THE AMERICAN ROYAL: THANK ‘Q KANSAS (ER, CITY MISSOURI)
Well, first of all, I have to be a tiny bit careful in this post to be sure that any of you who read the blog and the few of you who may care, know that Kansas City is, of course, in Missouri and not in Kansas.
Apparently, in my post below about Michael Smith I did not make this abundantly clear and so managed to cheese off a few people from said region who sent me irate e-mails.
So, just for the record, I have been in Kansas City, which is not Kansas, but Missouri. OK? Happy now?
Good, so let’s continue shall we?
The real reason I was in this part of the good old US of Stateside was to join a team called Burn Rate who were in the Open Competition at The American Royal BBQ.
Now, when we think of BBQ in the UK, it conjours up an image of a limp sausage, some supermarket burgers and perhaps a piece of shrivelled chicken or two being tossed on a grill in damp weather only to be retrieved a while later when the outside is charred beyond recognition and the inside remains health frighteningly raw.
BBQ in the USA is a whole ‘nother business. A business that drives people from enjoyment to the borders of obsession as they debate which is best, pork or beef, which kind of rub to use and what kind of sauce is best served with the finished product.
In much of the country it is the hog who holds sway. In Texas, Beef is unsurprisingly king while in some parts of Kentucky, they will swear that mutton works a treat. Saucing too is a serious matter with the Carolinas using, to many people’s distaste, a vinegar sauce while the rest will use a sweeter sauce with molasses or brown sugar. Even in the Carolinas they can’t agree with some using mustard and others using tomatoes.
For a Brit to dive into this world is a pretty dangerous affair, so it was just as well that I had as my guide, my good chum, Mr Mark Cordes.
Now Mark is one of those wholesome John “boy” Walton types who says “neat” and “gosh darn it” without any sense of irony and he exudes hospitality from every pore. Enough even for him to not only offer to put me up for a few days but to persuade his team mates that a plump, balding half Welsh, half Bengali boy with his best years behind him could be a useful addition to the team.
Suckers, they fell for it.
You will be able to read a full report on EAT MY GLOBE when I can get around to it, but I thought you may like to see some pictures of the event which is now the biggest of its kind anywhere in the world. Over 100 teams compete in the “Invitational” event for which, to enter, you have to have won a grand championship at an affiliated event in the last year. In the “Open” event, over 500 teams take part.
There are some team names glorious names too with my particular favourites being, The MAster Basters, Motley 'Q and, best of all, Morning Wood. There was even, believe it or not, a Biritsh team comprised of two chefs and master butcher from the UK who fly over and rent a smoker much to the bemusement of the locals who peer curiously at their letters of support from the offices of Her Majesty and Her Majesty's Prime Minister
Teams range from the small scale operations with a handful of Weber smokers and a small trailer to multi million dollar affairs run by people who spend their entire lives on the road travelling from competition to competition making a healthy living from the crazy business that is ‘Q
My team, Burn Rate is run by 11 guys who take their BBQ incredibly seriously but not to the extent that they forget to have a good time and I was thrilled when they allowed me to join them and even more so when I saw how much meat they had planned to cook.
To give you some mid boggling statistics, this team alone cooked up 600Lbs of Pork Butt, Brisket, Ribs and Chicken in three days. In the event as a whole, it is estimated that nearly 400,000lbs of meat will be cooked and consumed. Add this to the side dishes of beans, slaw, salads etc and you will be able to understand just what ‘Q means to people in this part of the world.
The meat is all prepared in smokers at between 200o and 250o with some cuts like the 5lb cuts of brisket taking anything up to 12 hours to cook through and to gain a smoke ring of colour through the meat. Before going in, they are rubbed with secret spice mixes of the “ I could tell you, but I would have to…etc” variety. Even the kids get involved, donning surgical gloves and rubbing spice mix into the slabs o ribs without a care in the world.
Each night of the event, teams invite family, friends and sponsors to join them for parties, they try hard to outdo each other with live bands and other attractions and they turn into wild nights from which Kansas City only recovers from about three weeks before the next year’s event.
The booze flows in rivers, and some of the participants found it all a bit too much and took the opportunity to fashion rudimentary sleeping arrangements from convinient hay bales while others took the chance to kick back with a beer and watch a local college football game.
On my last night as the final party was winding down, I had to take my leave to get ready for an early morning flight to Chicago. Each member of the team, who had made my experience so memorable by their hospitality, individually, invited me back for next year’s American Royal, the one after that and every one after that.
They are already in the diary. Wild hogs wouldn’t keep me away.