Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 Year in Review in Pictures

I know we're well into January and hopefully you are have a pleasant start to 2010. I meant to do some sort of year in review post closer to Jan 1st, but never got around to it. So I guess I'm going with a better late than never theme here.

This is a BBQ year in review for Dodge County - in pictures. I am going to take one photo from each month of '09 and keep the captions to a few words. Some of the pics have been posted here already and some are new. I hope you enjoy them.
Late January - Cooking ribs in the snow for my boy Jack's birthday party...six racks of spares squeezed in to the Weber Kettle.

My brother made this really cool (functioning) little smoker for Jack's 2nd birthday on February 1st. Maybe the best present ever...

The month of March in Kansas City means St. Patrick's Day parades and partying. In North Kansas City it's also an excuse to BBQ. The Snake Saturday BBQ contest is the first contest of the season in KC. This is my favorite picture from that contest. This is Big Mo Cason of Ponderosa BBQ in Des Moines, IA. I just really like BBQ pictures like this one.

In April Chris and I had the opportunity to cook at Texas Motor Speedway in Dallas at a contest held on race weekend. It was a small contest with only 13 (top notch) teams and we were lucky enough to finish as Reserve Grand Champs. This is the cook's meeting. Some of the cooks pictured (L-R): Waldo from Lost Gonzo (pony tail), Bart Clark of Twin Oak (sunglasses), Jamie Geer of Jambo Pits (water bottle), Bill Milroy of Texas Rib Rangers (black hat sitting), Lee Ann Whippen from Wood Chicks and Tommy Houston from Checkered Pig.

In May Chris and I competed in the Great American BBQ Contest in Kanasas City - a big event with almost 200 teams. We didn't do well at all. In fact the only member of our team to win anything was my nephew, Kyle. He won 4th place for his pork chop in the Kid's Q!

Born May 29th, Megan June Nickelson made her first trip to a BBQ contest (Tonganoxie. KS) in June at just 13 days old. Here she is with Dad. We went on to win this one too. I think Megan needs to come to more of her Dad's contests!

Over the July 4th weekend Jack and I spent a few hours cooking some ribs on his little smoker. He kept trying to ride away on his tractor while we were cooking.

In August Chris and I cooked a whole hog for my sister's engagement party. It was a lot of fun and we fed just over a hundred or so hungry guests. My Dad is never content with eating cooked pork on a plate pulled from the whole animal. He finds it much more efficient to "graze from the running rear" of the hog.

In September we competed in our hometown contest in Mission, KS - where we cooked for the first time in 2005. Here Chris is walking up to accept an award with Megan and Jack thought he needed to go too. Our awards emcee stopped to talk to Jack...all we could make out was "BarQ meat!" and "Dodge County Smokers!" The emcee is Sports Radio 810 host Kevin Keitzman.

October always means cooking in the biggest contest of the year: the American Royal. The buzz at the Royal this year was all about the taping of the now-famous TLC reality show PITMASTERS. Here is the crew interviewing Johnny Trigg, one the show's stars.

5:30am on Thanksgiving morning. Cooking turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner.

Just about a month after the above picture was taken, we were hit with a Christmas snowstorm in Kansas City. The cooker is in the exact same place. But there's nothing cooking this time!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

(Way more than)
One Minute Monday
(One Day Late)

It's always good to end the year on a high note. At the same time, it kind of stinks too.

See, we have generally cooked so bad at the Royal (or I should say that we SCORED so bad), that we needed another contest to end the year on. October gets pretty late to find a good competition, but there are still ample opportunities around KC. A few years back we did a little unsanctioned one day bar contest and for the past three years we have cooked The Fountains Blaze Off in Independence, two weeks after The Royal.

Our scores at the American Royal have been so horrendous, that we needed a confidence boost so we didn't have to spend the next 4 or 5 months with a 350th place finish hanging over our heads. Even though we actually pulled out a respectable finish this year at the world's largest BBQ contest (16th place), we decided to cook one more contest anyway and we ended up finishing with a reserve grand at The Fountains.

