Showing posts with label Competitions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Competitions. Show all posts

Monday, March 31, 2008


We would like to wrap-up competition month with two links and a big ‘thank you’.

The first link is to a previous interview that we had conducted with the winners of the American Royal Invitational, Great Grills of Fire. This is possibly the most prestigious win in BBQ. The interview can be found at:

The second link is to an article on box building as an assist for new teams and a refresher for established teams. I appreciate the help of Who Are Those Guys. Check out their blog often. You can read the article at:

We would like to extend our thanks to Russ and Franks for sponsoring March’s sauce contest. We recommend that you read our reviews of their sauce and try their products. Their sauce deserves a home in the pantry of every serious BBQ fan.

We will be starting a new contest in a few days. Drop by and enter to win some more excellent sauce.

April is Organization Month at the Home of BBQ. Who are the sanctioning bodies, what do they offer and more will be discussed.


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Thursday, March 27, 2008

INTERVIEW: Pat McSparin of Gremlin Grill


In our continuing exploration of cook-offs, we present this interview with Pat McSparin of Gremlin Grill BBQ. Allowing for an examination of contrasting opinions, the questions are the same as our earlier interview with Red Todd.

We appreciate Pat’s time and thoughtful answers.

In 1994, Gremlin Grill barbecue team out of Kansas City, Missouri, competed in our first KCBS contest. We took 4th in ribs. Now entering our 14th season, Gremlin Grill has competed in about 80 contests, and won about 80 awards. In 2007, we cooked five contests, won five awards – one in each category, twice in chicken. But the awards were all at different contests. Consistency wasn’t our strong suit last year. Our best showing ever was probably when we had two top fives at the American Royal, and finished 17th overall. That was a looong time ago. We do have a couple Reserve Grand Championships over the years, but never a Grand Championship. And we’re not losing much sleep over it. The team, comprised of me (Pat McSparin), my brothers Al and Brett, and our friend Kent Bjork, is more concerned with having fun than we are with winning.

And we have had our share barbecue success away from competitions. After a Chiefs Monday Night Football game in 1997, NFL analyst/very large carnivore John Madden included us in his book, Ultimate Tailgating, and said our recipes were his favorite in the book. Of course, they left the black pepper out of the brisket recipe, and called me “Larry” throughout, but whatcha gonna do? Emeril Legasse once demonstrated our pork recipe on Good Morning America. In 2003, author/food writer Peter Kaminski featured us in a New York Times article titled “Tailgating with Gusto.” And thanks to barbecue, we’ve been barbecuing and catching a few tires for Jay Robinson Racing of the NASCAR Nationwide Series for a few years.

If we hadn’t honed our skills at contests, we wouldn’t have had those opportunities. And while we don’t have that elusive Grand Championship yet, we’re having fun. And we’re like the Cubs: sooner or later, we have to win one. Right? Right?

(By the way, the recipes in Ultimate Tailgating are outdated. Talk to me before trying them.)

Q. When did you first get interested in BBQ?

It’s hard to live in KC and not love barbecue. There are people who do, but when we find them, we tie them to a rail and ship them to St. Louis.
I guess our family discovered “real Kansas City barbecue” in about 1987, when my oldest brother, Al, moved his family here from where we grew up in the Quad Cities area of Illinois/Iowa. Our folks joined Al and them soon after, then younger brother Brett moved here after graduating from college, and I joined them all when I got out of the Air Force in ’91. Gremlin Grill “Chicken Man” Kent Bjork basically did the same thing. He moved to KC from Nebraska after college, started working with Brett, and joined our team in our second year of competing, I think it was.

