The low sizzle of slow-cooking meat will serve as a siren song this weekend.

Juicy racks of ribs, Cornish game hens and glistening pork shoulder will sit in industrial-size smokers for hours in 225-degree heat, surrounded by hickory or applewood smoke. The resulting aromas will turn downtown Franklin into a food-lovers’ paradise.

Smoke on the Square is an ode to all things barbecue. The Franklin event is now in its seventh year, and features 25 competitive teams cooking ribs, chicken, beef brisket and pork shoulder for a team of judges.

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Surrounding the competition aspect of the event will be live music, movies, kids activities and a classic car show. More than 3,000 people are expected for the weekend, making the summertime ritual one of county’s signature festivals, said Carisa Delph, executive director of Discover Downtown Franklin.

“It’s become really popular with the teams. Teams comment to us that Franklin is such a nice, small city. They love the feel of it, coming down and hanging out, and their enthusiasm spreads to everyone,” she said. “They make a weekend out of it.”

Here are 12 things to know about Smoke on the Square as you tie on your bib, get your Wet-Naps ready and head out for some eating:

It’s official

Smoke on the Square has become a regular feature on yearly circuit of the Kansas City Barbecue Society, the governing body of competitive barbecue. Teams from all over the Midwest will take part, following a rigid set of guidelines to win the $2,000 grand prize.

Follow the rules

Kansas City Barbecue Society rules are stringent: no seasoning is allowed, meat is inspected before going on the smoker and judges are looking for specific aspects to the finished product. “If you were cooking ribs for the family, you’d want them falling off the bone. But for competition, they have to be that tender but stay on the bone. It’s a fine line to walk,” said Gary Lewis, founder of Farmers Retreat BBQ.

Take if from the pros

With so many professionals gathered in one place this weekend, it’s a great opportunity for people to engage and get some tips for their own backyard barbecues. Teams are friendly and willing to talk about their passion, so take advantage and talk a little shop with guys who do it for a living, Lewis said.

Be patient

The experts know that no matter what your recipe says, you can’t rush barbecue. “BBQ is done when it’s done!” said Bob Melton, southside resident and founder of Little Bob’s BBQ. “That’s why competitions are so hard. At home I cook until it’s done. I’m not shooting for a certain time on the dot. Every piece of meat is different and will cook different.”

Sense of community

While the teams are squaring off against each other, one of the things that sets Smoke on the Square apart is the sense of community.

“It’s all walks of life in the sport,” Lewis said. “It’s great people, passionate about barbecue and family oriented. You’re doing it for the people; you’re not doing it for the money, you spend a lot more than you ever win.”

All in the name

Part of the fun of forming a competitive barbecue team is coming up with a clever name. This year’s event features teams such as Squealers Barbecue, Sweet Lips BBQ and Rib Runners, among others.

Gather for a meal

Only a few of the competitors will also be selling barbecue for the public to eat; cooking competition-level food and taking orders from customers is a challenge. But on Friday night, the World Famous Butt Brothers team will be serving up Texas hot links, baked beans and cole slaw for people who stop by their rig, owner John Cole said.

Best of local barbecue

Visitors to downtown Franklin will have the opportunity to judge barbecue on their own at 6 p.m. Friday night. Seven of the area’s best caterers, including Big Woods Brewing Co., Jivy’s Barbecue and Triple Play BBQ, will square off in a people’s choice competition, where people can do a blind taste test and vote for their favorite, Delph said.

Working off the calories

With all of that food, some vigorous activity in the form of dancing will be just what the crowd will need over the course of the weekend. From 7 to 10 p.m. Friday, Toy Factory will unleash its funky mix of pop, hip-hop, R&B and rock. Saturday’s night performer is country-rock mainstay The Blue River Band.

Fun for the kids

Mom and dad may be engrossed with the intricacies, flavors and smells of the barbecue, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything for kids to do. A special area, featuring games, face-painting and performers, will be open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Hot food, cool cars

Mustangs, GTOs and Corvettes, among other iconic automobiles, will line up on North Main Street outside the Artcraft Theatre. The monthly gathering of Cruising the Courthouse brings classic car owners together to show off their powerhouse autos, as well as give the public a chance to check out what’s under the hood.

”You’re killing me, Smalls”

Barbecue food, hot rods, rock ‘n’ roll — all are celebrated American traditions. Why not add baseball to the mix? The Historic Artcraft Theatre will be screening the nostalgic classic “The Sandlot” at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

If you go

Smoke on the Square

When: Friday and Saturday

Where: Downtown Franklin



  • 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.: Food vendors
  • 2 and 7:30 p.m.: “The Sandlot” at the Artcraft Theatre, 57 N. Main St.; tickets are $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, college students and military with ID, and $3 for kids 12 and under.
  • 5 p.m.: Cruisin’ the Courthouse, North Main Street
  • 6 p.m.: People’s Choice competition
  • 7 to 10 p.m.: Toy Factory


  • 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.: Food vendors
  • 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.: Local entertainment; kids area open
  • 2 and 7:30 p.m.: “The Sandlot” at the Artcraft Theatre, 57 N. Main St.; tickets are $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, college students and military with ID, and $3 for kids 12 and under.
  • 7 to 10 p.m.: Blue River Band
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Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2727.