DALLAS – The barbecues may have been hot, but the competition was agreeable at the inaugural Smoke of the Dragon BBQ n’ Brew last weekend in Dallas City Park.
The barbecue contest hosted 17 teams in an event sanctioned by Kansas City Barbecue Society, but as one team described said, it was more like a gathering of friends.
“We tell everybody it’s like camping with friends every week,” said Cliff Heide of Cliff’s Smokin’ BBQ.
Cliff and his wife, Sharon, were at their fifth competition this year. On Friday, they day before the judges weighed each team’s entries. The atmosphere was relaxed and not nearly as crowded as the next day would be.
“This is beautiful,” Sharon said of Dallas City Park, where the teams set up their booths. Members of other teams stopped by to visit and talk about what they were offering
Cliff’s had pork street tacos, party wings with homemade sauce and bacon mac n’ cheese to give out as samples. People were showing up for the bacon mac, but Cliff kept suggesting another item on the menu.
“You got to try the pork street tacos,” he said to customers and fellow competitors.
None of the teams would have a problem selling food the next day.
Saturday, Smoke of the Dragon was so busy that the teams ran out of food, and organizers sold out of “BBQ Bucks,” used to purchase samples, at one point.
“We had a great turnout. More than I expected,” said Sheila Peirce, recreation and event coordinator for the city of Dallas, which hosted the event. “It went really super smooth, and all of the teams seemed to be super happy about selling out.
“There were lines waiting for food,” she said.
Smoke of the Dragon evolved from a local competition that was part of the Dallas’ July Fourth Freedomfest festival, now called Red, White, BOOM. Dallas teams Outcast Ministries and BBQ Bros attended Smoke of Dragon said it was a fun opportunity to face off with more experienced pit masters.
Moises Avilla of Outcast said his team has participated in the Freedomfest contests in the past, and consider themselves amateurs out to support their community.
“Jeff he’s a pork shoulder specialist. That’s what he likes doing. Bill likes doing ribs. I’ll do whatever. We combined on the chicken,” Avilla said. “The reality is we like to what we can do as best as we can. This year was a great learning year. For the first time our brisket was edible.”
“He’s being modest. It was really good,” Avilla’s wife chimed in.
“We had great improvement,” Avilla said, smiling.
He said the team has been invited to compete at contests in Coos Bay and Keizer, but they haven’t decided whether they will take their show on the road.
“We just do it for the love of it,” said team member Jeff Sygney. “We share with our families and close families.”
Dallas residents Ray Jones, Jared Cornman, and Jeremiah Beckert, known as BBQ Bros, also are barbecue hobbyists. The trio was successful at the Freedomfest contests.
“The last three years, we did really well when it was just a local competition, but it’s nice to play with the big boys,” Cornman said. “We sampled some of their stuff and it was really, really good. We think we did well.”
Beckert, called “The Sauce Whisperer” by his teammates, said the team prepares a game plan for each year and adjusts as needed once the weekend comes around.
“This guy (Cornman) is the master of presentation. These two have the knowledge of the barbecue. I’m just hired help,” Beckert joked. “I do the fire every now and then. They give me the easy jobs. I’ll do sauce and fire and cut stuff. They let me cut things, so it’s good.”
He said, no matter the outcome, the team had fun.
“It was a good day. We sold a lot of meat and a lot of sauce,” Beckert said.
Peirce said she has ideas for ways to improve the competition for next year – such as not opening the event to the public on competition day until the teams turn in their entries to the judges. That will give the teams an opportunity to concentrate on their entries before customers show up, she said.
Teams seemed pleased with the organization of first-year event, which was sponsored by Dallas' MAK Grills.
“All of the barbecuers seemed to have enjoyed coming here and they liked the atmosphere, so we’ve got a good shot of getting them back,” said AJ Foscoli,” Dallas’ economic development director, and also the emcee for the awards ceremony on Saturday.
Team Outcast and Team BBQ Bros said they enjoyed the competition and would return next year.
“For this one, yes,” said Avilla with a laugh.
Foscoli said Smoke of the Dragon could be considered a tourism event because the number of outside-of-the-area teams it brought in.
“I think explaining to the folks here and around us that this was a successful event for being a first year, it will definitely help us market it and get more people interested and involved,” he said.
At the end of the day Saturday, members of each team took lawn chairs to the judging tent to await announcement of the winners, including the grand champion, reserve champion and people’s choice.
Teams submitted four entries: pork, brisket, pork ribs and chicken. The top five teams in those categories were given awards and the combined scores were used to determine the overall winner and runner up.
The people’s choice was determined by a vote of customers. Hometown team BBQ Bros won that prize, and were all smiles when accepting the crowd favorite award.
Jones said the BBA Bros tent was buzzing most of Saturday.
“It was super busy today, a lot of people,” Jones said. “I think we sold out by 2 p.m., which is not a bad problem.”
The runner-up honors went to Bad Bones BBQ, which placed in three categories.
Smoke of the Dragon’s grand champion was Rush and Shari Hoag of Hoagie Smokes BBQ, out of Kennewick, Wash.
They have been competing since 2014, and do about 10 competitions a year. Rush said there were a lot of familiar teams at this event.
“There’s usually a pretty tight group in the top five and somebody comes out of the woodwork,” Rush said.
In Dallas, that team was Shari and Rush. They barely had a minute to sit down before getting up to receive another award. The team placed in every category, so it was no surprise when they were announced as the overall winner.
“You are only as good as your last cook,” Rush said. “You wait for your turn, and today was our turn. It was a good day.”
The winners are …
1. Backyard Boogie BBQ
2. Crooked Pigs
3. Smoke 324
4. Hoagie Smokes BBQ
5. Booties BBQ
1. Hoagie Smokes BBQ
2. Lake House BBQ
3. Piggy D’s
4. Bad Bones BBQ
5. Smoke 324
1. Hoagie Smokes BBQ
2. Booties BBQ
3. Bad Bones BBQ
4. Piggy D’s
5. Smoke 324
1. Bad Bones BBQ
2. Hoagie Smokes BBQ
3. Maddog’s BBQ
4. Piggy D’s
5. Booties BBQ
Bad Bones BBQ
Hoagie Smokes BBQ