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Volunteer BBQ chefs serve 50,000 pounds of meat to Oklahoma tornado victims

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Food and volunteers continue to arrive in Moore, Okla., where last week’s tornado killed 24 people and damaged or destroyed thousands of homes. Volunteers nationwide have packaged and sent essentials such as lentils, rice and dehydrated vegetables and pallets of water. They’ve sent paper goods and diapers and blankets. But some folks showed up at the storm-ravaged region with one thing on their minds: barbecue — for the tornado victims, for first responders, for just about anyone who was hungry.

Many of the chefs belong to an organization called Operation BBQ Relief, which started its meat ministry two years ago after the disastrous tornado in Joplin, Mo. “We are a bunch of competition BBQ guys who started this,” says co-founder Stan Hays. “We have had a number of enthusiasts who jumped on board to help.”

What does that help entail?

-- During the first week after the Oklahoma tornado, the chefs of Operation BBQ Relief served 122,000 meals.

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-- Saturday, they prepared 26,000 meals. (“We had extra smokers. That was a record day.”)

-- On any given day the chefs used five or six commercial smokers, which could accommodate 600-900 pounds of meat. (“Most of that was pork butt.”)

-- Hays estimates Operation BBQ Relief chefs have cooked about 50,000 pounds of meat. (“If you throw in all the sides, you throw in another 15,000 to 20,000 pounds of food.”)

Hays, who lives outside of Kansas City, Mo., with his family, is involved in competition BBQ, as are most of the Operation BBQ Relief volunteers. He credits many businesses (Sam’s Club and local restaurants among them) with food donations and lists faith-based organizations as partners in the effort to serve up thousands upon thousands of pounds of pig. He laughed when asked about local health authorities and admitted they showed up soon after his volunteers started to set up. “We’re OK with that because we don’t want anybody getting sick.”

When he’s not feeding the needy, Hays and his other BBQ volunteers devote hours and days to the nationwide competition BBQ circuit, where the focus is on chicken, brisket, pork ribs and the ubiquitous pork butt.

They don’t anticipate disaster, but they know they will gather again to volunteer at some point. “We know we’re not the Red Cross or the Salvation Army, and we’re not trying to be,” Hays says. “We can just get in there so much faster than they can.”

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