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Fierce but friendly barbecue battle

By Staff | May 1, 2013

If you wanted to know what kind of day it was at the Shell Factory on Sunday, all you had to do was follow your nose.

The main area was loaded with smokers filled with mouth-watering ribs, with many people stopping by to take a sample during the fifth-annual Public Safety BBQ Rib Cookoff.

Many of Lee County’s finest deputies and firefighters, along with some BBQ enthusiasts, competed for the unofficial title of “King of the BBQ,” and the competition was fierce.

The idea to hold the event at the Shell Factory was to make it a more family-friendly event than in the past, when it was held at the Fort Myers Harley Davidson.

And it paid off, according to marketing director Rick Tupper.

“We have 28 vendors and 13 teams competing. It’s a nicer facility for kids and families, there’s more to do,” Tupper said. “Our whole strategy is to be a family destination, not a tourist trap.”

The event, which was free to the public, was a fund-raiser for “Stay Alive, Just Drive,” an organization devoted to driving safety which has been a driving force in educating people on the danger of texting or talking on the phone while driving.

Jay Anderson, executive director of the organization, said the ultimate goal is to get a law passed to have distracted driving outlawed, as Florida is one of only five states without such a law.

“There’s one piece of legislation that’s made it to the Senate floor and we’re waiting to see what’s going to happen in the House. Passage looks promising this year.”

The teams sold their ribs to the public before putting some aside for a blind judging, with the winner getting $500. Mike Gorgas of the Fort Myers Fire Department and two-time defending champion, said it would be tough to accomplish a three-peat.

“There’s a guy from Fort Myers Shores who’s a good cook and we compete against him all the time,” Gorgas said. “But all we’re out here for is the cause and to have fun.”

Gorgas’ fears weren’t too justified, as he again won the title, ahead of the Lee County Sheriff’s Department and WGCU.

Many who came to enjoy the ribs made it a mission to try as many teams’ ribs as possible, including Bonnie Cameron of North Fort Myers, who kept bringing them back to her friend for him to try.

“I don’t remember the team,” Cameron said, as she was only able to identify them from the sponsors. “They’re all very good, but a couple stand out. I love ribs.”

Besides the ribs, Cracker Blues and The Bagpipers provided live music, and all the store and restaurants were open for the families to enjoy, including the new kite shop.