FRYEBURG – At first glance this weekend, the Fryeburg Fairgrounds may look like any other campsite in Maine this time of year.
Lawn chairs splayed out alongside parked RVs, tents popped up nearby and people mingled between the sites.
Plumes of smoke billowed from grills too, but the intense concentration on the pitmasters’ faces was a sure sign that this wasn’t just an ordinary family cookout.
Saturday kicked off the first Western Maine BBQ Festival with 40 teams — from Maine and all over New England and as far away as Florida — vying for a total of $12,500 in prizes in various categories. And, of course, bragging rights. The festival continues through 4 p.m. today.
Around 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Vic Guimond of Sidney took a break from slaving over the hot grill. His team, “Just Got Smoked,” had just finished cooking sausage and chicken wings for the People’s Choice contest.
This is his team’s first sanctioned competition, but Guimond was quick to point out they took home second place from the barbecue competition at Cabela’s 2011 moose lottery event last month.
“It’s been a team effort,” he said when it comes to deciding on the best recipe and how to grill the meat. “We have tried different recipes for six to eight months now and we’re trying to formulate the best one.”
“Even when you think it’s perfect, you find something better,” Guimond said.
The sweet, smoky scent of grilling meats filled the breeze as teams cooked throughout the day. Crowds came and went, meandering through tents of vendors and tasting wings and sausage recipes for the People’s Choice competition.
Bruce and Helen Banfill of Richmond, Quebec, planned their vacation around this weekend’s festival. Bruce Banfill said he regularly barbecues at home and is considering entering the competition next year.
As he sampled five items from the pool of competitors for People’s Choice, he said he was looking for a “nice hint of smoke.”
“To win a competition, it’s not about the best eating, but what the judges are looking for,” Banfill said.
Pointing to one wing that was untouched, Helen Banfill said, “Like that one. It has so much sauce, it’s like they drowned it. Makes you wonder what they’re hiding.”
That’s one reason Jim Allen of Old Orchard Beach doesn’t use much sauce. “I just like the meat to speak for itself and great flavor,” he said.
Allen and his son Chase — team name: “Darth Que” — were gearing up to put a brisket and pulled pork on the grill around 11 p.m. Saturday to be ready for the 1 p.m. competition today. He was excited about the atmosphere created by the teams camping out.
“It makes a long night (of monitoring grill temperature) go by a little faster,” he said.
The event was organized by the Denmark Lions Club to benefit regional Lions Clubs and the communities they serve. Competition is sanctioned by the New England Barbecue Society and the Kansas City Barbecue Society.
Denmark Lions Club member Bill Sanborn said nine of 83 clubs in the state are participating.
He was excited to see how the clubs had come together to put on the event, as well as the friendly competition among teams.
“Barbecue in and of itself is about camaraderie,” Sanborn said. “Forty teams out here all want the prize, but they’re all happy to see each other succeed.”
Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: