The Frisco BBQ Challenge, formerly called the Colorado BBQ Challenge, is back with a new format that matches the new name. After two summers of coronavirus-related cancellations, the 27th annual version returns Friday, June 17, and Saturday, June 18, following an evening kick-off concert Thursday, June 16.
Frisco Events Manager Zane Myers said the name change is to evoke a local, hometown feel, but don’t think of it as a downgrade. Colorado’s longest-running barbeque competition is still sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society. This means pitmasters from all over the state and beyond can throw their spice rub into the ring in hopes of making it to the American Royal, the largest barbecue competition in the world.
However, attendees will notice other changes. Town staff has said that former attractions like bounce houses, water balls, carnival-style food, mechanical bulls, whiskey tours, chef demos and the firefighter cook-offs are gone. Decisions on what to eliminate were based on feedback from Town Council and a survey that went out last spring. Myers said that they don’t have any major concerns with those aspects going away due to the survey responses.
When results were discussed in September, staff said they gathered 1,793 responses that involved various parts of the festival. Nearly one-quarter of business owners said they did not want the challenge in Frisco. Meanwhile, 87% of respondents who do not own businesses in Frisco preferred to see it stay.
Likewise, 73% of full-time Frisco residents and 82% of Summit County residents wanted it to remain in Frisco.
“We’re always flexible, and we can adapt to needs if we identify anything (lacking),” Myers said. “But right now I think we’re in a really good spot with what we’re offering for this year.”
The core experience has instead gone “back to basics” with quality food options, free music and the opportunity to gather with friends.
“Maybe things don’t feel as crammed in and have a little bit more of a laid-back feel and they notice they have more places to fit and visit with their friends as they eat their food,” Myers said.
Music begins 7:30 p.m. Thursday with Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal at the intersection of Madison Avenue and Main Street. Tunes continue at 3 p.m. Friday with rock tribute band Poison’d, the Frisco Funk Collective at 5 p.m., and lastly Big Sam’s Funky Nation at 7 p.m.
Saturday’s live music schedule begins at noon with Smokin,’ a six-piece band that plays ’70s rock. Country group Ryan Chrys & the Rough Cuts starts at 2:30 p.m. Lastly, Pandas and People closes out the Frisco BBQ Challenge at 4:30 p.m.
One ancillary piece of entertainment remaining at the festival is the fan-favorite pig races on Fourth Avenue. People can watch the animals run in a loop and jump over hurdles every two hours from noon to 8 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. The challenge is a no-pet event, so the pigs will be the only critters at the festival.
For those that rather eat pork and earn the treat through exercise, there is the Bacon Burner 6K. Registration and packet pickup is from 4-6 p.m. Friday at Frisco Town Hall, 1 Main St. The out-and-back race with a bacon aid station is at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at the Frisco Bay Marina, 267 Marina Road.
Food is naturally the star of the show, and vendors will be on Main Street from Madison through Sixth avenues 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.
Transactions are done via Hogbacks, the special currency for the festival, where each Hogback costs $1 like previous years. Dishes range in price between 5 and 12 Hogbacks. The nonrefundable currency can be used at select participating Frisco businesses throughout the weekend, even when the festival is over.
Not all food vendors are competing and vice versa. There is no people’s choice award this year, but competitors will have a ceremony at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Frisco Historic Park & Museum gazebo at 120 E. Main St.
The Frisco BBQ Challenge’s stripped-down format doesn’t mean vendors are strictly selling barbecued meats, though. There still will be alternative food options from vendors for the public, like vegetarian choices, pizza and empanadas.
Another unique dish is the immensely popular jalapeno poppers from Del Anderson and 1-2-BBQ. Yet because this is a barbecue festival, don’t expect them to be breaded and deep-fried. Instead, these combinations of jalapeno, cream cheese and bacon are smoked for multiple hours. Anderson said it’s a longer process, but yields a dish he makes by the thousand.
“In Kansas City, I could hardly give them away, and I can’t make enough out here,” Anderson said.
Myers said that he thinks Anderson is the longest-tenured participant in this event, with the 2022 iteration being his 25th time attending out of the 27 total. Anderson said he only missed the first two because he didn’t know about it since he wasn’t living in Frisco at the time.
Originally from Leavenworth, Kansas, Anderson moved to Summit County in 1996. An engineer for Xerox, he put himself through college cooking and catering and thought the world of barbecue would be a fun social activity when friends participated at the American Royal.
When he got first place at a competition in McLouth, Kansas, his hobby only grew.
“In the barbecue world, we call that the most expensive contest because after that you’re hooked and you keep doing them over and over again,” Anderson said.
Anderson has cooked, judged and been a Kansas City Barbeque Society representative throughout the years at places like South Dakota, Montana, Greeley and more.
It’s challenging to both compete and vend simultaneously, but he enters his chicken, pork ribs, pork, brisket and side dishes into the Frisco BBQ Challenge to increase his odds.
This year, his tent will also be home to an after-party with the Frisco Funk Collective at 9 p.m. Friday. The goal of the side concert is to raise money for the Summit County Musician Relief Fund and keep the camaraderie of the Colorado barbecue scene going.
Anderson hopes spirit of connectedness will come alive with the festival’s readjustment. He said he knew of locals that were upset it was getting too big, and he recalled a time where kids were running around the Historic Park for the more local affair.
However, he also realizes that things change over time.
“Back then we thought they were crazy when they moved (the festival) to June (from August) because we thought it would get snowed on. But that’s changed,” Anderson said, laughing.