Jim Sprague, of Fulton, sits next to his grill. His team, Rusty Pig, competed for the fourth year at the Tailgate Throwdown. He said he changes his seasoning recipes each year for the contest.
A barbecue contest should be a big deal for Missourians. Kansas City and St. Louis have their own respective styles, and residents light grills in parking lots and tailgates across the state. But at the Missouri State Fair, the fifth annual Show-Me State Tailgate Throwdown was more of a friendly block party.
The contest superintendent, Fred Utlaut, said his primary goal was that the contest’s 12 entries and its judges had fun.
“It’s all fun and games out there for these guys, they’re all neighbors,” Utlaut said. “But they’ve got this little built-in desire to win, and it starts to show a little bit. They’re having a good time, and that’s all I want.”
Entries included grilled chicken wings, bratwursts and hamburgers for a judging panel comprised of State Fair commissioners, firefighters and hospital directors from Marshall. First prize for each meat was $200 and a plaque.
Judging was hardly scientific. Just before bratwursts were served, Utlaut told judges to choose one number between one and 20 that encompasses everything about the piece of meat. One judge, Jesse Hamilton, said he was not looking for anything specific.
“It’s like a restaurant,” Hamilton said. “You get your order, taste it, and if it doesn’t taste good you tell the waitress to take it back.”
Jim Sprague, of Fulton, competed for his fourth year Friday with his daughter’s family. They named their team the “Rusty Pig.” He said he doesn’t compete anywhere else, and likes the Throwdown because it has good rules.
“I change the recipe every year,” Sprague said. “This year, we added teriyaki sauce to the chicken wings.”
Andrew Utlaut, of Waverly, and Brian Wallace, of Kansas City, comprised team “Love Butter,” and competed for their second year at the Throwdown. Their grill featured homemade bratwursts and meat from the Local Pig in Kansas City.
“We usually do pretty well here,” Utlaut said.
Tucked in a parking lot near the Matthewson Exhibition Center, the Tailgate Throwdown was by no means a high-stakes affair. But there was plenty of beef and chicken to judge.
“The guys love it,” Fred Utlaut said. “It’s not a serious competition, but it still gets their attention.”
Alex Agueros can be reached at 660-826-1000 or @abagueros2.