The only problem is that winning (or just doing well) makes me want to keep cooking as much, or maybe more than performing poorly. When we don't do well, it's like I need to prove to myself that we can win. And when we do do well, it's kind of the same feeling - only we need to prove that we can win again and achieve that feeling Not sure what the word is, but you know what I mean.

So I guess we're done with 2009...maybe.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Fountains Blaze Off and Senior Q

Chris and I competed in what most likely may be our last BBQ contest of 2009. The Fountains Blaze Off and Senior Q is a really nice event held at the senior living community in Independence, MO - just about 30 minutes from home base.

This is the 3rd year of the KCBS contest held at the facility, and it's our 3rd time competing there as well. We were fortunate enough to come out of the weekend with a reserve grand championship. That finish was a big surprise to both Chris and I as we weren't exactly blown away by anything we turned in on Saturday.

An even bigger surprise might have been our 1st place score in chicken. We were struggling to get our chicken right that morning, and I guess we did better than we thought. Funny thing is our neighbor at the contest, Todd from Ployboys BBQ, said his chicken didn't come out the way he had planned either and he ended up with a 2nd place bird. Todd also ended up winning the contest, putting the hurt on the rest of the field by a 15 point spread (that's a lot).

We flew solo for this event - no family on Friday or Saturday until Chris' wife Jenny came just in time for the awards along with his two daughters, Emily and Baby Megan. I shouldn't say we were completely on our own - we did have my chocolate lab, Sue Dog with us. This is the first time Sue has stayed at a contest with me since May 2006. Interestingly enough, that was also our first grand championship. I guess she is good luck!

Here are a few pictures from the contest. I hope to have some more up on the picture page of our site in the next few days.

(photos below courtesy of Todd Johns - Pork Pullin' Plowboys)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Busy or Lazy?

I'm not sure if I'm really busy...or just a little lazy. I had some ideas for a few posts to make this week and I haven't gotten around to them. I spent last week decompressing from the Royal along with work, normal chores and starting a Halloween costume project for the Boy. This week it's more of the same...only I have been ramping up for one more contest.

Chris and I will be reporting for duty to cook The Fountain Blaze Off in Independence, MO Friday. I have been slowly but surely knocking off items from the "to do" list in preperation for the weekend, but stuff just keeps getting in the way preventing me from getting it all done. Tonight it was my soon-to-be brother-in-law's car dying on I-35. I had to go meet up with him and tow his Neon back home. Not a big deal...just another thing to do.

Hopefully we'll be ready for the contest. I am looking forward to the potlock on Friday night organized by Steph from It's all soup. That will be a nice treat for a cold weekend.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The American Royal

I can’t really write much about the American Royal that hasn’t been written before. It’s was big. It was loud. There was a lot of action and a lot of people. Beyond that, I can’t really explain it. You really pretty much have to see it yourself to get a feel for what the Royal is.

I think Chris and I may have been the last team to arrive to the contest and I am nearly certain that we were the last of the invitational teams to check in. When we called for meat inspection around 4:15 on Friday afternoon, we were told that all inspections were complete. Really?

We didn’t do a party this year and that was nice. It was good to not have to worry about bringing extra stuff to feed everyone. Instead, we just had my wife, little boy and my sister and soon-to-be brother-in-law along with Chris and I. Chris’ wife was not feeling well so she stayed at home all weekend along with the kids. We spent time at a few other team parties and that was quite enjoyable. Friday night we ate and visited with the Pork Me Purple gang and Saturday enjoyed a fine meal from the Ribs 4 U boys (what a great steak!)

As for our results in the contests, they were mixed.

In the Invitational there were 119 teams competing from all corners of the country. In our opinion, this is the most prestigious event to compete in and win in competitive BBQ. You had to have won a Grand Championship in the past 12 months, and they take champions from all sanctioning bodies. The best competition in BBQ is at this contest. Our lone award in this one came in the pork category where we placed 15th. We checked in at 31st overall.

We expected to do a little better, but there was nothing left to do but concentrate on the Open the next day.

