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50 teams smokiní at barbecue event

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October 23, 2013
Originally posted in Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: http://www.nwaonline.com/news/2013/oct/20/50-teams-smokin-barbecue-event-20131020/

Posted: October 20, 2013 at 2:44 a.m.

BENTONVILLE - Barbecue smoke and country music wafted through the parking lot of Sam’s Club headquarters Saturday as 50 finalist teams competed to be champion of the Sam’s Club National BBQ Tour.

The overall winner was Killer B’s BBQ of Evans, Ga., which received a $50,000 prize. Killer B’s consists of husband and wife Jim and Jan Burg. Jim is a landscape architect and Jan owns her own restaurant, Janwiches. They’ve been competing together on the barbecue circuit for three years.

This year’s competition began months ago with more than 700 teams, said Mike McCloud, national marketing director for the Kansas City Barbeque Society, which sanctions more than 400 barbecue competitions throughout the country each year.

Two teams from Arkansas were among the 50 finalists this year: Habitual Smokers of Springdale and Fire Dancer BBQ of Bryant.

McCloud said the tour started after he met BillFields, a Sam’s Club buyer, about four years ago in Alabama. McCloud wanted to promote the barbecue circuit, and Fields wanted to promote the meats being sold at Sam’s Club.

“What Sam’s is able to do is allow us to buy quality and quantity at the same time,” said McCloud, referring to bulk prices at the warehouse club division of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

“It just seemed natural to go ahead and design an event like this,” Fields said.

Fields wouldn’t say whether the tour has boosted meat sales at Sam’s. Employees don’t divulge information about sales, but he smiled when asked about it.

McCloud said the Sam’s Club tour will result in better barbecuers across America.

“We’re trying to teach an average grill master, an average backyarder, how to be better,” he said.

This was the third year for the Sam’s Club National BBQ Tour. This year’s tour included 25 local events and five regional competitions leading to the nationals.

McCloud said the touris organized similar to college basketball’s Sweet 16 tournament. But for Sam’s Club barbecuers, the madness comes in October, not March.

Roman Schellartz trekked to Bentonville from his home near Cologne, Germany, to study the Sam’s Club tour. Schellartz said he plans to start a Kansas City Barbeque Society-sanctioned event next year in Germany.

Schellartz said he was impressed by how the teams were working together in Bentonville and giving one another advice. In Europe, competitions are normally less convivial, he said.

“In Europe, it is much like this,” he said, making two f ists and repeatedly hitting them together. Schellartz said he hopes to convey the spirit of cooperation to barbecuers in his homeland.

Inside the Sam’s Club building, 30 “master judges” began sampling chicken at noon Saturday. The judges were presented with chicken thighs nestled in beds of vibrant green lettuce in Styrofoam containers.

The meat was being judged on three criteria: appearance, taste and tenderness, said Wayne Lohman of Germantown, Tenn., a Kansas City Barbeque Society representative. Lohman said thighs were used for the chicken competition because the barbecue heat dries out white meat.

“Thighs are more forgiving,” he said.

After chicken, the judges moved on to ribs, pork (specifically Boston butts) and beef brisket.

McCloud estimated that 8,000 to 10,000 people attended the event Saturday, which lasted from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The total prize purse for the tour is $500,000. The final competition featured a $150,000 prize purse, with $50,000 to be awarded to the grand champion.

The tour was hosted by Troy Black, a cookbook author and barbecue aficionado.

Also participating in Saturday’s event were country music artist Keith Anderson and two stars of the television show Duck Dynasty - Willie Robertson and “Mrs. Kay” Robertson. Duke the Dog, the mascot of Bush’s Baked Beans, was on hand as well.

Sam’s Club vendors set up booths in the parking lot and gave away free samples of smoked meats throughout the day Saturday.

Other overall winners Saturday included Reserve Grand Champion Smokey D’s BBQ of Des Moines, Iowa, and third-place winner Pigskin BBQ of Rockwell, Iowa.

Category winners were Chix, Swine and Bovine of Columbia, Md., for chicken; Smokey D’s BBQ for ribs; Lucky’s Q of Denver, Iowa, for pork; and Chatham Auxiliary of Savannah, Ga., for beef brisket.

Of the 50 finalists, seven teams were from Iowa. An Iowa team won the competition in each of the past two years: TippyCanoe BBQ Crew in 2011 and Lucky’s Q in 2012.

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