Steer barbecue is a big deal – a very big deal
‘ We don’t even spray the beef with beer anymore’
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 email@example.com. A map of his 10 days of summer festival travel can be found at