As someone who eats just about everything, I’ve always felt bad for people with dietary restrictions, whether rooted in health concerns, morals or religious beliefs. Until recently, however, it had never occurred to me that my Jewish neighbors who keep kosher rarely get to enjoy quality barbecue. Most accomplished barbecue chefs have a love affair with pork: pulled pork, pork ribs or the whole hog. And none of that, of course, is kosher. But even if you take pork out of the picture, the various other rabbinical laws that govern dietary concerns make most standard barbecue festivals strictly off-limits for the observant. So on October 19, the Jewish Community Center of Southern Nevada will come to their rescue with a barbecue cook-off that’s 100 percent kosher, in the parking lot of Temple Beth Sholom.
Having been raised Catholic, I had no idea about the number of rules involved in kashrut, the body of Jewish dietary laws. In addition to the basics, such as avoiding pork and shellfish, and not mixing meat and dairy products, keeping kosher begins with the way an animal is slaughtered, and then includes the inspection of its body and organs to make sure it wasn’t injured or diseased. Only certain parts of the animal are allowed to be eaten, and the utensils used to prepare them must be properly cleaned. Even vegetables must be washed under certain rules. And every ingredient used must be declared kosher by a rabbi. Moreover, once a kitchen (or a food truck) is certified kosher, no non-kosher items can be prepared there, unless you want to start the entire process over again.
Most, if not all, of the teams competing in the beans, brisket and rib categories at this cook-off are not kosher cooks. So to help them navigate myriad regulations, organizers reached out to 12 kosher barbecue restaurants around the country to help create a rulebook, “a whole barbecue manual,” the event’s co-founder Cheryn Serenco says.
Competitors will be judged by an all-star panel of local celebrity chefs. But attendees will also be able to purchase samples of the kosher creations. And when you’re not eating, you’ll be able to enjoy a zipline, bungee jump and mechanical bull, among other amusements.
Despite the kosher rules, Serenco insists the event isn’t religious in nature, but intended to bring all Valley residents together. “The only reason we make it kosher is because that makes everyone in the entire city feel comfortable attending the event,” she says. Along those lines, a representative of the Islamic Society of America says that Muslims who keep hallal should feel comfortable eating anything kosher.
So no matter who you are, or what you eat, the festival should have something for you. Just don’t ask for a pulled-pork sandwich.
JCC Barbecue Cook-Off Festival
Noon-4 p.m., October 19, in the parking lot at Temple Beth Sholom, 10700 Havenwood Lane, 702-794-0090, JCCBBQ.com.
$15 entry donation, $10 over 65 or under 18; $20 gets you 20 $1 food and drink credits.