With spring comes smoke at Osage City: 2016 Smoke in the Spring

Spring is finally here, but that’s not the only thing we’ve waited all winter for. At Osage City, when spring arrives it means that smoke is not far behind – barbecue smoke that is. And in a week, on April 8, smoke will be flowing from cookers in Jones Park as the 2016 Smoke in the Spring State BBQ Championship gets under way.

Osage City’s annual barbecue celebration promises to be the best ever this year, with 114 teams signed up to compete, beating last year’s record of 96 competitors.

“This will be the largest contest here ever,” said organizer Corey Linton, Osage City Parks and Recreation director, who noted Osage City’s hospitality continues to be a major draw for barbecue teams, barbecue judges and other participants in the weekend celebration.

Smoke in the Spring got its start in 2003, and has gained competitors every year since then. This year’s competitor limit had been set at 102, but due to numerous continuing requests to be in the contest, Linton made space for a dozen more cooking teams.

“I know our event is popular, but didn’t really realize until this week how well regarded our contest is nationally,” Linton said. “We have had teams actively recruiting for us – that’s says something about our event.”

He said local support for the contest is evident and appreciated by those who have participated in the past.

“Ultimately it’s that word of mouth that helps us,” he said. “Teams have a lot of appreciation for that community support. If they go to the grocery store, to get gas, or to the bank, people show they know they are barbecue contestants, and tell them glad they’re here. People love our event.”

Taste of Osage City

The “word of mouth” comes with good reason, as Osage City’s barbecue contest, unlike many such competitions, involves the entire community. The weekend event kicks off on Friday night, April 8, when everyone is invited to the Taste of Osage City, a giant barbecue party at Jones Park. And on Saturday, while the Kansas City Barbeque Society-sanctioned competition is going on, a downtown car show and aircraft fly-in allows for the celebration to continue.

Linton promises this year’s Taste of Osage City, which begins at 5 p.m. Friday, April 8, at Jones Park, will have something for everyone, with inflatable bounce houses for kids up to 14, and a live band, the Neosho River Band, playing in the parks and recreation building beginning at 8 p.m. The Neosho River Band’s music is described as a combination of outlaw country, mixed with a little red dirt, topped off with a rock and roll attitude.

There is no charge for joining the fun at the recreation building, including the music, dancing and bouncing. A vendor will be offering adult drinks for sale in the recreation building, and other vendors will be selling soft drinks and water during the evening party. But the main attraction, as all will admit, will be the giant outdoor smorgasbord of about every kind of outdoor cookery you can imagine during the Taste of Osage City.

Linton said the menu offered during the Taste will be a variety of unique treats. “It’s not just pulled pork,” he said. Naming a few of the entrée’s, he described, “Grilled shrimp, homemade sausage, ‘moink’ balls, brisket nachos, fried ‘things’, loaded baked potatoes, chicken bombs,” and of course don’t forget turkey legs, sliders, wings, ribs and … pulled pork.

Linton has enlisted 24 of the barbecue competition teams to cook for the Taste, with participating cookers located in the parking lots at the north side of Jones Park.

As a community party, “everyone is invited,” Linton said, noting the Taste of Osage City is the community’s chance to taste some  of the tasty treats cooked up by the competition chefs. To partake in the food, BBQ Bucks are used as currency and can be exchanged for anything offered by vendors that night in the park, including food, beverages, root beer floats, baked goods, cotton candy, and other items.

BBQ Bucks can be purchased in advance at Edward Jones, 516 Market St., or Osage City Hall, 201 S. Fifth St., beginning April 4. BBQ Bucks will also be for sale 2-7 p.m. on the day of the event, April 8, in Jones Park at the south side of community building at the concession windows. BBQ Bucks have been redesigned this year, but Linton reminds anyone who might have the old green ones they will still be accepted at this year’s Taste and in the future. Food sales begin at 5 p.m. and continue “until the food runs out,” as Linton always says.

