OSAGE CITY — Over the past decade, the Smoke in the Spring State Barbecue Championships have slowly grown from a community event to a regionally, state and nationally recognized event.
“I don’t know how to pinpoint it,” said Corey Linton, who has organized the contest for 11 years. “It all comes together. It’s a showcase of Osage City. This is the event people come home for, the event people like to show off and tell people when they go places.”
Last weekend, the contests settled into its success, leveling out in its 14th year with barbecue sales and team entries near that of last year.
“Everything went smoothly,” said Linton. “We ended officially with 100 teams.”
A quarter of those teams led off the public portion event, The Taste of Osage City, which draws thousands to Osage City’s Jones Park Friday night for a chance to take home competition-quality barbecue.
“Most of the teams sell out,” Linton said. “I’ve had teams that doubled the amount of food they bring out. I’ve had teams raise their prices. They don’t buy 10 BBQ bucks of food. The preliminary numbers are $20,500 – that was the BBQ bucks turned in from the teams after Friday’s event. I’m still getting bucks in from all the other groups and the Eagles.”
Osage City’s Fraternal Order of Eagles No. 3890 stepped in as the cereal malt beverage sales vendor for the event. Food and drinks transitioned to drinks and dancing, with live music from Just Passing Through in the Osage City Parks and Recreation building. The aural entertainment took a break around 10 p.m. for a visual display from the contest’s grand champion sponsor, Garrett’s Fireworks.
“The hit of the contest was the fireworks display,” Linton said. “I had so many people from Osage City comment on it afterwards. Many teams took video of it. That was the buzz Saturday.”
The fireworks were new to the contest this year.
“To have a business like Garrett’s that has the willingness and the ability to add to our event,” Linton said. “The display lasted a good 15 minutes. I turned around, and you could see people looking up in the air.”
Friday night’s activities added up to another great start for one of the city’s busiest weekends.
“All the people in the skating rink, listening to the band, having fun,” Linton said. “People have a vast respect for the event, as a whole. I think the community takes pride in the event.”
As Friday settles, the contest transitions into a more closed-off event, where teams turn in the results of a days preparation to be judged by some of Kansas City Barbecue Society’s most distinct judges.
“Ninety-nine percent of our judges were masters judges,” Linton said. “One of the master judges was in his 325th contest.”
Linton said several of the master judges, who have completed a higher level of training and attended at least 25 contests, had attended more than 250 events.
“You would have to judge 20 contests for many, many years to get there,” Linton said.
The judges perception and pallets settled on Clark Crew BBQ, Yukon, Okla., as the grand champion of the contest.
“Clark Crew BBQ won the event for the second year in the row,” Linton said. “He got a 700, which is considered a perfect score within KCBS.”
The Smoking Hills, Overland Park, rolled in second overall, followed by Hogline, Owatonna, Minn.; Thump & Strum, Independence, Mo.; Getting’ Sauced, Drexel, Mo.; and Porky Butts BBQ, Omaha, Neb.
Class Champions were Tebo Creek, Belton, Mo., for chicken; Fergalicious BBQ, Gardner, for ribs; High I Que, Gardner, pork butt; Getting’ Sauced for brisket; 3 Legged Pig BBQ, Drexel, cook’s choice; and Plum Crazy BBQ, Hoisington, for dessert.
“We had four different class champions, including perfect 180s in pork and brisket,” Linton said. “There was a lot of parity in who won and how much they won.”
Rubbed Raw, Osage City, won The Osage County Herald-Chronicle’s award for top team in the county.
“They finished second in chicken and 26th overall, which is the highest any local team has done,” Linton said.
Linton noted that was impressive, given the quality of teams that participate in the event, including former KCBS teams of the year, American Royal champions, world barbecue and world food championship, and countless grand champions from other contests.
“You look at our top 15 from the overall standings, and anyone of them could be a grand champion,” Linton said. “I believe all of them have.
“Our contest draws a lot of teams, but I’m more focused on quality than quantity,” Linton said. “There are some good teams that purposely avoid us, because of the quality of teams.”
The success of the overall event, the public entertainment, the contest and the teams atmosphere, has drawn comparison to the most distinguished contests in the scene.
“People tell us that we’re the little Royal, but I guess we truly are in that respect,” Linton said. “I had one team that’s new to our event tell me our event is the closest he’s ever seen to the American Royal, as far as the interest, the amount of people that come to the event, the team atmosphere and the quality of teams.”
Linton says it’s the product of so many pieces working in unison.
“We have it,” Linton said. “It is the perfect combination of public festival and KCBS contest. Other contests can duplicate our format, but they can’t duplicate the people that come out, and the city involvement.
“What’s truly amazing with our event is the community support,” Linton said. “Even though we have 100 teams, we’re still a small contest. The local sponsors, the amount of volunteers we have, teachers, chamber of commerce members, anyone and everyone that wants to help with the event. All of our major sponsors are local businesses.
“As much as I can describe the public interest to new teams, until they see it, they don’t understand it,” Linton said. “The team from Wellington, they were here the first time. He said one of the most fun things was watching all the people walk by. They said that’s what a barbecue contest should be like.”