turn up the heat 1 1
Paul Hoefer is the Vice President of Business Development at Spotlight. He has been with the company for over nine years! Throughout the years, he's made some great memories and has shares some delicious smoked and grilled dishes with the team. This year, he put his passion for BBQ to the test as a judge at the ND BBQ Championship!
in , , ,

Turn Up the Heat with SCHEEL ND BBQ Championship!

The annual North Dakota BBQ Championship, hosted by SCHEELS Home & Hardware, is the biggest backyard grilling event in the valley, and there’s quite a bit at “steak.” For each category, as well as for the reserve champion and grand champion, there are cash prizes. Winners are chosen by none other than the community’s finest BBQ judges; and this year, one of Spotlight’s own, Paul Hoefer, took his seat among the jury, ready to face the grillmasters.

Paul has a personal interest in grilling and smoking different recipes, but how did he land a spot as a judge for it? Let’s learn about the grilling competition and hear what it was like for Paul to put his taste buds to the test!

Paul Hoefer is the Vice President of Busines Development at Spotlight. He has been with the company for over nine years! Throughout the years, he’s made some great memories and has shared some delicious smoked and grilled dishes with the team. This year, he put his passion for BBQ to the test as a judge at the ND BBQ Championship!

GNodland SCHEELS BBq Comp final 6840 maxWidth 1200 maxHeight 1600 ppi 72 quality 100

“Honestly, this is a true case of not what you know, but who you know. My buddy, Tank McNamara, asked me if I was available to be a last-minute fill-in. Tank has been judging this competition from the start. He knows I like to fire up my smoker and BBQ, so it worked out well for me,” Paul said. “I think he picked me because he knows I am a fan of food and he has seen me eat before!”

Speaking of eating, the judges needed to come ready to chow down, as there were four different events throughout the day; chicken, pork shoulder, pork rib and brisket, all of which the groups of judges had to try six to seven different submissions from contestants. Totaling over 20 BBQs throughout the day, Paul counted 26 for himself. This is not a challenge for the faint of stomach, but how do you even begin to prepare for this?

“I actually started my Saturday morning off with a great breakfast at Randy’s University Diner with some friends. I then just went about my morning like normal. I needed to be there about 45 minutes before the first round of judging,” Paul said. “I did ask others at my table, who have done this before, for some tips. Like, ‘I don’t have to eat all of it, do I?’ They let me know their tips and the best way to judge, as well as the right amount of each meat to eat. It ended up being a lot of food, all great food!”

turn up the heat 2

The food is great and all, but the judging portion is very specific. Eric Berg has been a co-director of the event from its beginnings. Beginning in 2012 as part of what was known as Blues, Brews and BBQ, the event has turned into the sophisticated (but fun!) grilling competition it is today. The judges take their jobs as seriously as the cooks behind the grills.

After the last scorecard is filled out, Eric and his other scorekeeper head to a trailer to see which grillmaster received the most points.

Congratulations to all of this year’s ND BBQ Championship Winners!


  1. Burnt Trees BBQ
  2. Brothers BBQ
  3. Hit or Miss


  1. Owens BBQ
  2. Sheyenne BBQ
  3. Cross Cut


  1. Big J’s BBQ
  2. Threat Level: Midnight
  3. BullDog


  1. Cross Cut BBQ
  2. Burnt Trees BBQ
  3. Sheyenne BBQ



Throughout the day, both judges and contestants face ups and downs. Here’s what Paul thought of his first competition as a judge!

Q: What was the best part of the competition as a judge?

A: Being able to try various different types of meat, prepared in unique and various ways. I still can’t believe how presentable they all looked. I think about my smoking skills and I can’t even come close to how great they presented each piece of meat.

Q: What was the most challenging part of the competition as a judge?

A: Let’s be honest, there really wasn’t a bad piece of BBQ. So, having to determine what is average in these settings and what is excellent was difficult. I would have my own system when judging; I would try two different pieces then score them, then move on one at a time and if need be, adjust scores as I try something new. I would often need to try a piece a few times.

Q: Would you like to be a judge again?

A: I have prayed every night since that I get asked again… Eric, are you reading this! I do hope I am able to do this again, I enjoyed it. I really appreciated how serious this really is. Until you judge one of these, you never really understand what goes into judging. For example, there is no talking while people at your table are judging. It is serious, but don’t get me wrong, it was a ton of fun and there were lots of laughs.

Q: If you were to judge again, would you do anything differently?

A: Yes, next time I will bring multiple to-go containers with me. It worked out in the end, but I think that will be a for sure next time! Outside of that, I wouldn’t change anything.

Outside of the competition, the SCHEELS Home & Hardware parking lot was packed with members of the community tasting and trying all sorts of BBQ goods. Check it out next year if you get a chance!

turn up the heat 3

Written by Geneva Nodland

web featured image 45

Tips to Tackle Your NDSU Tailgate!

web featured image 46

Chef Spotlight: Catering Chef & GM of BernBaum’s, Candace Stock