MASON CITY | Kansas City Barbecue Society officials Bill and Debby Gage have traveled the world spreading the KCBS gospel.
Local cultures and customs vary, but the language of slow-cooked meats is universal, they say.
"There's just something special, open, kind," said Debby Gage, recently back from a European barbecue teaching trip with Bill that included Prague, Czech Republic, and Perugia, Italy.
"There's something of the goodness of people that you see in barbecue," she said.
As Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS) representatives, the Germantown, Tennessee couple certifies judges, oversees the society's sanctioned events and shows enthusiasts how to host top-notch barbecue competitions such as the Up In Smoke BBQ Bash being held in Mason City Friday and Saturday.
Sponsored by the Globe Gazette, the Bash is considered one of the Midwest’s premier barbecue competitions.
KCBS-certified judges operating under the Gages’ watchful eyes will taste brisket, pork shoulder, chicken and ribs. They’ll score each dish for taste, tenderness and presentation.
Points earned during sanctioned competition will count toward the KCBS's season-long contest for barbecue team of the year.
Bill and Debby Gage’s experience and knowledge is essential in running the Mason City event, said Globe Gazette Marketing Director Ruth Miller, the Bash’s organizer.
“They bring their expertise, organization and give us the ability to be sanctioned by the KCBS that draws more cooks,” Miller said. “It also gives the cooks the opportunity, depending on what the teams win, to go to the (American) Royal, the Jack Daniels and other contests.”
Many of the international teams the Gages meet are shooting for an invite to those same American classic competitions. The popularity of barbecue is exploding internationally thanks to television shows and online videos, Bill Gage said.
Canada and Australia were on the bandwagon first. Now, it’s spreading to Europe and Asia, areas where cooks are familiar with grilling but not the “low and slow” method of cooking barbecue.
“They’re seeing the 'Pitmasters' and all of that sort of thing, and it’s really just tickling them and they want to do it,” he said.
The Kansas City Barbeque Society sanctions 35 international competitions.
The Gages believe barbecue will continue to spread internationally.
“It’ll grow just like it has in the United States,” Bill Gage said. “Twenty-five years ago the KCBS started and now they’ve got almost 500 contests a year.”
There are no international teams at this year’s Bash, but the Gages say the approximately 55 teams registered for the event in East Park are some of the best around.
"The level of the teams is very high," Debby Gage said. "Some of the toughest teams in the U.S. will be there."
It’s no surprise, as Iowa is generally one of the hotspots of quality barbecue, she said.
“Your cooks in Iowa are certainly leading much of the nation in their abilities,” she said. “Good cooks and they’ve got great pork.”