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Houston, son win top cookoff honor
At Flames on the Flint BBQ Cook Off
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Tommy Houston, of the Checkered Pig restaurants, shows the grand champion trophy he and his son, Hunter Houston, won at last weekend’s Flames on the Flint BBQ Cook Off in Bainbridge, Ga. A total of 43 competitors entered the event. (Bulletin photo)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Tommy Houston’s barbecue isn’t just a local favorite. Folks in Georgia like it, too — and Houston has a trophy to prove it.

Houston and his wife, Lisa Houston, own and operate the Checkered Pig restaurants in Martinsville and Danville, and also offer catering.

Last weekend, Houston and his son, Hunter Houston, attended Flames on the Flint BBQ Cook Off in Bainbridge, Ga., where Checkered Pig was crowned grand champion, winning a custom trophy and $5,000.

A total of 43 competitors entered the event, Tommy Houston said. The event is sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society, the largest competitive barbecue organization in the world.

Most of the competitors came from Georgia, according to Houston, although others were from New Jersey, Tennessee, Florida, Maryland and North Carolina, among other states. The second-place overall winner — Hambones by the Fire — also is from Virginia.

“We get judged in four categories,” Houston said: chicken, pork ribs, pork butt and beef brisket.

In each category, he said, the barbecue is judged on three criteria: appearance, tenderness and taste. Appearance and tenderness each contribute 25 percent to the score, while taste contributes the remaining 50 percent.

The six judges sampled the four different kinds of barbecue and assigned a score of one to nine, with nine being the best. Their scores were combined, and a winner was chosen in each of the four categories.

The total scores in each category then were combined, and the highest total scorer was named grand champion.

“Consistency is what pays off,” Houston said. “You want to finish in the top 10 in every category.”

Houston’s team placed 15th in chicken, seventh in ribs, sixth in pork butt and eighth in brisket. The team’s total won it the grand champion title.

“We’re known all over the country for our ribs,” Houston said, and he felt confident about the ribs he cooked over the weekend. He also thought his brisket deserved to be in the top three and was disappointed that it placed eighth.

The pork butt, which he had thought was the team’s weakest entry, ended up scoring highest.

“It’s weird how that works out,” Houston said. “If Lisa and I like something, the judges don’t like it” and vice-versa.

The Flames on the Flint competition was not open to the public, Houston said; only the judges were allowed to eat the barbecue. At some competitions, he said, there’s a “people’s choice” category, but that requires the organization to jump through the hurdle of meeting stringent health department regulations, just like any restaurant.

The barbecue Houston prepared for the competition was similar to the fare offered at the Checkered Pig restaurants, he said. The difference is that competition barbecue has a bit more “process” involved, such as meat injections and additional seasonings that wouldn’t be cost-effective in a restaurant setting.

However, he said, one of the seasonings that was used in the competition got its start on the front lines at Checkered Pig, and one of the restaurant’s recipes came from a competition Houston attended in Reno, Nev.

Houston was pleased with his win in Georgia.

“There were some very strong teams there,” he said. “To come away with a win against that crowd was definitely a bonus. One of the guys I beat was number three in the nation as far as cook teams go.”

Houston isn’t ready to hang up his apron just yet. On the last weekend in March, he will return to Georgia for a barbecue competition in Ashburn.

After all, he said, “they seem to like our stuff down there.”


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