News from the Tennessee Valley Living Today

Local barbecuers are an inspiration to their competitor

By Patrice Stewart · 340-2446

Even barbecuers have their heroes.

Jason Owens said he looks up to barbecue specialist Chris Lilly of Big Bob Gibson’s “for what he has done for this sport,” and to Bob Fite and Steve Blake of Decatur’s Jiggy Piggy barbecue team.

“I actually started cooking because of Bob,” said Owens, who formerly owned J&D Electrical and did contract work for Fite Building Co.

“Bob was always cooking, and whenever I went in his office, I saw how much fun he was having,” said Owens. “He showed me what he cooked on, but he won’t show me how he cooks.

“Now Bob’s team is one of the top ones in the Southeast, and we all strive to beat him.”

Fite and Owens are “pelletheads,” which means they use wood pellets as a fuel, and both will be in a 2008 calendar “A Pig a Day: Icons of Barbecue.”

Fite said he knew of Owens’ call to Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet in Michigan and the sponsorship.

“I’m pretty impressed,” said Fite. “I wasn’t that smart.”

He has been a bit wary of outside sponsors “because you might have to sell your soul, so to speak.” But he knows of teams with sponsors such as Madison RV and Southern Living.

Early on in his cooking career, he got in good with his brother Jack and signed Fite Building Co. of Decatur, the family firm, as his sponsor.

That name and logo go down the road with the Jiggy Piggy team in a 39-foot fifth wheel, and every Monday morning he presents leftovers at the managers’ meeting.

“I’m not looking for any more local sponsors to cook for,” said Fite, “but something like Coca-Cola would be nice.” First American Bank will sponsor them at Riverfest.

He gets a page in the company newsletter, too, but more space may be required soon.

“As you win more, you go more,” Fite said. The team is going nearly every week right now and was competing in Pine Bluff, Ark., on Saturday, with competitions in Decatur and Nashville just ahead. Then they will go to the American Royal in Kansas City, Mo.

Recent wins include grand reserve champion in Cookeville, Tenn., earlier this month; repeat grand champions in Springville in July; a win at Huntsville’s Whistlestop in May; and third in ribs and sixth in pork at the Sloss Furnace competition in Birmingham.

“I’m tickled pink,” Fite said.

If you go

What: 13th annual Riverfest, with barbecue championship, entertainment

When: Friday and Saturday

Where: Ingalls Harbor off Alabama 20, across from Leon Sheffield Elementary School in Decatur

Barbecue: More than 70 teams will compete Saturday for prizes; some barbecue teams and other food vendors will have food for sale.

Bands: Friday starting at 5 p.m., Dusty French, Juice, The Dave Matthews Tribute Band, and Cowboy Mouth will entertain; on Saturday, Nashville singer-songwriter Austin Cunningham will begin at 1 p.m., followed by Jeff Whitlow and the Old Barn Band, Rollin’ in the Hay, King Kotton, and the Paul Thorn Band; Drivin’ and Cryin’ will close the festival beginning at 9:45 p.m.

Admission: Weekend armbands, $15; admission $3 per person from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; admission $10 per adult and $5 per child after 4 p.m., with proceeds going to charities


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