The Ottumwa Courier

July 28, 2013

The smell of barbecue

Courier staff writer

---- — ELDON – If you didn’t already know that the Eldon rib cookoff and pie contest was in full swing Saturday afternoon, you knew it the minute you rolled down your widow.

And even if you weren’t already hungry, your mouth watered from the smell of barbecue floating from one end of town to the other.

Good food was the theme of the afternoon as 18 teams of barbecue cooks and 21 apple pie bakers gathered outside the KD Center. While the competition was fierce and the recipes a secret, there is more to this event than that.

“We’re here to have a good time and meet people,” rib cook Kevin Eklofe, of Agency, said. “It’s a small town, and there’s a lot of support for this. There’s a lot of sampling and sharing and especially spying on other people’s ribs.”

Eklofe and Toby Johnson, of Eldon, have competed in the cookoff since it began seven years ago. They explained that it started with lots of trial and error, and this year they didn’t even have much time to prepare. Their theme of “simplicity” in their barbecue secured them third place in the contest.

“We don’t take it as a huge competition. It’s just fun,” Johnson said.

The entry fee for the event was 10 pounds of ribs that would be shared with the community after the contest. The entry fee for the apple pie contest was an additional pie that was auctioned off after dinner.

“It’s not about the prize money,” said Donna Jeffrey, one of the organizers of the GATE-sponsored event. “It’s such good food, such good produce this year … it’s just a fun day.”

While there was a little pocket money involved, there is also a traveling trophy for each competition and roses and a sash for the winner of the pie contest.

The relaxed atmosphere of the event was clear just walking through each team’s setup. There were as many different grills and smokers and other equipment as there were different recipes and ideas about what makes the best ribs. Some teams had smokers that had to be towed behind their truck, while others simply brought their backyard grill.

The judges for the event were looking at many different criteria as they judged the ribs and pies placed before them, but the competitors all knew how important presentation was.

“We know we’re being judged on presentation,” Eklofe said. “We used zucchini and other vegetables and put it all on a bed of corn husks. It looked too pretty to eat.”

There is very little that will bring a community together the way good food will, and Jeffrey says the rib cookoff and pie contest will continue for years to come for that very reason.

“There are a lot of good volunteers out here today,” she said. “They may not all be (GATE) members, but they’ve stepped up to the plate when we needed them.