By the time Belgrade Fall Festival-goers began queuing up for the annual community barbecue on Saturday, the volunteers who make the magic happen had been at it for more than 24 hours.
Around mid-day, Dan Holland, a veteran volunteer on duty for his 18th year, surveyed the long line of people waiting to partake of the fare that had been on the spit all night. He had just spoken with a resident who said that in all his 43 years of attending Fall Festivals, the meat has tasted the same every time.
Holland conceded the point but said he finds that amazing because the elements of the undertaking vary slightly year to year, one of them being the type of wood used for the overnight barbecue fire.
This year it was alder, and Holland was among the volunteers who trekked into Gallatin Canyon on Friday morning to cut it.
“We burned every last stitch,” Holland noted as he surveyed the still smoking pit that had been prepared by city workers late last week.
After bringing wood back to town on Friday, Holland explained, the team began setting up the pit, a process that includes placing welding spikes on the spit to anchor the rounds in place.
“Tying on the (1,200 pounds of) meat takes a long time,” he said.
The 2021 pit crew tended the fire overnight, cooking 24, 80-pounds rounds of beef sourced from the Eastern Montana Meat Co. Due to the supply chain issues that seem to affect everything these days, Town & Country Foods was unable to provide the meat as it has in past years, Holland said.
A “round” of beef comes from the animal’s butt cheek, akin to ham on a hog, Holland said. That’s fitting because year after year, many festival-goers assume they are about to eat pork, despite all the publicity about the “Rounds for the Town” being of bovine origin.
Holland said that after his 15th year as a volunteer, he was taught the recipe for the Belgrade Fall Festival secret sauce. (Perhaps to preclude prying questions from the Belgrade News, he added, “I have a hard time remembering what it is.”)
Only a handful of people are entrusted with the recipe that undoubtedly contributes to the signature taste noted by folks who have been enjoying it year after year for decades.