This is a big year for the American Royal World Series of Barbecue. For the first time in the history of the event in this, its 37th year, the contest will move across the state line into Kansas. The “Royal,” as it is known to fans and participants alike, will be held Oct. 26-30 at the Kansas Speedway.
After 35 years in one location, the Royal will be held in its third location in the last three years. The 2015 event was conducted at the Arrowhead Stadium in the Truman Sports Complex, and, of course, the 35 others were held in the West Bottoms. It should be noted that last year’s Royal attracted more than 600 teams and nearly 50,000 attendees — an attendance record!
The American Royal Association said the move was needed because of scheduling conflicts at the complex. The Royal has always been held over the first weekend in October, so this year’s smoke fest is not just in a new state, but a few weeks later on the calendar.
When announced, the association said the new later dates were picked to make the competition the finale of the competitive barbecue season for teams on the barbecue circuit.
“The future is bright for the World Series of Barbecue,” Angie Stanland, chairwoman of the American Royal, said in a release back in May.
Time will tell if Stanland is right, though I have to admit that a visit to the West Bottoms the other day had me longing for the organized chaos that was the annual American Royal weekend there. There was something about trying to find a parking place (good luck,) trying to locate the teams you knew (sure), and descending through the cloud of hickory smoke into the competition (loved it) that made the weekend something really special.
As a Chicagoan, I liken it to installing a video board in Wrigley Field. I mean, I get it. I just don’t necessarily want it or like it. Still, I, for one, am excited to see what the new location has in store for the Royal and I’ll be there with an open mind.
Perhaps my favorite part of the Royal is the World Series of Barbecue Invitational Contest, which will host over 150 teams all competing for grand champion. This competition, which I’ve judged at least a dozen times, features the elite of the barbecue circuit. Teams eligible for the Invitational Contest need to have won Grand Champion at a sanctioned Kansas City Barbecue Society contest by July 1, 2016.
Then, there is the open competition where anyone with a dream, a Smokey Joe, and the entrance fee can give it their best shot. The following is information on the open competition culled from the American Royal’s website.
“The World Series of Barbecue open competition is available to any team who can come down and show off their best barbecue skills! Teams compete in chicken, pork ribs, pork (shoulder or Boston butt,) and beef brisket. In order to be eligible for grand champion, open teams must compete in all four categories. Additionally, teams can compete in each category alone — a sausage category, sides, and/or desserts!”
I found one more interesting tidbit about this year’s Royal, a contest where a lucky winner and a guest will experience the contest as VIPs. The Stay Saucy KC Sweepstakes! sponsored by Extended Stay America invites barbecue fans across the country to take a chance at winner a weekend of Kansas City-style barbecue and hospitality.
Here’s what’s up for grabs: Round trip airfare for two in the continental U.S. to/from Kansas City for the 2016 American Royal World Series of Barbecue; an all-access weekend passes to the American Royal World Series of Barbecue; VIP Pit passes, including food, drink, entertainment and more; Guest judge status at the Party of the Year competition on Oct. 28; Tickets to the Royal Tour, an interactive tour of the event featuring competition team meet and greets, barbecue cooking tips, and more; An opportunity to judge the Open Competition on Oct. 30; World Series of Barbecue Welcome Swag Bags; a 3-day, 2-night stay from Oct. 28-30, at the newly renovated Extended Stay America Country Club Plaza, and a $100 gift card to assist with transportation to and from the barbecue venue.
The contest is closed, but a lucky winner will be picked later in the week. I hope to catch up with him or her at the Royal and follow this up with impressions of America’s most important and largest barbecue contest, and, of course, our fair city. Until then, happy smoking!
Dave Eckert is a partner with Flavor Trade, a Kansas City-based gourmet food incubator and co-packer. Before that, Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and AWE for 12 seasons.