We did it. Our first BBQ competition, in KANSAS – a mouth-smacking, tequila drinking, pork butt-slapping crazy haze of a few days. Hard work, sweat and tears, Bourbon, Beer and HUGE amounts of the best BBQ you’ve ever laid eyes on. The caliber was crazy, and the bar set high. As the only British team, we weren’t just representing Craft & Cleaver, but Queen and country too!
We were darn pleased with our result, except our Chicken Thighs, we wont mention the Chicken Thighs. Our Pork was outstanding; we’re not kidding when we say we think we’ve made some serious improvements to bring back home for you to try.
We arrived Thursday, picked up our rides (a Dodge Ram and Dodge Challenger) and headed for the Kansas Speedway, a huge track filled with Hot-rod BBQ trailers, custom-builds & RV’s. There’s some serious metalwork going on here, each team complete with pun-intended team names like Grill on Grill Action, Hoggy Style, This Is How We Que It, and our personal favourite, Rub You Long Time.
Our pitch was kitted out with the same Smokers we use in our kitchen back home, courtesy of Cookshack. Massive shout out to Stuart from Cookshack for lugging his trailer from Oklahoma and lending us our pits. A true gentleman.
Another huge shout out to the good folk of Kansas. They were amazed we even had BBQ’s in the UK, let alone restaurants and teams cooking competition-grade ‘Que. Thanks to everyone who invited us to their parties on Friday night, to Kerry at Seaforths for the bottle of Bourbon, and to Cabo Wabo Tequila for the hangover on Saturday…
The competition was fierce. Over 140 Grand Champion Winners from various cook-offs around the country, and 600 teams in total. We had our work cut out.
We set about sourcing meat, testing the smoker, and making some last minute improvements. I can happily say we were one of the only teams we saw make all our rubs, marinades, injections, sauces etc from scratch. Many buy shop-bought ready-made stuff packed full of MSG and other nasties.
Competition day started at 3am. Val and I fired up the Smokers for their special moment, carefully laid our Brisket & Pork on the racks and set the timers. Our fate was in the hands of the BBQ gods now…
So, how did we do?
Chicken – 385th
Brisket – 338th
Ribs – 348th
Pork – 140th !!!
Overall – 351st
So, we were generally mid-table, but WHAT THE HELL – Our Pork placed 140th!!! That’s Grand Champion territory, the top 20%… BOOM YEAH!
I said I wouldn’t mention the Chicken Thighs, but we weren’t happy with them. U.S Chicken is pumped full of water and steroids – these things were huge, fatty and despite our best efforts to replicate what we had practiced at home, the Chicken let us down.
We also entered the Beans category – we cook up some mighty fine Pit Beans at C&C, so thought we’d give it a whirl… Well they were awesome, we used some Dark Chocolate and Chipotle for a Mole kick, and lots of fresh Rosemary. The trouble is… we submitted it at the wrong time… half an hour early, and as a result we were disqualified… Whoops!
What. A. Trip. Kansas is real America, and we learnt so much about Barbecue, and the culture – many of these teams travel around America to compete every weekend. We made friends, cooked competition standard Que, drank beer (and Tequila, and Bourbon) and had an unforgettable time. We can see ourselves going back…
Below are some of our favourite shots from the weekend.
Next stop, New York City!