Smoke marks the spot at barbecue comps

Joseph L. Murphy

Joseph L. Murphy

Light Shaping Photography & Communications

I’m sure you’ve heard the famous saying X marks the spot. That may be true for some things but in the world of competitive barbecuing, it’s all about the smoke. Welcome to the Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS), where the best in grilling gather.

Last year, thousands of people enjoyed KCBS events like the 20th annual Pig Jam in Plant City, Florida, and the KCBS World Invitational Championship in Kansas. The events hosted pro and backyard teams from the Midwest and Florida, competing for cash and prizes. The weekend events featured delicious food, live entertainment, and, of course, barbecue!

Sara Stelter, a farmer leader and judge from Wautoma, Wisconsin, checks the progress of a competition team during the KCBS World Invitational Championship in Mayetta, Kansas last year.

Established in 1986, the KCBS has become synonymous with excellence, attracting grill masters and fans from around the globe.

“What keeps me excited about it is the sense of family; it’s that these people are doing something that they love to do,” says Carolyn Wells, co-founder of KCBS. “They’re always competing against themselves for that perfect day. They won’t give you their top secrets because they will have to kill you, but they are wonderful people.”

Carolyn Wells, co-founder of KCBS, counts down the deadline for entries into the Plant City Pig Jam last year.

Regarding barbecue, Kansas City has long been recognized as a mecca for flavor and technique. The KCBS competitions showcase grilling skills, from perfectly cooked ribs to succulent briskets and everything in between. Grill enthusiasts invest countless hours mastering their craft, honing their rub recipes, and perfecting their techniques to stand out among the elite.

What sets KCBS competitions apart is the uncompromising commitment to quality and authenticity. KCBS provides the benchmark against which all others are measured. Grill masters compete to win the hearts and taste buds of the judges, who are well-versed in the art of barbecue.

KCBS competitions are also celebrations of friendships and community. Pitmasters gather around their smoking grills, swapping stories and sharing their love for the grill and the tasty protein powered by U.S. Soy.

Building on a soy foundation

The partnership between U.S. Soy and KCBS is about promoting U.S. Soy as a superior ingredient and supporting the barbecue community as a whole. In 2023, U.S. Soy sponsored the U.S. Soy Combine Award. The award is a first-of-its-kind contest series that featured the new “Best in Show” award at ten events across the U.S., accounting for the highest combined scoring across pork, chicken, and ribs – all soy-fed proteins.

Brent Rendel, a soybean farmer from Miami, Oklahoma, and a United Soybean Board director, helped judge the KCBS World Invitational Championship in Mayetta, Kansas last year.

“Barbeque is an important part of American culture,” Rendel says. And it wouldn’t be possible without the farmers who sustainably grow the food that feeds the meat we eat. In fact, 97% of all U.S. soybean meal is used in animal feed to provide vital nutrition for chicken, pigs and other livestock.”

Soy is an exciting, complete, versatile, and tasty ingredient that can perform on the plate in several different ways:

  • Soybean oil for cooking: Typically labeled as “vegetable oil”, soybean oil can be easily added to dishes that may boost heart health. It has a neutral flavor, making it perfect for many uses from frying and baking to marinades and dressings. With its unsaturated fat profile, U.S. soybean oil support heart, bone and skin health.
  • Side dishes: Soy can also show up as a side in so many ways. It can be used in the mayo for coleslaw or potato salad, or as healthier oil and milk option in corn bread and muffins.

U.S. Soy believes in the importance of sustainable farming practices and positive environmental impacts. Soy is all around us, showing up as a sustainable, alternative ingredient in bio-based and disposable plates, utensils and napkins made from plant-based materials like soybean oil. Through their partnership with KCBS, U.S. Soy can contribute to the growth and success of the barbecue industry while promoting sustainable agriculture.

“I think it’s a really fun partnership,” Rod Gray, the CEO of KCBS, says. “What’s cool about it is that chickens and pigs are the number one consumer of soybeans, and chicken, pork, and beef are the proteins we work with. Why wouldn’t we have a partnership.”

It’s not just the fantastic food and spirited competitors that make KCBS competitions exceptional; it’s the dedication to authenticity and tradition. The judges evaluate the competitors on multiple aspects, including appearance, taste, and tenderness. But they also value the heritage and history of barbecue, as it is the bedrock upon which the competition stands.

“Like everybody else, it starts with the food,” Randy Todd, a judge and the current treasurer of KCBS,” says. “We all love barbecue. But then, as you develop friends, they become family, and then it becomes a barbecue family. So, you stay in it for the people and the relationships that you make. That’s what keeps you coming back. But we all share a common love for barbecue.”

Contestants prepare for competition at the KCBS World Invitational Championship in Mayetta, Kansas last year.

KCBS competitions are not limited to professionals; they welcome backyard grillers, too. The opportunity to cook with pros in these events attracts both experienced pitmasters and newcomers alike. The competitions serve as a platform for barbecue enthusiasts to learn from the best, share their techniques, and ultimately enjoy the camaraderie of being part of the KCBS community.

KCBS members are intense about their craft, but there’s also a lively sense of fun. As you stroll down lanes filled with smoke, fun team names will surely strike your eye. Names like Smoke Me Silly, Cool Guys with Hot Grills, 2 Live Que, and Swine’ N’ Roses BBQ signal that these folks are ready for a laugh alongside the intense competition.

If you happen to attend a KCBS competition in 2024, prepare to have all your senses tantalized. The sight of perfectly charred ribs, sizzling meat, and the mouthwatering aroma of rubs will pull you in. The experience is a feast for the senses that sticks with you long after the embers have cooled.

Kansas City Barbecue Society competitions are the ultimate stage where the grill masters shine. They showcase the heritage, skill, and soul that go into creating outstanding barbecue. Whether you are a seasoned pit master or an eager novice, these events offer an unparalleled opportunity to experience the best grilling. So, bring your appetite, passion, and love for barbecue and join the smokey spectacle that is KCBS.

“They love food, each other, and the events,” Wells says. “It’s just our way of being kids again.”