South Oldham Lion’s Club
State BBQ Contest & Bluegrass Festival

Pro cooks to vie for grilling title
at third annual event

Locals are getting into the barbecue fun

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

LA GRANGE, Ky. (August 2005) – Wendell Thomas thinks it’s great to have a sanctioned barbecue event close to his Smithfield, Ky., home. Thomas is a professional barbecue competitor who knows his sauces, rubs and temperature techniques.

August 2005 KY Cover

August 2005
KY Edition Cover

Since 1998, Thomas and his wife, Ernestine, have tried their hand at competitive cooking all around the mid-South. They have traveled the Kansas City Barbeque Society circuit, visiting Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas and Illinois. The society is one of two major sanctioning bodies in the country that sponsors national competitions and certifies its judges for holding such events, with a winner from each participating state advancing to the finals in the fall in Kansas City.
“My wife and I are retired and took up barbecuing as a hobby,” said Thomas. The team plans to compete in the third annual South Oldham Lion’s Club Barbecue Festival. This year’s event has moved to the Oldham County Fairgrounds on Hwy. 146 in La Grange, and is scheduled for Aug. 12-13.
The Thomases entered last year’s competition, then held at the Belknap Community Center in Prospect, and want to return because they enjoy the atmosphere of the contest. “I always want to share my product with the community I live in,” said Thomas.
For a long time, Thomas has thought that a KCBS-sanctioned event should be held in Kentucky. He has tried to establish one in Bardstown, but it was tied in with the Bourbon Festival and only held for one year.
“I got a call from Tom Temple to put one together in Oldham County,” said Thomas.
The Thomases were one of the first competing teams in the Madison Ribberfest, a KCBS-sanctioned event that takes place in mid-August and now entering its fourth year. He has participated every year since in what he labeled, “a great summertime activity.”
The husband-and-wife team travel 300 to 500 miles a month on the barbecue circuit. While on the road, they try to advertise the Oldham County event, hoping to draw more competitors to the event and “get the word out,” he said.
A competition is “such an opportunity for the community,” said Thomas. When 50,000 to 60,000 people attend a competition, “I know it helps the local economy,” he said.
In addition to providing a financial boost, the local community will benefit from doing a good deed as well, he said. All proceeds from this year’s Oldham County event will be donated to the Dream Factory, an organization that benefits children with critical or chronic illnesses.

Wendell Thomas

Photo by Helen E. McKinney

Wendell Thomas of Smithfield, Ky.,
will bring his Falls City Smokers barbecue
grilling team to La Grange to compete for
the Kentucky state cookoff title.

The local chapter of the Lion’s Club saw this as a way to reach out to the community, said Temple. Temple is credited with beginning the festival two years ago after watching just such an event on cable TV’s Discovery Channel. He thought a barbecue festival would be a great fund raiser for the Lion’s Club, knowing proceeds would be put back into the community.
Temple was instrumental in bringing a sanctioned championship to Oldham County, said Lion’s Club member Larry McCarson. McCarson saw this as a way to draw attention to the club and as a way the club could identify with the community while providing a service at the same time.
McCarson said that earlier this year he saw an interest among locals in the idea of barbecue coming into Kentucky once word was out about the competition.
“Cook-off contests like this are not well known in this area,” said McCarson. But, “It’s almost a way of life elsewhere.”
McCarson said he hopes the Oldham County event will change the mindset of people and encourage others to help the event grow. It is a family friendly event, with other scheduled activities that include a kid’s carnival, face painting, clowns, a maze, arts and crafts booths, and bluegrass music provided by two bands – Kentucky Blue and Hog Operation.
A new amateur contest added this year is a children’s contest. This is an opportunity for children ages 10-under and ages 11-15 to participate in the preparation, cooking and presentation of barbecue chicken or ribs. A parent or supervising adult must be with the child during the cooking process. Awards will be presented, and special needs children are permitted to enter, said McCarson.
Many volunteers are needed to put on the event. “It provides an opportunity to fill a need,” said McCarson.

Schedule of Events
Friday, Aug. 12
5-10 p.m.

• Amateurs will cook and be judged at 7 p.m.
• Kid’s carnival and food will be available.
• “Kentucky Blue” performs from 7:30-10 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 13
11 a.m. - 8 p.m.

• Professionals will cook and be judged from 1-3 p.m.
• Kid’s activities all day long and concessions.
• “Hog Operation” performs from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
• A live bluegrass jam session is from 5-8 p.m.

• Admission to the festival is free;
however parking is $3 per carload.
• Information: Call Oldham County Tourism Director
Diana Polsgrove at (502) 243-9884 or
Lion’s Club member Tom Temple at (502) 241-4912.

Lion’s Club members decided to move this year’s event to the fairgrounds, McCarson said, because it is a “more adaptable facility and closer to the center of Oldham County.”
The amateur portion of the contest will be held Friday. Judging for the adult contest is announced at 7 p.m. Friday and at 7:30 p.m. for the amateur children’s contest. One amateur from last year told Temple that he enjoyed the event so much that he would enter the professional contest this year.
The professional barbecuers will be judged from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. This is a blind judging by certified judges, so that they have no idea whose barbecue they are sampling. They will follow the KCBS rules and point system to determine the overall winners.
Judging will also be done through the People’ Choice category, where the public is invited to judge the barbecue. This is an “opportunity to sample the meat prepared by professionals,” said Temple.
Temple told his good friend, Mike Moranville, about the contest last year, and Moranville entered this year also. Moranville is the main cook at home and thought it would be fun to enter the amateur contest.
He failed to win last year because he miscalculated the time it would take to cook his meat. He said he still had fun walking around and watching the pros cook. The professionals shared tips, and Moranville called it an educational experience.
He said the contest is unique because everybody had their own way of doing things. “They used different rubs and sauces and cooked the meat in different ways,” he said. Different equipment also contributed to different barbecue tastes.
Some people spend thousands of dollars in cooking equipment and come in with large crews, he said. Moranville prefers to man his small Weber grill himself.
“When you get into this level of cooking (professional), everyone has a number of ingredients they use,” said Thomas. The taste difference factors into the way Thomas cooks his meat vs. the next professional person who cooks the same cut. Each competitor is different, and the overall result depends on “the way I do it,” said Thomas.
Some of the larger team setups can average $6,000 to $50,000 in equipment. “The professionals buy the best equipment and ingredients for cooking and put a lot of money into it.”
Thomas said there are a lot of mistakes in published cookbooks and TV programs that have nothing to do with cooking good barbecue. Such competitions are great ways to “learn a lot about how to cook barbecue.”
A large portion of the teams are retired individuals, just like the Thomases, who moved to Henry County in 2000. A small percentage has their own barbecuing or catering business and most “use the cooking circuit as a way to relax and get away,” he said.
“A little competition doesn’t hurt anybody,” said Moranville.

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