Chamber of commerce barbecue contest attracts local powerhouse
Things came together last weekend for the Slaughterhouse 5 barbecue team at the American Royal BBQ Contest.
"We used to be an exceptionally good contest team, but then Jeff and Joy (Stehney) started Oklahoma Joe's and got so busy with that," said team member Larry Johnson. "We went out to have a good time, and we cooked some great food.
"Out of 500 teams, we were five points from winning the whole thing."
Categories in brisket, ribs, pork butt (or shoulder) and chicken are contested at barbecue contests. Slaughterhouse 5 earned ribbons in all but chicken, carrying them to the reserve championship, Johnson said. Its finish was good for $6,500, to which the team added another $700 in category prize money.
It's not a new experience for the team, which won the event in 1993 and 1994 before the Stehneys opened the first of their Oklahoma Joe's barbecue restaurants, Johnson said.
Not ready to put the grill up for the year, the team with the De Soto members of Johnson and the Stehneys will compete this weekend against 39 other teams in the De Soto Chamber of Commerce's Cookin' on the Kaw BBQ Contest.
If the American Royal is the "World Series" of barbecue contests as Johnson says, the chamber's contest at Zimmerman's Farm is at least a Triple A affiliate.
At least half the teams at the weekend's Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctioned event competed in the American Royal, Johnson said.
"I think over half of them could beat us in a given contest," he said. "There are a bunch of good cooks and teams in the Kansas City area. This will be a very good contest out here this weekend."
This weekend's contest will be the fourth since Darrel Zimmerman conceived of it in 2004 as part of his annual October Pumpkinfest. Its popularity and growth prompted him to ask the De Soto Chamber of Commerce to take it over last year.
Zimmerman attributed its popularity to its timing a week after the American Royal. The De Soto cook-off may be at the end of the outdoor barbecue contest season, but it's at the start of the new season for the American Royal. It is the first chance for teams to start earning points needed to compete in next year's American Royal contest, Zimmerman said.
"A lot of teams that come for the Royal stay an extra week to cook here," he said.
Johnson said the ambiance of the Zimmerman Farm setting and the hospitality displayed by Zimmerman, the chamber and the city added to the contest's appeal.
Cook-offs might not seem like spectator sports, but the contests do offer rewards for those attending.
Johnson said teams would start preparations Friday afternoon with briskets cooking from 12 to 14 hours. If the pleasing smell drives visitors wild with hunger, they won't have to look far for food.
The cook-off weekend will get started as barbecue teams participate in a chili cook-off, vying for half the prize money from a $10 entry fee (the other half will be donated to the barbecue society's Kookers Kare, which provides food for metropolitan area food pantries). Teams will cook two gallons of chili for the contest. For $3, the public can taste the teams' efforts from 5 to 8 p.m., chamber director Sara Ritter said.
Those tasting the chili will vote on their favorites with a "celebrity" team of five judges choosing the winners, Ritter said.
As judges both certified and volunteer are sampling and awarding Saturday's barbecue contest entries, the public is invited to help select the people's choice. For $5, the public can sample the teams' efforts and vote for their choice.
Helping sponsor this year's event are Intervet Inc. and the De Soto Sesquicentennial Committee with $1,000 donations, Ritter said. FCB, Great American and Team banks and Huhtamaki also provided support, she said.
The contest started four years ago with 25 teams. This year's 40 teams have forced Zimmerman to allot more of his barnyard.
"He didn't have a choice," Ritter said. "We told him we were expanding."
To really grow the event to the 60 to 80 teams Johnson said would compete if room were available, it will have to be moved again. That anticipated site is the proposed Kaw River Front Park.