The sizzling sounds and smoky scents of barbecue will overtake Frisco Main Street this weekend for the 21st annual Colorado BBQ Challenge. Crowds exceeding 30,000 are expected to come from all over to taste the culinary creations of more than 70 competitive barbecue teams and a variety of other vendors.
Frisco’s first barbecue, which took place in 1993, included 12 teams of mostly local competitors. Since then, it has grown from two blocks to six and now spills onto side streets. The event is sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS), which means that the grand champion will be invited to the American Royal World Series of Barbecue event in Kansas City, Missouri, in October.
“This is a sport for these people, and they travel around competing every weekend if they can,” said town of Frisco special events manager Nora Gilbertson, of the barbecue competitors. “For some of our contestants, it’s the only competition they compete in, but we do see some pretty big names in barbecue here, as well.”
Accompanying the teams will be 77 official KCBS judges who will apply their knowledge to entries in multiple categories, including beef, brisket, chicken, pork, sauce, salsa, sides and dessert.
The Colorado BBQ Challenge is one of the largest in the state of Colorado and last year drew an estimated 33,000 people.
“I can’t think of any other barbecue competition that’s the size of Frisco, as far as the amount of vendors and people that it pulls in,” said Todd Jilbert, owner of Golden Toad, a barbecue sauce, seasoning and rub company from the Front Range, who has attended the Frisco event since 2006. When asked what makes Frisco’s competition unique, he answered, “It’s just a beautiful setting up there, … just absolutely beautiful, and the atmosphere is just fun.”
Between Mount Royal at the west end of Main Street and Lake Dillon at the other, the Frisco scenery certainly draws plenty of people, Gilbertson agreed. The other exciting aspect of the event’s atmosphere, she added, is the energy of the competitors.
“These people take this seriously and their passion just oozes and you can feel it when you’re walking down the street,” she said. “People are really excited to cook and really love what they’re doing.”
Robert Lyon, owner of the Mountain Lyon Café in Silverthorne, said he’s been part of the barbecue for at least 13 years, and enjoys it every time. His specialty is turkey legs, which he sells alongside his brisket and pork sandwiches.
“I love it, it’s awesome. The Frisco barbecue is so much fun,” he said. “I know a lot of the teams because they come every year.”
Jilbert also spoke of the camaraderie among competitors. “Everybody’s there to have a good time and I’ll tell you what, every single vendor and competitor that we deal with is willing to help,” he said. When he first started attending, he received help from others, and is ready to share his know-how with the newcomers. “Everybody shares, everybody takes care of each other.”
That doesn’t make the competition any less fierce, however.
“The competition is tough, those guys are like dynamite,” Lyon said.
That’s a good thing, and what he likes best about having so many top barbecuers around is the ability to taste the full range of the barbecue spectrum.
“Everybody has their own unique flavors. You can go one booth to the next booth and it’s completely different,” he said. “It’s a sample of all different styles of barbecue and that’s pretty exciting. I like doing that too to see what else is out there.”
Connected to a good cause
Since the event’s inception, more than $800,000 has gone to support local nonprofits, according to a release from the town of Frisco. The town has partnered with six nonprofits this year to gather volunteers, who are “critical to this event,” said town marketing and communications director Vanessa Agee.
In addition, another 10 or so organizations will have booths at the event, where people can choose to donate their Hogback tickets directly. At the end of the event last year, some of the leftover food was donated to the community dinner held at the Elks Lodge in Silverthorne every week.
“The nonprofits provide an exceptionally valuable service and in turn the town supports them financially and supports their mission, which in turn supports the community with some really vital services, and that’s pretty unique for an event to have that kind of connection to the community,” Agee said.
With so many vendors, events and options, an event like the barbecue can be overwhelming for first timers. Those who have been there before offered some helpful insider tips.
• Pick up a schedule and make a plan. “Try to map out your day,” Gilbertson suggested. “I would say walk the entire street before picking out your barbecuer. … There is so much good food on the street, I’d say, don’t stop at the first one you see.”
• Park at the middle school and take the shuttle. The town of Frisco will provide a free shuttle service from Summit Middle School on Summit Boulevard to Main Street. “People end up wasting their time looking for a parking spot,” Agee said.
• Leave your pets at home. “It’s too many tempting smells, too many people. They get lost in the crowd and get stepped on,” Gilbertson said. “It’s too hot for them.”
• Don’t wear white. Jilbert offered this gem, and with his background in barbecue sauce, he should know.
• Wear sunscreen and drink lots of water. Even coming from 6,000 feet, Jilbert said that the altitude in Frisco (9,000-plus feet) is nothing to mess with.
• Have fun. “Come prepared to have a good time because there’s a lot to do and a lot to see,” Jilbert said.