By Sara Butterfass
WATERTOWN, MN Gary Harding and Mike Crom of the Watertown Lions came up with the idea to host a barbecue challenge so that Rails to Trails would have an event going on during the day.
The Crow River BBQ Challenge is one of only five sanctioned barbecue contests in Minnesota.
The Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS) provides the judges and sends representatives to their sanctioned contests in the US to ensure that the events are run fairly.
Harding is a member of the KCBS, and worked as an organizer for this summer’s contest. He said the most common question he is asked is how does the contest work?
He responds by explaining the KCBS system and what is required of the cooks to produce a judgeable meat.
Members of the KCBS include the certified judges, the cooks who compete, and the organizers.
A certified barbecue judge for the KCBS must complete six to eight hours of training and hands-on tasting. Judges sample the entries and examine them based on standards set by the KCBS, not against other entries.
Judges rate the meats on a scale of one to nine, with nine being the best score. The meats are assessed on three traits: taste, appearance, and texture.
Contestants arrive the night before judging and set up their cooking stations. Inspectors move from site to site inspecting the raw, fresh meat that each team has brought along to prepare.
Once a team’s meat is approved, they may begin cooking. The cooking usually starts between 5 and 10 p.m. and continues through the night.
It takes hours to properly prepare the meats for the contest.
Brisket and pork take 12 to 14 hours, a result of cooking the meat over indirect heat in a smoker rather than over direct heat.
Teams compete in four main categories: chicken, pork ribs, pulled pork, and brisket.
Teams can also enter a dish in the “anything but” category, meaning any meat that is not the main four, and the “dessert” category, meaning any dessert recipe.
Harding also explained that it is expensive for a person or team to enter a contest.
Including the equipment, the meat, and the entrance fees, the cost ranges from $700 to $1,000 per contest. This does not include transportation.
According to Harding, over $1.5 million of equipment, trailers, and campers were in the park for this event. One team alone had a trailer and equipment worth $400,000.
This year’s contest had 39 participants from six states, which was down a bit from last year.
Team Shiggin & Grinnin of Delano was one of these teams. Its three members are Jeff Vanderlinde, Ted Moonen, and Derek “Pretty boy” Schansberg.
The team’s name comes from an invented term “shiggin,” which is defined by Vanderlinde as “entering one’s barbecue site with the purpose of obtaining their barbecue secrets,” and “grinnin,” which comes from winning after they have done the shiggin.
“Shiggin” is a common joke among barbecuers and is not a serious matter.
These men have been traveling the Midwest and competing for two years.
“We cook in five or six contests a season, about one a month,” Vanderlinde explained.
They typically prepare two beef briskets, two pork butts, four slabs of ribs, and 16 pieces of chicken per contest.
Their best areas are the chicken and brisket. Three times this summer, they have taken second in the chicken category.
“We just can’t seem to break it,” the team agreed.
In May, the team got a perfect score in the chicken category in Owatonna, but still placed second.
Shiggin & Grinnin’s best overall placing so far this summer has been third.
When asked about their recipes in comparison to others, Vanderlinde commented, “Most have the same stuff in thembrown sugar, garlic, peppersbut it’s the amounts you use that matter.”
Schansberg further explained the flavoring styles saying, “Sweeter wins up north, spicier wins in the south.”
When asked what got them started, Vanderlinde replied, “We do it as a hobby; we love eating,” and joked, “but we’re skinny guys on the barbecue circuit.”
Someday the group hopes to make it to the Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational Barbecue, located in Lynchburg, TN. To attend this contest, a team must win a sanctioned competition and be invited.
“It’s like the Superbowl of barbecue,” Vanderlinde said, while his teammates nodded in agreement.
At the 4th annual Crow River BBQ Challenge, Shiggin & Grinnin took 17th overall.
Prairie Oak Smokers of Perham, MN were named Grand Champion with an overall score of 670.2858, and Big Bubba’s Road House of Blaine, MN took the title of Reserve Grand Champion with an overall score of 661.1430.
The Watertown Lions award prizes to those participants who rank in the top 10 of each of the four categories, and the top two teams overall. These awards total around $10,000.
Most of the sanctioned barbecue events occur over the summer months, but there are events every month of the year in the US.