VINTON — Even before Brett Richards was crowned the barbecue king of Iowa, customers lined up at his Smoken’ on the Cedar stand on Friday nights.
Last Friday, Richards’ trophy for winning the 2011 Iowa Farm Bureau Cookout Contest was prominently displayed at the stand’s window, cementing his reputation in the area as a master griller.
Tom Garwood, of Vinton, knew about Richards’ victory earlier in the week, but that wasn’t why he showed up just before the stand opened at 5:00 p.m. Friday.
“I try to make it every week,” Garwood says. “It’s good barbecue.”
Richards, 47, beat out 36 other grillers in the Iowa Farm Bureau contest Aug. 16 at the Iowa State Fair with his "Poor Man’s Prime Rib," which also placed first in the beef category.
He used the upper part of a cow’s front shoulder for his winning recipe.
“It is a tender, well-marbled cut that nobody knows about,” he says.
It averages $2.89 a pound, compared to $10 to $12 a pound for top loin, usually used in prime rib — hence the “poor man" description.
Richards has placed three of the four years he has participated in the Farm Bureau contest. This year will be his last in the competition, as there is a standing rule that once you are crowned grand champion, you can’t go back.
But that won’t stop him from serving smoked favorites like ribs, pork loin, turkey and shredded pork and beef every Friday night to regular and new customers.
He and his wife, Dawnette, opened up Smoken’ on the Cedar four years ago. The camper frame which he transformed into a mobile kitchen sits in a parking lot west of the G&G Auto Parts store on Third Street in Vinton.
Brett smokes the meat, while Dawnette makes all the sides — macaroni salad, coleslaw and cheesy potatoes — as well as bread pudding and pies.
“We make the same amount each week,” Dawnette Richards says. “Sometimes we sell out by 6:30 p.m., sometimes we have a lot left over at 8:00 p.m.”
Although there is probably enough demand for the stand to be open more than one night a week, the couple have plenty on their plate.
He owns Richards Plumbing in Vinton and also works security. She works for Aramark Food Services in Cedar Rapids.
Smoken’ on the Cedar is open 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Fridays during mild weather, usually May through October.
“We close in the winter and hibernate,” he says. “It’s a hobby that got out of hand.”