The Open contest saw 473 teams. I thought it would be hard to top the food we cooked the day before, but we did. I had a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach that got worse as each box was completed and turned in, with each category coming out better than the last. So as we sat through the Open awards, not receiving a call, we were both feeling a little down. I might even say we were borderline disgusted as we fruitlessly waited to hear our name called.

Adding to the frustration, this is our 5th year of cooking in the Royal, and we have yet win anything in the Open. In fact we have gotten progressively worse each year we have competed there.

We were just about ready to get up and head back to our site to finish cleaning up when the top 20 overall teams were announced. What a relief to hear our name called in 16th place. Turns out we just missed calls in brisket (24th place) and pork (27th).

So while the monkey might not be completely off our back as we have yet to get an Open call, we do now have a nice overall finish to hang our hat on.

Monday, October 5, 2009

One Minute Monday

I plan on having a more in depth recap of the American Royal in the next few days. But until then, I just wanted to get a quick post up here. Chris and I finished 16th in the open out of 473 teams. That’s far better and feels much nicer than our 353rd place finish last year! We received no category calls in the open, so when we heard our name in the list for the overall finish at 16, we were pleasantly surprised. The invitational contest was OK for us. We received one call, squeaking in at 15th in pork and finishing 31st overall. All in all, we had a really nice weekend. Pics and more on the weekend coming soon.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


We are in the middle of preparing for the biggest contest of the year – The American Royal. When I say big, I mean it too. They will probably end up with around 500 teams, tens of thousands of people on the grounds and one of the most prestigious contest titles if you do win.

Whenever we are getting ready for a contest, we go through the checklist of what we need as we prepare. I also go through the other list in my head…you know the one, the list of things that we don’t actually need to compete, but we like to have anyway. I don’t record them on my checklist sheet, but I gotta have them anyway.

That got me thinking…let’s ask some other big time cooks what are the few things they bring to a contest they couldn’t live with out. Here are the answers we got from three very good cooks.

Mike Wozniak - Quau
I would never go to a contest without all of my contest meat, with the chicken and ribs already trimmed. I would worry that what I find on the road may not be up to snuff. I also make sure I have my garnish. Again, I've seen it where stores close to a cookoff are sold out. Finally, my BBQ notebook. I have my time schedules written down and anything I change from week to week to see if it is a plus or minus.

Steve Ferrin – I Smell Smoke
Various good luck charms (lucky wood, Indian Medicine Bag)
Second, my GPS. I don't think I can get around the block without it now! Lastly, my Blackberry, for so many reasons I won't even go into it. How did I ever live without it ?

Mike Davis – Lotta Bull BBQ
Three things I couldn't leave for a contest without are my wife, the girls (Aggie and Gabby) and asking the good Lord for his Blessings for a safe trip.

Amen! Good luck at the Royal, everyone! Stop by and see us in 738.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

One Minute Monday
Royal Prep

It’s only Monday and I already feel like I am behind. This weekend is the American Royal, as most people who might actually ready this dribble already know. The task of preparing for a contest is made even more challenging in that we have two events to get ready for: the Open and the Invitational.

Double the meat we have to buy and trim.
Double the rub and sauce we’ll use.
Double the charcoal and wood we’ll burn.
Triple the beer we’ll drink.

Chris and I have been through our check lists, been to a few stores, and still need to visit a few more. I think we have about 95% of what we need for the upcoming contests, but getting the last 5% and then packing it all up and getting everything ready to go is a real chore.

We’re in space 738. Stop by and say hello. I’ll the be the guy passed out in the corner of the tent.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

BBQ & A: Round Six

Every competition cook is in constant pursuit of the big one. That one win that overshadows all the others. For some it's a signature grand championship, like the Royal or the Jack. Others have sentimental reason...and some may not even be a grand championship or even a first place call for that matter. Sometimes just getting that first call is biggest call you'll ever get!

