Leave it to Osawatomie’s John Brown Foundation to start a big Border War, but this one will smell delicious.
Taking advantage of City Manager Don Cawby’s big league experience in competitive barbecue, the foundation has enlisted Cawby to organize a sanctioned contest Oct. 25 and 26 as a fundraiser and community event to take place in John Brown Park.
Cawby’s experience with the nonprofit Kansas City Barbecue Society, which sanctions more than 400 contests across the country each year, runs the gamut from cooking award-winning brisket, chicken and ribs with his former Swine Mutiny team and current CawBo WaBoQ team, to organizing an annual, hugely successful “Smoke in the Spring” barbecue contest in Osage City, where he previously managed that city’s administration.
An official KCBS contest has exacting requirements, Cawby said, including getting a signed proclamation from the governor, which Gov. Sam Brownback delivered May 1.
The Border War BBQ not only brings the chance to eat meats cooked by some of the best teams in Kansas and Missouri, but to watch the masters at work.
“You’ll see charcoal, wood and pellet cooks,” he said, “and you’ll see all different types of equipment, most of it brought in on trailers, from home-built, to cooking in barrels, to those who set up two or three backyard Webers.
“It’s its own art,” he added. “It’s just neat to observe and fun to see how they go about it.”
The No. 1 rule is the teams cannot use gas.
“It must be wood or wood pellets or charcoal,” Cawby said. “Regulating your fire is as much a part of the competition as anything you do.”
The contest also goes on, rain or shine. Dealing with the elements is just part of the competition, he said.
The night of Oct. 25 will feature a chicken wing contest, and event sponsors will get a VIP dinner cooked by Smoke on Wheels from Kansas City, Kan., who were runners-up in the American Royal contest.
Oct. 26 is the crunch day, when teams will cook chicken, pork ribs, pork butt and brisket to be judged by official KCBS judges who know their smoked meats.
“We had about 50 people call in to judge,” Cawby said. The judges must be certified through KCBS by taking classes and the group’s website posts their oath:
“I do solemnly swear to objectively and subjectively evaluate each barbeque meat that is presented to my eyes, my nose, my hands and my palate. I accept my duty to be an Official KCBS Certified Judge, so that truth, justice, excellence in Barbeque and the American Way of Life may be strengthened and preserved forever.”
The teams are serious cooks, Cawby said, and will be most focused from about 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Other than that intense period, Cawby said it’s a laid-back event.
Some teams will offer a sample or two, but they are not there to sell their wares. Instead, tickets will be sold for those who want to eat great barbecue that will be available in the park.
Interest in the Osawatomie competition is strong, and the Border War BBQ Facebook page lists some of the teams that have already signed up:
- Got Meat?; Osawatomie
- Piggin-A-Pit; Kansas City, Mo.
- Complete BBQ; Osawatomie
- Baldin’ Smokin’ Banditos; Louisburg
- BBQ N’ Bibs; Osawatomie
- Charleigh’s BBQ; Overland Park
- Funny Farm BBQ; Block
- Crimson and Blue BBQ; Lawrence
- QSS Smokin; Lenexa
- Smoke on Wheels; Piper, Kan.
- Burnt at Both Endz; Freeman, Mo.
Cawby earned his barbecue chops by learning from one of the best, Ardie Davis, also known as Remus Powers.
“He’s become like the poet laureate of barbecue,” Cawby said. Davis is a pseudo-celebrity with a column in National Barbecue News and the Kansas City Bullsheet, the official newspaper of the KCBS.
In 2003, he was named a Kansas City Barbecue Legend by the Kansas City Star.
The two met while Cawby was in grad school and an intern with the Department of Aging.
Cawby walked into Davis’ office to see bottles of hot sauce and barbecue sauce from all over — an impressive collection.
“He invited me to the American Royal, where he was running the American Royal barbecue sauce contest,” he said.
Cawby, who said he grew up on barbecue, was hooked and went to the American Royal for three or four years, getting familiar with the contest and how it worked.
Since then, Cawby has earned the right to be a KCBS judge, and as a team competitor has won competitions that qualified him for national level with his brisket, chicken and more.
Having started sanctioned contests in Parsons and Osage City while working as a city administrator, Cawby said once he was hired in Osawatomie in 2011 city council members began talking about starting a contest here.
He said the fall date for the contest will be good for those cooking, since the summer months are jam-packed with contests and working outdoors in Midwest heat.
“I’ve cooked when it was 110-degrees in my tent,” he said. “I prefer it a little cooler.”