May 10, 2023 at 7:25 a.m.

Competing for Cash Prizes and Bragging Rights: 12th Annual Smoke on the Square Returns this Weekend

By JENN WILLHITE | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

The delicious scent of slow-cooked BBQ will fill the air this weekend as nearly one dozen BBQ pitmasters gather for the 12th Annual Smoke on the Square BBQ cook off competition from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to sell out Saturday on the Hope Town Square in downtown Hope -- all benefiting the Community Center of Hope.

Up for grabs are cash prizes, trophies and, of course, pitmaster bragging rights from one of the most popular BBQ competitions in the region. 

Organizer Jeff Yarnell says there are still spots available for those who may decide last minute to jump into the competition. Information and registration forms are available HERE.

“They can do the day of,” he says. “They just don’t get the benefits of everything. It is a $60 entry fee. If you want to do BBQ sauce and dessert, then it will be $70.”

The competition is open to competitors of all skill levels, Yarnell says, and will be judged by certified judges with the Kansas City Barbeque Society and other trained judges who will determine winners in the categories of chicken, pork ribs, pulled pork, brisket, dessert and sauce.

Prizes for each category are as follows: 1st Place - $200 plus trophy; 2nd Place - $150 plus trophy; 3rd Place - $75 plus trophy; 1st Place Dessert - $50 plus trophy; 1st Place BBQ Sauce - $50 plus trophy; 4th through 10th Places – ribbon. And, of course, both Grand Champion and Reserve Grand Champion will each receive a trophy.

“If they want to compete for Grand Champion and Reserve Grand Champion, they have to do all categories,” Yarnell says. “They don’t have to do dessert and BBQ sauce to be eligible for grand and reserve, they just have to do all the meat.”

Sponsored, in part, by First Financial Bank and Crystal Anderson Dean Wagner Realtors, the two-day event will feature performances by Hope’s own Night Owl Country Band who will headline at 5 p.m. Friday and the Berma Shavers and Southern Rhythm performing Saturday.

“We are excited about playing Hope again,” says Matt Lee, lead singer of the Night Owl Country Band.

Fans can look forward to a great mix of outlaw country favorites alongside some not-so-outlaw tunes Lee says, including “Goo Goo Muck” by The Cramps from Netflix’s hit series Wednesday.

David Bradford, owner of Dangerous Dave’s BBQ, has participated in the competition since it began and says he is hoping to land the grand champion title this year making it the fourth time he’s received the honor.

Bradford’s journey in the world of BBQ began 15 years ago when his brother-in-law wanted to roast a hog, Bradford says. Bradford got the cooker; his brother-in-law got the hog.

“We spent all night one October doing it,” Bradford recalls. “We broke three couplings on the cooker, burnt up the motor and had to finish it on the shaft of a motor from a fan for a furnace. We got it done, it was fun, and I had a blast.”

As they say, the rest is history.

The Bedford resident admits he’s spent a lot of money buying meet and experimenting with cooking to see what it’s like. Bradford says constant variables – such as weather and temperature – are always at play. However, if there is one lesson he’s learned, it is that he prefers a stick burner smoker over a pellet one, he says.   

For those who are just now venturing into the wonderful world of BBQ, Bradford advises that they always cook meat to temperature.

“Don’t worry about time,” he says. “A lot [of people] think they are going to cook for eight hours and will pull their meat and it won’t be done. Keep a sharp eye on temperature.”

Greg Lane, owner of Huey's BBQ, describes his journey to pitmaster as an odd thing.

When a buddy asked Lane to join him in a BBQ competition in Bedford nearly a decade ago, Lane was all about competing, but chose to go it alone. He’s not looked back.

To get the best tasting BBQ, cook what you like, he says. If you like it, most others will, too.

“If you buy a smoker, understand it is going to take time,” Lane says. “A pork butt for pulled pork will cook for anywhere from five to seven hours. And if you buy a big 15- to 20-pound brisket, you are looking at longer times. It is not a hurried process.”

To manage temperature in his own smoker, Lane went high-tech.

He purchased a Bluetooth camera the size of a matchbox to place on the external temperature thermometer of the smoker and hook to his phone. Watching and maintaining the correct temperature is key, he says.

“I have to be close [to the cooker],” Lane says. “You can’t get too far away because you are always having to add fuel to the fire – be it firewood, charcoal or whatever it may be.”

For those entertaining buying a smoker, Lane recommends starting small.

You don’t have to buy these big $10,000 or $20,000 smokers, he says. Lane’s first smoker was homemade from a 250-gallon fuel oil barrel.

“What an aspiring pitmaster needs to learn is temperature control of whatever he is cooking with,” he says. “A consistent, constant temperature for the entire cook makes the best BBQ. Go by internal temperature.”

Of course, a good thermometer is a must, he adds.

As it gets closer to crunch time, the pitmasters are excited for the competition and preparing their best BBQ yet, they say.

“I hope we can make a decent showing,” Lane says. “I won it a few times; I’ve not won a few times. But just having your name called at Hope is an accomplishment because it pulls in the best in the business.”

For more information and updates, stay in touch with Smoke on the Square via Facebook HERE.