My favorite fundraisers involve good food, a good cause, and rollicking good family fun. All are on the bill for this weekend’s First Annual Que for the Troops. It’s a serious (and seriously delicious) national BBQ cook-off competition and giant family fair, with rides, arts and crafts, food vendors, and car and motorcycle shows. It’s being held just 25 minutes from Princeton, at Falls Township Community Park in Levittown, PA. All proceeds benefit Liberty USO, which is the only USO unit in the country that, among other things, serves a full hot meal to troops deploying to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait.
Key organizer of Que for the Troops is Tom Christine, whose restaurant, Smoke’n Dudes BBQ, in Bensalem, PA, I featured in the May 20, 2009, issue of U.S. 1. “A very good friend of mine is heavily involved in Liberty USO, which does wonderful stuff,” Christine says. “He knew I was in barbecue and had been in competition.” In fact, Christine’s team won the Pennsylvania state championship in 2003, and he is a past president of the Mid-Atlantic BBQ Association. “So we said, let’s see about staging a barbecue contest. These are customarily done for a nonprofit, and this one is as good a cause as any I could think of.”
Over the last seven years, Liberty USO volunteers have served hot, home-cooked meals for every outbound and inbound flight, regardless of the day, weather, or time. Last year they served more than 20,000 troops and their families. This organization, which is the USO of Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey and has been around since 1941, is neither a government agency nor is it government funded. It depends solely on private donations, grants, and corporate gifts, and it supports all branches of the military, including the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and the National Guard and Reserves.
Thirty BBQ teams, including Blue Diamond Que of Lawrenceville, will compete at Que for the Troops. At stake is $6,500 in prizes, with the triumphant team taking the grand prize of $1,000, plus a trophy that towers above six feet. And, of course, bragging rights. “I found a fellow who really stepped up to the plate in doing the trophies,” Tom Christine says, proudly. About 40 crafters are lined up for the weekend, and Saturday’s car show will feature more than 200 exceptional vehicles, while Sunday will have about 150 antique and specialty motorcycles.
Christine estimates that between 5,000 and 8,000 people will attend, depending on the weather. He jokingly said he planned on attending church services twice the Sunday before, “and,” he added, “I’ll be lighting the extra large votives.”
Business continues to boom at his Smoke’n Dudes BBQ, which is located very near Neshaminy Mall, about a half-hour drive from Princeton. Since I last checked in with Christine and his family back in 2009, his Bensalem operation has become USDA certified. “Which means,” he says, “that we are now also selling retail here in the restaurant as well as to other restaurants. He also has a strong catering business: his minimum party size is 400 guests. These days, he has his two sons working side by side with him. Billy, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, is chef, while Tucker, the older of the two, handles all the press relations and the paperwork, which included the 18-month process of becoming USDA certified.
Tom Christine and his BBQ team no longer compete, but the Smoke’n Dudes crew will provide Sunday breakfast to the competitors, who will converge on the park from all over New Jersey, as well as Pennsylvania, New York, and Virginia. They will be judged in four main categories on Sunday — chicken, ribs, pulled pork, and brisket — which have to be turned in to the judges at 30-minute marks, starting at noon sharp, 12:30, 1, and 1:30 p.m. Competitors are given leeway of exactly five minutes before and after each turn-in time, and these guys mean business — time is kept with atomic clocks. If a competitor arrives with a meat one second past the leeway time, that meat doesn’t get judged. Winners will qualify for the next round of the National BBQ Cook-off. Among the more colorful team names are Aporkalypse Now, Blazin’ Buttz BBQ, and Live and Let Smoke.
Que for the Troops, Falls Township Community Park, 9125 Mill Creek Road, Levittown, PA. Saturday, May 21, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday, May 22, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Two-day event 25 minutes from Princeton includes a national BBQ cook-off including Blue Diamond Que of Lawrenceville. Family entertainment including live music, arts and crafts vendors, kids rides, and games. Car show Saturday; motorcycle show Sunday. All proceeds will be donated to Liberty USO. Presented by Smoke‘n Dudes restaurant in Bensalem, PA. On the web visit libertyuso.org. 215-603-2508 or www.queforthetroops.com.
Driving directions: From Princeton take Route 1 South, go through toll to cross into PA; take exit Route 13 (Tullytown/Bristol). In about two miles take the Millcreek Road exit. Turn left at bottom of ramp, onto Millcreek Road. In about 1/2 mile the park entrance is on the left (just after you pass Lynn Avenue on the right). If you reach the Bristol Bypass, you’ve gone too far.