This week we ask a few cooks to give us their biggest wins, with contributions from:
The always entertaining and insightful Steph Wilson of teams up weekly with Kyle Laval to cook championship BBQ and brew up award winning sauces and rubs.
Teacher, cook and BBQ pitchman Rod Gray of Pellet Envy - fresh off his amazing 3rd straight win in three years at Smoke on the Water in Hot Springs, AR.
Finally, a cook from a team that maybe becoming just as well known for their clairvoyant pork bone-pickin' pooch, as they are for their awesome brand of competition BBQ, Greg Anthony from Ribs 4 U.

1st place chicken at Jack Daniels. We didn't have a vehicle to pull our own stuff down there. We rented a trailer that was bigger than the Jeep that pulled it. Our buddy pulled the pit. Good times!

Reserve Reserve Grand American Royal Invitational 2003. (3rd overall). Didn't get one call. We were flabbergasted! I remember my Dad saying 'Holy $#!&! They did it!' He passed away unexpectedly later that month, I'm glad we had that time.

Laurie, MO Grand Champion...It might have been was our first win. My Dad promoted a dirt track in Warrensburg, MO and he and Mom came down to watch the awards and they were running late. Mom thought they should get to the track and Dad said out of five years it wouldn't kill them if he was 'late'...we won! I'm glad they were there.

In no particular order, the 2003 Mandalay Bay Heatin' Up The Bay event in Las Vegas, Nevada because it was filmed by the Food Network and still airs.

2007 Smoke On The Water in Pine Bluff, Arkansas because it's far and away the largest grand champion prize we've ever won.

Lastly, the 2006 World Pork Expo/Great BBQlossal in Des Moines, Iowa because it was a collaborative effort with Steve Farrin of I Smell Smoke and Scottie Johnson of and none of us had every cooked a hog before.

Our biggest win was last year at Butler, MO. There were 41 teams and we won the chicken, ribs and brisket categories and finished 10th in pork. We were Grand Champion with a 30 point spread over the Reserve GC.

Of course our first ever GC was big to us, at Shawnee, KS in 2006.
I suppose our last big win would be our first ever category win at Laurie in 2005 (in chicken), and also finishing 2nd in brisket that year at the American Royal.

Monday, September 21, 2009

One Minute Monday...
The weekend that was: Lettuce reflect.

Some people who stumble upon this goofy collection of ramblings might not be aware of all of the little intricacies that are involved in competition BBQ. We cooks can get pretty bent out of shape pretty easily when it comes to changes to our routines and the rules we know. I guess that is one of the nice things about competing in KCBS contests – we know what to expect at every contest, every time, no matter if we competing in Maine or Missouri.

So when the edict came down late last week that we couldn’t use parsley in our boxes for presentation in last weekend’s contest, a lot of folks were upset. I am not going to go into what I think about how the ruling came down, or how the board arrived at this decision or even that the tainted parsley that led to this whole thing was pulled long before last week.

I immediately thought of one of the answers Donnie Teel gave me for one of the previous “BBQ & A” posts. He basically said that when the unexpected pops up, that is when the good cooks separate themselves from everyone else. So a major congratulations goes out to all the cooks who competed and succeeded last weekend. I also have to say that the lettuce-only boxes that Chris put together for us looked almost as good as our parsley boxes! Maybe I’ll even post a picture of one of them if anyone wants to see one.


Battle of the Brisket VI: Mission, KS

We’re back on track for this week, after I took last week off. I was busy getting ready for our upcoming contest in Mission, KS so I didn’t get my posts up last week…thing is, the contest is just a few blocks away from my house – so one would think I could get my stuff together and be ready to go by Friday afternoon…but not so much.

Chris and I put together a pretty nice little party on Friday night – lots of friends and family stopped by to see us and that was pretty nice. We like to do a party at this contest because so many of our friends live near the contest site, in and around Mission.

The party was a hit, but unfortunately for us, not all of our contest turn-ins were. We won this one last year and we finished in the reserve grand spot the year before, so our sights are set high at this event. We did pull out a first place call in brisket and coupled that with a 9th in pork, but we bombed our chicken and rib turn-ins. When the smoke cleared, we had a nice 7th place finish out of 60 teams.

