SEDALIA — The rain and the mist had dampened the atmosphere but not the spirits of the contestants of the Missouri State Fair’s Backyard Chef Barbecue contest Friday. After almost 10 hours of hard work, the 60 contestants held their breath as they waited for the winners to be announced.
Each contestant was allowed to participate in three of the four categories —chicken, pork, lamb and beef brisket — with five prizes in each category. The person with the highest total score was awarded the grand championship.
This year Chris Henning of Blue Springs walked away with the title, a plaque and $500. The victory automatically enrolls him in the prestigious American Royal Barbecue competition to be held in Kansas City in October and in the Jack Daniel’s Lottery.
Henning has been a contestant at the State Fair contest for 12 consecutive years.
“I’m very excited,” said Henning. “I’ve won trophies before but not a grand championship.”
Jim Burnett of Columbia, an MU electrician who was grand champion in 1992 and reserve grand champion in 2002, won third place in the chicken category. He has been in the contest 14 consecutive years.
“I’ve never left here without a prize,” Burnett said.
Henning, who placed first in the chicken category, thought his ribs represented his best grilling of the day. Burnett, on the other hand, said he no longer likes what he cooks.
“Oh, I’m tired of my own food, as I know what it’s going to taste like before I cook it,” Burnett said. “I like trying my neighbors’ stuff.”
Prizes aside, participants said the real reward of the contest is about the passion of barbecuing and having a good time with family, friends and fellow contestants.
“We do this strictly for fun,” said 2001 grand champion Bill Englert of Hamilton, who uses a homemade smoker that’s 6½ . feet tall and 6 feet long.
The 80 volunteer judges enjoyed the contest just as much. Each got to taste six samples in their category.
Bill Kirchoff, a first-time judge from Jefferson City, seemed more nervous than the contestants.
“I am looking forward to it, but I am scared of doing someone wrong,” he said.
Judging requires eating almost 2 pounds of meat in a span of about 20 minutes.
“All of the chicken was very tasty and tender,” said Dorothy Nolker of Polo, who’s been judging the contest for almost nine years.
“At the end of it, I am usually tired of eating all that meat. But I will be back again next year,” she said.