Lakeview—where barbecue is hot and Jews are cool—is the natural choice for the first Chicago Kosher BBQ Festival & Competition, to be held on Sunday, June 1. Following a growing trend across the country, which has been spurred in part by reality television, this festival is expected to bring together mixed multitudes hailing from cities near and far. This combination of barbecue lovers—kosher and not—will compete for the best barbecue, eat great food, share activities, and entertainment, and reinforce the Jewish value of giving and of community-building.
The Jewish community of Lakeview is twice blessed already, with interdenominational cooperation—exemplified by shared all-night Shavuot learning for members of Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform synagogues—and an award-winning restaurant, Milt's Barbecue for the Perplexed, which is not only Joy of Kosher's Restaurant of the Year but also one of UrbanSpoon's Best New Restaurants, a recommended pick by TripAdvisor, and increasingly the focus of mainstream and social media attention.
The event, whose host sponsors are Milt's Barbecue for the Perplexed, Anshe Emet Synagogue, and the Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School, will be supervised by the Chicago Rabbinical Council. JUF News is the media sponsor of the festival. With ingredients provided for the teams and a mashgiach (kashruth supervisor) present throughout the process, teams will come to Milt's on Friday afternoon to prepare the meat, and then will meet in the Anshe Emet parking lot after Shabbat to smoke their food overnight. On Sunday, the festivities will fill various spaces inside and outside of the building shared by the school and the synagogue, 3751 North Broadway, from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Planners anticipate 15 competing teams, who will vie for trophies for Best Brisket, Best Ribs, Best Chicken, Best Beans, Most Original Team Name, Best Booth Decoration, and Grand Champion. Activities will include live music, pickle- and hotdog-eating contests, basketball skills competitions, and a kids' play zone filled with inflatables, face painters, a magician, and more. Festival-goers will be able to purchase a select variety of their Milt's favorites from its new food truck and will be privy to grilling and recipe tips from the competitors.
The festival will be open to the general public for a $3 suggested entry donation, whose proceeds will go to MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger and the Lakeview Food Pantry. Milt's operates year-round with the principle of tzedakah at the fore, donating 100 percent of its profits to charity. Milt's also has created programs such Milt's Night Out, through which the restaurant partners with nonprofit organizations and people who have extra tickets to create a magical experience for people who could not afford dinner and a sports or cultural outing on their own.
"It is great to collaborate with BZAEDS, with the cRc, and most importantly with [Milt's founder and owner] Jeff Aeder, who thinks outside the box," said Rabbi Matthew Futterman, senior educator at Anshe Emet Synagogue, who brought the three organizations to the table after reading about similar events elsewhere.
Rabbi Mendel Segal, executive director of the Vaad HaKashruth of Kansas City and organizer of the KC Kosher BBQ Competition, has been mentoring the Chicago planners.
"The original kosher barbecue competition started in Memphis 25 years ago," Segal said, explaining that other kosher barbecue competitions now take place annually in Atlanta, Birmingham, Long Island, and New England. "In Kansas City, people are pretty serious about their barbecue, and our event attracts competitors and attendees from all walks of life, all having a great time. Last year we had twenty teams compete and around three thousand attendees.
"It's incredible when a whole community gets together to enjoy an event like this, full of fun and camaraderie, and emphasizing Jewish values."
The judges for the inaugural Chicago competition will include Roey Gilad, Israel Counsel General to Midwest; Barry Sorkin, owner Smoque BBQ; Jeff Schapiro, owner Urban BBQ; Rabbi Matthew Futterman, who is also a kosher barbecue aficionado; Aliza Katz, corporate chef at Kraft Foods; and Jim Letchinger, a sponsor of the event. Food will be judged on taste, texture/tenderness, and appearance. Winners in the categories of Most Original Team Name and Best Booth Decoration will be selected by the public. The Jeffrey F. Kahan Memorial Fund and The Private Bank are presenting sponsors of the event.
Backyard grillers and barbecue enthusiasts alike are encouraged to form teams and enter the competition through the forms available at http://chikosherbbq.org/. The website also contains more information about the event.
"Our sages teach that there is no simcha [celebration] without meat," Rabbi Futterman pointed out. "So we know that this will be the simcha of the year."
Sari Steinberg is a freelance writer and the community director of Milt's Barbecue for the Perplexed.