I also have to mention how proud I am of my wife, Jammie. For the first time ever in five years of cooking in BBQ contests, the Dodge County Smokers team turned in an entry for the dessert category. Jammie prepared a really good white chocolate raspberry cheesecake. She did not get a top 10 call, but she came as close as you can get - 11th place!

We have a little bit of work to do before our next contest in two weeks…it’s the big one – The American Royal Invitational followed up by the Open. Stop by and see us if you are out there – space 738.

two stooges

Old timey sepia tone pics by Val Wilson...

Dessert prep
off to the judges

Jack decides to run up and help Chris and Megan claim our award for the pork category

First place brisket

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

BBQ & A: Round Five...Are you ready?

Be Prepared. The Boy Scouts base everything they do on those two words. Hey, four million kerchief clad scouts can’t be wrong!

You don’t have to be a successful competition cooker to realize the importance of being prepared for a contest. This week we found three of the top cooks in the country and asked them about their precontest routines. Once again, we got some great, honest answers from some really good guys.

This week our contributors include the chief cooks of three of the top KCBS teams competing today and all have competed for Team of the Year championships:

Mike Wozniak – Quau - Brimfield, IL
Joe Amore – Smokey Mountain Smokers – Seveirville, TN
Kelly Wertz – 4 Legs Up – Great Bend, KS

Mike: Sunday is a relaxation day. By Monday or Tuesday we are looking for meat for next week’s contest. This can mean a trip to several stores. By Wednesday or Thursday I trim up chicken and ribs and make up any sauces or injections that we might be low on. I don't want to do to much prep work at a contest, mainly just cooking. I don't do a lot of trimming on pork or brisket, so I leave them in the cryovac until we get there.

Joe: My routine runs like this: I return home on Saturday night late or by noon on Sunday. That is when my week starts for the upcoming weekend. I first start by washing my trailer and truck. My wife cleans up the living quarters in the trailer and I take care of the kitchen. It gets cleaned, stocked and ready to go for the next weekend. I pull my butts and briskets out of the freezer (yes I cook frozen butts and briskets). The next step is to make my injections and marinades and put them in the trailer. It’s about an 8 hour day to do all of the above. On Monday I empty my holding tanks, fill fresh water and clean my smokers. On Tuesday we prep parsley and take care of the yard work around the house. Wednesday we load the trailer with all the meat including the chicken and ribs and have everything ready to go for when we leave on Thursday morning. So, I would say I have about 18 to 20 hours in getting ready for the contest.

Kelly: Tuesday or Wednesday morning we head to store for a few basic supplies. By Wednesday afternoon, during a restaurant break, we prep parsley and get that put in trailer fridge. Then we make our brines and injections if needed and prep for extra categories or Friday night meals. Wednesday evening, between grilling steaks and restaurant work, I prep sauces and rubs and load trailer and complete our checklist. Thursday morning, I buy my chicken and Thursday night, it’s more work in the restaurant kitchen and I prep my contest meat and get that in trailer fridge. Friday morning, load ribs for restaurant, fuel up the pickup, give the checklist a final check, then help with restaurant lunch run before I head off to the contest. All totaled we probably spend around 4 hours prepping for contests - of course that is with a lot of restaurant work thrown in the middle of all that.

Monday, September 7, 2009

One Minute Monday...Holiday Edition

So I've had a long holiday weekend to think about the Jack Daniels draw. As I reviewed the list of teams that did and did not make the cut (for lack of a better term), I found myself happy for for some of those guys and dissappointed for others.

Sure, there is some amount of self pity involved, but we're 0 for 4 in the I think we are entitled to feel that least for an afternoon. By this time, some four days later, I am passed it and looking forward. But I will say that we are not doing ourselves any favors, cooking contests mainly in Kansas and Missouri. With nearly three dozen qualifiers in each of these states, we can't expect much.

