By contributing writer Sean “The Hubby”
It’s no secret that I love to BBQ. But to make the investment in competition BBQ is an entirely different level of love obsession. You don’t have the safety of having your own kitchen and bed right around the corner. You don’t have friends and family giving you positive feedback. You have strangers anonymously picking apart your food (literally) and commenting on everything from the level of smoke to the look of how it is laid out over greens. This is on top of conditions that may, or may not, be good for cooking — think of high winds, rain, overnight temperature swings of up to 40 degrees, not to mention lack of sleep.
Still interested? I was, especially when I recently had the opportunity to experience the McKinley Springs BBQ Showdown & Benefit in Prosser, WA with 21 competing teams in categories of pork shoulder, chicken, ribs, brisket and tri-tip. In its 7th year, the BBQ showdown benefits the Guardians of Freedom Project and is situated in a beautiful part of Washington wine country, Horse Heaven Hills.
I couldn’t help but latch on to one specific team. At only their second event UFF-DA-Q explained to me the level of commitment it takes to go from being a back yard bad ass to BBQ professional. In no particular order there was the need to understand timing. Kresin Tandberg points to a large clock hanging on the tent, “Understand time,” she says. For me, I don’t worry too much about time, it’s done when it’s done, but when judging is based upon specific time frames with zero tolerance for late entries, it’s a key factor. Next, is practice. Lots of it. Daron Tandberg, pit master, mentions you have to cook, a lot, to get your recipe and technique just right. And I have to agree, especially when I tried their tri-tip, a special category that also forced the contestants to use either a Mckinley Springs white or red wine in the process. When I tried their sauce I found it delicious… I wonder how many bottles they used to practice with…. rich and hints of shallots and thyme it was carefully placed over the tender and moist tri tip with care so as to not spill and cause a poor looking box.
It was fascinating to listen to the commitment, the time they went through to become judges in order to understand what is being looked at, and the expense taken on to manage a summer of competitions. There was also recognition from all the teams that an increase in popularity of barbecue is likely attributed to the various cooking shows like BBQ Pitmasters.
As I walked around the winery taking in breathtaking vineyard views and saw the excitement of the general public who were able to taste the leftovers from the various pitmasters, while sampling various McKinley Springs wines, it became obvious that those competing are a part of a larger community. Many of the regulars who banter with each other are doing this weekend after weekend and have been doing this for years. They not only get to spend time with each other pushing to perfect each other’s craft of BBQ but also see these newer entrants into the circuit and help them along…to a point, since of course it is still a competition.
And what about having such an event at a winery?
Personally I thought it was brilliant, and especially the ability to pair the wines with the food and to have included a wine in the tri tip category, because wine and BBQ are such a great compliment to each other. Ironically we wrote about such a pairing with one of McKinley springs own wines here.
And how did UFF-DA-Q do in only their second outing? They placed 4th in trip-tip, 6th in chicken, 7th in ribs, which is not too shabby. Especially when competing with 21 other teams.
I am not sure I am quite ready for the up-all-night weekend of competition barbecue. What I did learn from everyone is that it takes a certain love to invest both time and money in something like this. But I think that I can relate to the community and the excitement you experience when the public gets to taste great foods and great wines together at an event like this.