Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Mardi Gras

What a party! If you ever get a chance to get to Kansas City during the American Royal Barbecue competition you have to go. Let me paint a picture for you of what it was like this year for the 30th anniversary. For starters, put 500 BBQ teams with all of their equipment, their excitement and enthusiasm on the grounds around the main complex with big trailers, smokers, trucks and tents everywhere. Then there was a NASCAR event in town the same weekend as the competition to enhance the draw of people to Kansas City this year. This year the competition drew an expected 150,000 people down to the grounds just on Friday night alone. This created not only a wild atmosphere, but traffic jams all around the grounds for the police to deal with. Friday night was the official kick off, with all of the big parties happening, and I mean parties. It was like Mardi Gras. The American Royal even has a category for the best corporate and the best team parties of the evening. One of our neighbours beside us, a Kansas team put on a corporate party that was fantastic. Imagine this, motor homes, large tents, and a live band, full service staff including bartenders, and over a dozen full size kegs of beer, cases of wine and lots of food. They fired up their big BBQ Pit and cooked up a whole pile of food for their guests as well as they cooked gallons of spicy Jambalaya in a special large cauldron that is designed just for cooking Jambalaya for crowds. They had over four hundred guests with wristbands on that night, and yet, this was just one of multiple parties that were of the same size and scope all over the grounds. Both Friday and Saturday nights also had awesome fireworks displays the size we have on Canada Day after 11:00 pm.

Barbecue is big business down here and a lot of corporations sponsor a team. Sometimes companies will have employees who are the active team members out working Friday and Saturday as competitors. The Kansas City Hilton is a good example. Their head chef is the pit boss of "Munching Hogs at the Hilton". He works Monday through Thursday at the Hilton and then Friday and Saturday on the competition circuit; six days a week every week of the season. Corporate sponsors typically pay for the teams annual competition fees and associated costs which range between $10,000 dollars for fairly active local teams to $50,000 dollars for the full time circuit cruisers. Lotta Bull BBQ is a good example of a top rated full time competitor. The top winning teams can make up to $200,000 in winnings each year. There is a lot of money changing hands down here in the US over barbecue, literally millions of dollars just on competition alone.

Now on to us. Friday night we made our sauces with all fresh ingredients and spices and got our briskets and pork butts on the smokers for the Invitational on Saturday. Saturday morning came and we got up and fired up another smoker for our ribs at 6:00 am. We got our ribs on and then proceeded to start getting our turn in boxes ready. Under the KCBS rules there is only 30 minutes between turn in times so there is no time for a team of two to do that on the fly. My daughter Jessica, who quickly became an adopted child of some surrounding teams, did an amazing job and I am quite certain she might have been Grand Champ in the box category should there have been one.
As the turn in times came, we were happy with what we cooked and shared it with some of the teams beside us. I offered our chicken to them as it was our first category and the first comment I got back was “You guys from up north can cook some barbecue”. One of them, a long time BBQ judge said "that is some damn good chicken." Our next categories came and as we turned everything in we felt we had made some really good food but we knew we were coming to a different part of the world and regional tastes were going to be a factor. We were able to share our food and take notes with some of the local teams and we definitley took advantage of that opportunity. That could only happen in a place like this. I actually tasted the best pulled pork that I have ever had, and then was taught how to replicate it!

The Open with 500 teams, was the next day, which meant it was time to start getting ready. As I said before one of the golden rules in competition is to not change anything, however as I started poking around to find out what was up and what the judges tastes might be like and also thinking about everything I saw. Should I change something or not? That night as I got our meat ready to go on the smokers I decided to change some things with two of our categories, brisket and pork butt. I thought to myself, lets just see what happens. Saturday morning came and we started the whole routine over again. When we got the results we achieved our target for this year. If you had read the newspaper interview they did with me, I stated that my goal was to finish in the middle of the pack for my first time in Kansas City and that I figured that would be a realistic goal. I achieved that in the open in Kansas and I am comfortable with that, but only for this year though. With everything that I have been shown, taught or just plain been let in on, I have been made a much better cook then what I came down here as. The Big Leagues have got me, hook, line and sinker. After everything I have learned already, I will work even harder this winter on perfecting and creating the best world class barbecue for my customers and competition. I am coming back Kansas City...

Next stop, The Jack Daniels Invitational World Championship in Lynchburg Tennesse!

I am also working on lots of pictures and videos to come very soon. Keep coming back!


  1. Sounds amazing Justin. What a great experience. Safe travels. We'll keep following your blog, and you keep BBQing up a storm.
    The Albert's

  2. Nice to know you guys are reading. Cheers guys!