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Tama County has been grilling at World Pork Expo for 24 years

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 07/02/2013 11:05 AM

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DES MOINES — The Tama County Pork Producers have grilled burgers, ribs and loins at World Pork Expo for 24 of the 25 years the event has been held.

"The Pork Board came to us in the early days because they wanted volunteers, and I got on board," said Dennis Gienger, of Gladbrook, who heads up the Tama County crew. "I thought, 'Boy, this is a good thing,' and then our whole county got involved, and it kept building. It's a good way to build relationships and promote pork, and we enjoy doing it."

The only time Tama County didn't grill pork was the year that World Pork Expo was in Springfield, Ill.

"We weren't as mobile in those years," Gienger said. "But after that, the Pork Board realized that they needed us."

Tama County Pork Producers grilled in Indianapolis when the event was held there for three years. They also grilled at the Indianapolis 500 two times and at the Brickyard 400.

"At the Brickyard, we grilled 10,000 pork patties in two hours with 50 volunteers, 24 from Iowa and 26 from Indiana," Gienger said. "They couldn't believe it."

The first day of this year's expo, Tama County grilled 1,000 pounds of ribs, 1,000 pounds of pork loin and 800 pounds of pulled pork. They feed 10,000 during the three days. JBS Swift donated the product.

About 25 to 30 volunteers help grill and serve the food. Many are from Tama County, but other counties and agribusinesses also send volunteers.

"We have one of the strongest county groups in the country," Gienger said. "We travel around the country. We're at the Florida State Fair in the winter, and at the Georgia-Florida football game in October, we serve 16,000 in four hours. We enjoy promoting pork, and we're good at it. People call us."

In the early years of World Pork Expo, when the focus was on producers and consumers, it took 200 volunteers to grill and feed everyone. Now, the focus has switched to producers and exhibitors.

"Now, we do it with 30 people," Gienger said. "We've gotten more organized and streamlined. We've got a good hard-working bunch here."

Gienger said they don't have a secrete grilling recipe. They use Cookies Bar "B" "Q" Sauce and Cookies Flavor Enhancer.

"Cookies makes us look good, and it tastes good," Gienger said.

Gienger estimates they've served more than a million people over the years at World Pork Expo.

Tama County Pork Producers grill at the Iowa State Fair and all the races at the Iowa Speedway.

"We do a lot in Tama County, too," Gienger said. "About two weekends every month we're grilling somewhere."