Masters of meat: Gardner team takes home grand championship at Great Lenexa BBQ Battle

High i Que hoisted their championship banner after winning the Great Lenexa BBQ Battle. Photo credit city of Lenexa.

Against 184 other teams at the Great Lenexa BBQ Battle, High i Que stood above the rest.

Competition just isn’t what it used to be. If Randy VanSlyke, team leader of High i Que, had competed in the first ever battle in 1982, his competition would have been only 11 teams. With 15 times the competition, his barbecue today just has to be that good.


2018 Great Lenexa BBQ Battle Winners

• Grand Champion: High I Que, Randy VanSlyke, Gardner, Kansas

• Reserve Grand Champion: Sublime BBQ, Dub Siegel, Olathe, Kansas

• Third place: T-N-T Que Crew, Henry Tooman, Tulsa, Oklahoma[/pullquote]

VanSlyke said he was shocked and amazed to become the 2018 grand champion of the Great Lenexa BQ Battle. It’s his sixth grand championship overall, but the first time he took the title at Lenexa. In the past, High i Que has achieved four reserve grand championships and numerous category wins.

“The Lenexa BBQ is one of the oldest, largest barbecue competitions in the country; it’s kind of a big deal,” he said. “It’s one of those bucket list competitions that everyone wants to win.”

Instead of a trophy, the Gardner griller takes home a banner displaying his grand championship at Lenexa. VanSlyke said he was so excited to tell his wife, Nikke, the news.

“I was completely blown away,” I called my wife and as soon as she got on the phone, I was dang near in tears. ‘Wow, babe, we did this.’”

Nikke VanSlyke and their two children are normally his teammates, but VanSlyke teamed up with Chris Traffis, an up-and-coming pitmaster for another barbecue team called Three Pigs Smokin’.

“Chris and I have been friends for a few years,” VanSlyke said. “He’s newer to the barbecue competition world, but he’s a really good cook. This guy is going to be on the scene. He’s really good at what he does. He knows what he’s doing. He was a great help.”

This year’s Lenexa barbecue went smoothly for High i Que, VanSlyke said, adding that his team had a “consistent cook.” Traffis’s “positive attitude” was also contagious, considering the intensity of “subjective judging” at a barbecue competition, VanSlyke added.

“I don’t like the letdown when it doesn’t go well,” VanSlyke said. “Like track and field, you run this high or jump this fast, this is the score you get. In competition barbecue, you have six judges at a table who have a different palette; they judge based on taste, tenderness and appearance.”

Every good cook has his or her own special recipe — different rubs, savory sauces — but a good grill really comes down to one thing: tenderness.

Chefs prepared food for friends Friday night ahead of the competition cooking Saturday.

“Everybody in competition barbecue knows that,” said VanSlyke, this year’s Grand Champion of the Great Lenexa BBQ Battle – The Kansas State Championship. “If it’s chewy and rubbery, it doesn’t matter what it tastes like, but if it’s chewy, rubbery and hard to eat they’re not going to like it.

“Each team does it a little bit differently — different rubs, different sauces, that come into play — but if you miss the tenderness, none of the other stuff matters. If the tenderness isn’t there, the taste suffers, and the appearance is a much less graded score. It matters what it looks like, but not nearly as much.”

In 1984, Gov. John Carlin declared the contest the official Kansas State Championship. Today, the contest has grown from 12 judges to 240, culminating in a two-day event with children’s activities, live music and cooks from all across the country. The top 10 contestants, including the top three overall winners, receive prizes and ribbons in seven categories, including brisket, pork, ribs, sausage, chicken, steak and miscellaneous.

High i Que made the top 10 in four categories, including second place in ribs, third place in chicken, fifth place in pork and 10th place in brisket — a feat VanSlyke said is “very difficult to do, especially in a competition of 180-plus teams.”

“When we put our meat in front of the judges, they’re going to take maybe one bite; that one bite has got to just blow them away,” VanSlyke said. “We are putting an extreme amount of effort, time and research into creating the most flavorful bite of barbecue that you will every have.”

Hundreds of teams gather at Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park in Lenexa each summer for the annual contest, which is the official BBQ championship of Kansas.