After a three-year hiatus, the Hope town Square is set to host the delicious return of all things BBQ with the 11th Annual Smoke on the Square BBQ Competition benefiting the Community Center of Hope beginning at 4 p.m. Friday.

“It is back to normal this year,” says Jeff Yarnell, promoter for Smoke on the Square. “Last year was drive-thru only, so this year we are hoping to be back on track to a normal Smoke on the Square.”

The competition is open to all levels of BBQ competitors, says Chelsea Warriner, executive director of the Community Center of Hope. All proceeds from the event will benefit the Community Center of Hope and the Hope Food Pantry it operates, Warriner says, as well as supplementing the tremendous programs the center offers for children ages six weeks through sixth grade, including its Infant/Toddler program, preschool, before/after school programs, and summer camp.

Historically, the event consistently attracts upwards of 2,000 people and raises an average of $7,000 for the Center, Yarnell and Warriner say.

“It’s our main fundraising source for the Community Center of Hope,” Yarnell says. “It is the one we really count on, so we are hoping to get it back on track. It will be a stepping stone.”

As teams begin setting up Friday afternoon on roads that line the inside of the Square, the first of the event’s vendors will likewise be setting up their wares in the grassy area of the inside of the Square, Warriner says. This year, visitors can shop a variety of booths offering unique items, including cutlery, personalized items and Mary Kay.

For Warriner, there isn’t just one thing that makes this event special. It is everything.

“I would say I love everything about Smoke on the Square,” Warriner says. “I love the competition and the teams make it really special because they enjoy coming back each year. Even the new teams I think they have fun and are trying to figure out what the competition really looks like.”

Beginning around 5:30 p.m. the Burma Shavers will take the stage offering a rockin’ soundtrack for the evening up through the 8 o’clock hour as the event winds down. Saturday morning events kick off at 10 a.m. as the pit masters arrive for the final day of competition.

“Saturday there’s going to be bounce houses and an obstacle course for the kids,” Warriner says. “There’s going to be some game trailers and a face painter.”

That evening the Dallas Cole Band returns to Hope to perform on the Square at 3 p.m., Warriner says.

“The Kappa Kappa Sigma Sorority will be offering funnel cakes for $5 each,” Warriner says.

This year, BBQ teams will pay a $60 entry fee, unless they want to add a dessert and/or sauce at $5 each, in which case the max entry fee is $70. Sign-ups are open now through Friday morning, Warriner says.

“Our capacity is 25 to 30 teams due to space on the Square,” Warriner adds. “I think we are still just kind of trying to get into the swing of things. Expectations are kind of low right now just because it has been three years since we’ve had the normal event.”

Although the team count right now is a bit lower than it normally is at this time, Warriner says that it seems, overall, people are trying to get into the swing of things again and some people are still cautious about coming out of the pandemic.

A select panel of judges, including one Kansas City Barbeque Society certified member and local celebrities, will judge competitors in the categories of brisket, pork ribs, pulled pork and chicken.

Cash prizes are $200 for first place, $150 for second place and $75 for third, Warriner says.

Yarnell adds there will also be a slight bonus offered for Grand Champion and Reserve Grand Champion.

For those who are seeking the secret to the best BBQ, Yarnell says the past 11 years have taught him a couple of things.

First off, it may sound odd, but Yarnell cautions against listening to family.

“Everyone I’ve run into in the last 11 years always says, ‘Man, my family just loves my BBQ,’” he says. “But you always have to cook for the judges, so if I am doing a backyard event that has local radio personalities and maybe basketball coaches as judges, I am cooking completely different than if I am cooking for our competition because we have KCBS certified judges that lead each table and these are fully trained judges. You have to cook for the type of judges at the event.”

When cooking for judges like those that will be present this weekend, you must put a lot of thought into the texture of the meat, the presentation of the box, and maybe cut back on the sweet a bit and give it a little sass or zing to it, Yarnell cautions.

“The judges love that when it isn’t all about the sweet,” he says. “They want the meat showcased. You have to be careful about how much you do and how little you do also.”

In addition to naming the top three competitors, who will receive trophies, cash awards and coveted bragging rights, contestants are also eligible to enter the People’s Choice Competition, which will determine the winner by public vote.

“We are excited to get back out, have a normal competition and build back up again,” Warriner says.

Looking ahead, Yarnell cautions that there is a chance Saturday will be until sellout only, so it is probably a good idea to come early.

“The event just serves a wonderful cause,” Yarnell says. “The community center does great things. Our child care programs have gotten better over the past couple of years we are certified higher than we were when it comes to Paths to Equality. We keep trying to move forward and financially we are unable to do that without fundraising, so it is just important to support these events if you want to see the Community Center continue to thrive.”