On the Road Again
As you all know, barbecue competitors are on the road… a lot. All of those competitors would probably tell you that the work is hot and long, the pressure is intense, and, at times, disheartening. In the next breath, those same people would say it was thrilling and fun. They would also say that some of the finest people they know are out on that same barbecue road tour.
So, what keeps you going when you are discouraged or uninspired? How do you shake things up?
I have always found barbecue people to be some of the most generous, interesting, and fun people I have ever met. We have competitor friends from all walks of life and traditions. We are all seemingly united by one insane passion in that we love the thrill of competition amid the live fire of meat, smoke, and barbecue flavors. At award ceremonies after the contest (typically Saturday 5 pm), we are happy when our friends win, even if it means that we lost. We share information and recipes (well, maybe not all the details . . .) even if they will be competing against us the following week. In California especially, we cheer as hard for our competitors when they win as they cheer for us when we win.
If you need a little encouragement, you can always take a walk around the competition grounds and find a kindred spirit. You can share your concerns with almost anybody, and they will help you address your problem or give you some advice. If you forgot your tongs, they’ll probably lend you some. If you forget a spice or seasoning, it’s likely your neighbor has it, especially if they are my alumni which, by some estimates, is about a third of the SoCal teams in my neck of the woods. I am so happy when award time comes around and half the teams who take a walk on stage have taken my class and even beaten me at contests. We secretly flash each other the SYD gang sign and share a wink.
I have found the same to be true when I travel to compete. I may not know many local pitmasters, but for some on-the-road inspiration, I like to check out the local farmer’s market, local sauces at grocery stores, or eat at local barbecue restaurants. For example, the Hatch chilies grown in New Mexico will certainly taste different than the same pepper grown in California. When I competed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I borrowed some roasted New Mexico Hatch chilies to spice up all my sauce flavor profiles and made everything spicier to match the palate of local New Mexico judges. These important tactical changes paid off as the judges gave us top scores and GC! If you want to win, are you willing to tailor your favorite recipe to appeal to the judges in that area of the country?
Local sauces are always interesting as well as how they are used (sauce cooked on or sauce served on the side?) Do they have a different way of plating their ‘cue? For example, dry rub ribs with no sauce are popular in some parts of Memphis. Also, I’m always looking forward to stopping by a few barbecue joints on my way there and on my way home; it might be just what I might need to cheer me up should there be no walks during awards.
As you head into the barbecue season, remember to be generous and kind and supportive, embrace local flavors and traditions. Barbecuing is about spreading love, engaging friends and family, and sharing delicious food. Competitions should be a lot of fun. If they aren’t, go find a barbecue friend and get a pat on the back. Next week, you’ll be back to your old self, and someone will be looking to you for encouragement (or a set of tongs).