ENID, Okla. —
By the time judging started at noon Saturday, Merle Grauer knew he had a winning barbecue combination.
His team, Whiskey Pit BBQ, took home the grand champion trophy at Roberts Ranch Smokin’ Red Dirt Barbeque competition.
“We were real happy today,” he said, clutching the trophy in his hands after the competition.
Grauer ended up with a solid lead over reserve grand champions Smokeaholics, despite not winning a single category. Consistency is the key, he said.
Whiskey Pit BBQ did manage to amass enough points with their pork, brisket and chicken entries to take the top spot.
“We were nervous about our ribs, and our ribs finished 13th,” he said with a grin. “I think we’d probably say 13th is real fair.”
Along with his trophy, Grauer and his family filled team from Salina, Kan., got a $2,000 prize and an automatic berth to the American Royal competition in Kansas City, the world’s largest barbecue contest. He also won bragging rights over his friends at Smokeaholics, who made a bet on the outcome the night before.
This was the ninth year for Enid’s barbecue competition, and it’s grown significantly. During the awards ceremony, organizer Lynne Benkendorf of Eagle Marketing told the crowd that a luncheon sponsored by Enid Noon AMBUCS had grown from a small crowd of 200 to a couple of thousand.
“We anticipate that they will make over $21,000 from today’s event,” she said.
Those proceeds will go toward the organization’s Miracle League and AmTrykes for the disabled.
The Little Miss Red Dirt Girls pageant Thursday raised more than $8,000 for Enid’s March of Dimes, and a youth art competition sponsored by Pioneer Cellular raised $4,000 for area youth art departments, she said. In all, more than $30,000 went back to the local community.
Second-place overall winners Smokeaholics, from Hays, Kan., also won best chicken and ribs.
“I knew we did a good product but I didn’t think it was that good. We’ve done a lot better,” Troy Burkhart said. “This was the first competition of the year for us, so it was pretty sweet, honestly. We knew the chicken was good and we knew the ribs were decent. They carried us.”
Burkhart attends about a dozen competitions throughout the year, which pales in comparison to Grauer’s team. In 2013, he crisscrossed the country for 38 barbecue events. By the end, he said, it had turned into more of a job that wasn’t too satisfying. He eventually skipped out on two December competitions in the Sunshine State.
“I already had three 18-hour trips under my belt, so I was like, I’m not doing Florida. It ain’t gonna happen,” he said.
This was the sixth year in professional barbecue competition, and the fourth year as head cook. Grauer even has sponsors — Gateway BBQ Store and Oakridge BBQ Rubs.
“And trust your butcher,” he said.
The event this weekend was sanctioned and judged by the Kansas City Barbeque Society. KCBS representative Ralph Williams said the hardest part is getting enough judges to show up. This year, there were 77 — more than enough.
“We’ve got a full complement of judges today, which is really good,” he said.
The boxes of meat were marked only with numbers and unidentifiable by the judges. As each team turned in their entries, the boxes were taken upstairs at Enid Convention Hall. Judges first scored on appearance, then on taste and tenderness.
Sometimes, the appearance and taste don’t match.
“You can look in a box and it’s beautiful but it tastes like crap. Or it can look like crap and taste wonderful,” Williams said. “You can look at a beautiful Corvette, but if you can’t get in and out of it it’s a terrible car. Same here. We get that a lot.”
There are “perfect” scores in judging, and one team in the dessert category, Naughty Nurses,” scored a 180 – the highest possible score and the only one for the day.
People’s Choice champion was Purple Voodoo of Enid and the Pelagic Tank KidsQ competition had first-place winners for ages 10-and-under and 11 to 15 years old.
In the younger category, the winner was Gray Beard Babies. Iron Wheel Cookers won first place in the older kids’ category.
The first-place pork winner was Smokin’ Hot J’s and best brisket went to Bubba-Q’s.