One evening, in the fall of 1985, Carolyn and Gary Wells and Rick Welch, a.k.a. Sir Loin, were enjoying some friendly libation and chatting about barbeque. Carolyn was Executive Vice-President of Wicker Barbeque Products company (a great barbeque marinade and baste distributed primarily in the South), and networked extensively in the barbeque market. All competed in the few existing barbeque competitions in the area – The American Royal, The Great Lenexa Barbeque Battle, and the Blue Springs Blaze Off. Members of other cooking teams were always calling wanting to know when the next event would be held. Sadly, there were none.
So, while pondering this dilemma, Carolyn, Gary and Rick decided to form a club for the cookers. The only criteria for membership was that none of it be taken seriously – to do so was grounds for disqualification. What to name the organization? After semi-serious deliberation, The Kansas City Barbeque Society was deemed to fit the bill: it left a lot of room for interpretation, and there was a fair amount of BS! How to reach these other cookers? We decided to put together a barbeque newsletter. Thus was conceived “The Bullsheet.” Dues were set at $12 per year to cover printing and mailing. About twenty people joined.
Since the first barbeque contest in the area was in late June, the members decided to have an internal contest. In the tradition of baseball, it was dubbed “KCBS Spring Training.” Their buddy, Dan Haake, had a horse farm in the country, and agreed to host the event. Having no funds for prize money or trophies, they bought quarter trophies and typed labels for the category prizes. A paper crown was secured for the grand champion. Invitations went out and entries came back. Twenty-two teams entered the first Spring Training, and membership was up to thirty. A good time was had by all, and it was decided that this club was going to be okay.
After the American Royal, in October, there was nothing going on until the next spring. Being in barbeque withdrawal, members decided that they should have a New Year’s party in late January (they didn’t want to rush into anything). A potluck dinner and brief program was planned. Invitations were sent and more than hundred people showed up to visit with their barbeque buddies. From the enthusiasm that was building, it was decided that the club be formalized into a real organization. Nine dedicated members were selected for the first Board of Directors. Monthly meetings were held to establish procedures. Periodic newsletters continued to go out, and membership was slightly more than 100.
The Society began receiving calls from organizations wanting to start barbeque competitions. They wanted KCBS to sanction their event. Wait a minute, this is getting serious. Up to this time, each contest had its own set of rules and judging procedures. It was decided to establish a committee to set standard rules and regulations for new contests. A computer literate friend wrote a program for tabulating scores. KCBS was going hi-tech! The contest phenomena was growing rapidly, as was the number of cooking teams and KCBS membership.
The Bullsheet grew from an 8.5 x11″, two-sided newsletter to an official tabloid. News was expanded from just contests to include all types of barbeque information: personalities, recipes, cooking techniques, and events outside the KC area. There was so much news that the volunteer staff decided to hire an editor. It was 1988 and the Society was now up to 800 members!
Calls and letters started coming in from all over the United States. More committees were established to sanction contests, computers were purchased, phone and fax lines added. Membership continued to grow and KCBS became an informal but respected BBQ network of information.
In 1987, Rick Welch, Karen Adler, and Westport Publishers compiled members’ recipes into a cookbook called “The Passion of BBQ.” The book sold well in Kansas City and points beyond. It had information about KCBS, so more calls and letters rolled in. The Convention and Visitors Bureau learned of the Society’s existence and began referring barbeque inquiries to KCBS. The network continued growing.
The tradition of the New Year’s Party grew also. Programs were added to award a “Team of the Year” based on cumulative contest scores for the previous year. A “Hall of Flame” was initiated. Ribbies (boners) and Piggie (outstanding service) awards were established. Ph.B. (Doctor of Barbeque Philosophy), M.B. (Master of Barbeque), and B.S. (Barbeque Science) degrees were conferred from Remus Powers’ Greasehouse University.
By 1993, the KCBS membership was up to 1,400 folks. The systems were in place and the KCBS ran like a semi-well-oiled machine. The number of contests continued to grow, and KCBS was sanctioning contests in points well beyond the Midwest. Thanks to dedicated members, participation in fund-raising projects allowed the Society to experience further growth. Referral programs increased membership and name recognition.
In January 1995, the Board participated in strategic planning exercises to determine orderly growth into the next century. Goals and objectives were set, and assignments delegated. Big plans are in the works for the Society, with the emphasis being on barbeque education. Further, expanding the awareness of barbeque and having fun, KCBS is the voice of the barbeque world.
Today, our voice is larger than ever. Thanks to media attention and event popularity in all things BBQ, our growth has exploded since the late ’90s. Our board is still a volunteer board, but it governs the world’s largest society of BBQ enthusiasts. We have more than 14,000 members worldwide, and we sanction over 300 events a year.
So if you love BBQ … if you want to learn how to barbeque better … or if you want create a new event that is sanctioned and attended by the pros … then you have found the right place. Contact us to see how we can get things cooking right away!