Barbecue contest celebrates 10th year of success

OSAGE CITY-It’s going to be a reunion, but more than that – it’s going to be a celebration of 10 years of community-wide teamwork. Osage City’s Smoke in the Spring state championship barbecue contest will be April 12-13, and in its tenth year, the event has gained reputation as one of the premier contests on the U.S. barbecue competition circuit. And that reputation is not just because of the more than $10,000 in prizes offered.

According to Corey Linton, Osage City Parks and Recreation director and contest organizer, the competition’s good standing is the result of the community’s efforts and its civic organizations and volunteers. The primary reason many of the competitors want to return to the contest year after year is the hospitality shown to them while they’re in Osage City, Linton said Tuesday.

“The (barbecue) teams place us in high regard,” Linton said. “Our volunteers are top-notch, and they develop good relationships with the teams. It’s the community’s event. The enthusiasm the public shows, the teams notice that.”
The Kansas City Barbeque Society-sanctioned contest will also be reunion of sorts, as Linton has offered initial signup of contestants to only those who have participated in the contest previously. As of this week, 61 returning teams have applied, with spots available for only 72 teams.
The contest, which for the last few years has been centered in Jones Park, will have its space limited this year due to recently started construction of USD 420’s sports facilities. With the construction, much of the area surrounding the parks and recreation building, where the competition is judged, is being leveled and structures have been removed to make way for the new facilities. Some of the spots that had previously been used for barbecue teams are unavailable due to relocated power lines, causing Linton to reduce the number of teams competing. He said the city of Osage City has been helpful in providing electrical outlets for each competitor’s space, but some of those have been removed due to the construction.
In the last five years, the contest has grown steadily, with 51 teams competing in 2008, and 82 teams competing last year. A future goal is to have 100 teams or more competing.
“This barbecue event has really blossomed,” he said. “It’s amazing how it’s taken off.”
Since the event is being planned as a reunion, contestants who competed in the first Smoke in the Spring have been invited back, along with others who have competed throughout the years.
“We sent out special invitations to all teams on our list to try to get all returning teams,” Linton said. “My goal was to showcase and say thanks to the teams that helped make the contest what it is today.”
Linton said about 10 teams that haven’t competed in the contest are on a waiting list in case all of the spots aren’t filled by returning teams, but he said with about six weeks to go before the event, he expects the roster will be filled with returning teams.
“We have plenty of teams that want to be in the contest,” he said.
Despite the limited space, other highlights of the event will go on. The Taste of Osage City, held on Friday evening before the contest, will still be held at the competition site. The event is open to the public, and allows people to purchase Barbecue Bucks from the Osage City Chamber of Commerce and other outlets and trade them to participating cooking teams for samples of barbecue and other unique food items. The participating teams can choose which foods they offer in trade for Barbecue Bucks, which are later traded in for part of the proceeds of the Barbecue Bucks sales. Last year, food offerings ranged from tasty, tender ribs to chewy, smoked alligator meat.
Linton said the population of the park grows to up to 2,000 people during the evening event, which includes refreshments offered for sale by the Lions Club and a free concert in the recreation building.
Although they won’t be in the park this year due to limited space, two other popular activities during the event, a car show and local band boosters offering a noon meal on Saturday, will be held downtown. The band boosters’ meal of pulled pork and side dishes will be in the Osage County Senior Center, 604 Market St.; the car show will be on Market Street, between Fourth and Sixth streets.
Linton notes that local participation is great, but anyone in the county who wishes to get involved may do so. He said Osage City is well represented at the event, including Lions, Kiwanis, high school football team, city staff, parks and recreation board and the Chamber, but opportunity exists for other communities from around the county to be involved, either by volunteering to help or setting up informational booths to showcase what Osage County has to offer.
“This event brings in people from other places, who normally wouldn’t come here,” Linton said. “From what they see, they may decide to come back to Osage County to stay longer, such as to camp a week at one of our lakes.”
For more information, contact Linton at 785-528-4610 or [email protected]

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