City looks to slather BBQ Cookoff onto Rifle Rendezvous

A burger gets flipped on a charcoal grill during a a cookout.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Succulent meats sizzling over iron grates and open flames are likely to accent one of Rifle’s biggest annual events this year.

Rifle Main Street Manager Kim Burner told Rifle City Council last week the Greater Rifle Improvement Team (GRIT) plans to combine a barbecue cookoff with the Rifle Rendezvous.

“We’re looking at doing what they call a backyard barbecue competition the third weekend in May with Rendezvous,” she said. “A backyard barbecue is not associated with any of the national barbecue associations.”

Instead of national BBQ conglomerations, which Burner said would increase costs exponentially, Rifle’s newest proposal will consist of local pitmasters sturdy with marinades and metal tongs. GRIT has so far budgeted $20,000 for the event.

Burner said she doesn’t actually anticipate the BBQ cookoff costing that much for GRIT, which is funded by the city’s lodging tax. That revenue will come in through in-kind sponsorships and contestant entry fees.

Burner said this backyard barbecue should resemble Rifle’s annual chili cook-off when, each year, locals gather and serve pods of capsicum at the Garfield County Fairgrounds and Events Center.

“It’s kind of like the chili cookoff. You pay a small fee to come in, you taste all the smoked barbecue,” she said. “There will be a people’s choice portion and then a judged portion of that.”

Revenue derived from ancillary lodging and sales tax is a key drive behind adding a barbecue event to the Rifle Rendezvous, which received about 9,000 visitors in 2022. The Rendezvous offers carnival rides, bull riding, live music, a car show and more.

Mayor Pro Tem Brian Condie, who also sits on the GRIT Advisory Board, said bringing in any sort of national BBQ circuit will attract professional barbecue chefs and inherently kill local competition.

“They want to do it for three to four years to get established,” he said. “That’s why we’re saying it may not make money the first year, but it might be a great event.” 

Professional judges, however, will be hired to grade brisket, ribs and pork, Burner said. Public Health requires that the city provide the pork for the people’s choice award so they can control the source and quality of the meat.

Contestants are allowed to use their own meats for all other categories — a rule Rifle City Council member Clint Hostettler liked.

“That’s what I want to be the judge of,” he joked.

Rifle City Council and staff discussed exactly how they’re going to promote the new cookoff. Burner said she’s already received four calls from local residents who hear rumors of the cookoff occuring.

Burner said the city plans to use social and paid media to advertise the event.

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