COLUMBIA — Roots ‘N’ Blues ‘N’ BBQ Festival began early Friday morning with a record number of cooks arriving to arrange their grills, smokers, couches and tents around Fourth, Fifth and Sixth streets.
The Kansas City BBQ Society-sanctioned event will bring 65 teams to Columbia to compete for $10,000 in prizes. It is the largest number of teams to compete during the festival, said Thumper Entertainment President Betsy Farris.
Winners of the best chicken, ribs, beef brisket and pork divisions will be announced at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Here's a look at a few contenders:
The Closet Smokers
This team certainly made themselves feel at home this year — in fact, they brought their home with them.
The Columbia natives moved couches, a Nintendo 64 and a small TV to the middle of Sixth Street. The setting made the wooden armoire they converted into a smoker look slightly less outrageous.
“We figure if we are smokin’ in a closet, we might as well bring the whole living room,” team member Daniel Thorne said.
Inside the armoire, a smoker was installed where clothes would hang. It has been lined with concrete to ensure the piece of furniture doesn’t go up in flames.
The team added a combination of wood, charcoal and water-soaked woodchips to fuel the smoker. A vent cut into the left side will release smoke for up to 20 hours while the meat absorbs flavor.
Patrick Dierkes said they brought 60 pounds of meat to cook overnight.
“We also brought a cardiologist,” said Dierkes' pal, Nick Meyer.
Brian Strickland has more in store for his BBQ than just competing — he would like to make it a full-time business.
“This is just a jumping off point to see where we stand in the world of BBQ,” Strickland said.
The Smoke-a-holics were setting up Friday for their first try at the competition and said they also plan to make it a longstanding tradition.
They begin the cooking process with six bags of charcoal, but only to get the fire started. After the flames start licking the meat at 250-275 degrees, they add the wood they collected and stacked next to the smoker.
They spent nearly five months preparing for the competition and trucked four loads of food to their site. Chris Lammers, a chef at the Old Hawthorne Country Club, joined them to add his culinary expertise.
“We are not the type to think that if you don’t win, you didn’t do anything good,” Strickland says.
Second-year veterans Jason Mayer, Jeremy McBee and Matt Tucker are looking to smoke out the competition in all categories this year.
After losing to a pork steak in a St. Louis competition, Pork Daddy’s BBQ is stepping up its game. With over 40 pounds of meat in tow and a massive smoker at their disposal, the friends are trying to do better this time around.
They are using slabs of granite as a counter top and hickory wood to smoke all of their meat.
The team has created recipes for every type of meat they use to help bring out the flavors.
Like most of the competing teams, they plan to enter all four categories — brisket, ribs, pork and chicken.
Visitors can expect a disco ball and a blasting stereo as they walk past Bob Kilgore and Pat Marks' tent.
“Our real reason for being here is the social aspect,” said Marks, a Columbia resident. “We joined the barbecue contest in order to have a place to come and hang out, so we’re not your typical barbecue team.”
Kilgore and Marks will be grilling ribs, chicken and pulled pork, but the Christmas lights hanging from their tent indicate a loose approach.
“We’ve been working on trying to get our barbecue better so we don’t come in last place this year,” Kilgore said, laughing.
Teammates Matt Hawkins and Scott Daly described themselves as middle-of-the-pack grillers, though they did bring a large, white RV.
“We just borrowed Mom’s,” Daly said. “It’s not ours. But we needed somewhere to sleep.”
It is their second year at the Roots 'N' Blues, and they brought an intimidating-looking Spicewine Smoker. They do not, however, entertain any ideas about seriously competing.
“We’re here to have fun, but we’re not here to win,” Hawkins said. “We’re here to do better than we did last year.”
Jacob Hess arrived at the Roots ‘N’ Blues Festival with eight oval-shaped smokers called “The Big Green Egg.”
“A Big Green Egg works just like any other smoker, except its made of 100 percent ceramic, so it retains heat really well,” Hess said.
Ceramic smokers don’t require as much heat to cook the meat, which means it uses less air, Hess said. This method keeps the meat from drying out.
He and his team, dubbed “Eggstreme Team” in honor of the smokers, began cooking brisket and pork butt Friday. Hess estimates it will take between 12 and 15 hours until it's done.
Then, at 3 in the morning, he plans to start the ribs.
“I will sleep out here tonight,” he said, pointing to a tent.
The Southside Smokers is a quartet of high-school buddies from the St. Louis area who use an altered hydraulic fuel container as their smoker.
Bill Ruser, one of the four, insulated the container — a piece from a crane — that they have been using for four years. It looks like a typical smoker: large, square and black.
The Southside Smokers will barbecue the four types of meat in the judging, using a homemade blend of spices.
“They ground the spices, they bought ‘em fresh, they did everything right,” Mike Garvey said, referring to his teammates.
“This is not sitting on the shelf for six months.”
Blue Bucket BBQ
Blue Bucket BBQ is here from Topeka, Kan., to take on the competition.
“We’re intense," Terry Albert said. "We’ve won several tournaments in the five, six years we’ve been doing this together.”
Their biggest win came in Osage City, Kan., when they beat 84 teams in all four categories to win overall. They’ve even been to the Jack Daniels Invitational in Lynchburg, Tenn.
They haven’t won a tournament yet this year, but they have come in second and third in several using their dependable Pellet smokers. The barrel-shaped grills look like traditional BBQ smokers from the early 1900s.
They wouldn’t share their secrets, but they do have a method for winning.
“We’ve been cooking for years," Albert said. "We finally refined what we do, and we do the same thing every time. Sometimes you get a good table of judges, and sometimes you don’t.”