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Communities Benefit from BBQ Contests

September 9, 2008
The tiny village of Arthur, Illinois, is 30 miles from the nearest city of any size in any direction you go. The “downtown” area is two blocks long and the town lacks any chain stores with the exception of the gas stations.

And yet, the community draws a big crowd every October for the CIBR-BBQ (Central Illinois Bragging Rights), whose sole purpose is to promote the town, which sits in the middle of Amish country.

Organizer George Fritz estimates the contest brings 45 competition teams and more than 5,000 visitors to Arthur, population 2,000, every year. And that’s the goal. “Our grocery store directly benefits from the competition teams,” said Fritz. “Bars and restaurants directly benefit; our retailers and hardware store benefits. Our businesses and village staff understand the value of visitors.”

Barbecue contests are become big drawing cards for communities and civic groups across the country that want to draw attention to their towns or raise money for charity. A study conducted by the University of Missouri-Columbia estimates that the average out-of-state family attending a contest in Missouri spends approximately $340 per trip. Considering the number of cooking teams and judges who attend contests in Missouri alone, the study estimated the economic impact to the state from out-of-state visitors was $488,520 a year, including spending $175,070 on hotels, $75,030 on food in restaurants, and $50,020 on other items.

In South Carolina, the tradition of pairing barbecue and “Black Kettle Hash” with family gatherings, political rallies, and church fundraisers is deeply imbedded in the state’s roots. Eight years ago, the Uptown Greenwood Development Corporation began the Festival of Discovery to promote the downtown Greenwood business district. Last July, the festival welcomed more than 60 professional and amateur teams from seven states and approximately 15,000 visitors who not only enjoyed the contest, but Blues performances, amusement rides, and arts and crafts vendors. The development corporation estimates the event brought more than $315,000 to the central South Carolina community.

The Festival of Discovery also strengthens the bond between barbecue competitors and the general public with a Taster’s Choice sampling in which the general public can buy $1 tickets, sample championship barbecue, and vote for their favorites. “It provides a great link between the public and the barbecue teams,” said organizer Charlie Barrineau. “And the teams can keep the profit to help cover their expenses.”

The contests in Arthur and Greenwood don’t make a profit and aren’t meant to achieve that. In both cases, the contests serve to promote the community and revenues are plowed back into the next year’s contest. But in Durango, Colorado, a yearly barbecue contest hosted by the Kiwanis Club is all about making money for local charities.

The Smokin’ 4th BBQ Shootout is held every Independence Day. The Kiwanis Club had hosted July 4 activities for two years before adding the contest. “Our event was lacking something and it seemed like a cook-off would bring up the level of excitement,” said organizer Mark Simon. “Did it ever! We went from having about 350-450 people attend our event to 3,000-5,000 attending.”

The Smokin’ 4th BBQ Shootout has been financially successful from its first year. Simon said the club is careful to stay within the contest budget. This year, the contest plans to donate more than $5,000 to the Boys & Girls Club of La Plata County.

The family-friendly aspect of the contests is often enhanced with activities for children, which can range from face-painting and games to Kids’ Q competitions to full-blown fairs. In Lebanon, Tennessee, the Amazin’ Blazin’ BBQ Cook-Off is held in conjunction with the Wilson County Fair, which attracts well over 200,000 visitors a year.

Growing the sport through kids’ competitions is becoming a popular part of many barbecue contests. Often, a sponsor will donate grills for the kids to use that they can then take home and continue enjoying. While KCBS rules are in effect, the categories kids cook are generally chicken or hamburgers and always under adult supervision. The young competitors take the challenge seriously. At the Bloomin’ Barbeque & Bluegrass Festival in Sevierville, Tennessee, in May, one young man reverently approached a contest representative and asked if it was against the rules for him to take off his apron and go play. The rep, Phillip Brazier, seriously considered the question and ruled that play time was not against KCBS rules.

Volunteers are usually easy to come by – the promise of getting to sample world-class barbecue is a big incentive. Contests run by communities or government entities can draw on staff for volunteers. Civic groups supply volunteers through their memberships.

For most organizers, the thrill of running a barbecue contest is a mixture of the love of the sport and the benefits it brings to their communities. “What better way to bring economic development and visitors into the downtown than providing them with the rich smell and taste of barbecue,” said Barrineau.

In Arthur, Illinois, promoting the sport means serving the public barbecue and barbecue only. “We promote coming to eat barbecue,” said Fritz. “No corn dogs – just barbecue!”

The evidence is clear. Any civic or nonprofit group that is considering looking for a fundraiser, or “fun-raiser”, should sink their teeth into a possible barbeque competition. With the help of the KCBS office and its society of 10,000+ “official” fans, there’s plenty of guidance and advice to help make any event a true success.

For more information about starting and sanctioning a contest, contact KCBS at 800-963-5227, or send an email to info@kcbs.us.

(((Special thanks to Catherine Mayhew for researching and writing this article for KCBS.)))
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