Q. How did your interest morph into an interest in competing?

I think it was Christmas 1992 that our mom bought my two brothers and I each a Brinkmann Smoke-n-Grill. That’s right: the “El Cheapo Brinkmann.” Brett probably still has his. We messed around on those a few times, thinking we were doing pretty good, until one of Al’s co-workers tried some pork loin that we thought was excellent. She told us about her parents’ barbecue team, Armadillo Bob and Margaret Nolop. Bob and Margaret were among the best in the KCBS at the time, so our first exposure to contest barbecue couldn’t have been better. They taught us a few things, and in ’93, they and another champion team, Smokin’ in the Boys Room (Lynn and Rich Kancel) mentored us at a few contests. We were hooked. Think about it: it’s barbecue better than at any restaurant, plus cold beer and some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. How can you not be hooked?

Q. Have you ever assisted in the running of a competition and if so what did you learn from the process?

None of us has ever helped run a contest. The closest we’ve come is pressuring our favorite meat guy into putting one on. Jimmy Dunn is the meat department manager at the Barry Road HyVee (supermarket) here in KC. Their third annual contest is coming up in April. I’ll tell ya what I learned from Jimmy: organizing a contest is an incredible amount of work. I mean, I can’t even imagine. He works on it all year, getting everything together, then the week of the competition is non-stop contest prep as well as his regular duties at the store. And last year, after the awards were given out and everyone was all but packed up and heading for home, Jimmy was out picking up trash bags in the lot.

Q. Have you ever judged a competition, and if so what did you learn from the process?

I’ve never judged. My dad and Brett are Certified Barbecue Judges, but I just never got around to it. By the time we’re turning in brisket at a contest, I’m so tired and full of barbecue, the thought of judging scares the crap out of me.

Q. There is a vocal minority of competition cooks who believe that judges are inept and don’t have a proper appreciation for the efforts of competitors. What are your thoughts?

I don’t agree. Don’t ask me that right after a contest, though. Seriously, every team gripes about judging at one time or another. But ultimately, it’s a crap shoot. It all comes down to individual taste, and that can’t be taught. No one should even attempt to teach it. I like sweet, my teammates like more spice; is one of us wrong? No way. The basics of tenderness and texture should be taught, along with some education on what real barbecue is, but after that, it’s a matter of what the judges like. The opinion of the average Joe off the street is every bit as valid as someone who’s a certified judge.

When we started competing, judges were usually local celebrities, dignitaries, and a lot of those aforementioned average Joes off the street. I love cooking for people like that, because they’re often having the best barbecue they’ve ever had. And that’s why you cook: to make people happy. From a grandma to a celebrity chef, cooks cook because they like to make the people eating it happy. Let us cook ribs for someone who thinks Applebee’s riblets are the epitome of barbecue, and we’ll all have a better time than if we’re cooking for someone who’s convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that he/she knows exactly what barbecue should taste like. And that’s what it’s about: having a great time.

I will say, though, I think some of the vitriol towards judges these days is in response to some judges’ superior attitudes. When a CBJ acts like he/she is the heart of the competition, it makes cooks mad. But we’ll save the topic of barbecue contest egos for another day.

Q. Do you tailor your style of ‘Q to the region you are competing in?

We usually only cook around KC, so it isn’t really a problem. Our tastes and styles are more of an issue within the team than at contests. For instance, I like ribs all but candied, but I’m the only one on the team who does. And judges seem to agree with my teammates, because the ribs I did last year bombed completely. And Al puts a little somethin’-somethin’ on the brisket that I thought was nuts, but it was a consistent scorer last year, including our first blue ribbon in the category in years.

I believe you should cook what you like, if for no other reason than you’ll be taking leftovers home – might as well like ‘em. Last summer, I did a backyard rib and wings competition in Geneseo, Illinois, about 180 miles west of Chicago. That’s where we grew up: it’s the in the self-proclaimed pork capital of the world, and a land where boiling the hell out of ribs is considered a barbecue technique. Well, at this contest, I thought I should tone down the sweetness on my ribs to better fit their taste, and I turned up the sweetness on the wings, trying to surprise them. Nope: finished second in both categories.

