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Windy City BBQ Classic Brings Out City's Best 'Old-School' Pit Masters

 The three-year-old smokehouse brings Tennessee-style barbecue to the Soldier Field.
Windy City BBQ Classic
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WEST ROGERS PARK — Step aside, Ribfest.

The second annual Windy City BBQ Classic, planned for Sept. 1 at Soldier Field's south parking lot, could take the crown as the king of Chicago barbecue events.

"It’s not a dog-and-pony show," said Jared Leonard, co-founder of the classic and owner of Rub's Backcountry Smokehouse at Western and Lunt avenues. "It’s a real hard-core barbecue competition."

Just how hard-core is it?

For starters, competitors have to use wood or charcoal — no gas or electricity allowed — to cook meat for accredited judges trained in the art of true barbecue.

And the winner is automatically qualified to compete in the granddaddy of all barbecue competitions: the invitation-only Jack Daniel's World Championship in Tennessee later this year.

Even though Leonard's ribs won "Best Ribs" at last year's Ribfest Chicago in Lincoln Square, he said festival competitions are nothing more than popularity contests.

This year, the classic pits 30 teams — including Southern Krunk BBQ Boys, featured on the third season of TLC's "BBQ Pitmasters," against each other.

Unlike most of the city's rib competitions and festivals, attendees won't be allowed to taste the competitor's ribs. Those are for judges only.

But a separate section, featuring vendors like Barn & Company, Sweet Baby Ray's Barbecue and Famous Dave's, will serve up samples and compete for a people's choice prize of $5,000 and serious "bragging rights," Leonard said.

"It’s going to be really difficult," said William Sundwall, 35, one of the competitors grilling it out for cash prizes in four categories — ribs, brisket, pork shoulder and chicken.

He and the other 30 competitors will present their barbecue anonymously to the judges. Only meat, no garnish or sauces, will be considered.

Joe Woodel, owner of Husky Hog BBQ, says the "old-school" pit masters like himself and Leonard are a "dying breed."

"My competition pit is just straight charcoal and sticks and me," said the 36-year-old Tennessee native. "If it was up to me, that’s the only way you should cook barbecue."

The Windy City BBQ Classic offers three ways to enjoy the competition, food and beer.

The cheapest option is $49, which includes admission and all-you-can-eat rib samples.

For $79, you can be a "VIP" and enjoy all the ribs and beer — provided by Lagunitas Brewing Company, Argus Brewery, Solemn Oath, Two Brothers — you can handle.

The high-roller package for $99 gets you the aforementioned perks, free bloody marys, one-hour early access to the event, premium seating and more.

For Sundwall, a 35-year-old insurance salesman who runs Hawgwash BBQ & Catering on the side, competition should be fierce.

"Top 10 would be awesome," he said. "That’s what I’m shooting for."