Event schedule …
9 to 11:30 a.m. — Meat Inspections
Noon to 9 p.m. — Vendor booths and event open to the public
5 to 9 p.m. — Beer garden open
5:30 p.m. — Balloon pilot meeting
6 p.m. — Cooks meeting
6 p.m. — Pilot/team/volunteer dinner
6 to 7 p.m. — Hank Lewis
7 to 8:30 p.m. — Four 2 Play Band
6 to 7 a.m. — Balloon launch (weather and winds permitting)
7 to 10 a.m. — Community pancake breakfast
7 a.m. to 9 p.m. — Vendor booths open
9 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Activities open
9:30 a.m. — BBQ Judges check-in
10 a.m. to 9 p.m. — Beer garden open
Noon — Judging for Chicken
12:30 p.m. — Judging for Ribs
1 p.m. — Judging for Pork
1:30 p.m. — Judging for Brisket
3:30 p.m. — BBQ Awards Ceremony
7 to 8:30 p.m. — FAB 4 Beatles tribute band
Dusk — Balloon glow (weather and winds permitting)
6 to 7 a.m. — Balloon launch (weather and winds permitting)
9 a.m. — Balloon awards ceremony
If you go…
What: Balloons and BBQ Blast
When: Friday, Saturday, Sunday
Where: Loudy-Simpson Park
— The event includes both the Colorado State BBQ Championship and the Moffat County Balloon Festival. Among the features offered are numerous vendors, interaction with competing barbecue cooks, hot air balloon flights, aviation-themed children’s activities, a beer garden for adults, live music throughout the weekend and more. Initial inspections for the BBQ Championships begin at 9 a.m. Friday. Balloons will launch at about 6 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, depending on weather. For more information, visit craigbbq.com or mcballoonfestival.com.
Things will heat up during a community get-together this weekend in more than one way.
The Balloons and BBQ Blast will take place today, Saturday and Sunday at Loudy-Simpson Park. The dual event features both the Colorado State BBQ Championship at Craig and the Moffat County Balloon Festival.
The festivities start at 9 a.m. today as competitors in the BBQ Championship take on initial meat inspections and continue through the next day, perfecting culinary masterpieces of chicken, pork, brisket and ribs, with final judging Saturday afternoon.
Organizer Jennifer Riley said the number of competing grillers is at a peak of 36.
“We’ve actually had to start turning barbecue teams away,” she said.
Riley said the outlook of the BBQ Championship is still steady after some uncertainty about the issuing of an event permit dependent on fire conditions.
“It looks like the weather’s going to be great for them,” she said. “It won’t be super-hot during the day and not super-cold at night.”
Fire professionals will be on hand during the event to keep the area at a reasonable safety level.
Riley said grillers will also stay as safe as possible at their stations, interacting with crowds in attendance as they craft the ideal dish.
“I think that’s one thing people love about it is being able to talk with them and see all the work they’re doing,” she said. “Some of them like to give out samples or sell stuff. It just depends on how much meat they have.”
Riley said she expects anywhere between 1,500 and 2,500 people to turn out, if not more.
While those participating in the Championship will be hard at work behind their grills in pursuit of one of many cash prizes — the event includes $10,000 in total winnings — the other stars of the weekend will be turning up the fire to take flight.
The Balloon Festival will launch numerous hot air balloons early Saturday and Sunday morning. Organizer Randy Looper said the launch should start after dawn, at about 6 a.m., depending on weather conditions.
“There might be some wind, but it’s usually not a problem that early, plus they’ll know in advance if there are any storms coming our way,” he said.
Looper said 11 balloonists have committed to the event, most of who are new to the festival.
“Only two or three of them were here last year, so we’ll be seeing some different balloons this time,” he said. “I haven’t even seen them yet.”
Once night falls Saturday, certain balloonists will participate in the balloon glow, letting their propane tanks illuminate their balloons against the darkness for a beautiful effect.
Aside from the balloons and barbecue activities, spectators will have plenty to do.
The weekend’s schedule also includes numerous vendors and live music tonight from local band Four 2 Play and Saturday night from Beatles tribute band FAB 4.
Denver’s Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum will provide flight simulators and other aviation activities for children, while adults can enjoy a beer garden and other features.
Looper said Saturday in particular will show the benefits of combining the BBQ Championship and Balloon Festival for the first time ever, as the two events overlap.
“It’ll be really great, because you can go to the barbecue stuff during the middle of the day, and the balloon stuff early in the morning and at night,” he said.
Competitors in the BBQ Championship were already setting up Thursday afternoon, among them Bailey couple Steve and Marilyn Renfro.
The Renfros’ team, Flyboy BBQ, won the overall competition last year.
“Last year we won by .0002 points over some really great grillers,” Steve said. “You just never know how you’ll do. It depends on how your cooker’s doing, how much attention to detail you pay, because every now and then you’ll make a mistake.
“If we keep cooking consistently, we should be at least in the Top 10.”
Steve said he has won two of the five contests he has attended this year, but the event in Craig ranks among his favorites.
“It’s a great contest with some of the best cookers from the Rocky Mountain region,” he said.
Craig resident Alan Webber, of Webber’s Old West BBQ, was camped out Thursday in an RV with his cooking equipment already spread out. After competing in grilling for five years, he looks forward to seeing some familiar faces.
“Our friends from Grand Junction started about the same time we did, and we go to all the same events, cook together and just have a great time,” he said. “The Memorial Hospital does a good job as a sponsor for this, they really take care of you. E.J. Bunk is one of my sponsors, too, and he’ll be staying with us this weekend.”
Though he likes traveling to different venues, Webber said he enjoys having a local outlet in which to compete.
“I was born and raised in the (Yampa) Valley and all our friends are here, and I’ve been cooking for weddings and graduations for my friends for years,” he said. “They always hear about how we do when we compete, but here they get to see. So I hope to make a good showing.”
For more information, visit craigbbq.com or mcballoonfestival.com.
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