Growing Icebox Cookoff Under New Management

Radiator Supply House may no longer be the official organizer of the annual Icebox Cookoff event, but the festivities of what’s becoming one of the largest barbecue competitions on the West Coast will still be held at “home.”

RSH announced last month that Sweet Events, an arm of the Sweet Home Economic Development Group, will take over management of the Cookoff. The fourth-annual event will be held July 5-7 at Radiator Supply House, 4001 Long St., with more than $50,000 in payouts. In addition to fireworks, beer and live music, a variety of meats is expected to be on display as professional pitmasters display their barbecuing skills for thousands of expected visitors.

“This thing has grown with the help and support of the Sweet Home community and beyond,” Garrett shared in a video on social media, adding that Sweet Events has better resources to handle the expanding affair.

Initiated in 2021 by J&C Barbecue in partnership with Radiator Supply House, the cookoff began mid-pandemic with 41 teams from around the Northwest competing for cash prizes while a band livened the auditory senses. Victor Perez, from Salem, drew attention with a spit rotating a pig and an alligator. Ribs, pulled pork, steak, chicken, meat chili and corn salad were also among the samples to be tasted by crowds of invitation-only visitors at the first event.

J&C co-owner Christy Poteet said she got “really addicted” to barbecue competitions in 2017 and soon believed Sweet Home would be the perfect place to host large competitions, which prompted her to call up old friends to help get it going. It was a joint effort between Poteet, RSH and Mike White (Best Damn BBQ Sauce).

“Ultimately, Mike (White) just wanted to get the competitors together,” RSH co-owner Will Garrett said that year. “What he tells people is that the West Coast is not known for barbecue. The goal was to try to put competitors together on the West Coast to create what he calls a barbecue ecosystem. And (RSH Marketing Director Wes Collins) and I said, ‘Hey, we have the name Sweet Home.’ Sweet Home just sounds like the South, like barbecue.”

In 2022, RSH took control of the event and dubbed it the inaugural Icebox Cookoff barbecue competition because this time it was opened to the public. There were 35 professional pitmaster teams serving up their best work for a couple thousand visitors over the course of three days in an effort to win $35,000 in payouts.

It was said competitors came from neighboring states and as far away as Mississippi and Canada. Perez returned. as well, serving up duck and loins for tacos from a live fire, while others cooked mountain lion, hogs, rattlesnakes and alligators.

The Cookoff is an opportunity for pitmasters to qualify for larger, championship-style competitions across the states. Garrett said in 2022 that they were dreaming big for the future of the Icebox Cookoff.

“The goal,” he said, “is that this would be something like the Jamboree for Sweet Home.”

The event returned in 2023 with 38 pro barbecue teams competing in a three-day event with an estimated 6,000 attendees. An entire steer was on display this time around as it was cooked over an open fire. Hogs, Barbados rams, lambs, alligators and mountain lions also returned for open-fire fare, overseen by some 12 to 15 cooks from all over the country. At this point, Garrett – who himself competes in barbeque competitions across the nation – was already expressing the possibility that he might hand the competition off to another organization.