Keg’s Pit heats up for Sampler fest

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May 5, 2011 - 12:00 AM

Hundreds of folks will be happily licking their fingers this weekend, thanks to Jason Kegler.
Kegler, owner of Keg’s Pit BBQ in Iola, will be offering samples of his tasty fare at the 22nd annual Kansas Sampler Festival in Leavenworth.
Kegler’s is one of only three barbecue stands operating at the festival; the only BBQ from southeast Kansas invited to participate. He plans to serve his house specialties: Pulled pork sandwiches and nachos and smoked sausage.
“This should provide some good exposure for us,” said Kegler, whose love of all things barbecue stemmed from his childhood in Kansas City, a city known for great barbecue.
The premise behind the Sampler Festival is a simple one: To give the public a sample of what there is to see, do, hear, buy, learn about — and in Kegler’s case — taste, in the Sunflower State.
Large circus tents will be packed with vendors’ booths, promoting Kansas products from all four corners of the state. Artisans will display their crafts and entertainers will perform.
Keg’s Pit will be set up a stone’s throw from the Southeast Kansas tent, which will be staffed from representatives from the Iola area, Humboldt and Woodson County chambers of commerce, as well as neighboring communities, such as Chanute and Independence.
All of the Sampler Festival’s events will be held Saturday and Sunday at Ray Miller Park, 4201 S. Fourth St., in Leavenworth.

KEGLER’S SCHEDULE is certain to keep him busy well before sunup to well past dusk each day.
“We have a room reserved, but I have a hunch I won’t be sleeping much,” Kegler said, noting the preparation for the pulled pork begins hours and days in advance. He is preparing 200 pounds of pulled pork and another 200 pounds of smoked sausage.
Wife Terra will be on hand when available, and Kegler has recruited several old teammates and their children. Kegler, 36, played varsity basketball at the University of St. Mary (formerly St. Mary College), located in Leavenworth.
“It’ll be good to see some old friends,” he said.

KEGLER’S introduction into the barbecue business came as a child, when he would sample food prepared by his father, Carl, who cooked for family and friends.
Kegler gave little notion to cooking professionally, instead focusing on his “real” career as the director of student life at Allen County Community College. That changed in 2005, when he purchased his first smoker, ostensibly to cook for family and friends, like his father.
“We entered a couple of competitions and did fairly well, and a few more people started calling,” he said.
He purchased a second smoker in 2007 and began plans to moonlight as a barbecue cook at area festivals and such as Big Boys Barbecue. He purchased the third and largest smoker of his collection, a commercial unit, in 2009, and changed the operation’s name to Keg’s Pit.
“That was my wife’s doing,” he said. “If our name was going to be involved with it, our name was going to be in it.”
He hopes to expand further sometime soon, with the purchase of a self-loading smoker system.
Kegler’s foray into cooking professionally coincided with a helpful hand from his father.
“He passed down all his secrets to me,” Kegler said. “Up to then, I had done a lot of trial and error.”
His father still helps on occasion.
“He calls himself the prep boy and me the pit master,” Kegler said. “He’ll tell you that I’m the better cook because the food preparation is more scientific now, and the technology is out there. Everything, from the timing to the adding the ingredients, is a process.”
Kegler occasionally experiments with various cooking procedures, but those are for private functions only. The foods he has perfected, such as his pulled pork, ribs, brisket and smoked sausage, remain the same.
“People really like the pulled pork,” he said, “which is fine. I just happen to like ribs and brisket more.”
In addition to traveling to various events throughout the year, Kegler’s smoker is set up each Saturday in the parking lot of Cedarbrook Fitness Center at the intersection of U.S. 54 and U.S. 169 on the east edge of Iola.
One notable exception will be this weekend because of his participation in the Sampler Festival.
Kegler also has reached an agreement with Sidelines Sports Bar and Grill, 112 S. Washington Ave., to prepare sandwiches on a regular basis.

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