Arizona Barbecue Festival: Lessons Learned from Competing in a KCBS Event

Categories: Events
Martin Cizmar
Sign spotted on the drive to the Arizona Barbecue Festival... Sorry, kids, not today!
I planned to smoke a lot of meat while competing in the Arizona Barbecue Festival this weekend. I did not plan to smoke a 2006 Mitsubishi Lancer.

I am embarrassed to report that in addition to preparing pork ribs, pork shoulder, brisket, and chicken at the Scottsdale contest, which I was dared into participating in after a heated exchange in the comment section of our blog (backstory here) I very nearly caught my teammate Jonathan McNamara's car on fire.

Turns out that even after sitting for eight hours, some of our coals weren't totally out. It also turns out that the smoke they produced was enough to make quite a bit of heat seep through the rear seat of Jonathan's car, forcing him to pull over to the side of Galvin Parkway where he waited for me to smash our $15 smoker to bits, putting out the coals with two bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale then tossing the shrapnel in a dumpster.

Here are a few more things we learned from competing -- and beating at least a few people -- at this weekend's festival.

1. Jonathan and I are not the best barbecuers in the state. Now, it's true that I never said we were, all the angry commentators who left spiteful notes on my original BBQ competition post can rest easy knowing Some Dumb Pork-Related Pun placed 52nd of 55 non-disqualified teams. Our last-place showing in chicken probably accounted for that (discussed below), because our ribs (47), pork shoulder (38) were solid, and our brisket (52) didn't embarrass us. Three other teams were registered and scoreless, though I don't know why.

A lot of competitors are really, really great people. I can't say "all" the people we encountered were nice (see below), but we talked to some incredibly nice guys and girls who truly love barbecue. I can't count how many people stopped by and offered to assist in any way possible. Truly, it was a joy to spend the weekend with a lot of these people. We were humbled by their knowledge, kindness, and generosity.

3. There are some BBQ teams that can prepare better 'cue than any BBQ restaurant in Arizona. To competitors and their apologists, this probably seems like a given, but after the crap I tried at the Chandler BBQ Throwdown, I wasn't so sure. Fact is, since professional cooks at a typical barbecue joint prepare the meat every day on the same pit, they tend to be a lot better than the amateurs, even when the amateurs are singularly focused on something.

That said, a slice of brisket given to me by the guys in I.A.B. 30, a bunch of great guys who we shared space with, was the best I've had in this state. I told the guys it was a winner when I ate it and, sure enough, it took fourth. I also tried the People's Choice brisket offered up by the third-place winner and was underwhelmed, but who knows what cut they gave the judges. I.A.B. 30 (It's Always Beer:30) is just starting a catering business and I wouldn't hesitate to hire them -- not only are they great guys, that brisket is incredible.

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