To the competitors at the Kansas City Kosher Barbecue Festival on Sunday, the event wasn’t just a chance to show off their skills. It was a celebration of a higher calling.
For the second year, barbecue teams from throughout the area got a chance to pit their culinary skills against each other in a competition that adhered to Jewish culinary laws. All the meat, seasonings, utensils and even the smokers used in the event at Temple B’nai Jehudah in Overland Park had to meet kosher guidelines.
That was no problem for Jason Kerschner and his brother-in-law Jay Goodbinder, who are members of Three Brothers BBQ. The two Johnson County residents spent Saturday night preparing an assortment of chicken, brisket, beef ribs and the culinary curve ball — half a turkey breast.
“This means everyone is on the same playing field,” said Kerschner, who has competed in barbecue competitions in Lenexa and elsewhere. “This is what makes this competition special. If I can win here against people without bringing stuff from home, then that means I know how to man the pit.”
The second annual event was held at the Temple B'nai Jehudah in Overland Park. The event raises money for the non-profit Vaad HaKashruth of Kansas City, which provides kosher certification and education.
The organizer, Rabbi Mendel Segal, said he borrowed the idea for the competition from a synagogue in Memphis that started its kosher contest more than 20 years ago. Last year 15 teams competed in the Kansas City event, this year the number was capped at 20.
“We decided to make something fun that evolves around food,” Segal said. “Kosher isn’t just a label. Kosher has meaning and kosher can be good.”
During the daylong festival, a band performed while attendees dined on brisket, beef brunt ends, smoked chicken legs, watermelon, brisket and slaw sandwiches, baked beans and smoked veggie sausage. A kids zone kept children entertained with face painting, balloon shaping, a bounce house and a giant slide. There were also pickle and hot dog eating competitions.
Teams went in on Thursday and to start prep work before the Sunday cook-off began. Everything was inspected to be sure they met kosher guidelines and then it all was kept under lock and key until Saturday night. The teams returned at 9:30 Saturday to begin the slow process of smoking various meats that would later be served to judges.
The competition drew Jews and gentiles, including a team from the culinary institute of Maguire University, a fictitious school that was created decades ago by a group college basketball fanatics at Maguire’s Pub in Chicago.
Whitney Price of Liberty said the competition on Sunday was difficult because his team had to use the smoker provided by the organizers. Price, who follows a kosher diet, said the new smokers were not seasoned and do not hold temperatures as well as his own equipment.
“But we like the challenge and that is why we are here,” he said.