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A Morris family tradition in ribs

Neil Schmidgall sits on top of his Grandpa Pfister's backyard cooker in Kansas. From left, Pfister and Schmidgall's dad Wayne. Submitted photo1 / 3
Members of Neil Schmidgall's family gather to cook ribs in 2015. From left, grandchildren Trace and Alexa Erholtz, Neil Schmidgall, sons Paul and Alan Schmidgall. Submitted photo2 / 3
Neil Schmidgall holds up a rib rack at the 2016 RIBFEST in Morris. File photo3 / 3

Toss 50 sides of pork ribs on a cooker and it's likely Neil Schmidgall won't even blink.

He's an old-school griller. A guy who watched his grandpa grill on a concrete cooker in Fort Scott , Kansas. With a family recipe in his mind, Schmidgall will grill ribs for his family, friends, employees and the community.

He's back this summer at RIBFEST on July 15 during Prairie Pioneer Days in Morris and in August for a Superior Industries Ribs and Rides at the Stevens County Fairgrounds. Schmidgall is the founder of Superior Industries.

"The rib thing I got from my grandfather in Kansas," Schmidgall said. "This was my mother's day, Jacob Pfister. Whenever we were in Kansas, he'd make ribs. He had a recipe. He'd cook over an open fire of hickory wood."

His grandpa had cooker made from concrete block in the yard in Kansas. "It had a cement roof with a chimney," Schmidgall said.

Schmidgall's paternal grandpa wasn't his only rib cooking influence. Schmidgall's dad Wayne built several cookers in different homes. Wayne Schmidgall built a backyard cooker at a home in Hancock. When the family moved to Morris, his dad built another.

"He built a cooker in the basement," Schmidgall said.

The family moved to a different house in 1967 and Wayne Schmidgall built another cooker in the back room.

"It was like a fireplace," Schmidgall said.

Father and son built a portable cooker on wheels in 1991. Schmidgall continues to use that cooker today.

Schmidgall learned how to dry rub the ribs and cook with wood but it was why his grandpa and dad made ribs that also really stuck with him.

Grandpa Pfister made ribs for family and friends but Schmidgall was also influenced by his grandpa Henry Schmidgall who grilled burgers on weekends.

"(Henry) would fire up the (charcoal grill) on Saturday evenings and Sunday evenings," Schmidgall said. Church friends and family knew they were also welcome to eat grilled burgers or other grilled meat at his parents' home, Schmidgall said.

"Us kids would play ball and we'd get the older uncles involved," Schmidgall said. "It was family time."

And family time "usually involved eating," Schmidgall said.

Schmidgall wants to capture that family feeling with Superior's Ribs and Rides in August and RIBFEST on Prairie Pioneer Days.

Too often these days families get busy and don't allow enough time for family, Schmidgall said. A RIBFEST or Rides and Rides prompts people to spend time with family and spend time outdoors.

Schmidgall believes in the concept enough to buy and supply the ribs for RIBFEST. He buys the ribs from Willie's SuperValu.

"Everything is an investment," Schmidgall said of the cost associated with RIBFEST. Schmidgall said he and Superior have a goal to try and make life better for all people and that requires an investment of time and/or money.

On July 15, Schmidgall will be back at the cooker he made with his dad to continue with the most recent addition to a family tradition.