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VFW Post 846 barbecue contest has all the flavors of spring training

Barbecue contestants dish what motivates them

Competitors in barbecue contests reveal what motivates them. Spoiler alert: camaraderie is a common theme. (Video by Ardie A. Davis)
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Competitors in barbecue contests reveal what motivates them. Spoiler alert: camaraderie is a common theme. (Video by Ardie A. Davis)

What motivates men and women to devote 48 hours or more on a weekend, plus hundreds if not thousands of dollars for equipment, gadgets, shelter, fuel, meat, seasonings, food and beverage for team and guests’ sustenance, entry fees, travel, lodging, and the list goes on — all for the opportunity to serve their pampered barbecue to certified judges who will decide which team has the best chicken, ribs, pork, beef, and best overall?

Motives vary, overlap and change over time. One constant is fun. Fun as a priority, however, has changed over the past 30 years since the Kansas City Barbeque Society was founded. Prize money has taken on increasing importance, but the real glue is fun and camaraderie. Many compete. Few win, but they keep coming back for fun and fellowship.

Ribbons and trophies are important symbols of pitmaster prowess. Teams proudly display their ribbons and trophies at contests and in their restaurants. They are proof of bragging rights as well as motivation to compete again. The first time a team wins a ribbon or trophy, members are hooked.

In the early years of the KC society, the membership roster had fewer than a hundred and the first big contest of the season was the Great Lenexa BBQ Battle in June. In April, prior to Lenexa, the faithful gathered in Dan Haake’s southern Johnson County pasture for spring training.

Each contestant paid for chicken, brisket, ribs and pork shoulder, cut to exact specifications from the same supplier. Awards were dime store ribbons and small plastic trophies with award categories typed on stickers. No cash prizes.

Thirty years have seen lots of change. The society grew from 30 members to more than 20,000 worldwide and from a handful of sanctioned contests to 497 and growing.

Last Saturday the 8th Annual VFW Post 846 BBQ Challenge in Overland Park had the spirit and feel of classic spring training contests. The challenge hosted twice the number of teams in a suburban instead of rural pasture, and the $4,500 in prize money was much better than dime store ribbons and plastic trophies. I credit it to the teams, judges, VFW organizers, sponsors, food vendors, musicians, contest officials, table captains and other volunteers who were there for fun, fellowship, patriotism and good-natured competition.

A smoothly run barbecue contest doesn’t happen without many hours of behind-the-scenes planning of details such as mapping designated cooking areas, team space assignments, hay, ice, power, restroom facilities, judging logistics, signs, compliance with barbecue society rules, judge selection and volunteer recruitment, to name a few.

Saturday’s 60 KCBS certified barbecue judges, most of whom were master judges, evaluated the 60 teams’ entries on the basis of appearance, tenderness and taste. When all entries were judged and collective scores were tallied, Dirt Road BBQ was crowned grand champion and 913 BBQ Reserve Grand Champion.

Hats off to VFW Post 846 for another successful contest. Kudos as well to the teams, judges, KCBS contest reps Forrest Bruce and Larry Hadley, plus certified KCBS table captains Bruce Bubacz, Bill Capstack and eight others, and the many dedicated volunteers who made it happen. Onward to the ninth contest in 2017!

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 releases are America’s Best BBQ (Revised Edition), with chef Paul Kirk, and Barbecue Lover’s Kansas City Style .