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Pork-a-Holics Love Social Aspect of Barbecue

Pork-a-Holics’ leader Michael Pope said he learned his barbecue techniques watching his father grill various meats for fund raisers to support his son’s school, including barbecuing Boston butts or chicken.

Pope developed an appreciation for the pastime at his father’s knee and later a passion. For the last 19 years Pope and his now expanded team of grillers suffer the December cold and the wind, the long hours getting ready for the event and cooking for hundreds of people who descend on the Kansas City Barbecue competition, as part of the Christmas on the River event. Pope said it’s all for the food, the fellowship and just plain fun.

“It’s become a social event,” Pope said. “We tend to have a good time. It’s kind of like a block party.”

The winning of the competition doesn’t drive Pope and his team and some years they don’t even offer an entry, though they have plenty of ribbons to prove their skills with ribs and sauce and other mouth-watering delectables.

Although there is no competition category for them, these Pork-a-Holics are best known for their dove filets. “They’re wonderful,” Pope said. “We probably cooked 400 dove filets this year, but we have a little of everything.” Pope’s team didn’t enter as a “Professional” this year. Instead, the Pork-a-Holics were “backyard grillers” with the right to have their famous ribs and sauce judged.

Friday, the team spent some time mingling with people they’ve known for years and meeting out of town competitors, along with setting everything up for the night time social, not to mention the cooking and eating. Pope’s wife, Donna, spent that day running errands for the team and bringing the couple’s children to the event after school. For many at the annual barbecue, it is a family affair that runs long into the night before Saturday’s judging takes place.

Pope said the professionals who are serious competitors stay up all night cooking their entries, and while some may mingle and socialize for a time, their focus is on their entries and guarding trade secrets. “While we’re here for the socialization, there are people who are very protective of their methods,” Pope said, leaning on his hand-built grill that he has used for years.

Some of the barbecue rigs at the Kansas City Barbecue competition can cost upwards of $30,000. Pope said he might have around $200 tied up in his grill.

“Everybody here has a different goal,” Pope said. “We’re about the social aspect, but some are promoting their businesses or catering to vendors. People like Rock Tenn and Alabama Power are here for their employees. Then, there are the serious competitors. ”

One of Pope’s teammates, Jeff Boutwell, said, “For most of the locals, it’s the party of the year.” And that party might last until 1 a.m. on Saturday before the judges make their selections, usually around 1 p.m.

Pope and his local team enjoy this COTR occasion. He has been involved in some fashion since he was 11 years old. “When I was 11 I was holding a goat on Jim Bird’s nativity scene during the night parade,” Pope said, grinning. “I did the river parade for years, but I’ve transitioned from the water to dry land.”

At the same time, he has become renowned for his barbecue and the hospitality he offers during the COTR barbecue party.