The Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest (Memphis, Tennessee), the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue (Lynchburg, Kentucky), and the American Royal Barbecue (Kansas City, Missouri) comprise what is arguably the “Triple Crown” of the barbecue championship cook-offs.
While it is debatable which of the three titles is most prestigious, it is indisputable that the American Royal Barbecue is currently the largest barbecue championship in the world. This past weekend, over 500 competitors from as far away as Australia, the U.K., and Jamaica fired up their smokers in the parking lot of Kemper Arena in Kansas City to compete at the 31st annual American Royal Barbecue.
While the American Royal runs over a month long, the barbecue championship only takes up one weekend (usually the first complete weekend in October). The rest of the Royal is comprised of livestock shows and auctions, rodeo ride-offs, and horse shows.
The weather for this year’s barbecue competition weekend could not have been more perfect. Crisp, clear, with fluffy white clouds; it was a quintessential autumn experience.
With the exception of the Friday night kick-off, which is essentially one big boozefest ending with a fireworks display, visiting the Royal is rather uneventful if you don’t know know anyone who’s competing. Competitors are not allowed to sell food, so you’re limited to free hand-outs, which are rare. Most visitors buy their food from one of the few approved vendor stalls (a couple of whom have won multiple titles all over the U.S.).
One of the best things about wandering the maze of stalls at The American Royal is seeing all of the team names. Some are quite clever (one of my favorites was a team of gastroenterologists whose slogan was “Guts and butts our specialty“). Most prompt fremdschämen.
Competitors essentially spend two nights out in a parking lot tending to their smokers, so they will go to great lengths to make themselves at home. A camper is almost necessary, as are lawn chairs. This year, I also saw big screen televisions, disco balls, and all sorts of high-class camping gear.
One team strung a chandelier up under an overpass above their lot. This photo that I took of the stray chandelier is my fourteenth photo of the week.
To see all of the photos I took from this year’s American Royal Barbecue, CLICK HERE.