I may also be somewhat biased, but I think the difficulty a Kansas or Missouri team faces in getting to The Jack is reflected in the difficulty it takes to win in this region. I really respect the competition in the Southeast, New England, out west and in Texas. But a the same time, not only do we have to worry about the top notch teams from our area, we often face the challenge of very good teams coming in from our ultra-competitive surroundings like Oklahoma, Iowa, Colorado, Arkansas and one pretty pesky guy from South Dakota.

Winning here is hard enough, but then getting the luck of the draw? Very tough.

Good luck to the teams we butt heads with on a regular basis who will be heading to Tennessee in late October. We'll be rooting for you. Guess we'll just have to go for 7 next year!


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Goin' Whole Hog

Last weekend (8/29) Chris and I cooked this whole hog for my sister's engagement party at my Dad's shop in Nebraska. We had a blast and cooked a pretty good pig when it was all said and done. We served well over 100 people with a 135lb hog that took just about 14 hours to finish.
Here are some pictures...
Chris removes the loin for slicing.
Hungry guests waiting to eat some pig.

The guests of honor: Smelly and Braq.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

BBQ & A: Round Four...The Jack!

It's Wednesday and time for another installment of the wildly popular BBQ & A!

In honor of the Jack Daniel’s World Invitational Draw happening tomorrow, I thought we would focus this week’s BBQ & A on former Jack winners. You’ll find two cooks who have already been a part of the weekly BBQ & A, and an additional pair of competitors that I am really excited to have featured here. That's right...this week it's 4 for the price of 3!

I am honored to count the last four winners of the most coveted title in competition BBQ as contributors to this site:
  • Donny Teel is an accomplished competitor and has won dozens of Grand Championships as Buffalo's BBQ, but in 2005 he teamed up with fellow Okie Bart Clark of Twin Oak Smokin’ Crew under the banner of Boys from Tornado Alley to claim the top spot at The Jack.
  • Scottie Johnson took The Jack Grand Championship honors home to the Windy City in 2006 for his team, Cancer Sucks Chicago.
  • Chad Hayden of Taylorsville, Kentucky - known simply as “Podge” - cooks under the name Moonswiners and won the 2007 Jack.
  • Kelly Wertz scored the big win in the most recent Jack Daniel's Invitational last year, and came home to his restaurant, 4 Legs Up BBQ in Great Bend, Kansas as the best BBQ cook in the world.

I want to once again thank everyone for so willingly answering my silly questions. Guys like Kelly, Chad, Donny and Scottie are the real deal and I can’t thank them enough for getting back to me so quickly.

This week’s question is something that not a lot of cooks think about…and even less really have to worry about it anyway. So…how did you get that big Jack Daniel’s Grand Championship trophy back home with a long road trip ahead of you? Where is your trophy now?

Donny: Our trophy from the Jack got transported home in the front seat of the truck with Mr. Jack seat belted in. Now days the Grand Champion trophy is really small compared to the one that I have. The one I have is approx 4 ½ feet tall, made of barrell slats.
Who Kept the trophy? You or Bart?
I have it. Before we left, Bart said that if we won that I could have it since he had one already (Twin Oak Smokin’ Crew won in 2001).

Scottie: I had Jack right next to me for my drive home. He was my co-pilot. I had to get back home, so we could start making arrangements for my dad (who had passed away the Friday of the contest). I even put the seat belt on for him!!! I now keep it in my family room. I had a special base made for it from a Jack Daniel's half barrel. I am not big in displaying trophies, but I have Jack, my TOY medal, my first GC and my foundation's award for 5 years of raising money for cancer research. Everything else goes into big Rubbermaid containers.

Jack is Scottie's co-pilot

Podge: I laid it down in the back seat of my truck, and wedged some things in there to keep it from moving around. Here it is, sitting in the corner of my living room.

Podge's Jack trophy

Kelly: We usually travel to contests pretty light so trophies, if we are lucky, they usually just go in the back seat of the pickup. The Jack trophies got wrapped in blankets and stuffed in all the safe places we could find in the trailer and they made the 900 mile trip just fine. They are now proudly displayed on the Jack Wall in our restaurant..

Got a good idea for a question to ask our featured BBQ & A cooks? Shoot me an e-mail!