Thursday, May 24, 2012

Dirty Smoke BBQ Blog's One Year Anniversary, West Coast BBQ Classic at Queen Mary, LB

By Dru Chai

I haven't posted in almost two months (that darn full time job getting in the way), but I've recently had some time to reflect on my BBQ experiences. Something told me to post today -- it was as if the BBQ gods spoke to me. So I looked up my original post and the date was May 24, 2011. Amazing -- exactly one year since I started this blog.

Since starting this journey, I've met so many interesting people from all walks of life, who share the same love and passion for BBQ. In just a year, I've filled my brain with so much BBQ knowledge and experience. As soon as I bought my WSM (Weber Smoky Mountain), it was off to the races.

Of course, about a year ago I had more time on my hands, fresh from being laid off from the corporate world. I took a BBQ pitmaster class from Harry Soo and started applying and practicing the techniques I learned by selling (and giving away) lots of BBQ to friends and coworkers. I became a certified BBQ judge and immediately began judging world-class BBQ competitions from all over the place. I even took a crack at competing in a contest.

Harry Soo of Slap 'Yo Daddy BBQ
Dr. BBQ in Las Vegas
So with a year of BBQ knowledge and experience under my belt, what exactly have I learned about the world of low and slow BBQ? Here are some of my random thoughts about the world of BBQ competitions -- with some more obvious than others.

BBQ is one very expensive hobby.
I'm not just talking about buying a grill for your backyard, then using it once or twice to grill some burgers or hot dogs when your friends come over in the summer. We're talking REAL BBQ that takes hours of low and slow smoking with a temperature of 225-250F. In order to help with that process, there are countless BBQ gadgets that you "have" to have. There are rubs, sauces, knives, thermometers, wood, the list goes on. It's a multi-billion dollar business, and everyone wants a piece of the pie. Of course, that doesn't even include the meat. If you want to practice making good BBQ, you'll end up with lots of leftovers -- which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Starting a BBQ team and competing is even MORE expensive. If you're interested in seriously competing with the big boys, you better have something saved up in your piggy bank. Unless you're one of the big names, you're most likely not going to make a living by just competing. Most teams will tell it will run about $1K and up (on average) per competition, and that's not including start-up costs. Many teams will to recoup that cost by participating in PC (or People's Choice). When you're at a festival, and you pay $2 for a ticket to sample some BBQ, the team is happy to get your ticket because that's money back in their pocket to help pay for everything. Some of the cash prize money is nothing to sneeze at, but that's no guarantee. BBQ teams have to drive far, set up, and get very little sleep just to compete. For what, a little trophy? Nope, it's all for the love of BBQ.

When judging BBQ, it doesn't mean everything you taste is excellent BBQ. At my first judging experience, I was just excited to be there. I thought I would taste some of the best BBQ of my life. But it was just not the case. Obviously, the BBQ palate becomes sharper with every competition. But part of it is just the luck of the draw. For example, there may be 50 teams competing -- but as a judge, I'm not sampling BBQ from each of those teams (I would be 20 lbs heavier, and you would have to roll me out from being so full). A judge samples up to 6 teams per meat category. Recently, I judged the West Coast BBQ Classic in Long Beach. All of my chicken samples were excellent and I gave them all very high scores. The pulled pork and rib samples were run-of-the-mill. The brisket was some of the worst I've ever tasted. It had me scratching my head, thinking, were these teams serious? But another table of judges could've had excellent brisket samples -- it's just how things turn out.

Nifty logo
Good turnout by the Queen Mary
The view from the judge's tent -- very picturesque