By, Jim Knepper
To be clear about it, I am NOT typing about ‘BBQ Competitions’ which we are BIG fans of and hope to compete in many more of this year than in the past several years combined. I am thinking about how the ‘BBQ Landscape’ has changed in our little slice of Central PA since I moved here in the early 80’s and specifically since we started cooking ‘Que’ for a living in 2004!
Back THEN, there were few (if ANY) folks in or around Central PA that were actually cooking ‘wood smoked, low & slow’ BBQ in our area. I recall as do many folks that I grew up with ‘Ricky’s BBQ’ in Carlisle and other than their awesomeness can’t think of anyone doing the kind of ‘Que’ that we still do back then. There were no shortage of folks doing ‘Chicken BBQ’ over charcoal with the thin, clear vinegar/butter sprayed on them. As a volunteer firefighter and EMT, I helped out with my fair share of them and love that kind of cooking, but a wood fire at <200°F for long periods of time yields an entirely different kind of product.
Fast forward until present day and the Central PA market has become saturated with purveyors of ‘BBQ’ and as with ALL kinds of cuisine, each of us has our supporters and detractors…that’s business! Heck, little old Carlisle’s now got TWO BBQ Restaurants, several folks vending from mobile or semi-mobile locations and LOTS of ‘BBQ Caterers’…they are even trying to figure out the Food Truck scene which will no doubt lead to more innovation in BBQ and other food options for residents!
Speaking of the whole food truck thing brings me to MY point in this particular post. There is a great deal of hub bub about the Food Trucks and the ‘unfair competition’ that they will present to the ‘Brick and Mortar’ operations. Some of it coming from surprising sources and much of it fueled by Social Media and Advertising outlets. I have read MUCH bluster about this place having GREAT BBQ and that place STINKS (or worse) and every time I see that kind of talk, I wonder if it truly benefits ANY of us cooking BBQ?
I understand allegiance to your favorite spot and that BBQ, like many other types of cuisine is a VERY ‘subjective’ experience. I can even understand the desire for loyal followers of any specific purveyor to be emphatic about their support, but I question if it’s the BEST way to build the market for BBQ in and around Central PA? As an example, I would suggest taking a look at Austin, Texas where there are TONS of BBQ Spots and unlike around here…MOST of them are quite busy and selling out every day they are open!
What’s the difference? Well to start with, you see the folks in Texas talking mostly positively about their OWN BBQ and not so much about their competitors. You also see a market in which, folks take some pride in their ability to go from one BBQ joint to another and make a day out of ‘BBQ Tours’! Those who are making the BBQ in Texas benefit from a market that has been BORN of GREAT Product first and foremost and then SMART cooperation on the other hand! Of course there is competition among the vendors, but there’s also cooperation as well.
With ALL of the BBQ vendors in and around Central PA, we could quite easily become a Mid-Atlantic Mecca of Slow Smoked Meats! We could work together to promote BBQ and build a solid ‘base’ of BBQ lovers who also take pride in their ability to go from place to place and experience the beauty of BBQ…every Pitmaster does it just a bit differently than the others! Diversity has always been one of the beautiful aspects of BBQ to me and I believe that it should be embraced!
SO…you won’t see me ‘trash talking’ the other BBQ folks around us…instead, you just might see me and my wife patronizing their establishments! I like to taste different kinds of ‘Que’ even more than I like eating my own over and over again! I think competition is a GOOD thing and would hope that as the number of folks doing BBQ around us continues to increase, perhaps we could work together to build the marketplace and constantly evolve our operations instead of working against each other, which I’ve never had ANY interest in doing!
Just my thoughts on a Hump Day afternoon! Wondering what y’all think?