History of BAR-B-QUAU
BAR-B-QUAU (rhymes with Luau)
Our team consists of myself (Mike), wife beth, and our 3 children Max, Hannah, Andrea. We live in a rural area outside of Brimfiled Illinois, the nearest larger city is Peoria IL. Beth is a house wife and I was an Industrial Controls Engineer until I had an accident at work which destroyed my left hip.
I have always loved to cook and have been a competitive person, so bbq competition made a good fit. When I was younger I raced motorcycles, earning 2 amateur state championships. The industrial accident ended that career. I have always tried to develop recipes for various foods that we enjoy. I thought that I was cooking killer ribs years ago. I thought I what bbq was., boy was I wrong. The area of the midwest we live in is not know as a bbq haven, sure there a few places here and there, but , it's not like it is in the south where there seems to be a bbq joint on every third street corner. In 2000, we decided to enter a local Rib Fest in the amateur division. The rules stated you could cook the ribs any way you wanted. We hauled our grill, ribs, sauce, rub gas burner and pressure cooker to the contest. Yes, I said pressure cooker. I didn't know why everyone else needed so much time, 45 minutes in the pressure cooker 10 minutes on the gas grill with sauce and viola, your done!
Obviously, there had been a scoring error, how could we have lost? Our ribs were falling of the bone tender and drenched in sauce. Off we went to the nest local Rib Fest later that year, same cooking method, same result. The one saving grace of the these contest was that our team evolved from the booth decorating contest that both Rib Fest had. We decorated with a Hawaiian theme and received awards at both contests. Thus, BAR-B-QUAU was born of the union of BBQ and LUAUS.
The single most important event in my bbq career occurred at the the second local Rib Fest - I met Mike and Theresa Lake who were vending there. Most of you know Mike and Theresa as KCBS Reps, the driving force behind the Illinois State BBQ championship in Shannon and Mike teaches KCBS Certified Judging classes. Mike told me all about his contest in Shannon, KCBS, and the four meat categories that make up a KCBS contest. I had no idea what a pork butt was and the only beff brisket I was familiar with was of the corned beef variety. Plus there was the crazy rule about cooking only on wood an charcoal.
My wife and I joined KCBS, took the judges class, read every BBQ book available, and I set out to build the ultimate BBQ pit. The homemade pit was fashioned out of a 250 gal kerosene tank. It left a lot to be desired. We entered our first professional contest in june of 2001 in Cairo Illinois. I remember thinking - how hard can this be?? Evidently, it is harder than it looks. we finished 20th out of 31 teams, our best showing was in ribs where we placed 12th. Obviously, the taste buds of of those judges in Southern Illinois weren't as refined as those of the judges in Central Iowa, where we would be cooking in 2 weeks at the Iowa state BBQ Championship. It became apparent at the awards presentation in Iowa that perhaps it was our BBQ that needed work. In Iowa, we did win our first cooking contest award for our shrimp appetizers. We were now hooked. We cooked three more contests in 2001, we received two 10th place ribbons in the sausage categories and in our final contest of 2001 we got a third place call in chicken, on of the main meat categories. WOw, we are on our way now, we just need an equipment upgrade.
For 2002 we bought a giant 30" diameter 9ft long cook chamber offset log burner. We were readily to cook anything. 10 contest in 2002 mostly close to home. Somehow we managed 2 reserve champion awards and our first grand champion trophy. All were in small contests of less than 20 teams. The winning margin of the first championship was .0002, the narrowest of margins, over our friends Don and Sharon Wills of "Smokers Wild". When I think back to then, now I realize we really didn't cook very well. I'm sure we just had some lunch as to which judging tables we got. We realized the giant cooker really was too big to haul to cook offs, so we started looking again. Think you to go through several cookers to find what suits your style.
In 2003 we got a new cooker a 24 inch 2 door Horizon offset, the cooker we busted until the end of 2006. We also began to get better at cooking Pork, and Ribs, which had been our worst categories up until that point. The highlights from our 18 contests in 2003 were ; qualifying for the 2004 "Butt to Butt" invitational, winning the "Anything Butt" category at the Las Vegas contest and winning our first Qualifier/state championship in tennessee. 2003 was really a learning year and I can actually say that by the end of that year we were cooking some pretty good stuff.
