Last fall, Gary Henderson and his friends discovered a way to do something they love – smoking meat on a barbeque – while supporting a local non-profit – the LIFE Center. After hauling their smokers to the parking lot of the Wabash County Historical Museum and cooking through the night, they managed to serve nearly 800 people and present the LIFE Center with $6,300.
With this success, Henderson and his fellow smokers decided to make it an annual event. This year, there will be a few changes. For one, the event has been moved to Paradise Spring Historical Park, which is a bit more scenic and spacious than the parking lot. The timing has also been tweaked a bit.
“We’re going to do an evening service instead of noon,” said Henderson. “Last year, we cooked over night, and we were exhausted, so we’re going to try serving the public at 5 p.m.”
They also plan to have kids games during the day while the adults tend the smokers. In addition to expanding the number of contestants and patrons, Henderson hopes to add to the organizations that benefit.
“It’ll be the LIFE Center, and then we’re going to probably add a couple local organizations,” said Henderson. “What we’re looking for are organizations that are not supported by anyone or anything else. We want the local, small not-for-profits that aren’t getting help. That’s what we strive for and look at.”
In addition to those organizations receiving funds, Henderson hopes that Smokin’ For A Cause can become a venue for charitable organizations to educate the public about their services. Nonprofits can reserve booth space for no charge. Henderson only asks that, if the organizations choose to sell something at the event, they donate 10% to the event’s cause.
“My vision is that one day, we’d be surrounded by not-for-profit organizations explaining what they do,” said Henderson. “I want the community to know what we have here. I just want people to know where to go. It’s an educational thing.”
One thing that is sure to be the same is the fierce but friendly competition between teams. Last year, Greg Coyne captained the winning team, “Holy Smokes BBQ,” beating out 13 teams. So far this year, Henderson said he has about eight teams signed up, but expects that number to expand to more than 20 by the registration deadline of Aug. 20.
“Most of the teams are guys. We don’t plan out that far,” Henderson joked. “Their wives are probably beating on them right now, saying, ‘you better get your registration in,’ you know. But we’re guys. We’re lucky to plan out three or four weeks in advance, but in order for me to do a better job ordering pork and stuff, I would like to have some kind of an idea.”
All of the pork used in the competition is provided for the contestants. Key members of the organization set up their smokers at the Wabash County Fair, not only to promote the September event, but to raise money to cover the pork.
“Last night, we sold $2,000. We’ve been through 400 pounds of pork,” Henderson said as he searched a local grocery store for more ribs during the fair, adding that fairgoers ate through 15 slabs of ribs in 51 minutes. “This one at the fair has been incredibly fantastic. We’re giving a percentage to the LIFE center, but what we’re doing the fair week for is to raise money for marketing and to buy the pork for September.”
Henderson is expecting to purchase at least 1,500 pounds of pork for this year’s event. In order to get all the meat cooked, he’ll need the help of many teams, and encourages anyone who is interested to come and try it out.
“We’re all amateurs. This is for the cause. We don’t allow any professionals,” said Henderson. “If you have a grill, we’ll show you how to smoke on it. If you don’t have any way to get it there, we’ll come and get it. It’s all backyard. It’s all amateur. I don’t care what you have. I don’t care if you’ve never smoked before. It’s a great time to show you how, and it’s just a great evening.”
The smokers will be fired up in the early hours of Saturday, Sept. 20. Public dinner service will begin following the announcement of the winner at 5 p.m.