The sights and smells of the 54th annual Iowa Farm Bureau Cookout Contest filled the Grand Concourse of the Iowa State Fair last week as 50 food enthusiasts from around the state competed for the title of cookout champion.

Some contestants had found success in the contest before. Others, like Brandon Bowden, didn’t know what to expect when they arrived.

Bowden was unaware of the Farm Bureau Cookout Contest, which begins at the county level, until he saw a flyer calling for entries in his local contest. And, he admits, he was not much of backyard chef.

Bowden lived in Tennessee prior to a moving to Iowa and wasn’t really into cooking or barbecue then.

"The funny part about it is that I didn’t really get into barbecue until I moved here five years ago," he said.

His wife gave him a grill for...