Saturday, June 28, 2014

Moved by Mother Nature but Not Stopped by Flooding

Competitive barbecue cookouts never occur as planned. A critical change in plans can pop up at the last minute, such as a mandatory relocation. When I was a judge at the Bend in the River Cookout in Minnesota, I saw the best of impromptu event planning.

Torrential summer rains that hit the Midwest in June caused extensive flooding in towns and cities along key rivers. Several days before the cookout was to begin in Mankato, the Minnesota River overflowed its banks. Flood waters churned down city streets after daily massive downpours; during one, 5 inches of rain fell overnight. The event had been planned at the scenic Land of Memories Park that is in a large bend of the river, but after days of rain – and extensive flooding – not a dry spot was available. The park was completely under water, and the river was cresting at levels higher than predicted.

Nate Herme always picks dry places
for his barbecue cookouts!
Nate Herme, the event organizer, moved the festival to Saint Peter, a nearby city that is home of the county fairgrounds. The cookout was held in amazingly calm conditions, although the forecast of thunderstorms again proved true when they eventually arrived in the late afternoon. At the judges’ meeting before the start of the competition, Nate joked that the original location was now the Lake (rather than Land) of Memories because it had so much water. Coordinating the relocation was a huge task because this event had so many cooking teams (the first cookout in Minnesota with 50 competitive teams – plus the amateur contest had another 50 teams as well).

However, the last-minute change in location didn’t seem to affect any of the cooking teams. Saturday morning was quiet as they focused on preparing their entries. While the competitive teams were busy, the amateur teams were also cooking. The festival is well known for pulled pork and ribs available for sampling, and a $10 ticket entitles a person to five samples. Proceeds of the ticket sales are used to purchase playground equipment for children with disabilities and to make local parks more accessible to them.

Barbecue samples for only $10 draw a crowd.

The competitive teams prepared the usual meats – chicken, pork ribs, pork, and beef brisket – for an event sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society. The beef brisket samples were some of the best that I have judged, and I assigned the highest score of 9 to more than one. The other meats were also exceptionally well prepared.

Several teams are busy at work on a Saturday morning.

An unexpected surprise of being at the cookout was a chance to talk to Dean Compart, who told me about his Duroc hogs, the second most recorded breed of swine in the United States. His family farm, which initially imported the Duroc breed from Sweden and Denmark in the early 1990s to produce leaner pork, is now managed by a third generation with the fourth generation being groomed for future operations.

Dean Compart (right) is extremely proud of his Duroc swine.

Even with the change in location, the cookout drew a large crowd of spectators interested in observing the teams and sampling the best barbecue in the Midwest. Seeing the skilled cooks in action was a big draw, but knowing that buying tickets to sample barbecue would help to upgrade local parks and make them more accessible to children with disabilities made the event meaningful.

Does carefully selecting your own wood guarantee better results?

Some teams spare no expense to travel in style.

Barrels are another choice for cooking equipment.
Have cooker on trailer, will travel.

Who is doing all the work for this team?