Competitive barbecue teams weren’t about to share their secrets with a reporter who’s just going to blab them across the internet.
But many of the competitors in the Benton Franklin Fair & Rodeo’s Barbecue Cook Off on Saturday were happy to give advice.
“Have fun,” said Steve Beck, who captains the Kennewick-based Smok’n EKU team, sponsored by Crowbar Ranch.
“We have fun with people,” he said during the annual cook-off, which helped cap off the annual fair that ended Saturday.
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It is sage advice.
EKU won grand champion honors in its 2016 debut at the event. Now, Beck and his crew say they’re more interested in wowing civilians than the judges who scrutinized samples. They’re definitely not in it for the prize money, said Clint Jordan, the team’s sponsor.
After investing in smokers, a cook top, water heater, grill and ingredients, breaking even is a pipe dream.
“We don’t make a cent,” Jordan said.
For Dave Cleavenger of Benton City-based Big D’s BBQ, “low and slow” is the key to the perfect barbecue. Cleavenger has been competing five or six years and caters special events as well.
“My main goal is to get the People’s Choice,” he said. “I want them to say, ‘You’ve got good food.’ ” Spoiler alert: He won the People’s Choice honors with a lineup that included smoked apples, pork with a cream cheese habanero sauce and tri-tip bites.
Rush Hoag, another past champion, helms Hoagy Smokers out of Kennewick. His advice: Cook early and cook often.
“Smoke every day,” he joked.
He follows his own advice. The Hoags bought their first smoker in 2013. They entered their first competition not long after and were hooked. One thing led to another, and now they’re on the competitive BBQ circuit, competing in 10 events a year.
They’ve taken home three grand championships, in Pasco, Spokane and Montana
The 2017 fair was the debut outing for Lutefisk on the Loose!, a barbecue squad out of Richland Lutheran Church’s Men’s Ministry. Led by Mike Strasburg, members said they wanted to share their love of food and barbecue and to learn a little about competition.
“We’re here to have fun this time. But we’re here to learn and get better,” said Don Salyer, a member. “Our goal is not to come in last.”
The competition, sanctioned by the Pacific Northwest BBQ Association, drew about a dozen competitors in categories such as chicken, tri-tip, pork loin, onion-and-potato dish and a mystery ingredient that turned out to be “apple.” The winners shared a $3,250 prize purse.
Slow Pokes Grill & Smoke of Yakima won the Grand Champion honors while Smokin’ MMA won the Reserve Grand Champion Award and Quelinary Arts won Reserve Champion honors. Smokin Foos BBQ earned first for its onion and potato entry and Smokin MMA won first for its mystery intredient entry.
Market Stock Auction results
The hard work of raising livestock paid off with $773,000 raised at Friday’s auction for young 4-H and FFA members at the Benton Franklin Fair in Kennewick this year.
The total could be higher, with more donations expected on the last day of the year.
Almost 450 kids from Benton and Franklin counties and the Columbia School District in Burbank exhibited animals this year. They sold steer, goats, lambs and pigs they raised.
Some will use the money they earned for the expenses of raising another animal next year to sell at the fair, with many socking away profits for college, said Tom Kinion, president of the fair’s market stock committee.