MASON CITY — The Up In Smoke BBQ Bash on Saturday was as much about what you didn’t see, as what you did see.
The average Bash-goer saw what you would expect: Lots of people and lots of good barbecue being cooked and tasted, at East Park.
But there are also stories and things you don’t see.
For instance, Saturday was all about what happens behind the white plastic walls of the judging tent, located away from the throngs west of the Prairie Playground. It was there where the big decisions were being made about who would win and who would not.
The tent was filled with Kansas City Barbecue Society judges who were evaluating each entry — there were hundreds — for things like appearance and taste.
It was no small deal: High placings brought big cash prizes to winners. The grand champion of the Bash this year — TippyCanoe BBQ Crew of St. Ansgar — earned $3,000.
Competition in Mason City is always stiff, many cooks said. This was the 10th year for the event that was begun and has been organized each year by the Globe Gazette.
“You have to bring your A game,” said Dave Diercks of Charles City, whose BioHazard Team was busy removing ribs from a large black smoker. “This is Mason City.”
That one phrase “Mason City” means says a lot, many agreed.
“We really think this is the premiere barbecue contest in the Midwest,” said Dustin Reese of Hogline BBQ of Owatonna, a first-year competitor at the Up in Smoke. He said Mason City hosted a high number of top teams competing.
His hometown event, Smokin’ In Steele, is an up and coming event, too — but Mason City is still the gold standard.
“We know that any time we hear our name here (called for placing as a winner), it’s a big deal. This contest is a real credit to Mason City,” Reese added.
He bemoaned the fact his brisket ended up a bit dry this time around, but was comforted by some good news: He was the overall drink winner, the big winner in the Bloody Mary contest and the third-place winner in the margarita contest.
Arden Kopischke of Wild Shooters BBQ of Little Rock, Iowa, said he and his crew enjoyed their first time at Mason City.
“It’s as good as any contest we’ve gone to,” he said.
His squad took an eighth placing in chicken and a first place in dessert for his Frozen Butter Brickle Delight.
118 BBQ almost did not make it to the Bash for its first year, after the Tulsa, Okla., team’s vehicle, broke down in Kansas.
But it wasn’t all for naught: the squad took a 10th placing in pork shoulder.