The inaugural Smokin’ in the Hills barbecue cookoff at Rocky Fork Lake saw nearly 1,000 people flood the East End Overlook over the weekend, braving sweltering heat and smoky conditions to sample award-winning barbecue and honor America’s troops.
The event, sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society as a state championship on the KCBS competition circuit, was deemed a success by local organizers, who say the cookoff will be an annual event.
Destiny Bryson, director of the Highland County Visitors Bureau, told The Times-Gazette she’s already making plans for next year.
“I’ve already heard very good comments from the teams and the judges saying they want to come back,” Bryson said, “so we’re expecting a lot more teams next year.”
Highland County Commissioner Shane Wilkin credited Rhonda Purdin of the Highland County Senior Center for having the idea for the event.
“I am extremely happy with how things went off,” Wilkin said. “I’m pleased with the support and thankful that Rhonda had the idea to have an event like this, and to have Destiny quarterback it all to coordinate and put everything together.”
Purdin could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.
While Wilkin said the event took “substantially more work than I anticipated… I’m incredibly happy with the feedback from the barbecue teams, and I feel strongly that a lot of them will return next year for the event.”
Wilkin said a debrief meeting is being planned to go over ideas.
“We know there are some areas we can improve and make it bigger, and make a bigger draw for people from outside the county while bringing people from inside the county to make it a more popular event.”
Bryson said initial estimations indicate a total of almost 1,000 people attended the event, including barbecue teams, volunteers, booth workers and visitors, and she said next year’s event will most likely draw even more.
The Patriot Challenge, a combination canoe race and obstacle challenge, kicked things off Saturday morning after the barbecue teams rolled in for setup Friday night.
In addition to 25 barbecue teams from Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Texas, a number of local nonprofits, veterans groups and military branches set up tents and displays at the overlook, and R+L Carriers brought in its travelling military display, Eyes of Freedom: Lima Company Memorial, as well as its Hometown Showcase, a mobile entertainment display that played the Ohio State Buckeyes game Saturday afternoon.
After the barbecue teams entered their meats for judging, visitors were able to sample the competition barbecue in return for donations.
Later in the afternoon, Elegantly Violent BBQ of Grove City cleaned house during the awards ceremony, winning overall grand champion, scoring first in pork ribs and placing in the top 10 in the remaining categories of pork, chicken and brisket. The team also won a $1,300 prize.
As a state champion, Elegantly Violent will move on to the American Royal barbecue competition in Kansas City, and be put in a raffle for a chance to compete at the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue.
Smokin’ 4-Play BBQ of Springfield, the overall reserve champion, also placed in the top 10 in chicken, pork ribs, pork and brisket, winning $700.
Individually, Bakin’ Baby BBQ of Columbus, Ind., won first in chicken, while High on the Hog, Leesburg, took first in pork and brisket.
“There are too many people to thank in one go,” Bryson said. “I’m just truly thankful for the support, to all our sponsors, all the people who showed up. Everybody was happy to help, and that made things so much easier.”
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.