By Travis Sloat
FORT GIBSON — Colton Yarbrough was in downtown Fort Gibson on Saturday supporting his dad, an officer for the Fort Gibson Police Department who had entered the Smokin’ the Fort BBQ and Bluegrass Festival.
“This is my first year out,” Yarbrough said. “The cold weather didn’t keep me from coming out, but I’d like it to be a bit warmer. I’m looking forward to tasting all of the barbecue out here.”
The festival, which is in its fourth year, attracted around 5,000 people to Fort Gibson on Friday and Saturday. It is a Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctioned event, and there were 30 teams offering up their best smoked meats.
Gary Perkins, executive director of the Fort Gibson Chamber of Commerce, said this was the biggest and best year yet for the festival.
“The number of teams we have competing is a record for us,” Perkins said. “In the past we’ve struggled to get 20. We’ll have live bluegrass music all day long, and we’ll be selling taster’s kits for $5.”
The chilly start to the day was overcome quickly by warming sunshine, smiling vendors, and of course, the smell of smoked barbecue and the sound of upbeat bluegrass music.
Competitors with names including Moo-Chew-Sooey, Smoke Wild and Roxie’s Barbecue all busily tended to fires, wielded knives with flourish, and doled out as many varieties of meat as there were people.
Tyler Wagers, owner of Roxie’s Barbecue in Tahlequah, said he was glad to be a part of the event, and was hoping he would win so he could go to Memphis in May for a KCBS national event.
“I’ve been barbecuing my whole life,” Wagers said. “I’ve got pork, chicken, ribs and beef. I’m proud of it all. It’s the same ol’ deal, like putting shoes on the same way ever day.”
When asked if he had any secrets he was willing to share, his reply was simple.
“We make our own sauce and our own rub,” he said. “I think that’s what sets us apart from everyone else. I think everyone can smoke meat, but a good sauce and a good rub are very important.”
The festival brought visitors and locals alike, some cheering for their favorite teams, others just wanting to try everything in sight.
Walter McDowell of Tahlequah said he was a first-time visitor as well, but that the small town was producing a big flavor.
“I love smoked meat,” McDowell said. “The pulled pork from the Century 21 booth is really good. I’ll definitely be coming back next year.”
That kind of response is music to Perkins’ ears. He said he believes the event will soon outgrow its four-block allotment in downtown Fort Gibson.
“Our downtown area is perfect right now,” Perkins said. “Those four blocks are jam-packed right now. It’s a great time for the family to come down and enjoy the town.”