Clay County Fair introduces barbecue contest
CLAY CENTER — After a full day of running around Wednesday for other Clay County Fair activities, winning the inaugural barbecue contest came as quite a surprise for Michelle Batterman.
“We got up really early this morning to get ready for the fair and bring all of our entries, so we put the meat on the smoker before we left,” she said. “In between events today we ran home and had to check on everything and adjust the grill and smoker accordingly and add more juice to keep it seasoned and moist.”
Because she was helping out with the 4-H bucket calf show before the barbecue contest entries were due, her husband, Todd, dropped off the family’s two barbecue entries. They had to be called back after it was announced Michelle and their 6-year-old son Collin won.
Michelle teamed with Collin while Todd teamed with their 8-year-old son Chase.
Those were two of four entries this year. Pork butt was the featured meat for this first year of the contest.
Competitors got to sample each other’s entries as did the few spectators in attendance.
The event was organized by the Leadership in Action 4-H Club.
The idea for a barbecue contest came from 15-year-old Jason Brockman of Deweese and his cousin, Josh Shaw.
“The county fair is during the summer, and barbecuing is mostly during the summer, so it’s a good thing to have,” Jason said.
He plans to hold the competition again in 2019 with a different featured meat, but he’s not sure what kind.
Judges Gary Rohrer, Jacob Goldfuss and Jared Brockman, Jason’s brother, evaluated the meat with thoughtful consideration looking at appearance, tenderness and taste.
“The thing I was amazed at is that we always seemed to agree on everything,” Rohrer said. “The first person that spoke, everybody sort of said ‘yeah.’ ”
Jared Brockman said he looked for smoke rings in the meat.
“In a barbecue competition you look for the deeper the smoke ring, usually the better the flavor in it,” he said.
He also likes a tasty crust on the outside on the meat.
Michelle Batterman made her rub out of a couple different seasonings including seasoned salt and different peppers and spices and cooked the pork butt from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on a Green Mountain smoker at their Fairfield home.
“We just tried a different combination and put them together and injected apple juice to keep it moist because we were afraid it would dry out,” she said.
When it comes to smoking meat, Batterman said, her family likes to experiment.
“We always like to play with the seasonings to see what tastes good and whatnot, and then we adjust accordingly,” she said.
They smoke meat four or five days a week.
Todd has made a homemade smoker to use for bigger portions of meat.
“It just adds a different flavor, and if done right it can keep the moisture in, too,” Michelle said. “And it makes it tender with just a different flavor than you can get on the grill.”
Second-place team Brian and Katie VanderLey of Sutton also smoke meat several times a week on their wood pellet smoker.
Also participating in this year’s competition was the team of Mike Menke and Aaron Uhrmacher.
Brian VanderLey made a rub using garlic powder, black pepper, paprika and a “good dose” of salt as he cooked the pork butt on a wood pellet grill from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Because their son Gerrit and daughter Johanna were participating in the bucket calf show, the VanderLeys were the last team to submit an entry.
So, Brian had an audience as he unwrapped and cut into the pork butt with steam rising from the juicy hunk of meat.
The VanderLeys cook some pork butt, but more pork loins and brisket.
Brian said the couple has probably been smoking about 10 years.
“It tastes better and it’s kind of a set it and forget it,” he said. “I looked at this thing three times today. It’s just really easy.”
The Clay County Fair continues through Saturday on the fairgrounds in Clay Center.