Wayne White/Herald-Chronicle
Holy Smoke BBQ – Shawnee receives the grand champion award for the 2010 Smoke in the Spring BBQ contest from organizer Corey Linton, from left—Sammy Homolka, Matthew Schneider, Bobby Homolka, Linton, team captain Mark Schneider, John Henry Homolka and Evan Schneider.

Wayne White | Managing Editor

OSAGE CITY—It might not have been divine intervention, but the barbecue gods were smiling Saturday on Osage City and a relative newcomer to the barbecue contest circuit.

“It was great, we were blessed that day,” said Mark Schneider, chief cook of Holy Smoke BBQ – Shawnee, the barbecue team that won grand champion of Osage City’s seventh annual Smoke in the Spring State BBQ Championship.

Schneider explained this week that he had competed in barbecue contests for the first time last year. Competing in about a dozen contests last season, his team was also blessed then by winning two grand championships. Osage City’s contest was the first this year for Schneider’s team that usually consists of him and his wife. Since his wife was unable to attend last weekend’s contest, Schneider invited along his friend Bobby Homolka, also of Shawnee, and two of each man’s sons.

The Holy Smoke BBQ team took second in the chicken and pork categories, ninth in pork ribs, and 27th in brisket to win the grand champion spot in the contest.

Schneider said that as happy as he was to win his third grand championship, Homolka was even more excited in his first experience as part of a winning barbecue team.

“He was beside himself” as the team was announced as the contest champion, Schneider said of Homolka.

Taking reserve grand champion in the contest was Stephanie Wilson, Kansas City, Mo., of The Slabs.com team. Wilson’s team took first in chicken, first in pork, 16th in brisket, and 33rd in ribs. Earning third place was Munchin’ Hogs at the Hilton, last year’s Smoke in the Spring grand champs. Other top winners included Rubbin’ It and Lovin’ BBQ, Lee’s Summit, Mo., in the ribs category; KC Can Crew, Lee’s Summit, brisket; Muddy Butts BBQ, Manhattan, cook’s choice; and Burnin’ Down the Hog, Olathe, dessert.

Another first this year was The Osage County Herald-Chronicle’s traveling trophy, presented to the top points-earner among Osage County’s barbecue teams. Winning the award was Kevin Henery’s Pit Crew BBQ, Overbrook, which took seventh-place overall in the competition. The trophy will be engraved with the team’s name and passed on to next year’s winner. The winner also receives free entry into next year’s Smoke in the Spring.

Even without considering his win, Schneider said Osage City’s competition was a delight to participate in.

“Corey (Linton) and the group of folks who organized this contest did an outstanding job,” Schneider said. “This is one of best organized contests we’ve been to. We’ll definitely come back next year.”

He also pointed to the skilled competitors he faced that challenged him as a newcomer to his hobby.

“There were some heavy hitters out there,” Schneider said.

Still recovering from the weekend on Tuesday, Linton said the event proved to be Osage City’s most successful contest to date. While the turnout of 84 barbecue teams, 84 judges, and 14 table captains was the largest in the contest since its beginning, Linton said the community’s participation in the activities was the highlight of the event.

“We estimated over 2,000 people were here Friday for lawn mower demolition, the food, and the music,” Linton said.

The band Old Skool performed Friday night at the community building.

“Just to see that turnout and interest, and community support for the event, that’s what makes it great,” Linton said. “That’s what the teams notice the most, is community interest in the event. That’s why they like coming here – the atmosphere. They are very impressed by what we do, how organized we are.”

Linton reported that over $6,500 in BBQ Bucks were sold for Friday’s Taste of Osage City, in which scrip money is purchased, then exchanged for food from participating barbecue teams. He said this year’s total doubled last year’s sales, which was double of the previous year’s. The food sold out during the walk-around buffet. The chefs keep 90 percent of the proceeds, while the city keeps the remainder.

Mark Simmons, a Kansas City Barbeque Society representative who helped oversee the competition and judging, said Osage City’s contest is becoming one of the premier contests on the circuit. He said the quality of judges and table captains is making the event popular among barbecue competitors.

Simmons noted that about 95 percent of Smoke in the Spring judges are KCBS certified, with a good share of those being “master judges.” Certified judges must attend a KCBS class to earn their credentials; master judges are certified judges who have judged 30 or more contests. Likewise, most of the table captains, who deliver entries to the judges’ tables, were also certified, making for the professional flavor of Osage City’s contest.

“This is a great contest,” Simmons said Saturday while overseeing the dozens of judges tasting the barbecue.

Simmons noted the large amount of certified judges attracts some of the best barbecue teams to the contest.

Linton credits Dave Azwell, Osage City, for recruiting the judges.

“He’s the one who attracts and brings in all the quality judges,” Linton said of Azwell.

Azwell announced Saturday that he had many more requests to attend from certified judges than he could accommodate. He encouraged all of the judges present to contact him as soon as possible to be placed on the list as judges for next year’s contest.

Competitors are also urged to sign up early, as Linton said this year’s 84 teams are likely the limit of how many can compete at Osage City. Part of the logistics of hosting the large amount of teams is the availability of electrical outlets at Osage City’s Jones Park.

While the barbecue teams were competing Saturday, another exhibition, the sixth annual Cruis’n and Cook’n Car Show, also attracted a large crowd at the park. Almost 200 classic and antique cars were featured during the show hosted by the Twin Lakes Cruisers. Many of those cars and their owners participated in the Saturday afternoon and evening Cruise Downtown Osage City, an event hosted by Osage City’s Inside Track committee. During that event, many people congregated while cars cruised around a route in Osage City’s downtown, where the streets were blocked off. A number of businesses kept their doors open, offering afternoon specials. Inside Track committee volunteers also offered other activities downtown.

Linton noted Osage City’s event could not have been a success without willing volunteers’ involvement.

“I’m very, very pleased with my volunteers,” Linton said, pointing to all the work accomplished in preparation for the contest, volunteer effort ongoing during the contest and events, and the labor needed to clean up afterwards.

“The barbecue teams and KCBS reps, they were very impressed with our volunteers,” he said.