MASON CITY | Aided by a perfect score in the pork category, Big T'z Q Cru of Ames took top honors at the Up in Smoke BBQ Bash at East Park on Saturday.
"It's awesome," said Jonathan Kepley, as he clutched the grand champion trophy which featured a giant gold pig on top. The team also took home $3,000 in prize money.
For teammate Ryan Newstrom, the win was an unexpected gift on a day that had another special significance. Saturday marked his 11th wedding anniversary with his wife, Sonya.
Receiving grand champion was validating for the team, which Newstrom said has been "struggling a lot lately."
"It took a lot of perseverance to win," Newstrom said. "We tried out some new things and it ended up working out for us."
After a grand champion win in 2011, this was the second time Big T'z Q Cru swept the Up In Smoke's awards.
Mason City's contest continues to be one of their favorites.
"We've done 130 contests since we started six years ago, but it's rare to see the community get behind the event like they do here," Newstrom said.
As for their winnings, Newstrom said they will fund other contests, but added he planned to take his wife out to dinner for their anniversary.
The central Iowa team said they'll be making a weekend of Up In Smoke by sticking around in Mason City to celebrate.
Reserve champion went to Pig Skin BBQ, Rockwell, which received $1,500 and a trophy.
Third overall was awarded to A Boy & His BBQ, Grimes, which received $1,000 and a trophy.
The three led the 52-team field at the 11th annual event, where more than $12,000 was awarded in addition to ribbons and trophies.
Grills Gone Wild of Algona received a cupcake trophy for the hotly-contested desserts category, where all top five finishers received perfect scores.
Kathy Nelson's creamy caramel delight has been a crowd-pleaser at past competitions, receiving top marks at the Iowa State BBQ Championship and the American Royal.
She and her husband, Steve, said they regard the Bash as the "nicest contest in Iowa."
Swine Assassins of Mason City won the KCBS-sanctioned chicken category, where top scores were tight, separated only by a few tenths of a point.
Prior to awards, head cook Kris Paulson said he was confident the team's chicken was "right on."
While he enjoys competitions, what comes afterwards is just as enjoyable.
"Cooking is fun, but what's going on right now — hanging out with friends and new people — is the best part," Paulson said.
Avonne Johnson, Mason City, and Steve Van Houten, Ames, enjoyed brisket sandwiches as they listened to country/rock band Bolder Road perform.
Both said they like to attend every year for the music, food and atmosphere.
For Van Houten, a Mason City High School graduate, it's also homecoming.
"It's a good event and I like to support it," he said of the Bash.
Nearby, a Lake Mills family dug into pulled pork and ribs.
"We're a little late but it's our first time here," said Dennis Gudmonson. "We like to eat barbecue and wanted to see what it was all about."
He thought the Bash was a nice outing and the live entertainment an unexpected plus.
Andy Gudmonson quietly worked on his food as his dad talked, later pausing to deem the ribs as "good."
Mom Kris Gudmonson offered a napkin.
"You've got them all over your face," she said with a laugh.
The Up In Smoke BBQ Bash is sponsored and organized annually by the Globe Gazette.