Smoked at the World Pork Expo

By Matthew Wilde, Iowa Soybean Association senior writer
Photos by Joseph L. Murphy, Iowa Soybean Association

Baby back ribs: Pork’s version of candy.

Literally tons of these succulent, tender and sometimes sweet — depending on the spices used — smoked cuts of meat were served to more than 20,000 people from all over the world at this year’s World Pork Expo in Des Moines. The three-day event, held at the Iowa State Fair, started June 8.

That’s not all.

Skilled grill teams and vendors also served up thousands of pounds of mouth-watering pork loin, pulled pork, sausage and other delicacies — a T-bone couldn’t be found. When done right, experienced grillers say lean pork is some of the tastiest protein on the planet.

At the Expo, where all things pork rules, baby backs are truly king, according to Christy Bouska, leader of Lynch BBQ of Waucoma.

“They are the quintessential pork candy,” Bouska boasts. “They are so good. Paired with our sweet corn with bacon and green chilies, party potatoes (bacon, cheddar cheese and chopped loin) and sautéed mushrooms, it’s a perfect combination.”

I and Iowa Soybean Association Member Communications Manager Joe Murphy “had to” see for ourselves for the good of Iowa Food & Family Project readers. She wasn’t exaggerating.

Bouska’s father, Gary Lynch, started the grilling and catering business more than two decades ago to complement his then hog buying and trucking company. Lynch Livestock has since expanded into other areas like pork production. The company turns 100 this year.

She said the BBQ business, working public events and participating in grilling competitions are a great way to interact with consumers and talk about modern pork production.

“People mainly want to know that hogs are humanely raised and if we’re good producers,” Bouska said. “Most people want to feel good about what they eat. We take every opportunity to do that.”

As she talked, tray after tray of steaming-hot pork emerged from multiple Lynch smoker/grill trailers lined up along the fairgrounds’ Grand Concourse. Bouska said Lynch alone will cook nearly two tons of pork at the Expo to serve in its hospitality tent and in others.

Not far from the Lynch contingent, the Iowa Select Farms’ Pork grilling team was busy smoking 108 pounds of baby back ribs and 115 pounds of pork loin to serve employees, vendors and others in their hospitality tent. Iowa Select Farms, based in Iowa Falls, cooked up that much or more each day of the event.

Grill master Brian Nevenhoven, who works on special projects for one of the largest pork producers in the country, said the secret to smoking pork is the right temperature, time and seasoning. He smokes baby backs for 4 hours and loin for 2 hours, both at 275 degrees. He only uses Corky’s seasoning and BBQ sauce.

“They melt in your mouth,” Nevenhoven said. “But it all starts with good, lean cuts of meat. That’s what Iowa Select Farms strives to produce every day.”

Iowa Select Farms grills meat on special occasions, like the expo and owner Jeff and Deb Hansen’s appreciation golf outing.

One of Nevenhoven’s favorite parts of the job, when he’s not slicing and dicing ribs, is interacting with those enjoying the food.

“The expo attracts all types of people from all walks of life,” he said.

Helping people understand where their food comes from is why Iowa Select Farms is a partner in the Iowa Food & Family Project.

Company employees relish the opportunity to inform consumers about modern pork production. They also attend seminars at the expo to learn how to raise more sustainable and tastier pork.

“The ultimate goal is to provide a better quality product for consumers,” said Jen Sorenson, Iowa Select Farms communications director.

That’s what draws The Pig Lady, aka Jo Faye Fatino, to the expo year after year. Dressed in pig garb head to toe — pig earrings, shorts, shirt, backpack and hat — she walked the fairgrounds holding a foam pig on a leash on opening day. She just loves pretty porcine.

Fatino lives a few blocks from the fairgrounds, and the aroma of the grills lures her back year after year.

“I’m a pork advocate,” Fatino said. “You get to eat everything. I never go away hungry.”