Santa Fe College Boots ‘n BBQ Cook-Off: Top Pro BBQ Teams

Florida’s most fun winter weekend, where chefs cook like on TV!

See the sizzle and smell the smoke as 70+ professional barbecue teams contend for prize money and competition points at the Santa Fe College Boots ‘n BBQ Cook-Off and scholarship fundraiser. But there’s more to it — like fun, fellowship and food so good you’ll slap your momma.

The members of Rescue Smokers professional BBQ team cook for the fun of it. “We’re a group of really good friends — almost like family. It is fun, it is stressful at times, but there’s no ‘i’ in ‘team’ — we’re a group,” said spokesman Robby Royal.

Royal, whose team is ranked 23rd out of 5,000 nationwide, is eager for folks to come out from Gainesville and the region to enjoy the cook-off. “Starke is probably our favorite FBA ‘cook’ of the year. You’ll have the opportunity to see champion barbecue as seen on TV. Plus 10-12 of the top 25 U.S. teams will be there.”

There are three couples on this team out of Sycamore, Ga.: Robby and Stephanie Royal, Raymond and Amy Poore, and Billy and Joyce Caton. They call themselves the Rescue Smokers because all the men are fire fighters, paramedics or with law enforcement.

They organized in January 2007 and planned to do just one cook – the Big Pig Jig in Vienna, Ga. But the cook bug bit them and now they compete in four organizations: Kansas City Barbeque Society (the world’s largest), Florida Bar-B-Que Association, Georgia Barbecue Association, and the Memphis Barbecue Network. 

Rescue Smokers won Reserve Grand Champion at the 2010 SF Boots ‘n BBQ Cook-off. They cook meat in all four categories: ribs, brisket, pork and chicken. “We do well consistently in pulled pork, which is probably our best category,” said Royal.

Royal claims brisket and chicken as his personal favorites. “If you can cook brisket right you can cook anything right,” he said.

Is your mouth watering yet? Let’s add some sides to the barbecue. Royal’s favorite sides are Brunswick stew, good sauce, a piece of white bread, and cold beer or sweet tea. While many teams buy commercial sauce and add their own flavors to it, Rescue Smokers makes its own sauce, called Sweet Heat, from scratch.

Royal has an interesting observation on barbecue competitions that take place during bad weather (which often happens, he said). “We cook better in bad weather because we concentrate more – we’re not out and about visiting with other teams. We won some of our best prizes in bad weather.”

His advice for amateur or backyard barbecuers: “Don’t concentrate on winning. Enjoy your friends and family and the rest takes care of itself. Have a lot of fun!”

Royal has a high opinion of the SF Boots ‘n BBQ Cook-Off, noting that it’s well organized, a nice facility, and very accommodating. “People come out and support us as teams – you-all are a jam-up group of folks,” he said.

In 16 competitions the team has entered since Nov. 2009, Rescue Smokers has mostly won awards of Grand Champion, Reserve Grand Champion, and Ultimate Cook Team.

The team does catering in Georgia for local public services and businesses, and an occasional fundraiser to support Rescue Smokers. The team wives will vend during the competition.

SF Boots ‘n BBQ is a fundraiser for scholarships to help Bradford County students attend SF. There’s fun for the whole family and live entertainment all weekend. The 2011 festival runs 5-9 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 10; 5-10 p.m. Friday, Feb. 11; and 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 12 at the Bradford County Fairgrounds, rain or shine. Admission is $5 per day.

To learn more about the festival call Kathryn Lehman at 352-395-5355 or 904-964-5382 ext. 5355, or e-mail kathryn.lehman@sfcollege.edu. Visit www.bootsnbbq.com for images, more information and travel directions.  

In the photo above, left to right: Billy Caton, Robby Royal, Raymond Poore in team of the year picture.