Who would have ever thought that standing over
a hot grill and smoker all night could ever rise to the level of a professional
sport? OK, maybe not a sport, but a competition.
The Kansas City Barbeque Society did. The organization considered
the largest of its kind in the United States was conceived over
several drinks in fall 1985 by three friends Carolyn and Gary
Wells and Rick Welch, a.k.a. the Sir Loin cooking team, according
to the history link on the societys website.
Carolyn was Executive Vice President of Wicker Barbeque Products
company and networked extensively in the barbeque market. All competed
in the few existing barbeque competitions in the area The American
Royal, The Great Lenexa Barbeque Battle, and the Blue Springs Blaze Off.
Members of other cooking teams were always calling wanting to know when
the next event would be held. Sadly, there were none, the story
by Don Ward
spends lots of money
and time to travel and
participate in weekend-
long contests, but they
enjoy the camaraderie
and friendly rivalry
So while pondering this dilemma, the trio decided to form a club
for the cookers. The only criteria for membership was that none of it
be taken seriously to do so was grounds for disqualification. What
to name the organization? After semi-serious deliberation, The Kansas
City Barbeque Society was deemed to fit the bill: it left a lot of room
for interpretation, and there was a fair amount of B.S.!
And so goes the start of a national obsession. The KCBS grew to become
the certifier of its own judges and the sanctioning body of more than
300 barbecue cooking events across the country, culminating its own national
championship event, the American Royal, held each October in Kansas City.
Thanks to media attention and popularity in cooking-related festivals
and all things barbecue, the KCBS has exploded since the late 1990s. Today,
it boats more than 14,000 members worldwide.
The Madison Ribberfest is the oldest and largest of nine such events in
Indiana and has to cut off registration at 60 teams, featuring a full
field of pro competitors and a waiting list of judges.
OK, so going pro simply means paying the $250 entry fee, but
nevertheless, once a team enters a KCBS-sanctioned event, taste
and pride is on the line.
The popularity of barbecue competitions has grown particularly because
of whats on cable TV. They come from many states, and many of our
amateur teams have moved up to the pro level, said Ribberfests
KCBS chairman Ken Schneider. The most teams ever at Madison was 63, but
organizers recently had to limit the number of entries to allow enough
room for the large RVs and smokers, Schneider said.
In addition to the teams, the competition requires 77 KCBS-certified judges
and table captains to determine the winner in four meat categories: chicken,
pork ribs, pork and beef brisket, plus an overall Grand Champion and Reserve
But I think there is more going on here than simply camping out all night
with your friends and sampling delicious morsels of beef, pork and chicken
while swiggin down cold beer. The KCBS has tapped into the nationwide
food festival craze that is evident not only at community festivals such
as the Madison Ribberfest, but viewed on national TV shows such as MasterChef,
Hells Kitchen and Top Chef. Not to mention the dozens of other cooking
shows on the Food Channel and Bravo. Perhaps it is not surprising then
that food-themed festivals are among the fastest growing trends in U.S.
The KCBS has indeed struck gold by tapping into the love of partying
with a purpose.
I have met several pro cooking teams from around the Midwest at the Madison
Ribberfest over the past nine years. And as this 10th annual event approaches
Aug. 19-20, I continue to contemplate the answer to one simple question:
Is it the barbecue or the beer?
Since most teams are comprised predominantly of men drinking beer all
night long while they huddle around a small fire somewhat
like their club-swinging, loin-cloth wearing prehistoric ancestors might
have done at one time in this Ohio River Valley, I have to ponder the
real goal here? (After all, a guys gotta eat!)
But over time, I have learned that it is not all just about meet
and eat. Many teams have restaurants or catering businesses back
home. Some sell their own specially created sauces. Others quit their
real jobs and open their own barbecue businesses as a result
of their cooking success on tour.
Guess a guys gotta have a hobby.
Still, I have to wonder after seeing 60 teams of competitors
drive their air-conditioned RVs and cookers for miles to get here from
all over the Midwest and South, only to sit out all night long on the
riverbank cooking meat and drinking beer if it the latter that
resulted in the former, since drinking beer is not so much fun without
some great food to go with it. Especially since the KCBS itself was started
by a group of friends sitting around one night having drinks back in Kansas
Maybe they should have called it the Kansas City Barbeque and Beer Drinking
Society? It has a nice ring to it and I think it more precisely captures
But thats a lot of words to put on a T-shirt.
Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout.
Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email: info@RoundAbout.bz.