Smoked Ribs Wow Crowds at the Bird-in-Hand Half Marathon
You smell the smoke before you see it. In the dark before sunrise on September 9th, 2023, something's already cooking at the legendary Bird-in-Hand Half Marathon in historic Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
Follow your nose, and you'll bump into Melvin Stoltzfus, owner of Meadow Creek Welding, and Bill O’Brien, chief loan officer at Bank of Bird-in-Hand. They are hurrying through the shadows, loading the intimidating Meadow Creek TS1000 with something so sought-after...
...some competitors say it's the main reason they come.
The new Meadow Creek TS1000 tank smoker trailer ready to help feed hungry runners.
Lots of other volunteers are up early too in the run-up to this unique event. There's a lot to do, because the Bird-in-Hand Half Marathon, a fundraiser for the local Bird-in-Hand Volunteer Fire Department, has built a global reputation out of proportion to the quiet farming community hosting it.
The sun rises over Bird-in-Hand as volunteers and competitors gather.
Browse the slideshow below for highlights from the day.
In a couple of hours, 1,200 runners from around the world will bolt from the starting line to challenge a hilly, winding course through a lush valley that time seems to have left behind. Most homes and farms along the course belong to Pennsylvania Dutch-speaking Amish who still live off the grid and run small farms and businesses much as they have for generations.
This rich heritage of community and small agriculture is front and center at the Bird-in-Hand Half. The first runners out of the starting gate will run to the rhythm of a clip-clopping Amish horse and buggy leading the way. For that matter, quite a few of the contestants themselves are Amish from the local area in traditional garb, who run side by side with people who flew in from overseas.
Spotted in the wild: a Meadow Creek PR60 grilling up some delicious lunch
Throughout the race, the camaraderie between old world and new remains on full display, as runners trot past picturesque farms, an Amish one-room schoolhouse, fields full of cows, even a camel or two. And it will continue after the runners have crossed the finish line.
In fact, at the Bird-in-Hand Half, you could almost say the finish line is just the beginning.
If you are a food service professional, there's a Meadow Creek smoker tailored to your needs.
Every runner who completes the race will be handed a custom horseshoe medal, crafted by local artisans from used horseshoes worn out along the very roads that host the race, and hung with leather from local harness shops. And for those who complete both the Bird-in-Hand Half Marathon and the Garden Spot Village Half Marathon, something even more special awaits.
The Bird in Hand Road Apple Award is probably the only one like it anywhere in the world. It consists of specially-treated horse droppings, aka horse apples, mounted on a plaque in memory of the unique obstacles runners encounter while sharing this route with horse-drawn vehicles of all kinds.
To experience this event is to understand why the Bird-in-Hand Half was ranked third on Active.com’s list of “Can’t Miss Half Marathons in the Country.”
A volunteer walks by the imposing TS1000.
But back to the present, and the crew stoking the smoker. Bill O’Brien's connections run deep, both to the local community and to the Stoltzfus family and Meadow Creek Welding. Not only are Melvin and Bill old friends; Bill owns a rare piece of Meadow Creek history: the first TS60 tank smoker Meadow Creek ever built!
Years of research and development and a massive size gap separate that humble TS60 from the newly-released TS1000 being fired today in Bird-in-Hand—the TS1000 boasts the cooking area of roughly twenty TS60s!
But one thing hasn’t changed: Meadow Creek’s tireless pursuit of the ultimate smoker for people like Bill O’Brien. People who need to serve giant amounts of barbecue to the hungriest of crowds, on time, efficiently, and with style.
The TS1000 in action on the ground
This morning, the multi-tiered grates of the TS1000 carry a payload that’s become famous at the Bird-in-Hand Half: 90 racks of baby back ribs, cooking low and slow over live coals, timed to reach perfection just as the runners cross the finish line.
Long Island, New York
These ribs are one of the main reasons I come. They are the most delicious, mouth-watering ribs I've ever had.
The prep started yesterday, when Bill and Melvin filled baking pans with a savory mix of Meadow Creek Zesty Barbecue Rub and Meadow Creek Brisket Rub. Every rack of ribs was stripped of its membrane, laid into the custom rub mixture, coated generously, then wrapped and sent to the cooler to soak up flavor overnight.
Browse the slideshow below for a tempting overview of the prep process.
All that was left to do at 5:30 this morning was to load them into the TS1000.
Last year the massive number of ribs for this event filled Meadow Creek's TS250 barbecue smoker trailer twice. The TS1000 parked by the event tent today holds more than 7-1/2 times the TS250. Those 90 racks of ribs only fill a little over half the total space on its huge racks.
When the ribs have taken on enough color and flavor, they're individually wrapped in foil for the rest of the cook.
Browse the slideshow below for snapshots of the cook.
As the sky brightens, contestants trickle in, and volunteers and vendors set up for the big event. A gorgeous sunrise paints the east, and the air charges with anticipation. The voice and music of local bluegrass musician Daniel Glick float over the crowd. It's a perfect day to run.
The mood is upbeat as start time approaches.
The race kicks off around 7:30 am, and the first contestants cross the finish line less than an hour and a half later, led by winner James Weaver at 1 hour, 16 minutes, and 36.6 seconds. James and the hundreds of other runners arrive at the recovery tent weary, sweaty—and extremely hungry. Fortunately, when it comes to food, this event outdoes itself.
Most times we don't get anything, so it's a real treat, especially the ribs. They are so appreciated. The ribs make it unique. Sometimes we get a banana or granola bar, but nothing for the families.
By the time the runners start coming in from the course, the ribs in the TS1000 have spent hours reaching the perfect level of tenderness. Now Melvin and Bill unwrap them, slather them in glaze, flame-broil them on a kettle grill, and slice them into single bone portions.
It’s a truly gourmet snack, and the runners and volunteers have earned it.
Browse the gallery below to see the famous ribs you missed.
The Meadow Creek pavilion gears up to serve ribs.
Long lines for the ribs from the TS1000
A story that inspired us...
Dave, from Philadelphia, is a ten-year veteran of the Bird-in-Hand Half, and this year he’s running on a newly-installed hip. He’s testing the hip at Bird-in-Hand before running a full marathon in New York in November.
Despite his recent surgery, Dave finished today in a respectable 2:36, and he’s upbeat.
“The scenery is the best,” he tells us. “The only reason I come to this race is for the ribs at the finish line. And the kids handing out the water. And the horseshoe medals.”
"Who doesn't love an awesome rib after a half marathon?" —Michael from Northern NJ
After cooling off in front of banks of big fans in the recovery tent, runners converge on the community picnic lunch sponsored by the Bank of Bird-in-Hand and Stoltzfus Meats.
The lunch features barbecue chicken, grilled sausages, and fixings, with cake and ice cream for dessert. Meanwhile, the steady stream of succulent ribs rolling off the TS1000 make the ideal appetizer.
The crowd enjoys a meal provided by Stoltzfus Meats and Bird-in-Hand Bank.
A festive atmosphere as vendors sell smoothies and many types of merchandise
It’s a delicious close to a day worth remembering. Once again, this tight-knit Lancaster County community has come together to create a priceless experience for people from far and near, while supporting the first responders who keep the community safe. Many are already looking forward to returning next year. And when they do, Meadow Creek will be here to help carry on a delicious tradition.
Is the TS1000 the tank smoker of your dreams?