Turning up the heat on bbq

Princeton Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief Ted Kuklinski has a grilling untensil in one hand and a bottle of barbecue in the other as he gets ready for the Puckaway Pigfest, which benefits the fire department. Joe Schulz photo

by Joe Schulz

If you’re camping at Lake Arrowhead in Montello Saturday, Sept. 7 and you see a fire truck roll in, don’t panic.

Each September, the campground hosts Puckaway Pigfest, a Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) sanctioned competition that benefits the Princeton Fire Department.

The event is open to the public, with free admission and parking. Folks can park in a campground parking lot near Lake Puckaway, where they will be given a ride to the cook-off via a golf cart.

Golf carts will begin shuttling people to the event site at 9:30 a.m., judges are expected to arrive between 9:30 and 10:30 for check-in and the judges’ meeting.

Each year, the tournament draws barbecue fanatics from all over the Midwest who compete for cash prizes.

A team of KCBS judges will award the top-five teams cash prizes in the categories of pork, chicken, ribs, briquette and overall barbecue.

Prizes will be awarded at 4 p.m. on the day of the competition. The event also will feature a desert contest, which is judged by folks in attendance.

At 2 p.m. teams with a valid catering license will sell their meat by the pound, and there’s no fee for vending.

The event also will feature a piggy pageant, where participants dress as swine and give their best pig call, followed by a piggy parade.

Beyond being a barbecue competition, the event also serves as a fund-raiser for the Princeton Fire Department.

Event organizer Jessica Malsack noted the event raises on average about $1,500 for the fire department each year.

“The economic benefit helps us buy equipment that really helps us do our jobs,” fire chief Ernie Pulvermacher said. “It also gives the community a chance to see what we’re doing.”

PRINCETON Fire DEPARTMENT Fire Chief Ernie Pulvermacher hands Jermaine Little and his family a trophy for taking first place at a previous Puckaway Pigfest. submitted photo

The fire department will set up a tent at the event, where it will sell barbecue sandwiches and ice cream. It also will give free fire truck rides and accept donations.

The event originated when Malsack’s friend Jack Frost, who was in a KCBS team, came to her because Princeton’s KCBS event Burning Down the Fox had collapsed after several years.

“[Frost] approached us and said, ‘There’s kind of this void and you guys have the perfect place to have one of these competitions. Now that there isn’t one in Princeton, you guys should really think about putting one on,’” Malsack said.

Malsack decided to take Frost’s advice and began working to get KCBS sanctioned. One of the steps to getting sanctioned was shadowing organizers at a KCBS event.

“I got to see what was all involved, everything from the cooks meeting to the judges meeting to scoring,” Malsack said.

After getting sanctioned by KCBS, Lake Arrowhead hosted the first Puckaway Pigfest in 2012, but it wouldn’t be until the third barbecue contest that it would partner with the fire department.

Malsack was looking for ways to make the event more than just a cook-off. She wanted to give the community a chance to give back.

She reached out to Pulvermacher and the fire department was on board right away.

“We were hoping to get folks volunteering; we felt like having the community involved would make the event more fun,” Malsack said.

Malsack believes partnering with the fire department has helped to bring the community together and helped build relationships in a small community.

“By working together for a common cause, that really builds relationships. Plus, it seems obvious to say, but what the fire department does is so important,” Malsack said. “It’s a volunteer fire department, so those guys are really donating their time and their efforts and putting their lives on the line. So, it’s important that we as a community support them.”

Any money made above covering the cost of putting the event on goes to the fire department. Malsack noted the event’s sponsors help reduce the cost of hosting the contest by donating supplies.

She added it is only possible due to the hard work of its volunteers and she’s currently looking for volunteers.

“There’s lots of different ways that you can volunteer,” Malsack said. “We try to find a good fit for what you’d like to do and it’s a fun way to meet new people. The ones who drive golf carts are always telling me it’s so fun to meet these people.”

For Malsack, building relationships has been all the reward she could ask for.

“We’ve had some judges that have been with us every year; we have teams that have been with us since the beginning,” Malsack said. “It’s fun seeing them come back year after year.”

For more information about how to volunteer or compete in the desert competition visit www.sites.google.com/view/puckaway-pigfest/home or call 920-295-3000.