Fred Vegas Smokers Win Grand Champ at Smoke on the Water
by James Coulter
Chris Salsberry and his team traveled from South Carolina to Winter Haven to escape the cold and enjoy the Florida weather.
They also arrived to compete among the best of the best barbecue teams at the annual Smoke on the Water. They managed to prove themselves as the best by winning first place as overall grand champions.
“We came down to Florida and had a great time,” he said. “It was a great competition and a great state. We wanted to come down from South Carolina and be with some of the best of the best.”
Chris owes the success of his team, the Fred Vegas Smokers, to their consistency and love of the craft. This was their first-time attending Smoke on the Water, and their first visit did not disappoint.
“It is fantastic,” he said. “It was a great contest with a great reputation.”
Brant Williams and his team, Piggin Whiskey, won second place as reserve champions. As with the first-place-winning team, they arrived in Florida on account of the colder weather up North and due to Smoke on the Water’s overall great reputation as a barbecue competition.
Williams claims owing his success to the “love” he puts into the barbecue is cliche. Rather, he owes his victory to “teamwork, consistency, and the ability to find that perfect balance of flavors that makes great BBQ.”
They traveled from Arkansas to compete in Smoke on the Water. The competition’s reputation preceded it, and it more than met their expectation, Williams said.
“We came to Florida to compete because these are some of the first contests to kick off the 2023 season. And being that it was cold back in our home state of Arkansas we saw it as an opportunity to enjoy some Florida sun,” he said. “We had a blast! Already looking forward to coming back next year!”
Smoke on the Water is the annual fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club of Polk County, with proceeds going towards the Citrus Center in Winter Haven.
“Children need to have a place where they are physically and emotionally safe,” their website states. “In addition to providing a caring environment, we offer daily access to a broad range of programs that promote the education, health, social character, service, and leadership of the youth we serve.”
Smoke on the Water is hosted at the Cirtus Center alongside Havendale Boulevard and near Lake Cannon in Winter Haven. The annual event, hosted last Friday and Saturday, included vendors, live musical performances, and even a ski show performed by the Cypress Gardens Ski Team.
The main event is the Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS)-sanctioned competition with categories including brisket, chicken, pork, ribs, and overall. More than 80 teams nationwide attended this year’s festivities.