While professional pitmasters may have used special sauces and rubs to earn top honors at the 2011 Barbecue Battle, pork producers proved there are no secrets to grilling an award-worthy meal.
"We cooked pork burgers, pork chops and tenderloins on several small Char-Broil grills that anyone can buy at a discount store, and we used meat thermometers so we didn't overcook anything," says Leon Sheets, a pork producer from Ionia, Iowa, who serves as president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association. "We showed people that you don't need a special grill, secret spices or the talent of a professional chef to make pork taste so good."
Sheets and 18 other IPPA producers and representatives, including the Iowa Pork Queen, traveled to the nation's capital this summer to showcase pork to the 100,000 people who attend the 19th annual Safeway Barbecue Battle. The two-day, culinary extravaganza was held on Pennsylvania Avenue between the U.S. Capitol and the White House.
"This event made a big impression on consumers, because people could see the producers' enthusiasm for their product," says Tyler Bettin, producer education director for the IPPA, who notes that the Barbecue Battle allowed producers to highlight the Pork Checkoff's new Pork® Be inspiredsm campaign and promote the new 145-degree temperature recommendation for cooking pork.
During each day of the Barbecue Battle, thousands of people lined up to watch pork producers grill easy recipes, including Ground Pork Burgers, Pork Chops Marinated in Italian Dressing, and Cuban Pork Tenderloin, which was featured in the Pork Checkoff's 2011 spring advertising campaign. Consumers received free pork samples, along with pork recipe cards and meat thermometers.
"While there's always a line at the pork booth during the Barbecue Battle, it was an especially good thing this year," says Patrick Fleming, director of retail marketing for the Pork Checkoff. "Since producers were grilling out in front of the We Care trailer, they could visit with consumers and answer their questions."
While some consumers were already well-versed in pork, others got a taste of pork's possibilities.
"Who better to tell pork's story than us?" says Sheets, who spent up to eight hours each day grilling and encouraging consumers to check out the nearly 1,800 pork recipes at porkbeinspired.com. "We're proud of our product and want to show people how versatile, safe and nutritious it is."
Based on the success of this year's event, the Pork Checkoff has big plans for the Barbecue Battle. "We're working with Safeway to make this a national event," Fleming says. "It's a great way to demystify the process of grilling pork and showing consumers how to get a delicious dinner on the table in 20 minutes."