“Third place goes to Meat Mitch, second to Dr. Nordy’s and the award for Best Barbecue Sauce goes to Smokin’ Hoggz.”
The American Royal is one of the largest corporations in America centered around all things “country.” Each year, they host livestock auctions, animal competitions, a rodeo and, of course, the American Royal Barbecue.
The Barbecue has been the world’s largest barbecue for several years now. It is, and has always been, centered at the home of the American Royal, Kemper Arena. With such a large field of competitors that is ever growing, the Royal was forced to make changes to both expand and enhance the barbecue experience.
Some changes the Royal is making this year include moving locations from Kemper Arena to Arrowhead Stadium, hiring Big and Rich to play live at the barbecue and increasing the number of teams from 550 to a little over 600.
Mitch Benjamin, father of sophomore Will Benjamin, and his team, Meat Mitch, have been competing for going on twelve years now and have made a tradition out of it. The team begins their set up on Wednesday as the fences and tents are being set up and continues this on Thursday.
Each year the Barbecue hosts a large party Friday night where all the teams get together, listen to some country music and hang out with not only their team but other competitors as well. Then the contestants head down Saturday morning and start smoking up their meat. Will, along with members of Meat Mitch, create some of the best barbecue to enter the competition each year.
The American Royal Barbecue decided that with the additional 70 teams, a larger venue was needed.
“We had heard a lot of complaints about how cramped it was on the grilling floor and with the addition of 70 or so teams this year we figured it we needed to expand,” Manager of the American Royal Barbecue Kim Palmer said. “We looked at our options and decided that Arrowhead Stadium would be a perfect fit.”
Changing the venue was a big decision and thus made big waves in the barbecue community. People sent in their thoughts to the Board of Directors, both good and bad.
“I am a big fan of the move to Arrowhead.” Mitch said. “It enables the event to grow, provides easier access to get in and out of the venue and brings an entire new level of excitement and focus to the event.
Meat Mitch is expected to do very well at the competition on Oct. 3. Best known for their chicken, Meat Mitch has also been working on their BBQ sauce, which has been moving up in the rankings.
“They usually place in the top five for their chicken each year,” Will said, “and last year their sauce took home 3rd out of the 500-ish teams, which is pretty impressive.”
Meat Mitch’s fate, along with the other 600 competitors, comes down to the judges, which is where senior Hannah Ream comes in. This will be Ream’s second year as a judge along with her dad, uncle and grandpa judging as well.
“I grew up going to the Barbeque with my family and watched them judge some of the best BBQ in America, counting down the days till my 16th birthday when I could join them,” Ream said. “I signed up last year and took a class. This will be my second year as a judge and I am so excited.”
The judging aspect of the barbeque is taken very seriously. The judges are required to take a six hour course as part of their initiation and must follow strict rules.
“We all lineup at the beginning of the day and file into [Arrowhead Club Level], where we sit down on a bunch of long tables and wait,” Ream said. “They separate us from our family, so we don’t share our thoughts and if we talk to another judge we are asked to leave the floor.”
The barbeque is split into five categories: chicken, pork, beef, ribs and sauce. Each judge is responsible for grading at least part of every category. The food is brought to the judges in a white styrofoam container with no name or markings on it at all.
“They don’t put any names on the containers so that the judges can’t play favorites,” Ream said. “We are given five-ish containers, eat a part of each of them and then grade them. We do this for each category.”
At the end of the day Saturday, the results are calculated and the leaders are announced at a big party.
“Saturday night we host a big party at Arrowhead for all the teams. There are fireworks and a band, Big and Rich this year, plays and we induct six new people into the American Royal Barbecue Hall of Fame,” Palmer said. “It’s a great, loud, fun way to end the weekend and make sure everyone is excited to come back and compete the following year.”