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Local Competitors Take Grand Prize in BBQ Cookoff

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Stephen McCabe and Kurt Carter of Lorette accept the grand prize at the first annual Niverville Smokemaster BBQ Competition. Brenda Sawatzky

The air around the Niverville Centennial Arena on Saturday, July 23 was fragrant with the enticing smells of the town’s first annual Niverville Smokemaster BBQ Competition. The event was emceed by Jim Johnson of Memphis, Tennessee, himself a 78-time Pitmaster champion.

Twelve adult teams from around Manitoba spent the day putting their culinary skills to the test, aiming to impress a team of trained judges. Competitors in the amateur competition worked in two meat categories: chicken and ribs.

Lorette neighbours Stephen McCabe and Kurt Carter walked away with the ultimate grand prize, which included a trophy, a cash purse, and a Golden Ticket invitation to one of the most esteemed food competitions in the world.

“It’s the first time in Manitoba that an amateur has ever been invited to the World Food Championships,” Johnson said proudly to the gathered crowd.

For this pair of Lorette pals, whose team goes by the name Brews and Ques, it was their first time entering a competition on the official barbecuing circuit. The only other cooking competition they’d entered before was at their hometown’s annual summer festival three years ago.

“We [barbecue] for the neighbours all the time,” says McCabe. “We’ve been practicing for years at home and decided that we would do this this year.”

Taking their time and being methodical, he says, may have played a part in their big win.

“I think last time we rushed some of the critical steps, and this time we knew that [we needed to] take the time and do it perfect,” he adds.

As for attending the world championship in Dallas, Texas, at which the grand prize totals $300,000, the only thing that would stop them is a death in the family, Carter joked—and maybe not even that.

Saturday’s competition wasn’t restricted to the big folk, though. Eight children between the ages of five and 14 faced off for the Kid’s Q competition. Twelve-year-old Ashton Eidse of Niverville performed some grilled burger magic that got top marks from the panel of judges.

While the young Eidse says he loves to cook at home, he’d never dreamed of entering a cooking competition.

“I was a bit nervous at first and I probably wouldn’t have [entered],” Eidse says. “But [a friend] kept texting my mom so I finally got convinced and I’m like, ‘I’m going to win a free barbecue.’”

In the week leading up to the event, Eidse says his grandpa stepped in to teach him some important grilling techniques which would help keep the juices inside the patty and indicate when the meat was fully cooked.

The young man says his trick to winning, though, likely resulted from his use of a special meat seasoning and the patty garnish: onions fried in his personal special sauce.

When asked if he’ll be back for next year’s competition, Eidse says, “One hundred percent yes!”

Jason Reimer of the Niverville BBQ Society was pleased with how the event went down, from the competitions to the live bands and beer gardens later on. Event staff, he says, were challenged with only one big snag when the main generator blew early in the day.

The Red River Barbecue & Grill Society (RRBGS) are promoters of southern-style barbecue and support cooking classes and outdoor cooking events such as the Niverville Smokemasters BBQ Competition.

“One of our main goals is to bring larger professional Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) competitions back to Manitoba,” says RRBGS member Brad Biehn.

Until now, Biehn says Manitoba was the only Canadian prairie province where there was no professional barbecue competition being held annually. The last one held in the province at all was in Morris in 2018.

He adds that the RRBGS committee decided to be a bit more ambitious after the pandemic and they helped pull together three KCBS competitions. The first took place in Steinbach in May. Niverville’s event was second on the roster. And in September, Luxe BBQ Company in Winnipeg will be the site of the last event.

“I know I can speak for the board that we were all impressed with the facility in Niverville,” Biehn says of the local competition. “The volunteers from the community were fabulous, including some local business owners who helped sponsor the event. Even Mayor Dyck, who was a celebrity judge for the Kid’s Q event… Niverville certainly has the venue, support, and local talent to grow this into a major annual event for Manitoba.”

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