Smoke on the Water Hosted 18th Annual Barbecue Competition
by James Coulter
Jim Elser has been competing in the Smoke on the Water barbecue competition since 2010. He has never missed an event since then. Each time, he and his team, Sweet Smoke Q, win something. This year, they won the title of Grand ReserveChamp.
As someone born and raised in Ohio, he moved to Winter Haven in 2005. He loves being able to support his community by participating in events such as this, especially when it involves his passion for cooking. He has competed in more than 300 barbecue events in this country and all over the world, but Smoke on the Water, by far, is his favorite.
“I love the competition, the drive to help the Boys and Girls Club,” he said. “It is a good organization. I love it. The key to success is cooking really good barbecue and hopefully we will get lucky and the judges will score your entries really well.”
Winning Grand Champion this year was Git Sum Chew. This was their fourth year competing, and if their contest results were any indicator, their chicken is their best barbecue that they prepare. Their secret to their success is “attention to detail”, and they love the event because “it is for a good cause.”
“It is awesome,” he said. “What keeps me coming back is the competitive circuit. I like to hang out with family and friends. It is a good time.”
Smoke on the Water is the annual fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club of Polk County of East Polk, with proceeds going towards their educational programs. This year was their 18th annual event with more than 45 teams participating and more than $75,000 raised during the weekend.
“It was record crowds,” said Ashley Loute, human resources representative. “Last night, opening night, we completelyunderestimated how popular the event will be. This morning, even with the weather being a little cold and spotty and rainy, it was a really good turnout, and people were selling out like crazy.”
Smoke on the Water has been hosted for nearly two decades, and its long running success, even during these uncertain times, has been the community support it has received from not only throughout the city, but also across the county.
“The community comes together and makes it a community event,” she said. “We have donors and sponsors and volunteers from all over Polk County working together and coming out…doing so much for the event, and that is why it is so much of a success. Moving forward, I really hope that we can come together for a an even bigger event with more vendors, more cook teams, and just having different options in the community.”