By Ben Tinsley
DALLAS — Who makes the best kosher barbecue in North Texas?
This is the burning question behind the Kosher BBQ Challenge, a community event that begins its second year Aug. 23.
Event organizer, Rabbi Levi Dubrawsky of Chabad of Dallas, believes the ultimate payoff of the challenge is the new and interesting friendships it inspires.
Sure, sure. There will be lots and lots of kosher meat — 600 pounds of brisket, ribs and even hot dogs, to be exact. Not to mention small cherry pies from Tom Thumb.
And yes, as many as 500 people are expected to attend — with rides, live entertainment and carnival fun to compliment the competitive kosher barbecue cooking contest as well as kosher hot dog and pie eating contests.
But this second annual Kosher BBQ Challenge at Chabad of Dallas–The Shul, 6710 Levelland Road, is much bigger than simply a competition, the rabbi emphasized.
In addition to “kosher awareness — Texas style,” this project of Chabad of North Texas helps forge new friendships on the same fires on which award-winning brisket and ribs are cooked.
“I really like the fact that this is a communal event,” Rabbi Dubrawsky said. “It brings our community together.”
The rabbi said there was a lot of feedback from the first year of the competition from the people who found it to be an incredibly fun bonding experience.
As many as seven teams, at least three people per team, will compete in this event — which is under the supervision of Dallas Kosher.
The meat smoking process starts Saturday night on Motzei Shabbat.
Will Fleischman, pitmaster of Lockhart Smokehouse Plano, returns this year as lead judge. The rabbi said it would have been really hard to start this event without Fleischman.
“He was instrumental in getting this event started last year,” the rabbi said.
Will Fleischman explained that the rabbi brought the initial concept of the cookout to him last year, and together they talked it out and planned it.
“I am one of those people who talks things through,” Fleischman said. “I asked him, ‘How are going going to put this together? How are you going to educate their palates?’”
In his Twitter profile, Fleischman said his passion for cooking makes him a “carnivorous culinary agitator.”
He has been chatting up the kosher contest on Twitter.
“Calling all BBQ heads for the #Dallaskosherbbq at Chabad of Dallas,” Fleischman wrote Aug. 12. “Open the BBQ mind to the roots of brisket cooking.”
Fleischman will be flanked during the competition by expert judges Matt Pitman of Meat Church BBQ, and Eric Perry of Lockhart Smokehouse.
The rabbi said others whose help was invaluable to making the kosher cooking contest happen include Ben Schepps, Mark Pincus, Greg Schwartz and Benton Middleman.
The event is designed to be affordable for those who attend. Tickets — all of which include unlimited access to rides and carnival fun — are $9 for adults with a hamburger, chips and drink meal; $5 for children with a hot dog, chips and drink meal; and $12 for both adults and children with a brisket sandwich, chips and drink meal.
Officials ask community members to bring a canned food item to help support the Jewish Family Service Food Pantry.
“A canned food item for JFS enters you in the raffle,” JFS tweeted.
But back to the true importance of the event: the relationships.
Generally the competitors in this event get three or four people to help split the evening up and take shifts cooking though the night.
This places certain people who might not otherwise have met within handshaking distance, Rabbi Dubrawsky said.
“Part of the competition is the teams hung out all night cooking and the competitors got to know one another — a camaraderie developed,” the rabbi said. “They spoke, shared ideas and cooking tips and had fun being together throughout the night.”
Fleischman wholeheartedly agreed.
“We tend to look at our meals simply as times to ‘fuel up’ with food,” Fleischman said. “There needs to be more of a connection between people during these times. It’s very cool how a barbecue event can create that necessary sense of community.”