June 20, 2023
Written By Neal Fandek
Osceola students win national BBQ championship.
National champion. That’s something few Missouri FFA chapters achieve.
National food champion. That’s something no Missouri FFA chapter has ever achieved until the Osceola High School FFA BBQ team, directed by Charles (“Chuck”) Simpson, did so at the World Food Championship in Dallas in late 2021.
Simpson, the agricultural education instructor and FFA advisor at the school, said it took a lot of time, hard work and sponsorship to get to the championships. Sponsorships were especially needed to cover the lodging, meal and travel expenses, as well as the cost of ingredients for the five categories in which the team competed: chicken, steak, burgers, ribs and a Dutch oven dessert. Despite the costs, he said, there are compensations. The students get to eat their homework.
“Students were responsible for preparation, building the fire, trimming, cooking—the whole thing,” he said. “No adults could help them.” If an adult stepped into the contests’ dedicated cooking area, the team would be disqualified.
The first judging criteria was appearance of the food.
“I tell my kids, no matter what it tastes like, we judge by our eyes,” Simplson said. “I want that judge to say, ‘Oh man! I can’t wait to dig into that.’”
The second criteria was how well the food was cooked. For example, a steak or burger had to be medium well, and ribs had to be easy to bite through but not falling off the bone.
Lastly, teams were judged on taste. Was the item well-balanced? Not too much salt, pepper, heat, sweetness, etc.
Juggling all that’s a lot of pressure to place on professional barbecue chefs, much less on a high school team. The championship Muddy River Smokers, named after the stretch of Missouri River on which Osceola sits, consisted of two freshmen, two sophomores and one senior who had never smoked meat a day in his life until he decided he wanted to be on the team.
The Muddy River Smokers’ chicken and Dutch Oven Apple Cobbler won second place. The burgers and ribs both won first. “They were announcing scores and I was doing the math in my mind, and I knew we placed high,” Simpson remembered. “The judges announced the third-place winner, then the second, and I just screamed. They probably thought I was crazy, but I was cheering because I knew right then, ‘Hey, we just pulled this off.’”
Each student also received $10,000 in scholarships to Sullivan University, a private school in Louisville, Ky. More importantly, said Simpson, his students learned how to store and process raw and cooked foods as well as how to think and operate under pressure.
“The teamwork, written and verbal communication, problem-solving, and analytical thinking takes place more than they ever realize,” he said. “It’s all about the opportunity, getting the kids out there, letting them experience this, and the competition becomes another layer in the curriculum. If we get a chef out of this, … that’s awesome.”
But they couldn’t have done it without the 23-year FFA veteran. The Missouri House of Representatives recognized this, lauding the Muddy River Smokers and Simpson in an official 2022 resolution: “The Osceola Muddy River Smokers could not have attained such phenomenal success without the exemplary leadership provided by Coach Charles Simpson.”
Simpson knew barbecue would be a great fit for teaching. He was already teaching an introduction to food science course, “and to teach kids about where things come from, breaking down and butchering a pig each year in science class, being able to take all that a step further, show them how to put it in a pit and cook it, there’s just a sense things come full circle.”
Simpson is also the director of the Missouri High School BBQ Association, and encourages FFA advisors who are interested in starting their own team to email him at [email protected] or find him on the Missouri High School BBQ Association Facebook page.
“It’s project-baste learning at its finest,” Simpson quipped.
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