WINTER HAVEN — When it comes to the city’s annual barbecue competition, the Winter Haven Fire Department is hoping its flames are not put out.
A team from that agency has won the annual Sizzlin’ Smokin’ BBQ Cook-off in each of the first two years and will look to defend that title again this year. The event takes place Friday at the Chain of Lakes Complex, 210 Cypress Gardens Blvd., from 6 to 9 p.m.
“It’s a family-friendly event, and it’s free,” said Cameron Stevens, recreation supervisor. “All the cook teams consist of city employees. It’s truly a hometown event.”
While the event is free, sample tickets, which get five meat samples and two sides, are $10. Last year, the event raised nearly $7,400 for the Women’s Resource Center. All proceeds from this year’s event will benefit the United Way of Central Florida.
“We do rib each other and have some fun, but to do it for the United Way is the icing on the cake,” said Jamie Brown, spokeswoman for the Winter Haven Police Department. “I wouldn’t care if it was just a competition, but for a worthy cause, it really brings out our best.”
This year’s event will feature 11 teams. While it’s not a professional event, Stevens said the food is second to none.
“Several employees do competitions on the side," Stevens said. "The quality is definitely up there.”
Those who purchase a sample ticket will be able to vote for which team had the best food for the “People’s Choice” award. Judges, who include owners of local restaurants, will also decide a winner. Stevens said he’s taken it upon himself to find judges this year as the Fire Department was tasked with doing so the past two.
“One of the three teams from the Police Department will take home the prize this year for sure,” Brown said. “In all seriousness though, it’s fun on so many levels. For people like me, who's on a team with Chief (Charlie Bird) and Lt. (Don) Nunnery, it’s flat out fun.”
As for sample tickets, only about 750 are available, and of those, about half have been sold, Stevens said. In addition to barbecue, there will be vendors, bounce houses for children and live entertainment from the Hunter Smith Band.
Tickets can be pre-purchased at the Chain of Lakes Complex. For more information, call Stevens at 863-291-5656.
Mike Ferguson can be reached at Mike.Ferguson@directgates.com or 863-401-6981. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.