High-profile team cooks in Iola



July 28, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Tom and Judy Brigham worked feverishly for several weeks to ensure revival of the Allen County Fair barbecue contest under the Iola Rotary Club banner was a success.
That they were able to recruit the Ponca City, Okla., crew of Paul Schatte and Mike Neisen was a huge plus.
Schatte owns a substantial portion of Head Country Food Products in Ponca City, with its flagship commodity being Head Country Bar-B-Q sauce, the choice of many competitors in Midwestern cook-offs.
The Brighams visited the Ponca City factory with the thought of picking up a strong regional sponsor and were so impressive, said Schatte and Neisen, that they decided to come out of semi-retirement from weekly barbecue competition and set up shop in Iola.
“A wonderful setting,” said Neisen of the tree-filled grass expanse.
Schatte and Neisen competed individually for several years before deciding to join forces and then, with demands at the factory increasing, they decided pull back from competition.
“This is our first time out this year,” said Schatte.
But, it is far from the first time this year that their signature sauce has flavored meats prepared at cook-offs.
Schatte pointed out that 17 times in the 24-year history of the famed Jack Daniels world championship contest at Lynchburg, Tenn., Head Country sauce has had a role with winning entries.
Schatte explained the sauce brewed in Ponca City often was a part of what competitors used, along with honey, other additives and personally concocted sauces added to meats as they cooked and simmered.
Success has followed Schatte and Neisen on the competition trail. In Oklahoma state contests over seven years they carried home grand champion trophies four times and took reserve championships the other three. Schatte also has won state championships in Illinois, North Carolina, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas.

IN 1991 Schatte, a school teacher and administrator, decided to enter the amateur division of a local barbecue contest.
“I got fifth in brisket and when I heard my name called out, I was pretty much hooked,” he said.
A few years later he had opportunity, at behest of its owner, to take a position at Head Country. In 2008 he bought into the company. Schatte continues to have an integral role at the factory, although a portion of it was sold to an equity group in February.
“We’ll be able to do more with the equity group” and its funding abilities, Schatte said.
Head Country products are found throughout the Midwest and in 18 foreign countries. Two large marketers are Walmart and Dillon’s.

MORE THAN 20 barbecue teams were involved in competition here Saturday, enough to qualify winners to cook in the Kansas City Barbecue Society’s competition later this year.
Each team prepared chicken, ribs, pork and brisket for assessment by judges sequestered in the Recreation Community Building’s Little Theater.

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