The Ground Work series shares the perspectives of U.S. soybean farmers as they observe how the U.S. Soy industry lays the groundwork to grow innovative, reliable and sustainable solutions for people and communities around the world.
Some of my best memories involve my dad grilling for our family on a little charcoal grill. Barbecue is more than just tasty meat with flavorful sauce. It is a social experience, part of American culture.
I got a big taste of that culture when I judged for the 20th annual Plant City Pig Jam. This barbecue festival and competition was held in Plant City, Florida, about 62 miles or 100 kilometers southwest of Orlando, on November 17 and 18, 2023.
I am a recently certified judge for barbecue competitions sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society, an international, non-profit competitive cooking organization dedicated to — you guessed it — barbecue. The membership includes many of the top cooks and pitmasters in the world.
I completed an official certification training for the organization earlier this year, and I savored my first chance to judge the taste, presentation and tenderness of chicken, pork, pork ribs and beef brisket barbecue. Delicious!
Barbecue judging fits with my real job. I farm full-time with my husband Patrick and our son Ben near Salem, South Dakota, a small town about 1,675 miles or 2,700 kilometers from Plant City, Florida. We grow soybeans and corn in the northern U.S. Midwest. In the past, we have raised beef cattle, and even further in the past, we raised pigs.
But today, I like the fact that we raise protein for the protein the competitive barbecuers cook. Farm animals like chickens and pigs represent the No. 1 consumers of U.S. Soy. The quality of their feed translates to the quality of meat available to barbecue.
Our soybeans get crushed, separating their protein and oil components. The protein becomes soybean meal, a key ingredient in feed for chickens, fish, pigs, turkeys and even cattle. That soybean meal provides essential amino acids that help animals thrive.
But that’s not the only way U.S. Soy supports barbecue. Many barbecue eaters don’t realize that oil is an important ingredient in barbecue sauces.
The ingredient listed as “vegetable oil” on the label is often soybean oil. Soybean oil is neutral, meaning it carries no flavor of its own. That means it allows the spices used to create the desired barbecue flavor to come through more clearly. The oil helps mix sauce ingredients together and give it a smooth texture. Plus, soybean oil contains Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids and carries a heart healthy designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.1
With such integral ties between U.S. Soy and barbecue, the soybean checkoff is partnering with the Kansas City Barbecue Society at 10 competitions, including the Plant City Pig Jam. The three teams with the top overall scores for chicken, pork and pork ribs from those events will win U.S. Soy Best in Show awards for their barbecue. It’s a great way to promote our top customers. I proudly represented the soy checkoff and U.S. soybean farmers at this event.
While judging the competition, I got a glimpse of how widespread barbecue culture reaches today. Two of the judges at the table with me came from Europe, and they chose to spend part of their time in Florida and the U.S. volunteering at this event.
I learned just how seriously both professional and backyard barbecuers take their work, and I gladly tasted their skill. They account for every possible factor as they smoke or grill their meat and season it with their secret barbecue recipe. As I visited with pitmasters, they talked about cooking with their family, making memories and sharing in the work and the reward of barbecuing.
Those pitmasters and I have a lot in common. My farm family takes our work growing crops seriously, and we account for as many factors as possible as we care for our soils and crops. We work together every day, sharing the work and reward of raising soybeans and other crops.
The whole experience confirmed to me that farming and barbecue judging fit together perfectly. I look forward to my next chance to judge.
And, I recommend enjoying your favorite barbecue, courtesy of both the cook and U.S. Soy farmers like me.
1 Soybean Oil, SNI Global, accessed November 2023.