One competition for 3rd Infantry Division soldiers during Marne Week was not athletic, but it is a sport, according to Capt. Randy Crocker, officer in charge of the second annual Marne Week BBQ Cookoff.
Crocker said those who love barbecue are serious about it. With a grin, he said cookoffs are more like a sport than most people think.
Originally from North Carolina, Crocker has fond memories of Eastern North Carolina’s peppery vinegar-based, chopped pork barbecue.
“I enjoy cooking out, and I’m getting better,” Crocker said. “One thing I missed during my recent deployment was being able to grill. It was one of the first things I did when I got back ... You get to choose what event to run for Marne Week, and I chose the BBQ cook-off because I love barbecue.”
Crocker said this year’s entries were limited to chicken, which three judges scored for taste, tenderness, appearance and overall impression.
The 14 teams were allowed to set up their grills, smokers and tables at 9 a.m. Wednesday. At 10 a.m., Crocker gave the word to start the grills. In minutes, smoke filled the breeze just outside Newman Fitness Center.
The teams from various units already had divided labor. Some soldiers started the charcoal and others prepared the chicken with dry rubs or marinades. Staff Sgt. David Hernandez, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, said he uses both a dry rub and marinade.
“I try to do a marinade with pineapple juice and chipotle and a special dry rub,” He said. “I put the rub on the chicken for about an hour, then I let it rest in the marinade for another hour or so.”
Staff Sgt. Albert McCall, 26th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, said he doesn’t add anything fancy to chicken. He prefers to let the smoke flavor the meat. McCall said this was his first barbecue competition, but he has competed successfully in chili cookoffs.
Sgt. Raleigh Hickman injected a whole chicken with his marinade as Private 1st Class Adam Jones held the sauce. Nearby, 1st Sgt. Hector Mejia cut up a chicken as he prepared to let it bathe in his “very secret” marinade.
As he worked, Brig. Gen. Peter Jones, 3rd ID deputy commander-support, stopped by and expressed his love for the “sport” of barbecuing.
The judging wasn’t until 4 p.m., so many teams delayed the chicken and began lunch. Chief Warrant Officer 2 James Diamico and Spc. Zack Marks, Company B, 4th Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, 3rd Aviation Brigade, prepared two “soda can” chickens and some pork butts to feed several soldiers.
“I use honey and creole seasoning and inject the chicken with Texas Pete buffalo sauce,” Diamico said. “Usually, I make beer can chicken, but today I’m using Cherry Cokes. It sweetens the meat.”
Not far away, Company D, 4-3rd Avn. Regt. was preparing venison. Sgt. 1st Class James McFadden and Sgt. Carl McGraw joked about a nap after lunch, before starting the chicken around 2.
Not all the food was barbecue. Jesica Ogden, family readiness group leader for the 135th Quartermaster Company, and FRG volunteers had baked treats on a table. They were accepting donations for their delicacies to help needy families in their unit.
When the smoke cleared, the judges picked McFadden’s team for third place. Second went to Company B, 1st Battalion, 41st Field Artillery Regiment, 1st ABCT. The winner was Company A, 3rd Brigade Support Battalion, 1st ABCT.