By, Jim Knepper
There’s NO shortage of it out there these days and it has been amplified by media attention to our art form and it’s most visible purveyors…competitors. No doubt that in order to take a long, laborious task and make it palatable to TV audiences, there has to be drama, conflict and even occasionally resolution, afterall that’s how TV goes. It’s also present in the Competition Circuit in no short supply…as it should be. Afterall, if you’re going to compete, you ought to be doing it to win, hence the purpose of competition. It’s also increasingly become present among folks who cook BBQ as a business either full or part time and sometimes it’s backed up by the products, others it isn’t.
I am writing this post not to lecture anyone on how to behave as they pursue their love of creating great BBQ nor am I taking a position of me being any better than anyone else, I am instead examining this ‘bravado’ from the perspective of a guy who thinks that the BEST thing about BBQ (next to eating it) are the people who produce it! Reason for this observation is that recently I’ve connected with some great folks on all ends of the BBQ spectrum via our various social media outlets and have been reminded again just how good BBQ people are in general. From farmers to butchers and other Pitmasters, large production operations and small outlets of various packaged BBQ products, even BBQ Restaurant and Catering owners who are committed as can be to their art form.
If you’ve never been to a BBQ Competition and you are a fan of the product, I would suggest that you take some time this year and go to one! You can find one near you on the Kansas City BBQ Society’s website (www.kcbs.us) and when you go there are a few things you should know. First of all, there are VERY FEW competitions that will allow the teams to provide you with ‘samples’, primarily because of Health Codes and liability, so you can ask, but don’t be surprised when a team can’t let you taste their goods. Also, you should know that Friday evening and early Saturday morning are the best times to interact with the teams. By mid morning on Saturday, things are getting busy and Pitmasters and crew are finishing up ‘turn in boxes’ so they have a pretty focused effort underway. I think that you’ll find that the folks who compete are in general, a great group of people that are more than willing to answer questions and provide tips.
Another great byproduct of the increasing popularity of BBQ is the amount of folks who are getting ‘into’ the BBQ Business. From full and quick service restaurants to roadside BBQ ‘shacks’ there are LOTS of outlets for authentic smoked BBQ products these days and you should support as many of them as you can if you’re a true fan. Sure, there will be those you like more than others and you’ll most likely even have a favorite, but every Pitmaster’s got their own twist and signature taste and BBQ isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ proposition. There are many ways to get to that finished product and the more you cook the better you get. In my humble opinion there’s too much ‘mine is better than so and so’s’ in our market place, worse there’s never really any need for openly trashing a place that you don’t like as a way of supporting the place (or places) that you do like…it doesn’t really serve any purpose and I think subverts the history of BBQ which is a very communal art.
Lastly (because no one wants to spend their whole Monday morning reading my thoughts) I would say that if you’ve got a local butcher or a farm in your area that pays close attention to how they raise their animals or even raises ‘heritage’ breeds of proteins, you should do all that you can to support them. It’s not only helping the BBQ community to thrive by increasing the availability of product, it’s healthier! I read somewhere recently that if you buy pre-packaged hamburger meat in a super-store, you could be getting meat from >150 cows in every burger! You won’t find that at your local butcher or local farmer’s market and it keeps the money you spend in your community.
So, while there is NO shortage of bravado out there in the BBQ world about how mine is better than so-and-so’s or you don’t know what you’re doing if you don’t use MY techniques, there are far more folks in the BBQ community that are willing to commit to their art and their customers. They talk mostly about their own product and passionately about where their proteins come from and how they prep and cook them, not about their competitors. We support each other and we do far better together than we do individually it’s not such a crazy concept. It’s good to be proud of your BBQ and if there’s a spot you don’t like, don’t go back. As for the competition circuit, it’s ultimately up to six judges who’ve spent a lot of time learning how to judge and tasting all kinds of different BBQ. Not everyone wins every time because the palates of the judges changes from competition to competition and table to table and that’s a good thing!
Don’t let the BBQ Bravado throw you off, there are a TON of good people in BBQ and I would say that if you’re interested in consuming, cooking or competing…go out and get some, you’ll find a bunch of great people and a growing number of them making great product! Of course, I’m always available to ‘talk BBQ’ and we do teach classes, do catering and more! Visit us at www.GreatQ4U.com or give us a call at 717-254-1937 to learn more about GreatQ4U! – Thanks for reading along and have a GREAT Monday!