Bid Muddy fires up BBQ battle

Photo by Cesar Salazar

 

NOSH Chef Greg Jaworski puts the finishing touches on his General Tso’s chicken lollipops during the 2022 Big Muddy Brew ’N Que grilling competetion.

by CESAR SALAZAR

 

The Winona Area Chamber of Commerce's sixth annual Big Muddy Brew ‘N Que grilling competition highlighted six local flavors of barbecue in a heated food battle. Some of the competitors went for tried and true dishes while others put their own twist on the classics. A panel of six judges and the crowd respectively picked who they thought was the best in the competition.

The Big Muddy Brew ‘N Que is the Chamber of Commerce's primary fundraiser for its Winona Main Street programs such as Streets and Treats, Dine-out Downtown, and the holiday lights, according to Chamber President and CEO Christie Ransom. The event serves as a way for the community to fund future events while enjoying some of what Winona has to offer.

The six competitors — each a restaurant partnering with a nonprofit — were NOSH Scratch Kitchen and the Winona Family YMCA, Heirloom Season Bistro and Habitat for Humanity, River City Grill and Winona Outdoor Collaborative, Sliced and Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center, Backwater BBQ sponsored by Hart Country Meats and partnered with Winona Community Hub, and Hy-Vee and Catholic Charities.

“The cool thing about this event is our restaurants are struggling for workforce just like everybody else, so our nonprofits really step up and partner with them,” Ransom said. “This starts out with us reaching out to the area restaurants and seeing who would like to participate in this coveted prize of best in the area, and the nonprofits then partner with them.”

Due to the nature of competition, the crowd and the judges selected who they thought was the best. Impressing the judges’ taste buds, Heirloom Seasonal Bistro won the Judge’s Choice award for serving their barbacoa brisket biscuits. This is Heirloom’s second year in a row of winning the judge’s selection. 

Winner of the attendees’ hearts and minds, Backwater BBQ took the People’s Choice Award for their brisket sliders.

In the winner-eats-all competition, the true winners were the attendees who feasted on all the competitor’s food that warm sunny Saturday. The Chamber of Commerce planned for 400 ticket sales prior to the event, but many more people also purchased tickets at the door, Ransom said.

One contestant, Greg Jaworski, a chef of NOSH Scratch Restaurant, said he had been preparing for the event since 7 a.m. that morning. Jaworski made chicken drumstick lollipops inspired by state fair foods with a General Tso sauce that is used at NOSH. “I didn’t want to serve anything difficult for people to eat,” he said. “I noticed a lot of people didn’t have access to tables last year, so I didn’t want to serve a sandwich or anything that you necessarily needed silverware for.”

Some attendees also took the event as an opportunity to eat good fare from the area. “I’m just here to eat,” said Becky Pearson laughingly. Pearson considers herself a snowbird and took the opportunity to attend Big Muddy while being up north. “This chicken is different. It’s spicy, and I’ve never had anything like it,” she said. “It’s good.”

Another attendee, Justin Johnson, was excited to see what the competition was all about. “I watch a lot of barbecue shows, so of course, I’m pretty excited to try some of those, but I’ve never been to a barbecue competition,” he said. “Really, I was just excited to try some food.” Johnson also added that he would’ve liked to see more traditional barbecue fare, including more sauces.

The judges also had some things to say about this year’s competition. “It was much more difficult than last year,” Judge Scott Sherman said in reference to selecting a favorite competitor. “Last year, two floated to the top, but this year it was much closer. I’d say the level of competition was higher this year.” The judges blind-tasted the barbecue. Sherman said that his favorite food at the time was Heirloom’s barbacoa biscuits.

The competition also saw a resurgence of attendees, compared to last year’s event. “Last year, the attendance was down a little bit and this is awesome: seeing everybody getting out again,” Sherman said.

“I love the people, personally, and sharing what the Winona Outdoor Collaborative is, as well as seeing people enjoy the foods that we’re serving,” Winona Outdoor Collaborative member and helper Asiah Reedy said about her favorite aspect of the competition. She continued, “I’m honored to be out here; I think it’s great.”

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