I watched as my tablemate pressed his Filipino pork skewer up against the grill rack, not to cook it faster, but to encourage a crispy banana ketchup char. I followed suit, and when my own skewer of orange-tinted pork was ready, I used tongs to peel the tender bits off the scorching stick to avoid burning my fingers. It was springy and sticky, sweet with liberal streaks of decadent fat in every bite.
Flaming Pig, the new occupant of the space, swapped kalbi, kimchi and Korean banchan for Filipino-style skewers and sinigang, a sour soup studded with daikon radishes and a boney beef hock.
When Ginalyn Halum, the owner of popular ice cream shop Scooptopia, saw the empty shell of Han Korean Barbecue on Camelback Road, she jumped at the chance to open her own restaurant.
An amateur barbecue contest has been part of the Tri City BBQ Fest since 2018, but this year’s contest will be the first to be professionally judged.
“A common request from the amateur competitors was ‘We’re having fun but we really want to know how good we are. Can we take this to the next level and still have an amateur competition – but have pro judges at the amateur competition?’” said Evan Blakley, executive director of the Chamber & Development Council (CDC) of Crawford County, which produces the event.
“So we figured out how to do that. We are coordinating the KCBS (Kansas City Barbeque Society) judges to arrive a day earlier than the previous festivals. They’ll judge entries on Friday night and then most of the day Saturday, as well, so it will be a weekend full of barbecue tasting for the judges.”
The judges won’t pull any punches for the amateur competitors.
“They will be judging the amateurs at the KCBS level,” Blakley said.
“This is the first year that we have both (professional and amateur) contests going on at once.”
The professional KCBS competition draws cooks who live, breathe and die barbecue, he said.
“It’s probably their main hobby, their main passion in life, and they put a lot of time as well as finances into traveling the country and competing in these pro-level events,” Blakley said. “It can be intense and it can be a little intimidating for your hobbyist cook who is just trying to perfect ribs or brisket in their back yard. There’s quite a gap between the backyard cooker and the pro competitor.
After we got the festival into a successful pattern and had a blueprint for making it work, we tried to add at least one new element each year,” Blakley said. “barbeque meat We added the first amateur contest in 2018. At that time it was another chance for the public to be involved and judge the backyard cooks’ entries.”
A concern early-on was that the local judges would vote for their friends or for people they knew, which is why several KCBs judges were invited last year.
“The certified and trained judges have certain qualities they’re looking for in the entries,” Blakley said.
As in previous years, the amateurs will focus on ribs and chicken, which were chosen, in part, because they are some of the fastest cooking meats.
“They have pretty much all day to focus on two meats instead of trying to coordinate four meats with different temperatures and times and procedures,” Blakley said.
The professional competitors provide their own top-quality meats sourced from around the country, but a meat sponsor is needed to make the amateur competition work.
“The amateurs would possibly be deterred by too much expense to enter the competition; they’re dipping their toe in the water here, so we have to make it affordable,” he said.
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