Crammed into one of the cooking stalls at Broken Arrow Park, Kyle Laval is getting a pork rump ready for the judges.
This particular slab of meat was about ready, having spent the majority of the past 12 hours stuffed in a smoker. Now, Laval and his Kansas City, Mo.-based cooking crew were putting on the finishing touches.
"We've got to separate out the muscle we're going to use," Laval said, carrying the pork rump from the sauce table to the grill.
Laval and 47 other professional and amateur meat connoisseurs spent most of this weekend tending beef, pork and chicken at the Lawrence Sertoma Club's eighth annual cookoff.
For some, this Kansas City Barbecue Society-sanctioned event is the biggest cooking contest of the year. For others here, it serves as a warmup for bigger barbecue events later this year in Lenexa and Kansas City.
Either way, organizer Dave Clark said, the event draws cooking teams from all over the area, all ready to grill for points and cash prizes - with the grand champion winning a slot at the American Royal Barbecue in October.
The members of Blowin' Smoke BBQ and head cook Robert Bishop of Raytown, Mo., won that honor.
The event also serves as a public taste test, with a people's choice award at the end of the day. Portions of the $5 entry fee and other proceeds went to the Sertoma-Schiefelbusch Communication Camp, which helps kids with communication challenges.
Back along cook's row, Laval dropped the pig on the grill with a sizzle and closed the lid for a moment.
"The idea is to crisp up the fat underneath," he said, hovering over the grill.
Finally, he reached down and picked the meat up, flipping it over. The underbelly looked nuclear.
"See how that's bubbling?" he asked. "That's what you want."
For Laval and the other contestants Saturday, it was all about what the judges wanted, whether it was crispy fat on pulled pork or a perfectly done cut of brisket.
But what were the judges looking for, exactly?
Across the park in the shelter, tables of judges sat waiting for the contestants to deliver the meat in Styrofoam boxes.
Jim Vetter, who has been judging meat for more than a decade now, said he knew almost instinctively how a properly cooked slab should taste.
"Some of it just comes natural," he said of his well-developed barbecue palate.
First, that palate has to be cleared. Judges here used plain crackers or parsley between the different meats, especially after a bite of heavy-duty spice or sauce.
But this wasn't a sauce contest. No, meat ruled the day here, and Vetter quickly rattled off some insider knowledge about what it takes to win.
Vetter said he preferred meat al dente, "tender, but not too much."
Ribs can't fall off the bone - that means they got too hot - and a brisket should pull apart easily, meaning that at some point during the cooking process it hit the right temperature for the right amount of time.
It's more complex than that, but just as Vetter began spilling the real secrets, he had to rush off as contestants began marching the first batch of meat into the shelter.
For those slaving over hot smokers and grills, the march of meat meant the end of a killer weekend.
More on the Sertoma Club
Back at their cooking post, members of the Lawrence-based Notorious P.I.G. cooking crew approached their first moment of rest in more than a day.
Jeff Novorr stands over a fresh brisket, the last component to this year's entry. He's tired, eyes slightly red, ready to be done with it all.
He's been tending the grill for 28 straight hours, stoking coals during a cold and blustery night at the park, making sure the meat was turned and basted properly during the cooking process.
"After this, we'll chill out a little bit," Novorr said.