Iowa's big bacon bash

by MEAT+POULTRY Staff
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Mirroring the popularity of bacon, organizers of the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival, planning for its ninth annual event in Des Moines, say attendance has grown larger and larger. This year’s festival, set for Feb. 20 at the Iowa Events Center, is expected to draw approximately 14,000 people.

The festival, founded by Brooks Reynolds, is a one-day bash offering extensive bacon sampling, bacon lectures, bacon-inspired dishes, bacon competitions, live entertainment and more.

“We have the largest showcase of bacon of any bacon festival that I’ve ever heard of,” Reynolds says.

The Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival debuted in 2008 at the El Bait Shop, a bar in Des Moines. It was a small charity event organized by Reynolds and attended by nearly 200 people.

“We had so much fun with it, and people really enjoyed it,” Reynolds says. “But I had no idea at the time that I would still be organizing this event eight years later.”

By the fourth festival in 2011, Reynolds realized he had something special on his hands. That event was moved to a larger venue to accommodate its growing popularity — about 2,000 attended that year.
The next year, the event moved to an even larger facility — a 100,000-sq.-ft. spot at the Iowa State Fairgrounds — to contain the 4,500 people who purchased tickets. The following year, those 4,500 tickets sold out in three minutes.

“We were flabbergasted,” Reynolds says.

The spacious Iowa Events Center has been the site of the event for the last few years.

“We try to create a very quirky event,” Reynolds says. “If you have the same event year after year, it would get kind of stale and people would say, ‘I’ve been there and done that.’”

To keep it quirky and original, the festival adopts a different theme every year and attendees are encouraged to dress the part. Last year’s theme was “BaconMania VIII: The Greatest Bacon Event of All Time,” which played off World Wrestling Entertainment’s annual “WrestleMania” event. Many attendees donned wrestling attire while walking around munching on bacon.

“There was a lot of Spandex going on,” Reynolds says.

Considering this year’s 1980s theme, “Body by Bacon: Sweatin’ to the Sizzle,” there might even be more Spandex happening. There will also be bacon-inspired fitness sessions and a Body by Bacon costume contest.

“As we all know, a well-balanced diet paired with exercise sets the stage for a long and happy ‘bacony’ life,” Reynolds says. “With that said, I along with many bacon lovers, have needed a reason to put a Richard Simmons video in our VCRs and get into better shape. And the purpose of this year’s theme is to motivate us to do just that.”

This year’s event will include about 40 different food vendors that will offer bacon-inspired products. About 10 bacon companies will set up booths so attendees can sample their products, which will include different bacon styles and flavors. Local food writers and bloggers will judge a best bacon contest.
The festival will occupy the entire four floors and 300,000-plus sq. ft. of the facility. One floor will be the site of educational lectures.

“People can learn about the science of bacon and the history of bacon,” Reynolds says. “Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey will give a report on the Iowa bacon industry. If you want to learn about bacon, this is a great place to educate yourself about it.”

When Reynolds began the festival, he didn’t notice too many other bacon festivals around the country.

That has changed, however, but Reynolds isn’t aware of a festival as large as the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival.

“We are considered the granddaddy of them all,” Reynolds says.

The Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival has branched off with other smaller annual events in Las Vegas; Keystone, Colo.; Waukee, Iowa; and even Reykjavik, Iceland. While all of the festivals are about eating bacon and having fun, Reynolds also makes it a priority to use them as fundraisers for local nonprofit charities.

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