Q. Who was your biggest influence or guide when you were starting out?

Our mentors and teachers, Armadillo Bob and Margaret Nolop, and Lynn and Rich Kancel of Smokin’ in the Boys Room, and Cimarron Doc (Larry Koch). They taught us a lot. Not just about barbecuing, but about competitions. Many an early, early morning, Rich reminded us that it wasn’t about winning money or awards, it’s about fellowship. It’s about having a good time. Which is a hoot, because Smokin’ in the Boys Room were an incredibly competitive team. They liked to win. But we always had a great time with them. And wow, could they barbecue.

Q. What resources would you recommend for new competitors?

The BBQ Forum, blogs like Home of BBQ, there are a million books out there now, and I learned a lot of cooking techniques on TV. But mostly, talk to other competitors. There are always some “I’d tell ya but I’d have to kill ya” teams, but most folks are happy to help new teams. That’s what it’s all about: teaching as many people how to make great barbecue as you can.

Q. What do you believe the biggest misconceptions are for new teams?

That if you play your music as loud as it’ll go, chicks will dig you. Actually, a lot of veteran teams seem to think that, too, so maybe it’s true? Note to self: get a new stereo.
Seriously, people think that it takes a ton of money to compete. You do not need a $2,000+ tailored rig with a computerized temperature system to win. We built our main cooker out of a Model A axle, some scrap metal, an empty keg and parts from my old AMC Gremlin. Parts cost a few hundred bucks. Labor’s different – it helps to know a good welder. Like our dads. But teams win on old barrels, Brinkmann bullets and Weber kettles. All the gadgets and fancy equipment make it easier, not better.

And remember that gambling adage: don’t play with scared money. If you’re too worried about winning money, you won’t have fun. And if you’re spending more money than you can afford, you shouldn’t be doing it.

There also seems to be a trend of people who think competition barbecue is a great way to make money. It ain’t. Few if any teams compete for a living. Unless you have a barbecue product to sell – rub, sauce, a restaurant, whatever – treat this as a hobby or you’re heading for trouble.

Q. What was the most important lesson that you learned while moving from novice to journeyman?

Always take your own toilet paper to a contest. Port-o-potties run out.
Also, never, ever take it too seriously. It’s a barbecue contest. If you’re not having fun, why do it?

Q. What similarities do you see among your favorite cook-offs?

We don’t win at any of them. Actually, the contests we cook are all laid-back and relatively small, with no obnoxious amounts of prize money. We cooked in the American Royal for 12 years, and as grand an event as it is, it was just a ton of work. On the other hand, the Basswood Resort (Platte City, MO) contest usually has about 50 teams, I think, and it’s just a nice, relaxing weekend. It’s held in a campground with fantastic facilities. We usually leave Basswood empty handed as far as awards go, but having had a wonderful time with family and friends. That’s what we’re in it for.

Q. How many competitions do you expect to participate in this year?

Right now, we’re planning on HyVee, Basswood, Excelsior Springs, Blue Springs, and Pleasant Valley (all Missouri). It’d be nice to work in a couple more somewhere, but we also have graduations and parties like that to cook for, and with cooking for Jay Robinson Racing at a few races throughout the season, and Chiefs tailgate parties are a pretty big deal. So five contests over six or eight months doesn’t sound like much, but when you add in the other barbecue events, half the summer weekends are gone. In a good way, of course.

Q. What value do you find in competing?

Getting to hang out with the idiots…I mean, with my teammates. We’ve talked about retiring from contests and just barbecuing and hanging out at home or the lake, but we’d never get together. There’s too much going on. But barbecue contests trump everything. Well, almost everything. If we decided to compete more often, the wives would eventually rein us back in.

Q. What type of sauce do you use in competitions? If you make your sauce, can you share the recipe?*

We usually use The Slabs sauce. Pretty much straight-up on ribs, but on pork, I sweeten it with raspberry All-Fruit. And for chicken, we combine Slabs with a sweet homemade glaze. I’ll give you that recipe (it’s probably already online somewhere), but your readers have to figure out how to use it on their own. Or just ask me at a contest. Actually, ask anyone at a contest – it’s a pretty common technique.

