With 32 teams set to compete, thousands are expected to converge on Rocky Fork Lake for next weekend’s second annual Smokin’ in the Hills, one of 500 sanctioned barbecue contests held worldwide.
Smokin’ in the Hills is certified by the Kansas City Barbecue Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and enjoying barbecue.
Having a local event was birthed in the mind of Rhonda Purdin, director of foods and banquets at the Highland County Senior Citizens Center.
“I was home recuperating from surgery,” she said, “and since there was nothing else I could do, I got on my computer and started talking to some of the bigger barbecue people all over the country.”
Purdin said she enjoyed watching “Pit Masters” on the Food Channel, and was in contact with the cable channel and one of its stars, Marvin Mixer.
“They told me if we did the event, it would grow year by year,” she said. “And he said if it got big enough maybe he’d show up… So that’s my dream for the future, that Smokin’ in the Hills gets so big that Marvin Mixer makes a guest appearance.”
Organizers have strived to make the annual event family-friendly, and have added several activities for young people this year.
Mechell Frost, executive director of the senior center, told the Times-Gazette “three of the events are the Queen Scholarship Pageant, Southern State College’s Kid’s Barbecue and the KFC Kids Zone.”
Registration for the queen pageant ends Saturday Sept. 15 and the contest is open to girls from Highland, Adams, Brown, Clinton, Fayette and Ross counties. There is a $30 entry fee with the winner receiving a $100 scholarship.
The scholarship is courtesy of VFW Auxiliary Post 9094 for the purpose of helping with the queen’s education.
Contestants need to be at the senior citizens center by 4 p.m. Saturday, and interviews with the judges begin at 4:30 p.m.
“This would be a great chance to get experience in public speaking and to meet new people,” Frost said. “Plus, if a girl is planning a career in modeling or anything that involves being in front of the public, this would be something to put on a resume.”
The winner of the queen pageant will be announced Friday, Sept. 21 at 6 p.m. at Smokin’ in the Hills.
On Saturday, Sept. 22 at 3:30 p.m. the Southern State Community College Kids BBQ will be held at the cook-off. It’s open to young people age 7 to 15, who will cook six mini-hamburgers.
While there is a $25 entry fee, the first 25 kids to enter will receive a free grill/cooler combo.
Kids will get to experience first-hand what KCBS competition is like. They will be allowed 40 minutes to cook, then turn their hamburgers in to a panel of judges who will score the entries and announce the winners, with the first place griller receiving $75 and second place getting a prize of $50.
Participants in the kids BBQ will need to bring their own “sliders” and buns, in addition to charcoal and lighter.
Kentucky Fried Chicken is sponsoring the free KFC Kids Zone starting at 10 a.m. Saturday Sept. 22, where kids can enjoy face painting, caricature drawings and inflatables including a 24-foot slide called Vertical Rush, where two contestants race up a rock wall and then back down the slide.
Frost invited everyone to sample some barbecue in the People’s Choice Contest, which gets underway with ticket sales from 6:30 to 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21. Tickets are $1 each, and are good for one ticket to sample and one to vote.
Seventeen teams will be competing Friday, Sept. 21 from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The contest is being sponsored by Smithfield and the senior center.
“They’ll be making pork nachos, so if people want to taste test what they’re cooking, you buy a ticket,” Frost said. “And they take the ticket to each team whose nachos they want to try, then they take the other half of the ticket and drop it into that team’s ballot box to vote for them.”
The team with the most votes receives the People’s Choice Award and a cash prize of $250.
“This is some serious competition and these guys don’t take it lightly,” said Highland County Commissioner Jeff Duncan, a member of one of competing teams.
He and Hillsboro Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie, along with two others, make up the team “Four Guys and a Grill.”
“I got involved because my son-in-law had an interest in it,” Duncan said. “He and I had been dabbling for several years with smokers and smoking meat, so when he said he’d like to enter the competition I agreed to fund it, and we put a team together.”
For this year’s Smokin’ in the Hills, teams from Texas, West Virginia, Indiana and Kentucky are joining their Buckeye State counterparts in the chase for $9,000 in cash prizes and trophies.
Some of the teams consist of talented people who attend every competition on the KCBS circuit, while others are new to the game, like Four Guys and a Grill.
“Our goal is not to finish last in every category,” Duncan laughed, “but at least be somewhere in the middle since this is our first time. But I’ll tell you, there are folks in this that I would consider to be professional, and they are dead serious about this thing.”
According to Duncan, the competition has four categories of meat to smoke, and he feels his team’s ticket to the big show will be smoked brisket, with a little help from his friends.
“Mel has been smoking off and on for several years and has some recipes we’d like to try,” he said. “So I’m relying on his expertise, but the last time I did a brisket, it wasn’t half bad.”
As for the future of Smokin’ in the Hills, Purdin hopes to see the event eventually hosting 60 to 100 teams, and maybe feature more live entertainment including major headliners.
“I’d love to see Toby Keith here,” she said. “He’s my favorite, so if we could get him, oh yeah!”
The signature sponsor for the 2018 Smokin’ in the Hills is once again R + L Carriers.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571