Steer bar­be­cue is a big deal – a very big deal

‘ We don’t even spray the beef with beer any­more’

Cape Breton Post - - EDITORIAL -

I get to Kingston, Kings Co., early, be­cause I’m think­ing it takes a while to bar­be­cue a whole steer. Turns out I don’t know any­thing, be­cause, while it does take a long time, 8 a.m. is too early.

(Oh well, at least the wheels didn’t fall off this par­tic­u­lar trip un­til the very last day.)

Be­cause I am pre­cisely 10 hours too early for the steer go­ing into the bar­be­cue, and 28 hours early for it com­ing out. Let me put this another way: no roast beef for me.

In Kingston (es­ti­mated pop., 5,150), the steer bar­be­cue is a big deal – a very big deal. The event may only be two days long, but it’s com­mem­o­rated 365 days a year with a statue in the cen­tre of town. And it’s so pop­u­lar that even a whole steer isn’t enough: there’s a mas­sive propane bar­be­cue box for the steer, and another smaller unit for cook­ing more hips of beef. The ex­tra hips go into their bar­be­cue at mid­night, 600 ad­di­tional pounds worth. Rick Haip­lik and Mark Caines are this year’s bar­be­cue mas­ters: it’s their first year, and they’re a lit­tle ner­vous. Af­ter all, in its 56th year, the event is billed as North Amer­ica’s long­est-run­ning steer bar­be­cue.

They do have help: many hands make lighter work, and vet­eran steer bar­be­cuer Hughie

Moore’s here to give them ad­vice – he’s in his eight­ies, and he’s got 44 con­sec­u­tive steer bar­be­cues un­der his belt, right back to when the bar­be­cue used char­coal. (Now, it’s propane.

Tanks and tanks and tanks of propane.)

“It was a long job. It took 2,000 pounds of char­coal to cook two steers,” dur­ing a 20-hour marathon, Moore says. “Peo­ple pre­ferred it. They liked it bet­ter with the char­coal. But it would take four peo­ple overnight.”

Now, the overnight shift is mostly turn­ing the steer a quar­ter-turn ev­ery 15 min­utes for 18 hours. No more shov­el­ing in pounds and pounds of al­ready-burn­ing char­coal.

Are there tricks to it? “No tricks,” Moore in­sists. Just straight for­ward roast­ing at ap­prox­i­mately 300 de­grees. “We don’t even spray the beef with beer any­more.”

When the steer ar­rives, it has to be prepped; any ex­tra in­te­rior fat cut away, its body cav­ity filled with onions and spices, and it’s then wrapped in wire mesh so that it holds to­gether through the cook­ing process. (There’s not a lot of mys­tery, but one year, a group from Char­lot­te­town came over on a mis­sion to look at start­ing their own roast. They de­cided it was too much work.)

The Kingston Lions, who run the bar­be­cue, are 90 per cent for- mer mil­i­tary, there’s an or­der to

their prepa­ra­tions – plus a lot of good-na­tured rib­bing. And some spe­cial­ized de­sign: a pur­pose-built three-lid bar­be­cue trailer can cook up to 600 pounds of beef on its own – in all, that gives the Lions the abil­ity to roast a mas­sive amount of meat.

There are also hic­cups: there’s a small dis­pute about whether to prep the steer in­stead or out­side, and now there’s the prob­lem that the slaugh­ter­house may be late with the steer.

When it ar­rives, it’s 790 pounds – and one of the butcher­ing tools is a Poulin Pro chain­saw.

In ad­di­tion to roast beef din­ners, there will be all man­ner of pic­nic foods, in­clud­ing beef bits on buns – 1,992 ham­burger buns have ar­rived: I counted them.

Mean­while, a stone’s throw away on the ball field, the At­lantic Strong­man com­pe­ti­tion is set­ting up shop. Why, this means it’s two fes­ti­vals in one!

The pow­er­lifters have been here be­fore, and they’re a big crowd-pleaser. They all look like

they’re from another planet – a par­tic­u­larly mus­cly one.

While the strong­men wres­tle with the un­wield­ily weights at one end of the field, the wrestling

with the hefty steer con­tin­ues – but the men work­ing on the steer have a trac­tor to come and lift their pre­pared beast into the bar­be­cue.

The steer – and all the rest of the roast beef – is sched­uled to come out of the bar­be­cue box

about the time the pa­rade floats, with the wav­ing Miss Kingston con­tes­tants on board, ar­rive at the rink and ball field. Then, the eat­ing will truly be­gin. My small tragedy? I’ll al­ready be back on the road. For home. Luck­ily, for home. Rus­sell Wanger­sky is TC Media’s At­lantic re

gional colum­nist. He can be reached at rusell.wanger­ A map of his 10 days of sum­mer fes­ti­val travel can be found at­ti­vals .

Rus­sell Wanger­sky

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