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Smokin' Gobbler BBQ Cook-off starts Friday at Nobles County Fairgrounds in Worthington

Competition is sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society.

Gobbler trophies
Gobbler trophies are ready to distribute to the top competitors.
Special to The Globe
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WORTHINGTON — Up to 48 competitive meat smoking teams will be in Worthington Friday and Saturday to participate in the 11th annual Smokin’ Gobbler BBQ Cookoff at the Nobles County Fairgrounds, 1600 Stower Dr.

With competitions for best-smoked ribs, chicken, pork butt and beef brisket, the teams will vie for points in the official Kansas City Barbecue Society-sanctioned event — and a whole lot of bragging rights.

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John Roberts, Hy-Vee meat department manager, is coordinating the event, which is a fundraiser for King Turkey Day Inc. As of Monday afternoon, Roberts said 39 teams had registered, hailing from North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

“Friday night we have a rib contest and Saturday is the KCBS contest,” Roberts said, adding that meats smoked during the competition are judged on appearance, taste and texture (tenderness).

Many of the competitors travel the Midwest to earn points in the KCBS, and the judges travel as well. All judges have to complete a class before becoming eligible to follow the circuit.

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“We’ll have like 40 judges coming to town,” Roberts said. “They can travel however far they want to travel.”

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About a dozen teams are expected to arrive in Worthington on Thursday, with the rest coming in Friday morning to prepare for the ribs and smoked turkey contests that evening.

“The turkey smoke is a competition in the KCBS, and the National Turkey Federation is sending us turkey breasts on Friday morning,” Roberts said. “That is given free to the cooks and they can earn points on the turkey they smoke.”

While the turkey will be provided, the teams are responsible for bringing all of their own meats for the contest.

“Most of them use Smart Chicken, Compart Pork (Duroc breed) for the ribs and pork butt, and Snake River Farms Wagyu beef for the brisket,” shared Roberts. “They’ll spend a couple hundred dollars on a brisket to win $350.”

The $350 prize goes to the winning entry in each category, with a $1,500 grand prize going to the team garnering the most points. There are also super cool turkey trophies to hand out to participants.

While the food prepared for the contest cannot be sold to the public for consumption, people are welcome to go out to the fairgrounds and watch the competition. Roberts asks that people avoid competitors between 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Saturday, when they are preparing their meats for judging.

Judges will begin judging chicken at noon, ribs at 12:30 p.m., pork butt at 1 p.m. and brisket at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. The Friday evening contest requires ribs to be ready at 7:30 p.m.

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“If they do have leftovers, they may put it on top of their smoker,” Roberts said. “You can always ask (for a sample). It’s amazing barbecue — it’s too bad we can’t have everybody try it.”

The contest will wrap up around 3:30 p.m. Saturday with awards announced in each category, followed by the drawing for raffle prizes.

Raffle tickets are currently available at the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce office and from any King Turkey Day board member. Prizes include a Green Mountain smoker, a fire pit, meat bundles, beer donated by the Worthington Liquor Store and other items.

As of Monday, the only local team registered for the contest was The Good Ol’ Boys, which is led by Scott Belz.

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Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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