In 2004 everything came together and we won 6 grand champion trophies including being the Iowa Staete Champs and the highlight of the season winning the Grand at the World Pork Expo's "BBQLOSSAL". we even came close to running the board in waterloo iowa, winning the first 3 of 4 meat categories, Chicken, Ribs, and Pork. we won the People's Choice Chili contest for good measure and only a 5th in Brisket spoiled a perfect day. Somehow we managed to top 2004 by winning 7 grand championships and the Alabama and Kentucky Triple Crowns of BBQ in 2005. We were also pretty proud of fifth overall in the Jack Daniel's invitational last year. However, I don't see how we could ever top our finish at Douglas Georgia's "Best of the Best" invitational. Cooks choose 3 of 5 categories to cook in. We chose Chicken, Ribs, and Brisket. I almost picked whole hog over brisket since we had been fairly successful cooking hog at the BBQLOSSAL. As it turns out, after tasting Myron Mixons's whole hog in douglas we made the right choice. I felt good about our chicken and ribs, we had been consistent all year in those two categories, but had been hit miss in brisket. Somehow we got called up 1st in each of the 3 categories and won grand champ, and followed that up with a reserve champ, behind Myron Mixon (Jack's Old South) the next day at the open contest.
We took the rest of 2005 and in January of 2006 we left our motor home in our barn and drove our pickup truck and cooker to Lakeland FL. Again we managed to pull one out of the hat and took home Grand Champ. We followed that with 6 more Grand Championships, including winning the Arthur Illinois and the "Best of the Best" contest for the 2nd time in a row. We took 1st place in Sausage at the "American Royal BBQ", 1s5 place in Whole Hot at the BBQLossal and won 4 Award jugs at the Jack Daniel's World Championships. However, or claim to fame for 2006 was we became the first team in KCBS's 20 year history to win 5 Triple Point events thus earning a perfect 75 point season. We did however, lose the Team of the Year on a tie breaker to Mike and Debbie Davis of "Lotta Bull" who had what was probably the best year every by anyone in BBQ completion. Still, we were the KCBS Team of the Year in both Ribs and Brisket and finished as runner ups in Chicken and Overall Team of the year. We even managed to get our faces on TV in the versus Network's BBQ Championship Series, the winner take even was won by Mike and Debbie of Lotta Bull.
One thing that has been consistently throughout our cooking career, and which I attribute to our success, is we were never afraid to keep changing our methods or recipes until we hit on something that seems to work. If something we are doing starts to not do well consistently we don't hesitate to change it. It took us a long time to figure out that Pork is a fairly regional item. We have 3 different ways we sauce, cook and present port depending on where we are in the country. Sometimes it backfires on us. In 2005 I was working on a method of cooking brisket in a pan, so it would braise in its own fat. I though it was best brisket I ever tasted, very similar to t-bone steak. We turned it in at Madison Indiana and got clobbered, 47th out of 56. Since we had a 1st, 2nd and 13th respectively in chicken, ribs and pork that pan cooked brisket probably cost us a top 3 overall. Thus ended the great brisket experiment. However, if no one ever tried new ideas out we'd all be turning the same old to the judged week after week.
The best advice I would give to any new cooks who want to try out the BBQ contest circuit. Is don't listed to your friends and family about your good your BBQ is. They have a biased opinion. I have always thought I could pass off dog poop mixed dijon mustard on a cracker to my poker buddies as the finest goose liver pate and they would not know the difference. They're drinking beer and the food is free, sure they are going to tell you its the best they ever had. To get consistent feedback, you need to cook contests. WHile none of the judging systems are perfect they are the most consistent form of feedback for your product that you are going to get.
Another mistake new cooks make and we did this also, we undercooked and over smoked. The cooking devices we use in contests are really not smokers they are cookers that will food a smoke flavor. Too much smoke is not good, so we always try to have clean burning fire in our cooker. I remember when we started all of this crazy BBQ competition that now dominates our lives, I was always afraid to over cook my meat. The new rule is if you error, error on the side of over cooking rather than undercooking. Over cooked BBQ for the most part is still pretty good. But, undercooked BBQ will wear down your jaw muscle, especially an underdone brisket.
I suppose that the most unique aspect of BBQ competition is that any of us can plop down our entry fee and go head to head with the best BBQ teams in the world, some of them literally legends in the BBQ world. We can't do that in the NFG, NBA, NHL or the PGA for that matter. But we can in the MIM, FBA, KCBA, IBCA and a host of other BBQ organizations. Along the way we have a lot of fun and make a lot of friends and sometimes if we get lucky take home a ribbon.