A life-long Mortonite has helped to bring a new event to his hometown.



Ryan Koener is organizing Morton’s inaugural BBQ Throwdown on behalf of the Field Merchants Association. Twenty contestants will battle for the chance to win a cash prize and bragging rights in five different categories — chicken, beef brisket, ribs, pork shoulder and side dish — Saturday at the Field Shopping Center.


A life-long Mortonite has helped to bring a new event to his hometown.

Ryan Koener is organizing Morton’s inaugural BBQ Throwdown on behalf of the Field Merchants Association. Twenty contestants will battle for the chance to win a cash prize and bragging rights in five different categories — chicken, beef brisket, ribs, pork shoulder and side dish — Saturday at the Field Shopping Center.

“We’ve never had anything like this here in Morton,” said Koener, who has participated in competitions for four years.

With this year’s Peoria Rib Fest canceled, Koener said he knew there would be locals wanting to compete, so he thought, “Why not Morton?”

But Koener will not just be organizing the event.

“I’m a glutton for punishment, so I’m going to compete and organize the event,” he said. “But, I’ve been careful to keep a separation from organizing judges so there won’t be a conflict of interest.”

Proceeds from the event will benefit the Illinois CancerCare Foundation.

Koener said his goal is to raise $5,000 to $10,000 for the charity. Organizers are preparing for 4,000 people at the event.

Although the event is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, Susan Pyles, director of tourism at the Morton Tourism Association, said contestants will start preparing their dishes the day before.

“Contestants will come in on Friday because some of them cook their product for 18 hours,” she said. “They will come in on Friday and they will set up their booth and some of them will actually begin to cook.”

The event will feature many family-friendly attractions including a kids’ game area, a craft fair, food vendors, a beer garden, a 50/50 drawing, a raffle and the shops will be open.
Live music at the event will include Boogie Shooze from noon to 2:30 p.m., The Shake from 2:30 to 5 p.m. and Lead Foot Riot from 5 to 8 p.m.

Spectators will also get a chance to take the role of judge and taste some of the contestants’ cooking to help determine the “People’s Choice” award winner.

“If you go to a cook off, one of the things that always frustrated me was that you couldn’t eat everybody’s food,” Pyles said. “If you want to be a part of choosing the ‘People’s Choice’ award, then you would buy a ticket that gets you entry into the tasting corner.”

For this portion of the competition, Pyles said each competitor wanting to participate is given two full pork shoulders to prepare. Those wanting a taste, purchase a $5 ticket to go into the tasting corner. Once there, each “judge” can taste every pork shoulder dish and cast a vote for their favorite.

For the other events, contestants from across the Tri-County area bring their own meat and ingredients. To stay in accordance with the Kansas City Barbeque Society’s rules, all meat must be inspected before preparation begins.

“We are not Kansas City sanctioned because it’s our first one and there are some criteria we’d have to meet before you can become Kansas City Barbeque Society sanctioned,” Pyles said.

The event, however, is sanctioned by the Illinois Barbeque Society. Eight Kansas City-style judges will be at the event.

Pyles said she hopes the BBQ Throwdown will be successful and will continue in years to come.

“It’s going to be a great event for the whole family,” she said.

To purchase raffle tickets ahead of time, call Pyles at 266-5135. Tasting tickets must be purchased on site.