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Smoke Signals: Competition takes a back seat

Call it the other Fall Classic. Competitive barbecue is nearing the end of its spring-to-autumn season.

In that world, few contests are as prestigious as the annual American Royal in Kansas City, which hosts many of the best teams from around the country in an Invitational and an Open. The 31st annual Royal was held the weekend of Oct. 2 and 3, and while Washington-area teams didn’t exactly smoke the competition, one team did create a buzz off the field.

In the days leading up to the contest, DC’s Pork Barrel BBQ team, which competed in the Open, partnered with a Kansas City team called Pellet Envy to raise funds to finish out a patio for the USO at Fort Riley, Kan., home to some 18,000 soldiers from the First Infantry Division.

Money for a fenced outdoor space with grills and chairs dried up after the USO began remodeling a facility that ended up requiring $31,000 for a fire alarm system – far more than budgeted. Money was diverted from the planned completion of the outdoor space to help pay for the alarm system.

Pork Barrel learned about the situation from Rod Gray, the leader of Pellet Envy, which in 2009 was named Kansas City Barbecue Society’s team of the year. The title is achieved by winning the most points in competitions across the country. As in any sport, it is tough to defend a championship. And Pellet Envy is in a fierce battle against a team called QUAU for this year’s crown. The winner will be announced later this month.

On Thursday, Oct. 7, Pellet Envy and Pork Barrel gave the Fort Riley USO a new Horizon Classic smoker and a check for $6,072 raised primarily from teams on the barbecue circuit. The same day, the two teams set aside their competitive instincts and cooked barbecue together for 250 Fort Riley families.

“Our job is to make a home away from home" for soldiers, said Fort Riley USO Center director April Blackmon, adding that the renovation included building a computer lab, 10-seat movie theater, video game area and fireplaces. “What they’re doing will really help.”

Blackmon said they expect to have the patio completed by next spring.

-- Jim Shahin
(Follow me on Twitter.)

By Jim Shahin  | October 12, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Smoke Signals  | Tags:  Jim Shahin, barbecue  
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