HPBExpo 2017 saw sunny skies and spring weather as 6,800 attendees from around North America arrived at the Georgia World Congress Center for another great show. The show opened with the iconic antique wood axe cutting a welcome ribbon, which was just the beginning of the show’s many highlights.
The Smell of Stellar Barbecue
In the Outdoor Burn Area, Exhibitors showed off their culinary savviness as the best in barbecue served up samples while attendees bustled from booth to booth. The recreation destination area, sponsored by Weber-Stephen Products, drew in large crowds who snapped photos with Atlanta Falcons cheerleaders and were treated to food fresh off the grill. Corn hole, oversized jenga, and the infamous bull chair football toss were hot spots for exhibitors and attendees to meet and mingle. If you haven’t heard of a bull chair football toss, try sitting in a mechanical chair while completing a ten yard pass.
Woodburning Innovations Pavilion
Attendees looking to turn up the heat even more were amazed by the efficiency of the freestanding stoves and warm air furnace ablaze. Woodburning experts also led a class on a cutting edge method for testing woodstoves to best leverage the latest technologies.
What Was Cookin’ on Big Green Eggs
The annual Big Green Egg Cook-Off kicked off and included six teams representing Canada and Arizona alongside the Rocky Mountain, Southeast, and South Central regions. Starting in five-minute intervals, the teams each had an hour to cook up a hot meal for a judging panel comprised of Kansas City Barbecue Society champion pitmasters Loren Hill, Jayna Todisco and Dave Elliott.
To add to the suspense, the competition took a brief but important recess to acknowledge the 2017 Donna H. Meyer’s Barbecue Leadership Award Winner. Dante Cantal, founder of Twin Eagles, Inc., gave a heartwarming acceptance speech about how he became the accomplished outdoor kitchen visionary and award-winning gas engineer that he is today.
Ultimately, The Charheels, representing HPBA Southeast, grilled their way to first place in a close competition that filled the air with the aroma of everything from steak to oysters.
Industry Awards and Expert Advice
The Vesta Awards, presented by Hearth & Home Magazine, recognized some of the hottest products on display. A total of 17 awards were presented to exhibitors in the hearth and outdoor living categories, with Napolean Fireplaces’ Linear Series and Flame King’s Refillable 1 lb. Propane Cylinder Kit taking home Best In Show.
Champion Pitmasters Loren Hill, Jayna Todisco and Dave Elliott also applied their cooking insights to review barbecue product favorites at the show. Amongst the plethora of exhibitors, Pigout Roasters, BBQ Dragon, and Cookina Grilling Sheet each earned one star while Greenflame earned two stars. The pitmasters unanimously agreed that Grillfloss stood out as the hottest product and earned three stars.
A quick chat with the Kansas City Barbecue Society pitmasters also shed light on the benefits of investing in higher-end grills. “It’s much easier to control the temperature on a higher dollar grill … the burners are so much more sophisticated,” said Loren Hill.
All three pitmasters also touched on the importance of experiencing a product in person and the specialty retailer’s important role as a resource to consumers. “I like to look at it and put my hands on it, if it’s a grill or smoker I want to see how it’s made, check out every little bit. Like if you’re going to buy a rub or a sauce, of course if you buy it online, you’re not going to know what it tastes like. So I’m going to want to go in the store and sample it,” added Dave Elliott.
“Going online to try to figure out what’s going to work versus what’s the best … that’s almost impossible. You’ve got to have that one to one interaction with somebody that actually does cooking and knows what it’s all about,” said Loren Hill.
Attendees’ Choice Awards Highlight Show Floor Favorites
Achieving champion pitmaster status was not a requirement to cast a vote for a product favorite for the Attendees’ Choice Awards. After four days of voting by attendees scoping the show floor, 509 Fabrications, Inc.’s Model 5091/Optimum and A.J. Manufacturing, LLC’s Smokey’s BBQ Mats, earned the awards representing 2017’s favorites.
New Products, More Consumer Options
With 400 exhibitors spread out across the convention center floor, the New Product Pavilion drew in steady flowing crowds each day. From new technology to hearth, grill, and outdoor products, the open area offered prime displays of innovation across the hearth, patio, and barbecue industries. For anyone debuting a new product, the New Product Pavilion proved to be a hot spot once again.
Heading upstairs from the show floor, attendees were able to attend a wide variety of education sessions, including Jeanne Grier’s informational session on building and decorating with electric fireplaces. The session offered insight into the expanding popularity of electric fireplaces, which included installation tips and an in-depth discussion on model types. Linear electric fireplaces were highlighted as the latest trend while media cabinets, steam integration, and other topics drew an equal amount of questions.
Back downstairs, this year’s Expo gave first-time exhibitors their own section to showcase their products to attendees. It was the first time Loren Rosenberger and the Charboss team from Pennsylvania had attended a tradeshow.
“I feel it’s really effortless to get around and find your way and find the people you’re looking for, so I think it’s truly a wonderful show,” Rosenberger said. “We’re first time exhibitors here, loving it, loving everybody we meet, it’s been wonderful … a wonderful experience.”
Nashville in 2018
HPBExpo returns for another strong performance in “Music City” from March 7–10. Mark your calendars! Registration opens September 1, 2017.