Q. How many people do you have on your team and what are their roles?

For 13 years, we all did a little bit of everything, except Kent Bjork has been on chicken most of the time. This year, we’re going to try something different. I’m taking pork, Al is on brisket, and Brett’s on ribs. We figure it’ll make assigning blame much easier. We also have team engineers (our dads designed, built and repair the smokers), and we get support and heckling from moms, wives and kids.

Q. Do you have a website where our readers can learn more about your team?

We have a blog at It mostly consists of me ranting about whatever is grinding my gears at the time. And lately, bacon. A lot of talk about bacon.

Chicken Glaze
2 12-oz cans frozen apple juice concentrate
1 Cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 Cup catsup
¼ Cup apple cider vinegar
4 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (or to taste)
dash of cayenne

Heat it all up in a saucepan just to get it all incorporated well


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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

COMPETITIONS: Red Todd Interview


In the final week of Competition Month we will be providing a number of interviews with teams of varying experience. We hope that both their contrasting and similar views on set topics will provide the reader with insight into the competition process. We now present Red Todd of T.B.U. BBQ.

My name is Red Todd and I’m from Lancaster, PA. I compete with my fiancée Doris and our team name is T.B.U. BBQ. T.B.U. is an acronym for Threads Between Us which is a small hobby/business that we have. I have been into competition cooking since 1990 when I started cooking in chili contests. Since that time I have won seven Grand Championships in the chili arena and my first GC in barbeque in 2007. It was our first competition as T.B.U. and I was really on my game.

When did you first get interested in BBQ?

I’ve been a backyard hack all of my adult life and never really did anything but grill. Then in 2001 or so my oldest brother, Jeff, told me that he had just become a certified barbeque judge. He was already competing and it sounded pretty cool. I became very interested in what that was all about and started reading everything I could about barbeque and asking a lot of questions.

How did your interest morph into an interest in competing?

I love to cook and as I said above, my brother was already competing in barbeque contests. His team was the Pennsylvania Posse and they were looking for a fourth member to help them along. Another member of that team, who later became my best friend, also approached me about coming on board. I did and the combination of my skills fit very well with the team and we started scoring stage calls from my second contest on.

Have you ever assisted in the running of a competition and if so what did you learn from the process?

Yes I have. I am currently on the organizing committee for the New Holland Summer Fest in New Holland, PA. In the past I was on the committees for the BBQ on the Farm contest in Yardley, PA, the Berks BBQ Bash in Reading, PA, and the First Capitol Smokin Rib Fest in York, PA. They are all KCBS sanctioned contests. Then, my buddy Lee Wick (PA POSSE member and best friend) and I talked about having an “Any Fuel – Any Tool” kind of contest in which we had three categories. First was the “Any Legal Foul” category in which a contestant could cook any bird such as a chicken, duck, goose or any bird that is legal to hunt or buy. The second was the “Any Legal Seafood” where the rule was the same as the foul category but could be fish or shellfish. And finally the third was the “Any Part of the Pig” category. In a KCBS contest a contestant must turn in six individual pieces for the judges to judge. In my contest a contestant could do the same or turn their entry into an entrée for the judges to taste. I’ve learned lots over the years about organizing contests and will continue to be part of contest organizing for years to come.

Have you ever judged a competition, and if so what did you learn from the process?

Yes I have and I learned that a judge must take their responsibilities very seriously. As a competitor I want the judges to do the same with my entries. I also learned that some judges have no idea what they are tasting. After a whole category entry is scored by the whole table and the score sheets are turned in, the judges are allowed to talk amongst themselves. There are some very inexperienced people who are judging. This inexperience is in the cooking arena. Some of them have no idea what spices and herbs they are tasting.

