WFAEats: Charlotte Has Its Very Own Kosher Barbecue Championship

Aug 30, 2019

Until you’ve watched a rabbi ride a mechanical bull, you haven’t really experienced Charlotte’s Kosher BBQ Championship.

Chefs compete for kosher barbecue bragging rights in Charlotte.
Credit COURTESY LEVINE JCC

This Labor Day weekend will mark the sixth year for the annual event that “pits” barbecue teams against each other at the Levine Jewish Community Center. It’s a fun and family-friendly event with activities and live music, but the meat is the main attraction.

If you’re wondering what to expect, here’s how it works. First, all the meat cooked by the teams and served by vendors is kosher. That means no pork, period. The event serves only beef, chicken and veggie burgers.

Each team starts with the same ingredients: a fresh beef brisket (somewhere between 15 and 22 pounds), chicken thighs and a bunch of vegetarian baked beans. Rabbis have supervised the processing of the meat to ensure it follows the strict Jewish dietary laws.

From there, the teams get creative with pantry ingredients, combining herbs and spices into rubs and sauces that transform the meat into something memorable. Pit masters start on Sunday evening and tend their grills through the night, and, like magic, on Monday morning when guests arrive, the smoke is already beckoning from across the large lawn.

The teams devise clever names – such as the “Meats-va Men” – and decorate their booths to score points for presentation.

Maxwell Lindner is a member of the Kosher Kowboys and a student at Providence Day School when he’s not perfecting his prize-winning rub. Although someone else on the team fell asleep and let the fire die out in 2017, the crew still won and went on to sweep their categories in 2018. Lindner shares a couple of tips: “I brine my barbecue, adopted from my favorite turkey brine.” And for the rub: “Instant coffee.”

There are two ways to ’cue up: either by purchasing a tasting ticket that allows you to sample the competitors’ entries and cast your vote for the “People’s Choice” award, or from the onsite offerings from Sauceman’s, which follows all the kosher requirements for the event and serves side items as well.

Of course, you don’t need to be Jewish to appreciate great kosher barbecue. Some of the official judges are local celebrities, including former Carolina Panther Geoff Schwartz (who actually is Jewish, along with yours truly). There’s no cash prize, just bragging rights.

Charlotte joins an illustrious list of cities known for barbecue that have branched out into kosher competitions, including Memphis, Tennessee, and Dallas. Our local event was the brainchild of Charlotte native Marc Wojnowich, who learned about the contests almost accidentally.

“A buddy of mine was visiting and had to get back to Birmingham for their barbecue,” Wojnowich says. Recognizing the prospect of building an event as a fundraiser, he got the go-ahead from the JCC to investigate and volunteer at his friend’s event to learn the logistics of running one.

All proceeds from the event go to help fund programs at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Title 1 schools.

Wojnowich doesn’t cook in the contest but helps run it.

“It’s a great opportunity to show people that kosher food is not weird,” he says.

Rounding out the day will be contests for kids to compete and win medals for being the fastest pickle- or watermelon-eater. Aside from face-painting and other fun, the day provides a enjoyable way for folks who keep strictly kosher to dine out with the assurance that everything is, well — you know.

In other words: No pigging out allowed.

The Charlotte Kosher BBQ Championship is free to attend. Food and beverages will be available for purchase; Sept. 2, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Levine JCC. More info here.

Amy Rogers writes WFAEats, a fun adventure where we explore all things tasty and tackle the meatier side of the food scene in and around Charlotte.