GILMER — Barbecue artists came from near and far to compete Saturday in a new event in downtown Gilmer that, with a combination of food, bands and vendors, drew almost 2,000 people.

Risk It For The Brisket, a first-time event from Live Gilmer, drew 40 barbecue teams from across Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana to Gilmer for a sanctioned cookoff . The barbecue cookoff was sanctioned by the International Barbeque Cookers Association .

The event was a partnership between the IBCA and Live Gilmer, a young organization that is seeking to revitalize the city’s downtown.

“There’s so many people here from out of town. We’re so excited about it. I just hope they can’t wait to come back. That’s really our main goal,” said Anna Conlan, executive director of the Gilmer Area Chamber of Commerce and a founding member of Live Gilmer. “We just want everybody to have a good time and start talking about when they can come back to East Texas and come back to Gilmer.”

The event also included a spring market that saw about 30 vendors spread out around the downtown square. Sponsor and Gilmer winery Rowdy Creek Ranch Vineyard offered wine samples to attendees. Bands, including headliner Darrin Morris, took to the downtown stage to offer tunes while attendees ate and shopped. The family-friendly event also included bounce houses, games for children, an ax throwing contest and more.

But a highlight of Risk It For The Brisket was the barbecue contest.

Terry Blount, vice president of the International Barbeque Cookers Association and a founding member of the organization, explained the IBCA was created in 1989 with a primary goal of formulating rules for barbecue cookoffs. At the time, barbecue cookoffs had different rules that varied from one town to the next. The association sought to offer structure and guidance.

Today, the IBCA has more than 750 sanctioned cookoffs each year and has more than 1,200 members, Blount said. Most cookoffs are in Texas, and the association has divided the state into five regions. Teams can compete to win in their region as well as overall. In addition to Texas, over the years the IBCA also has sanctioned cookoffs in other states, including Hawaii, California, New Mexico, Alabama and Oklahoma, Blount said.

Barbecue teams arrived in Gilmer on Thursday night and were set up to begin cooking Friday morning. Conlan said teams cooked for 24 hours. Each team was required to cook chicken, ribs and brisket.

The meat was judged by a panel who rated the barbecue in a variety of categories including taste, texture and aroma. Barbecue is rated on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best; scores are added up among all three meats to decide a winner. The winner is the grand champion while the runner up is named reserve champion. The contest came with cash prizes of up to $10,000.

Blount credited Live Gilmer with the success of the first-of-its-kind event.

“Live Gilmer has put on a great event here. You don’t see too many first-year events like this of this size and giving away this kind of money,” Blount said. “It’s been a perfect weekend for it to happen. I’ve been amazed at the people coming out, stopping by and asking questions.”

Conlan said Live Gilmer intends to make Risk It For The Brisket an annual event that she hopes to see grow each year.

Live Gilmer is a membership-based organization that is working to revitalize downtown Gilmer. The organization recently commissioned a mural downtown and has placed speakers on light poles across the courthouse square so that live music can be broadcast.

The overall goal for Live Gilmer is to help people across East Texas and those beyond realize how much there is to offer in the city. Conlan said she hopes to see Gilmer see an increase in tourism as people come to visit, shop, eat and stay in the city.

“We want to help make Gilmer and East Texas a destination for people,” she said.

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