Arrangements have been made this year to alleviate some of the parking congestion around the park as experienced in the past. A transport bus will run 4-9 p.m. on Friday, April 8, from the Osage City school parking lot at Ellinwood and Fourth streets. Everyone is invited to park at the school and ride the bus to the Taste (bus rides end at 9 p.m.) Parking west of Jones Park and across the highway from the sports complex is also available; limited handicap parking is available by the home side bleachers.

Kids-Q

Friday night also kicks off the barbecue competition, with the Kids-Q contest getting under way with a cook’s meeting at 5:30 p.m. Dessert will be the kids’ category this year. Kids-Q competitors must be sponsored by a barbecue team competing in Saturday’s contest, but Linton said if kids want to compete but don’t have a sponsor, they should contact him before Friday to arrange a sponsor.

State BBQ Championship

As the Friday night party winds down, the seriousness of barbecue competition gets under way, and this year’s contest will definitely be competitive. With 114 teams scheduled to compete, the contest will be the largest hosted by Osage City and one of the largest in the Midwest. Along with competitors from 13 states will come some top guns in the barbecue circuit, vying to rack up points with wins early in the barbecue season at Smoke in the Spring.

Registered to compete this year are competitors such as 2015 American Royal Open Cooking Champion, four out of the top five finishers at the 2015 American Royal, the 2015 KCBS Ribs Team of the Year, and the 2015 KCBS Team of the Year.

The cooker coming the furthest distance to compete at Smoke in the Spring is Sean Keever, Big Guns BBQ, Pleasant Valley, N.Y. While the public is not involved in the competition on Saturday, all are welcome to walk through the park and observe the cookers at work, being mindful that a competition is going on and the competitors should not be disturbed or interfered with.

Cruis’n and Cook’n Car Show

As the competition is going on, the barbecue celebration continues in downtown Osage City with the Cruis’n and Cook’n Car Show, in its 12th year held in conjunction with Smoke in the Spring. The Cruis’n and Cook’n Car Show has also continued to grow in popularity, turning Market Street in downtown Osage City into auto enthusiasts’ dream exhibition. Entries in the show in the past have exceeded 200 antique and classic cars, trucks, vans along with street rods, rat rods, and motorcycles. The show is free for spectators, who are invited to bring their lawn chairs and enjoy the day in downtown Osage City. The show is 8 a.m.-3 p.m.

Wings in the Spring

This year also marks the third Wings in the Spring aircraft fly-in at Osage City Airport. All pilots and aircraft owners are invited to fly-in to Osage City on Saturday. Greeters will be on hand to assist those who fly in. Everyone is invited to visit the airport and see the planes on display. Pilots who are planning to fly in are advised that Osage City’s runway is still 2,560 feet long.

  • For more information about Smoke in the Spring or Kids-Q, contact Linton at 785-528-4610 or [email protected], or see www.smokeinthespring.com.
  • For more information about the car show, contact Richard Swarts at 785-528-3667 or see www.cruisnandcookn.com.
  • For more information about Wings in the Spring, contact Mike Handly at 785-231-9085.

Coming from out of town? You’re invited, too!

Here’s how to get to Osage City, which is located about 30 miles southwest of Topeka:

  • By car: From the roundabout at the intersection of U.S. 75 and state highways 31 and 268, go seven miles west to Osage City. Follow K-31 through town to Market Street, where the car show will be held, or if visiting for the Taste of Osage City on Friday, head to the west side of town to the intersection of Market and Martin streets and go four blocks south; Jones Park is on the east side. (Or to ride the shuttle Friday evening, go on Market Street to Fourth Street and head south to Ellinwood Street.)
  • By airplane: Osage City’s airport is on the east side of town. Approach from the south, touch down and stop before reaching the end of the runway. Taxi to the aprons or where guided and greeters will assist you.
  • By foot, bicycle or horse: Approach from the east or west on the Flint Hills Nature Trail. Follow the trail until you hit an obstacle, or head south on Ninth Street or First Street to Market Street, and follow the above directions for cars.

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