For Zev Nerenberg, the journey from his home in New York to the parking lot of a synagogue in Overland Park, Kan. was a kind of pilgrimage.
“This is the barbeque capital of the world,” Nerenberg explained with a laugh. “There’s nothing to talk about!”
Nerenberg and his barbecuing partner Avi Schreimann made up Milk and Honey, one of 20 teams that competed in the second annual Kosher Barbeque Contest in on Sunday, August 18th. The event drew a few thousand to the parking lot of B’nai Jehudah synagogue. Chefs from St. Louis, Chicago and California, as well as New York, came to compete.
“We decided we wanted to do something involving kosher food letting people know kosher food is accessible to all,” said Rabbi Mendel Segal, Executive Director of Vaad HaKashruth Kansas City, which organized the event.
Kashrut is the ancient set of Jewish dietary laws which forbid mixing of meat and dairy and the consumption of certain foods such as pork and shellfish, among other rules. Foods that comply with these rules are called kosher. Many larger cities have kosher restaurants, but families and individuals who keep kosher in Kansas City are often forced to make their own food at home from scratch.
“Having this competition gives them time one of the year – which is like the best day of the year for them - ever, because they get to come in and have amazing barbeque,” explains Dr. Jay Goodbinder.
The contestants started smoking in the parking lot shortly after sundown on Saturday evening.
In order to keep all food at the event kosher, the rules of the contest differed from most barbeque competitions.
“Instead of you bringing your own food in - your own beef,” explained Dr. Howard Rosenthal, “It is all supplied for you.”
Vaad Hakashruth provided contestants with beef, chicken and turkey as well as smokers and utensils which had been made kosher. Many participants and organizers said this unique arrangement made for a fairer contest.
“Everyone’s on an even playing field,” said Rabbi Segal. “They’re all kind of using the same stuff, and their methods and their recipes have to shine.”
Kosher meat also provides special challenges for barbeque chefs. Kashrut requires blood to be removed from the meat. The process for doing this involves heavy salting. The resulting briny meat forces barbeque chefs to approach seasoning differently than they would with non-kosher barbeque.
“Normally you would do a fifty-fifty mix of sugar and salt,” explains Chris Jones from Northern California. As the author of a blog called “The Epicurean Pig,” Jones was more familiar than many at the event with non-kosher cooking. “With kosher barbeque, you do a lot more sugar, a lot more other seasonings.”
Heading the judging panel at this year’s contest was a foodie celebrity. Simon Majumdar says he’s best known as the “mean English judge” on the Food Network’s Iron Chef and the Next Iron Chef.
“I’m thrilled that so many people came and got to experience [the contest] and see something new and a different side of the Jewish community,” said Majumdar. “I certainly did.”
Majumdar said that he comes to Kansas City each year for the American Royal barbeque contest, and that he hopes to make Kansas City Kosher Barbeque Contest an annual tradition as well.