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BBQ contest for King Turkey Day

WORTHINGTON -- If there's a cloud of smoke hovering over the vicinity of the beer garden on King Turkey Day, don't call the fire department. The smoke -- and the tantalizing aromas that will accompany it -- are just evidence that a bunch of barbecue aficionados are working on their entries for the first Smokin' Gobbler BBQ Contest, a new component to Worthington's festival.

The contest, a sanctioned Kansas City Barbeque Society event, will feature 18 teams of top-notch competitors, including six who have already qualified for the ultimate contest, the Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational Barbecue slated for Oct. 22 in Lynchburg, Tenn., noted Brad Behrends, KTD board member.

"For some of these guys, it's their season wrap-up," said Behrends about the expected teams. "For the others, it will be their tune-up for The Jack."

Behrends and his co-director Kirk Feit have laid the groundwork for the first-ever barbecue event with help from Kevin Schaefer from JBS. The two KTD Board members researched the process by attending a KCBS contest in Albert Lea that fielded 60 teams.

They've also received assistance from a barbecue insider, Kirk's brother, Kevin Feit, operator of Swinestone Cowboys BBQ & Catering, based in Highlands Ranch, Colo. Kevin, who began competing two years ago and turned his hobby into a full-time gig, will make the trip from Colorado for the hometown event, which although small for the first year will be seriously competitive.

"It's professional for me at this point," said Kevin, a 1988 graduate of Worthington High School who grew up in rural Rushmore. "I'm out there trying to make at least enough money to pay for my barbecue habit. ... You're not going to retire off the winnings, but most of us are out there trying to pay for our weekly competition costs, which can be from $500 to $1,000 with the cost of meat, gas, food."

Kevin has helped to spread the word about the Worthington event and will be joined by other top-notch barbecuers as Moe Cason of Ponderosa BBQ in Des Moines, Iowa, who has been featured on TLC's "BBQ Pitmasters" television show.

"He bills himself as the 'Ultimate 380-Pound Underdog,'" said Behrends about the hard-core competitor with a colorful personality. "He has some notoriety. People who watched 'BBQ Pitmasters' will recognize him."

The competition area will be located near the beer garden, on the west end of the former Campbell Soup Co. parking lot. The contest requires 21 KCBS certified judges, who will come to Worthington from all over the Upper Midwest at their own expense.

"They'll start cooking about 10 p.m. on Friday night, and their first turn-in is Saturday morning at noon for chicken, then it's ribs, then pork, then brisket," explained Behrends. "Oh, and we are having a turkey division, too, since it's King Turkey Day, and that turn-in is at 11:30 a.m. We provide the meat for that."

While he competes in all categories, Kevin has done particularly well in brisket, with six top-three finishes and a fourth-place finish at the Jack Daniels event last year.

"You absorb as much information as you can from all the teams you meet," said Kevin about the relationships he's developed among the barbecue ranks. "We're not as competitive as people think, and there's a lot of social camaraderie. It's serious business, but we like to have fun, too."

Because it's a first-year event and there's a learning curve for staging it, the Worthington event will not offer any sampling opportunities, but the committee hopes to build on the competition and make it more interactive for the public in the future. However, Kevin encourages people to visit the barbecue area and engage the competitors in conversation -- if they're not busy with the task at hand.

"I compare competition barbecue to NASCAR and tailgating, if you could combine those two together," he said. "There are three to four hours when it gets crazy, from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. Otherwise, stop on by and say hi -- we like to shoot the breeze. ... The nice thing for me is, combining it with Turkey Day, I'll be able to catch up with some of my friends, talk barbecue and show them what I do."

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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