Forget Opening Day. The time to take off work is tomorrow -- the first public day of the 2010 American Royal Barbecue. More than 500 barbecue teams are arriving as you read this, to set up their smokers and gear in the hopes of walking away with an oversized $10,000 check and the title of Grand Champion.
But for those of us who aren't strapping on the aprons this weekend, there's still a lot of barbecue to enjoy. Fat City checked in with the Kansas City Barbecue Society's Ardie Davis -- he'll be the guy in the bowler hat swearing in the judges -- to guide you through the massive event that more than 70,000 people attended last year.
"Be selective about what you eat because your tummy won't hold as much as you think it will," Davis says.
He wants you to make sure you've got lots of energy because you'll do be doing a lot of walking around the concourse. And you should take his word for it. He's been coming to the American Royal since 1983, back when it was held in the parking lot of the Golden Ox. After a two-year absence, Davis is excited to return to the premier event for the KCBS.
The first stop he recommends is the Barbecue Sauce Store inside the Kemper Arena American Royal Complex. It's part of the Innovation Expo where you can get all manner of barbecue memorabilia and gadgets.
"You'll find sauces there that you can't find anywhere else. These are hometown sauces and sauces from all around the country," Davis says.
And before you buy, you can sample any of them to determine your favorite. While that will likely get your stomach rumbling, know that the competition barbecue teams aren't allowed to feed the general public (there are food vendors outside the complex). But that doesn't mean you can't sample a team's barbecue. It's all in the approach.
Decide if the team is friendly or not. If they're really busy trying to turn in an entry, that's a good sign to leave somebody alone. The best way to strike up a conversation is to throw yourself on the mercy of the pitmasters.
"Just ask for some tips and they'll be glad to share them with you if you're sincere," Davis says.
After you're talking for a while, that's when you may get invited into a booth. Be cool because this is how you'll get a forkful of tender brisket.
"They can't give food to the general public. But if you're in the booth, then you're a friend. And then you might get to taste some barbecue," says Davis.
The food court runs from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The BBQ Expo is open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. You can get a barbecue breakfast from 6 a.m. to noon on Sunday and visit the Expo between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. The contestant's entries are judged on Sunday afternoon with the Open Awards Ceremony at 4 p.m.
Tickets to the American Royal are $13 on Friday and Saturday ($5 for children 6-12 years old). You can buy tickets through Ticketmaster or at the box offices of the Sprint Center and Kemper Arena.
[Image via Flickr: Rick McCharles]