“I went to Q Fest in 2019 and bit into a rib. The flavor exploded in my mouth. It was the best rib I’d ever tasted in my whole life,” recalls Lenny Stahl, co-owner of Dakota Storage Buildings. “The experience inspired me. By November, I had purchased equipment and began dabbling in barbecue. I was giving it away and asking for feedback. ‘Hey, will you try this?’ ‘What do you think of this?’” He started to see how sharing food strengthens every relationship, and he decided to put his money where his mouth is. Dakota Storage Buildings is now the Prime Sponsor of Q-Fest 2023. Q-Fest takes place this Saturday during Farley Fest and features over $4000 in prizes. First place takes home $1100.
“I’ve made it a life quest to add value to other people’s lives,” Lenny declares, “and Dakota Storage Buildings believes in investing in people and the community. I can’t think of a better way to do that than with food. We all need it. We all love it, and Q-Fest helps bring us together.”
Who can resist caramelized chicken, charred pork, or smoky brisket? At Q-Fest you can chow down on scrumptious bits of brisket, pork, or chicken for just $2 apiece from noon until 2 p.m. You’ll have no trouble finding the contest. Just say, “What’s that amazing smell?” and then follow your nose. Each team will be ready to wow you with their riff on the classics because if there’s one strict rule in barbecue, it’s there are no strict rules in barbecue.
Kansas City might create barbecue that’s slow-smoked and sweet. Memphis uses vinegar, more pork, and lots of ribs. Carolinians prefer whole hogs and mustard or vinegar-based sauce. Texas is big on brisket and sausages, and you’ll probably find chilies in their mop sauce. But here in the breadbasket of America, we do it all. Some say Midwesterners just like playing with fire.
Lenny agrees and laughs at the idea of conforming to a style. “I do it the Dakota way. I make it my own. Let Kansas City have theirs. Let Texas have theirs. I just want to do my own thing. Experiment. Plus, I desire to improve.”
“People ask me, ‘Can you please just stick to your original?’ Nope. It’s not my way. I want to keep making it better. I try this; try that. A few failures, but I’m learning. Like when I took a Boston pork butt and made it on a pellet smoker, and then made another one over charcoal and wood. I could totally see the difference, and it was like night and day.”
He says he often watches YouTube channels such as Malcolm Reed of How to Barbecue Right and one called Meat Church. “Okay. Crazy name,” he says, but the show’s intriguing. They also sell great seasonings with names like Holy Ghost Fire. That one’s really hot.”
Sampling different kinds of barbecue on his travels is also interesting, but — and it’s a big but…”I’ve been so royally disappointed, it’s hard for me to take a chance unless it’s a small roadside joint,” he laments. “Some of the best chicken I’ve ever had was at a business open house in Pennsylvania. They hired a local barbecue wizard to come in and make chicken quarters. It was unbelievable! I have yet to figure out how to get my chicken to taste like that.”
“Most of the time, I stick to ribs and pork butts,” he says. “I keep going back to brisket. A great brisket is so difficult. I keep trying. Gotta keep trying.”
“I’ve tried a vast variety of spices, too,” he says. “A lot of my seasonings come from Lane’s BBQ. They don’t add fillers and artificial garbage. Just natural stuff. No MSG.”
“I also like to cook ribeye on a griddle. I get the griddle as hot as I can — 900 to 1000 degrees – and sear the steak on both sides. It only takes about two to three minutes on each side to get the meat to medium rare. Absolutely delicious!”
“A new method for me is to take charcoal and get it extremely hot. Once it’s red hot, I add in chunks of white oak wood. Then, I just toss on a ribeye. It usually takes about 10 minutes to get it done. The smoke is unbelievably thick, so you have to watch it because if you put it too low, you’ll get too much smoke flavor. Oh, how good it is! I’m still experimenting with charcoal brands. Some taste better than others.”
His family gets into barbecue, too, although they lean more toward the eating part. His girls (ten, seven, and four) love to help when it comes to seasoning the meat. He laughs and says, “It’s a start, though. It’s a start.” They also love it when his wife, Martha, whips up a batch of mac-n-cheese and he cooks it in the smoker.
The employees at Dakota Storage Buildings also benefit from Lenny’s barbecue hobby. “I try to barbecue for my employees at least one Thursday a month. It’s proved to be a unique way for us to bond. However, it’s not always barbecue. Last month, it was charcoal burgers. I might smoke wings. I might smoke ribs. I might even try briskets again.”
“I believe if you want to build community with anyone, food probably needs to be part of the equation,” he posits. “I’d love to see more people get excited about Q-Fest, and I bet then we would really watch it grow. How did Kansas City become the national center for barbecue gatherings? People got involved.”
He’s grateful for the Q-Fest committee members Pat Blauert, Travis Lester, and Brian Trapp, who make it all happen. But, the more the merrier is a theory that could bubble over. “Eating is emotional,” Lenny emphasizes. It’s a time-tested, sacred ritual. Like many things, it’s better done together. “In the last three or four years since I got hooked on barbecue, I’ve noticed something. When people sit down together and break bread, you never see them arguing and fighting. Maybe as a community, as a nation, we need to share a table and have more conversations over good food.”