Eight teams competed for the best barbecue titles in chicken, beef and overall grand champion categories during the 2022 Firefest BBQ Blaze competition, in conjunction with Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, April 8 at the Frontier Conference Center.
Firefest CEO Bradley Ball said the purpose of the event is to boost morale and thank troops while teaching life skills through friendly competition. He said Firefest and its sponsors provide everything needed to conduct the event.
The competition was free to enter, and Firefest provided barbecue tools, rubs, sauces, chicken and beef. Teams first cooked and presented chicken, then burgers before a final evaluation. The Garrison Command Team and other guest judges evaluated submissions on a five-point scale measuring appearance, taste, and tenderness.
Firefest Barbecue Ambassador Jim Johnson presented rules before the competition and gave tips to team members during an hour-long chef’s meeting/master class. Johnson has earned 78 grand championship barbecue titles and has more than 30 years of barbecue experience that he attempted to share with participants.
“(In) my class, I teach them enough that they’ll at least be up in the middle of the pack (during a competition), so they don’t have to go through that three-year learning curve that I had to go through,” Johnson said. “It took me three years before I started getting good at what I was doing, but it’s an expensive lesson.”
Johnson offered guidance to competitors during each round. He said he enjoys teaching young soldiers life skills and helping instill camaraderie between competitors. He said he also enjoys touring the installations between competitions.
“For us to be able to come in and give back… that is the most important thing for me is to be able to get back to the military, and it’s an honor for me to be here. I love being with soldiers; it’s a great thing, and it’s great companionship,” Johnson said.
Most teams entered the competition with no prior experience or with one team member who had previously competed.
“I’ve always wanted to do barbecue competitions, but I guess it is a little intimidating, maybe especially being here in Kansas City, but having it all provided and having (Johnson’s) instructions like that, I learned more in that hour than in the past 10 years smoking in my backyard,” said “The Loop” team member Maj. Chris Blom, Global Simulation Capability, Combined Arms Center- Training, who entered the competition with two of his neighbors, Chris Allen, Mission Command Training Program, and Lt. Col. Dallas Cheatham, Combat Training Center Directorate, CAC-T.
“Simulated BBQ” team member Curt Pangracs, Directorate of Simulation Education, Army University, who entered the competition with co-worker John Lord, said he had learned the importance of time management during previous competitions, as well as how to adjust his taste for judges.
“It’s something you learn just cooking — it’s part science, part time management; it’s more science than anything else. I just go with what tastes good to me,” Pangracs said.