There is a vocal minority of competition cooks who believe that judges are inept and don’t have a proper appreciation for the efforts of competitors. What are your thoughts?

Well, I have judged many times and I have been judged many more times. Personally I have always felt that judging is a “luck of the draw” kind of thing. I’ve been at competitions where I’ve been up against People like Paul Kirk, Byron Chism. Johnny Triggs, Mike and Beth from BarbeQuau, etc and have out scored all of them in a contest or two but they are cashing in on $20,000 and up each year. I only have a single Grand Championship and folks like that have oodles. I think the majority of contest organizers try to have certified judges in order to draw more teams. In doing so, I also think that most teams are judged very fairly.

Do you tailor your style of ‘Q to the region you are competing in?

Yes indeed I do. The more north I go the sweeter the taste I go for and it is also a tomato base. The further south I go the more tang I go for. In the south it also depends where because I may need to use a mustard base instead of a vinegar base.

Who was your biggest influence or guide when you were starting out?

I didn’t really have an influential person for barbeque. I just love cooking and competition. I love making people happy with my cooking and I also take competition seriously.

What resources would you recommend for new competitors?

For competition dates and places I’d suggest or the Bullsheet. I’d also suggest looking at the National Barbecue News for that subject. I would also suggest that newcomers should approach some of the older competitors and see if they could attend a full contest with them in order to get some firsthand knowledge of what it takes to compete. They may have to be a dishwasher for that kind of set up but it is well worth it to do so.

What do you believe the biggest misconceptions are for new teams?

I believe the biggest misconception is that you need a huge cooker that costs thousands of dollars. I’ve seen teams win while just cooking on Big Drum Smokers (BDS) or Weber Smokey Mountain (WSM) bullets.

What was the most important lesson that you learned while moving from novice to journeyman?

Practice, practice, and more practice. Competition cooking is totally different then cooking for a family event or a catering gig.

What similarities do you see among your favorite cook-offs?

The organization of them and the hospitality of them. My very favorite contest is not included in that statement though. It is called “The Deer Hunter” contest. As you know, in a KCBS contest each team must turn in six individual pieces of each meat to be judged and each team may cook as much meat as they want in order to get those six pieces. In the Deer Hunter contest each competitor may only cook a single butt, a single brisket, a single rack of ribs, and six pieces of chicken or a whole chicken. You only get one shot at cooking your meats at their best. Then, all of the teams judge each other instead of having neutral judges. This is the contest I won my Grand Championship in last year. It was such an honor to know that for that day at least, that I was judged the best out of all the competition by all of my peers. It was awesome.

How many competitions do you expect to participate in this year?

My schedule is as follows:
• May – I’ll be mentoring a fella in Camden, NJ
• June - I’ll be competing in Yardley, PA with my brother’s team (Campfire Cookers
• July – I’ll be mentoring another fella in Reading, PA (Smokin Gnomes)
• August – I’ll be cooking with the Campfire Cookers again in Bel Air, MD and New Holland, PA
• September – I’ll be competing with my own team (TBU BBQ) in Hillsborough, NJ and then in Warminster, PA

What value do you find in competing?

A wealth of knowledge to fish from as well as an abundance of new and old friends.

What type of sauce do you use in competitions?

I found a sauce in a local grocery store that is simply called “Q.”

How many people do you have on your team and what are their roles?

Just Doris and me. Doris helps with the dishes and is a great cheerleader.

Do you have a website where our readers can learn more about your team?

No team website but we do have a business web site. You can visit us at to see what we offer.


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Wednesday, March 19, 2008



We are very pleased to present a new tool for Competition Organizers. To the right you will find a link to a program that will calculate estimates for judging needs at events. Number of judges, number of tables and chairs, amount of water and crackers and so on.

To go directly to the site hosting the program file CLICK HERE

The program is good up to 101 competition teams.

Every event is unique and your numbers will certainly vary, but I believe that this is an excellent tool, especially for new organizers. Just plug in the number of competitors and the program will do the rest.

