BBQ grill /smoker on the front where the wood box was, and with two slide-out shelves. It was big enough to allow grilling/smoking smaller items without constantly opening the big 84 door. Ben also donated a Lang 36 smoker for a raffle and one to the Backyard winner.

Photo by Rocky Danner
Ben Lang’s new grill addition to the Lang 84.

There was top class entertainment at this year’s festival. Friday night’s entertainment started of with the Band “Second Chance”. On Saturday from 10am until 4pm, there were nine bands and a group of super cloggers from County Line in South Georgia. During a band break, Kell held a Media Pig-Out Challenge. Each contestant was given six monster barbecue sandwiches, what looked like a half pound on each bun. Paulie, a DJ from the Rock Station 107.9 in Brunswick, GA won and after polishing off his sixth sandwich, he asked the contestant who had only finished off two sandwiches if she needed any help!

Photo by Rocky Danner
Jeff Danner, Jeremy Fowler, Captain Tony Peeples of Southern Style Charters, and Ben Fowler.

Jeff Danner, Jeremy Fowler and his son, Ben and I arrived Tuesday morning and headed out to Warren Dorminy’s house to borrow his travel trailer for a base camp. On Wednesday morning we headed out to Florida to meet up with Charter Captain Tony for a fishing trip along Florida’s coastal waters but the seas were too rough. So we fished in the river and protected coves. The fishing was great and we caught several nice fish including round head sharks; flounder; skate; whiting and silver snapper.  But Jeremy’s son caught the largest fish... a four-foot long shark! So being the sportsmen we are, we took his pole away and gave him an old one!  But alas, he continued catching large fish. When we arrived at the dock from a great day’s fishing, the captain filleted our catch and assisted us in finding a bag of fresh caught oysters and shrimp.

Photo by Rocky Danner
Danny Montgomery with his pig on a Backwoods Piglet.

What makes this contest so special is that you can cook on any type of fuel... gas, wood, charcoal or electric. You can also choose to cook any three of five categories: chicken, ribs, pork, brisket and whole hog. As Danny often says and I quote, “It is neither the fuel nor equipment, but the man behind it”. Years ago I met up with Rodney Courson who cooked his product on wood ashes burnt down at the contest. He and his grandsons are still cooking the same way and the proof in the pudding is the Skipper brothers of Redneck BBQ won the Backyard competition, using grandpa’s “style of cooking.” I am curious to see if Mr. Courson will allow the boys to cook on the new Lang 36 they won at this year’s Backyard Grand Champion in next year’s competition.

Danny Montgomery of the cooking team TRBB arrived with a 90-pound pig and we smoked it on the Backwoods piglet. What a super job he did! (See photo.) The Piglet cooked a perfect pig, which was soon cleaned up and one of the diners asked Danny for the hide to make cracklings.

Photo by Rocky Danner
Kell with DJ Paulie

There was a tense moment when Jessica L Frye and Honcho’s granddaughter, Jamie-Lynn Avinos left the contest to go shopping, Jessica passed out and fell to the floor and quit breathing. Jamie-Lynn quickly gave her chest compression and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Later at the hospital both the EMT’s and the doctor said the young lady would have not made it if it were not for the quick action taken by Jamie-Lynn. Who says barbecue folks don’t look out for each other?


Photo by Rocky Danner
Jeff and Rodney Courson with his homemade hot ash smoker.

Danny, Jeff, Leon & Ida Issac (without whom we could not operate), and I held the meat inspections. On Thursday afternoon after meat inspection, we gathered around the campsite and began shucking oysters and cleaning shrimp for one great seafood buffet. There’s nothing like Shrimp and Oyster Poor Boys.  A special thanks go out to the Ladies of the Waycross Exchange Club’s Hospitality Center.  A certain lady named Sharon Deal and her co-workers served up a great breakfast and lunch to die for.... the greatest fried chicken, and chicken & dumplings plus all the trimmings and also served up what is known as the Southern House Wine,” ice cold sweet tea.

Photo by Rocky Danner
Lon and Sandy Babcock receive the Judges Choice Award.

At the awards, I was given the job of presenting the “Judges Choice Award” to Lon and Sandy Babcock for their lifelong efforts in promoting and preserving the art of barbecue.

I wish to thank Leon & Ida Isaacs (FL); Judy Flynt (TN); Melissa Lott, Honcho Gregory & family; Lon & Sandy Babcock (TX); Jeff & Gwen Danner (IN); Warren & Trish Dorminy; Jeremy Fowler and son, Ben (UK); Gregg Snyder; Mary Lynn Gammill (TX); Jama Kirkland and students, plus all the volunteers for all their efforts. Special thanks to Bonnie Dorminy for a super job, as always for cleaning up behind Jeff and Jeremy’s cooking mess!

We enjoyed our stay at the Hampton Inn. The rooms were spacious and clean and the hotel staff was very courteous. They attended to our every need, down to the fresh homemade cookies for Honcho and guests for their late night snacks.

It was great seeing Ole Ray’s efforts in the field of barbecue sauces. This gentleman took Grand Champion. The results were posted in the last issue, but congratulations to the winners:

The Best of The Best Invitational Champ
B & T Cooking Team

Photo by Rocky Danner
B&T Cook Team, Best of the Best Invitational Grand Champion

Smokin In the Swamp Open Champ

Photo by Rocky Danner
Budmeisters, Smokin’ in the Swamp Open Grand Champion

Smokin In The Swamp Backyard Champ
Redneck BBQ

Photo by Rocky Danner
Skipper Bros. Redneck BBQ, Backyard Grand Champion.

Smokin In The Swamp KID’S Q Champion
It Don’t Matter

Photo by Rocky Danner
It Don’t Matter, Smokin’ in the Swamp Kids Q Grand Champion.

Smokin In The Swamp Pie Champ
Big Papa’s Country Kitchen

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For more info. on Lang Smokers, visit

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