Two festivals feed your craving for barbecue and crawfish

Whether you like crawfish or barbecue — kind of disparate choices, but both much beloved of foodies — you can indulge your palate in Southern Nevada this weekend.

Things kick off at 4 p.m. Friday with the ninth annual Best Dam Barbecue Challenge in Bicentennial Park in the center of Boulder City. The challenge, sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society, is a professional state-championship team event with 37 teams competing for $12,000 in cash.

But even if you’re not a competitive ’cuer, you still can share in some of the glory — and some of the food — as event coordinator Kathy Hicks said a conservative estimate of 10,000 to 15,000 do every year.

“You can talk to them,” she said of the teams. “They’re kind of outside in their booths. Some of them are really focused on what they’re doing and some are not.” If you want to talk to the teams, Hicks suggests either later on Friday evening, when events run until 11 p.m., or just after 10 a.m. or late in the afternoon on Saturday, when the event will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The smokers start smoking at about 5 p.m. Friday, Hicks said, so early in the evening the teams are busy. On Saturday, “turn-ins” — when they submit food for judging — begin at noon, so that tends to be a hectic time as well.

“And they love to talk barbecue,” she said.

They’ll be competing in the categories of ribs, pork, brisket, chicken and overall championship. The winner of the overall championship will be eligible for the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue in October in Lynchburg, Tenn.

There also will be five barbecue vendors on hand, offering ’cue such as pulled pork, ribs and chicken. Five festival vendors will have what Hicks called “the good stuff” — that would be corn on the cob, kettle corn, funnel cakes, shaved ice, Dole soft serve, nachos, churros and more — plus beer, soft drinks and other beverages, and 40 vendors will offer merchandise such as arts and crafts. The Verizon Family Fun Zone will have two bounce houses, face painters and helium balloons, and the Best Dam Car Show will showcase models from various eras.

Hicks said the barbecue teams that will be involved in the competition hail from Nevada and five Western states.

“The barbecue community in Nevada has really grown,” she said, including the formation of the Nevada Barbecue Association. “There’s a whole bunch of them from Nevada this year.”

Floyd Henderson, founder of the Straight from the Bayou Crawfish Festival at the Henderson Pavilion on Saturday, said the population of Southerners in Nevada has grown as well, at least in Las Vegas. While he grew up in California, he’s a native of Baton Rouge, La.

“I spent all my holidays there,” he said. “We grew up on crawfish and crawfish festivals in all parts of Louisiana.” And after he encountered crawfish festivals in Long Beach and Simi Valley, Calif., he decided to spread the wealth.

“I thought it would be a great idea to do one here in Las Vegas,” Henderson said.

To that end, he’s bringing in 500 pounds of crawfish from Baton Rouge, plus two chefs and a bartender from Bourbon Street in New Orleans. The reaction so far has been surprisingly strong for the first year of an event, he said.

“People are excited,” Henderson said.

The festival also will include several local food vendors.

“The whole thing is around Cajun, Creole, New Orleans and Louisiana,” Henderson said. “Jambalaya, gumbo, crawfish etouffee, catfish and red beans and rice.” Plus a crawfish-eating contest and crawfish races.

The festival wouldn’t be representative of Louisiana if it didn’t offer lots of music, and to that end live Cajun, zydeco and blues bands are scheduled.

Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@review or 702-383-0474.

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