A familiar giant armadillo and smoke-spouting elk will reign over Buckley Park this Saturday, as teams of avid barbecuers prepare award-winning recipes and hopeful new favorites in the 13th annual Men Who Grill culinary competition.
It’s a well-known fundraiser for the Durango Women’s Resource Center – and it’s certainly the meatiest. This year’s event will bring some new faces and menu items, along with plenty of known crowd-pleasers.
Twelve teams will haul in their grills and gear to prepare specialty meats, sides and creative desserts for an expected 500 to 700 guests and four judges. The participants aren’t trained chefs but simply skilled backyard barbecuers with a desire to support an essential community resource.
“We get offers from wives and girlfriends to help, and I’m always adamant that their job is to enjoy themselves,” said Jason Fisher, who heads up the Armadillo Storage Smokin’ Armadillos. “It’s Men Who Grill, and we are cooking for you all, and raising a few bucks for the WRC.”
There’s a strong element of competition, according to Ashley Dickson, WRC marketing and development director. Teams go way beyond Ballpark franks and white buns, investing great effort into planning, preparing and presenting their dishes. “People take that aspect very seriously,” Dickson said. “It’s anything goes.”
Anything goes for attendees, too. “You get a plate, get a fork, and you go buck wild,” Dickson said. Multiple servings are encouraged, so people can make an informed vote for the People’s Choice Golden Spatula winner.
The Honeyville team is a consistent winner and agreed-upon tough contender. “They’re kind of the standard,” said Cody Kopp, head of the 99X Moonshiners team. “They are always delicious, and they always bring it.”
This year, they’re bringing their famous grilled meatballs slathered in honey barbecue sauce. “We’re pretty famous now for them,” owner Sheree Culhane said. “We have no choice. People expect them.” They will also debut a pueblo chile honey sauce on grilled corn-on-the-cob and experiment with using chokecherry chips in their smoker.
Their approach to the event is straightforward. “We listen to how people respond, and we keep it simple,” Culhane said. “Like a backyard barbecue. Something believable that people can do themselves at home. We’re not professional cooks, we’re not a restaurant. We’re just your regular people.”
Honeyville was also first to introduce a signature cocktail, presenting honey whiskey from their Honey House Distillery four years ago. This year, it’s spiced honey rum mojitos. Some other teams have followed suit, pairing their grilled fare with a specialty drink.
“That became a big thing in terms of likability factor,” Dickson said.
The Smokin’ Armadillos also have received numerous awards over the years, including for best use of charcoal. “I love the idea of the fire never being the same twice and the temperature never being the same twice and having to adjust to the imperfection,” Fisher said. “The last couple years, I’ve been starting with charcoal and then doing straight oak or pecan log, depending on the kind of food we’re using.”
This year, their giant armadillo smoker will be producing smoked brisket and pork shoulder for street tacos. The team prefers to focus solely on food. “Our signature drink will be whatever Steamworks is pouring,” Fisher said.
Pork rib fans should head toward the 9-foot elk smoker with giant antlers. The Re/Max Pinnacle team will be offering them up St. Louis-style, alongside Burnt Ends (cubed, seasoned brisket points). Team leader Charles Rigby believes in early planning and preparation because his items require plenty of cooking time. “I’ll be getting ready all week,” he said.
The Rev. Ben Huggins of Durango’s Holy Prophet Elijah Mission and his team, Matushka’s Meats, will be grilling bacon-wrapped dates and bacon-barbecue meatballs – a menu that’s an analogy of life, he said. “It has its sweet moments, its ups, and also its salty, down moments, but when you take them both and put them together, it’s pretty good.”
The first-time competitor named his team after Matushka Olga, an unofficial saint in the Orthodox Christian Church. “She was a woman who truly served others and helped women, so we’re honoring her and all women,” Huggins said.
All proceeds from Men Who Grill benefit the Women’s Resource Center general fund, allowing them to continue advocating for the education and self-sufficiency of women and girls in La Plata County. “With this event, we’re getting men involved in advocating for women – that’s the core part of it all,” Dickson said.
With the plethora of food and drink to be sampled, live blues tunes in the background and a beer garden serving Steamworks brews, the event is a consistent highlight of Durango’s lengthy summer festival lineup. Who will take home the coveted Golden Spatula award this year? Don some loose pants on Saturday, go load up a plate or two and cast your own vote.
Have an idea for a local food story? Reach Herald food writer Bobbi Maiers at firstname.lastname@example.org.