Chow Town

Postcard from the American Royal World Series of Barbecue

Jason Day of Burnt Finger BBQ prepares a barbecue pit beans side dish entry.
Jason Day of Burnt Finger BBQ prepares a barbecue pit beans side dish entry. Special to The Star

Accepting change is not easy.

The late Murray Bowen, father of Family Systems Theory, noted that when a family member changes familiar behavior with unfamiliar behavior, other family members exert pressure to “change back.”

While the “change back” reaction is common in nuclear families and politics, it didn’t play out in the huge barbecue family gathering last weekend at the 36th Annual American Royal World Series of Barbecue. The change in venue was substantial: from its crowded West Bottoms home for 35 years to the expansive Arrowhead Stadium grounds at the Truman Sports Complex.

The new venue was a mix of familiar and new. The big part of familiar is the annual homecoming of the barbecue faithful. It’s like a family reunion.

The big part of new is the enormous capacity at Arrowhead to accommodate more teams, judges, vendors and events. The layout is huge: more than enough space for small and large teams, corporate private parties, product vendors, food vendors, a Ferris wheel and other recreational equipment for children.

Another perk is that it’s easier to find teams you’re looking for if you have the time and energy to get there by foot. Gary Bronkema and I walked several miles each day, Friday through Sunday, visiting with teams and taking in the scene. Even at that we missed some teams we had planned to greet — Cool Smoke and Burnin’ Bob’s Butts & Bones, to mention two.

Morale among the judges was at an all-time high. Judging amenities were more comfortable at Arrowhead, away from golf cart noise and other distractions.

Congratulations to the 2015 Invitational Contest Grand Champions, Loren and Cheryl Hill of Smoking Hills from Overland Park, and the Open Contest Grand Champions, Steve and Kathy Nelson of Grills Gone Wild from Algona, Iowa.

The dozens of teams I visited with were unanimous in praise of the new venue. Bottom line: Change at the Royal BBQ is good. Don’t change back.

Note: I was notified Wednesday morning that Rich Davis, founder of KC Masterpiece and barbecue legend, died the night before surrounded by family. His legacy in the community at large and in the barbecue community is enormous. Our hearts go out to Davis’ family. Rich will be dearly missed.

For more about Davis, click here to read his bio on the Barbecue Hall of Fame website.

Ardie Davis founded a sauce contest on his backyard patio in 1984 that became the American Royal International Barbecue Sauce, Rub & Baste contest. He is a charter member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and an inductee into the KCBS Hall of Flame. He has been interviewed on food shows and writes for barbecue-related publications. His most recent release is America’s Best BBQ (Revised Edition), with chef Paul Kirk.