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Tasty time: Competitors descend on Hartselle for Cotton Pickin’ BBQ

4,672 miles. That is the distance that separates Hartselle from the country of Sweden. That’s also how many miles Mari Makris and Mats Karlöf traveled to attend the 10th Annual Cotton Pickin’ BBQ Cook-Off Saturday. 

Hartselle’s tastiest event was a hit, according to many who enjoyed the festivities at Sparkman Park. The event welcomed dozens of competitors – from big-name restaurant chains to backyard competitors. 

Sponsored by Valley Budweiser, the event is sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society and is one of hundreds of events held around the country. 

Makris and Karlöf said attending the Cotton Pickin’ BBQ Cook-Off has been a life-long dream of theirs. The couple traveled from Sweden to Houston, Texas, and rented a yellow Ford Mustang to make the trip to north Alabama. Their next stop is upstate New York to Niagara Falls. 

Karlöf said they “absolutely” plan to attend next year’s event, saying he and Makris have felt so welcome during their time in the City of Southern Hospitality. 

“Everyone here is so hospitable and friendly,” he said. “Everyone is welcoming; it’s like coming into a warm embrace. 

“All the people we meet – they want us to eat everything, and I think that is so nice,” Makris added. 

Grant McKelvey, chairman of the Board of the Hartselle Area Chamber of Commerce, said the event went off without a hitch. 

Bama-Q, a TV show that follows members of the Alabama Barbecue Association as they compete nationally, was present at the event. 

“Hartselle gets pretty good exposure there. This is the last chance for these professional competitors to get into the Big Jack (competition),” McKelvey said. “Something we have to work on is ‘How do we get more people to the event?’ We need to figure out how to reach our target audience better. 

“The music Friday night was great – more than 100 people bought wristbands,” McKelvey added. 

McKelvey said the event was made better this year by the city and Hartselle Parks and Recreation being involved. “Hartselle Utilities ran the water, and Parks and Rec opened up the pool,” he said. “(The event) goes through the Chamber, but it’s definitely a city-wide event.”