INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- The American Royal barbecue contest that starts Friday is making cash registers ring for specialty meat shops, where many contestants are getting their beef, pork and poultry.
At Curt's Famous Meats a team of all-women meat cutters was busy providing custom cuts for customers. It's the perfect storm for those who like to barbecue. More than 500 American Royal grillers, the Royals in the playoffs, a Chiefs football game, and NASCAR at Kansas Speedway all means there's big demand for meat on the grill this weekend.
"There are so many things that we offer," said Donna Pittman, owner of Curt's Famous Meats. "We send many teams to the Royal that we help sponsor. We let them come in and pick out their own piece of meat. Whatever they want, their own loin, their own pork shoulder. Their own brisket. They can actually go back into the cooler and pick it out."
Specialty butcher shops like this one are increasingly harder to find with the spread of mega-markets. Curt's Famous Meats says it's doing three times it's normal sales this week, as meat cutters here are busy trimming choice cuts exactly the way barbecue competitors want them. Serious grillers often choose a specialty meat shop over a grocery store, when freshness and taste really matter.
"There's really no comparison," said John McClernon, an American Royal barbecue competitor. "I do all my competition meat from Curts here. The meat is fresh. I do tend to wait until the last minute to pick the meat up, before I go to the event. It's aged properly and Donna takes real good care of me here."
It's been busy Friday as many Royal contestants want their meat as fresh as possible before putting it on the grill.
Customers also seem to be making more of an effort to support locally owned small specialty shops, so they can continue to get fresh meat from nearby farms and ranches. As more people try to eat healthier, shops like one also have benefited by selling organic and grass-fed beef that people want, but have a hard time finding in grocery stores.