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R.I.B.S. for Kids leaves lasting impression

By Staff | Nov 10, 2008


Farm News staff writer

WALL LAKE — In any other setting, 44 lighted charcoal grills in the hands of novice barbecue cooks could be a recipe for disaster. At the annual Refining Individual Barbecue Skills for Kids event in this southern Sac County community, however, lively sixth, seventh and eighth grade students from Des Moines had the opportunity to learn about competition cooking methods from some of Iowa’s premiere pitmasters.

”I think every kid should learn to cook, even if it’s just to fry an egg,” said Speed Herrig, a barbecue specialist and president of Cookies Food Products in Wall Lake who helped coordinate the Nov. 1 event with the Iowa Barbecue Society.

”At R.I.B.S. for Kids, we want to create a unique experience for the students and teach them a little about barbecue, too.”

For the past seven years, IBS members have teamed up with the Iowa State University Meat Lab and with the Des Moines Public School District to provide R.I.B.S. for Kids to underprivileged youths living in the heart of Des Moines, many of whom have never traveled far beyond Iowa’s capital city.

The IBS invested approximately $3,000 in this year’s event, which was offered at no charge to kids from Moulton Elementary and Harding Middle School, where 58 to 70 percent of the students are children of color, including Latinos and blacks.

”Few of these kids have never seen a combine or been in rural Iowa at harvest time, so the trip to northwest Iowa was an experience in itself,” said Cliff Kessler, a site coordinator with Harding Middle School in Des Moines. ”Once the kids arrived in Wall Lake, they got to enjoy a variety of fun activities as they learned lifelong skills.”

Where there’s smoke, there’s flavor

For the students, this year’s R.I.B.S. for Kids event started at 7:30 a.m. when they boarded a chartered bus in Des Moines. After arriving in Wall Lake in time for breakfast, the students enjoyed Herrig’s guided tour of the Cookies plant, followed by fun and hands-on presentations about food safety, led by ISU graduate students. These included activities about proper handwashing, ways to prevent cross contamination, the importance of cooking meat to the proper temperature, and how to use meat thermometers, which were donated by the National Pork Board.

Right before lunch, the kids learned the basics of grill safety and teamed up for the barbecue sauce contest, where they added their own mix of spices and seasonings to create a signature sauce.

Following a hearty lunch of barbecue sandwiches with all the trimmings, Chef Shad Kirton led a creative dessert tutorial and cake decorating competition. Then it was time to head outdoors to the parking lot at the Cookies plant for the big barbecue competition.

Each child received a charcoal grill, utensils and three cuts of meat — steak, pork and chicken. By the time the meat was sizzling on the grills, the young pitmasters were using their meat thermometers like professionals, waiting for their steak to reach 145 degrees, 160 degrees for pork and 165 for chicken.

After the students submitted their boxes filled with meat and garnishes to the judges, the excitement continued to build until the trophies and medals were awarded for the best barbecue.

”It’s all fun,” said Brandon Kilts, 11. By late afternoon, the group boarded the bus for home with their grills, goodie bags and awards.

Karmen Kaskie, 13, who signed up for R.I.B.S. for Kids because it sounded interesting, wasn’t disappointed. ”I really liked the food and all the contests.”

A day to remember

The concept for R.I.B.S. for Kids evolved from a similar event in Jefferson City, Mo., said Mike Tucker, an IBS member who runs TNT Landscaping in Ankeny and competes on the barbecue circuit with Hawgeyes BBQ.

”I enjoy coming up here to Wall Lake, because it’s a great experience for everyone,” said Tucker, who noted that 15 to 20 IBS members volunteer their time to help out with the event. ”While the kids are presented with a lot of information, they pay attention and get a lot out of the activities.”

The students almost learn by accident, because they have so much fun, said Dr. Joe Cordray, an ISU professor of animal science who noted that R.I.B.S. for Kids is an important outreach program for ISU and the Meat Lab. ”Not only do the kids go home with a new grill, but they also gain a lot of new skills.”

Those experiences can leave a lasting impression, said Herrig, who recalled a chance meeting with a R.I.B.S. for Kids graduate at the Iowa State Fair. ”He ran up to me and said, ‘You probably don’t remember me, but I was at R.I.B.S. for Kids a few years ago. I learned so much and had so much fun that day and I’ll never forget it.’ That makes it all worth it.”

Contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

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