The file is hosted by rapidshare. When you are taken to the program it will ask if you want the free or premium download. Just hit free button.

I would like to thank Linda Mullane for the advice and suggestions and Serge Pierro for creating the program.


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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

COMPETITIONS: Organizers Expenses

Competition Month


I have provided a link (see sidebar on right) to a document that provides an overview of expected expenses for the creation and running of a BBQ Competition. This is intended to be a resource for any event organizer that would find such a document useful.

If you notice any flaws, they are entirely my fault. I would appreciate you bringing those and any suggestions that you may have to my attention.

If you find the document valuable, the credit goes to the various Event Organizers and competitors who offered advice and criticism, especially Linda Mullane.

In addition to the expenses, there are also revenue generation suggestions.


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Saturday, March 1, 2008

RAMBLINGS: Competition Month

Welcome to March!

We extend our grateful thanks to Woody's Foods for their support of February's contest. Winners of Woody's sauces will be notified and an announcement will be made over the next few days. Thanks again to Michael Payne and Timothy Bisson for their knowledge and assistance with the Beer and BBQ Pairings.

This month we will be focusing on BBQ Competitions. We will be offering weekly interviews with competitors, organizers, reps and more. We will be presenting an interview with the leading designer of team logos and we are working on an interview with a tax expert who will discuss the financial implications of competing.

I will be presenting two resources for cook-off organizers this month. The first is a fairly comprehensive document outlining expenses for those interested in starting a competition and the second is a program that organizers can use to help determine how much they need to rent or buy of the different items needed for a contest. Simply plug in how many teams you have competing and everything else is outputted.

We are pleased to announce that the sponsor for March's free BBQ sauce contest is Russ and Frank's BBQ Sauce. The contest will start in the next few days.

Check back often for updates.


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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Competitions: NY State BBQ Championships

I was honored to be part of the event committee that helped to organize and run the Battle of the BBQ Brethren on the weekend of October 19th. The event was the NY State BBQ Championships and was held as part of the Sayville Fall Festival on Long Island.

We were certainly blessed with great weather on Saturday and Sunday and the attendance by the public was unprecedented. This years event tripled the attendance from last years. There was a grilling competition on Saturday that was sanctioned by the North East BBQ Society and a KCBS sanctioned BBQ contest on Sunday. Over the course of the two days an estimated 25,000 people visited the Festival.

Although both days of competition enjoyed the wonderfully clear and unseasonably warm weather, Friday was a nightmare. It seemed that a monsoon arrived with the specific intention of vexing the competitors as they attempted to set up their plots. Winds howled and rain poured as valiant efforts were made to erect tents and carports.

As a diligent and compassionate host, I made sure that I was on hand during the arrival and set up. Yes, I was seated on a bench under a secure tent, but I commiserated with friends old and new as they came up to chat, drenched and cold. I hope that they found some comfort in the knowledge that at least I was warm and dry and was cheering them on. Ok, that might be asking for a lot.

The sauces that were used for the grilling were varied and excellent. The ‘steak’ category had a few béarnaise sauces and a few traditional Kansas City style sauces (which surprised me). Most of the sauces were either a deliberate or incidental au jus. The fruit category also displayed an array of sauces that included everything from fruit syrup reductions to chocolate sauces. One chocolate sauce had a spicy ancho taste and was used with grilled bananas.

The KCBS event was a bit disappointing in the lack of variety in sauces, but the sauces that were used were exceptional. The most variety was to be found in the ‘pork’ category, where every competitor that I am aware of entered pulled pork. All of the sauces were, to one degree or another, tomato based. They ranged from very sweet to slightly sweet but laced with diced onions.

I would like to congratulate Phil Rizzardi of Brothers in Smoke on his taking the Grand Champion title. Phil is the current reigning NY State Champion and is entitled to attend invitational events requiring a State Championship to enter.