Call it trial by fire. It's where rub meets rib and sauce meets smoke.
However you want to couch it, there's much more to competitive barbecuing than a cash prize and a trophy.
It's about honor, glory and, of course, bragging rights.
Starting at 9 a.m. Saturday, a number of Florida's top professional barbecue teams will face off once again at Tom Varn Park with the return of the Blazin' Butts-n-Brisket barbecue competition.
The event, which had to be canceled last year after organizers failed to draw enough entrants, has rebounded strongly, said Brooksville parks and recreation director Mike Walker.
"We've got 17 confirmed entries, and we're looking at maybe at least a half-dozen more last-minute teams by Saturday," Walker said. "And with good weather expected, we're banking on a good turnout all around."
For folks in the traveling barbecue business, things have improved greatly over the past 12 months. Gas prices have fallen; so has the tab for meat. But Walker thinks the turnaround is at least partly because Blazin' Butts-n-Brisket earned a good reputation among competitors its first two years.
"The people who put it together always did it right," he said. "We've earned their respect."
The event, which is sanctioned by the Florida Bar-B-Que Association, has also earned the distinction this year as a qualifying event for the prestigious Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue in Lynchburg, Tenn.
Professional barbecuing is judged on three essential criteria: appearance, tenderness and, of course, taste. The first two are pretty straightforward. The last is much more subjective, which often brings an element of edginess when it comes to determining who will take home the $1,500 grand prize.
Although pro grillers dominate the competition circuit, amateur "back yarders" will have a chance to show their stuff as well. Walker says that several local grillers have signed up to compete for non-pro honors.
The daylong event, which is one of the Brooksville Founders Week activities, will feature live entertainment by Brian Chytka, George Marshall, Kenn "E" Grube and others, kids games and activities.
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.