If there ever was a cookoff that got a lot of entertainment value for the sport of home BBQ, you found it! It was originally an advertisement for Kaiser’s aluminum foil that turned into a very special competition before BBQ cookoffs were Big.
“It was so big and included prizes that men in the 1950s would give-up state secrets to be part of! Well, sort of? You see, the main organizer of this event was none other than Henry J. Kaiser“.
If you don’t know his name all too well, he’s the guy who has his name on many successful businesses. His legacy includes many industrial efforts including shipbuilding for the Second World War. He later went on to form Kaiser Permanente, a hospital branch that quickly spread through San Francisco’s Bay Area. It was to help give affordable health care for union workers who built his ships. Later he would delve into auto manufacturing, aluminum products, and finally real estate development.
Towards the end of his life, he found a way into television, helping spread consumer awareness of his aluminum products. Oddly enough, the properties he owned and resources he had, found their way into hit TV shows.
“Top entertainment shows including Maverick, Hawaiian Eye, and Hawaii 5-0 were some of his biggest hits”.
His Hawaiian Village Hotel attracted major celebrities like Elvis who stayed there- every vacation he ever took. Elvis even shot his Blue Hawaii’ film at the Hotel!
So it’s no wonder that Henry Kaiser was eager to spread the word of a new material that was emerging. Aluminum foil was not as common as you would think in 1959, but then again it depends on how you look at it.
“This was the very same year that Reynolds aluminum foil was introduced. So it was no accident that Kaiser foil would quickly find a competitive market too. Now can you guess where the biggest expanding market was?”
If you guessed BBQ you can give yourself a gold star. Since this was back in a time when Men were the Kings of BBQ and no backyard party happened otherwise. It seems that Kaiser was ahead of the curve when it came to marketing. He came out with a fancy booklet that included recipes with participating food manufacturers. This booklet helped turn any backyard amateur into a Pitmaster through helpful recipes. And guess what it called for when it came to BBQ recipes? Once again, you deserve another gold star!!!
The booklet entitled ‘How to become a Cookout Champion with these Bar-B-Tricks’, was given away for free in 1959! And among the incredible recipes for grilling, you’ll find the first mention for BBQ foil wraps. That’s right, the first usage of the beloved ‘Crutch’ in BBQ culture slang was from Kaiser’s booklet! But Kaiser wasn’t done just yet, he had a more ingenious idea up his sleeve.
“In the 1959 June issue of Life Magazine, he took out a 2- page spread for his Magnum Opus”.
The advertisement centered on men to send-in their best BBQ recipe to be selected for a special BBQ Hawaii cookoff. That included flying them and their wives to Hawaii, to be part of the Kaiser Foil Championship Cookoff. You could find the entry form inside the Cookout Champion Booklet which was (of course) free at the grocery store. Prizes were insanely attractive including 10 grand for first prize and 4 Jeeps for the 2-5th place winners! The Jeeps were 4-wheel drive station wagons built by Kaiser’s car division and were promotional as well.
The contest selected 25 of the top hopefuls from around the USA and those who got selected were sent letters. These letters included tickets to fly round trip for one week to Hawaii and stay at the Hawaiian Village Hotel. The airplanes used to transport all 25 final contestants were Pan Am Super-7 Clippers built by Boeing.
“They were then flown overseas to Hawaii and then transported to Waikiki. For one week guests could stay for free with all-expense paid by Kaiser’s Hawaiian Village Hotel“.
On Saturday, November 14th the BBQ Hawaii cookoff began outside the hotel. Not much is known where they set-up their grilling stations, but possibly they were close to the Dome? This Dome was one of the most iconic structures that were built by Kaiser’s company and resembles the half dome lid of a Webber grill! Now Kaiser knew that this was a big deal and he employed big name judges. In this case, they happened to be Hollywood celebrities staying -at his Hotel! Only those who were there would be able to mention their names?
This may have been the case for one lucky contestant who went to the event. Edwin Cheng from South San Francisco submitted a recipe and was asked to be part of the competition. He was an exporter of foodstuffs and was part of the 25 that were the lucky ones selected. To this day, nobody knows who won this competition. But there is a winner who emerged a year later in the 2nd annual cookoff that told his story!
The first prize winner of that competition was Dr. Philip John Rashid, who was a Dentist from Fairfield California. He died in 1999 at the age of 81 and is among the very few who recalled the event.
“A celebrity judge who joined the cookoff was none other than Hollywood glamour gal Joan Crawford”.
He became very good friends with her and remained in contact for many years after that. Talk about being famous on top of rubbing elbows with celebrities!
All in all, this was an event that is considered over-the-top at that time. But then again it was the same year that Hawaii became the 50th?US state. One of the recipes even included a hamburger recipe made with pineapple ketchup. Since everything in the 60s had a very distinct and groovy Hawaiian theme to it. If you’re a fan of BBQ you probably never knew the connection to Tiki lounges and Straw Hut grilling station d’cor. But there you have it in all the glamorous detail. No wonder seasoned BBQ Pitmasters are so fond of the 60s.