I remember one time I drove by State Center on a bitter-cold winter day, and slowly made my way around the snow-covered roads. The Rose Garden was in it's dormancy stage. Streets were bare of BBQ teams, no judge tent in sight.
Yet memories flowed through my mind of warmer days when the aroma of BBQ filled the air. Now it's all back again and it's going to be another great year of making more BBQ memories.
I drove down here with my BBQ judge buddy Francis Dutton. We arrived very early, so we walked around and greeted all the teams.
On our way back to the judge tent, we ran into a gathering of cooks in the street about ready to do their traditional 9:22 shots. Wags Backwoods BBQ made the preparations and Machete Boys BBQ called up pitmaster Steve Lauer (Phoenix BBQ) to do a remote toast. Very fun!
VIDEO CLIP 9:22 Shots
VIDEO CLIP- Judge's Oath
The Smokey D's BBQ Facebook page even posted a photo and said, "Brisket and Pork is wrapped on this beautiful morning at the Iowa's Rose Festival BBQ Competition. Ribs just went on and Darren put a little something special on the pit in case Andy Fales (WHO 13 News) shows up for lunch."
This coming fall, Darren will be inducted into the BBQ HALL OF FAME. I am excited for him, and his wife Sherry who has been by his side the whole time. This is very exciting and I will tell you this recognition is well-deserved.
Congratulations, Darren and Sherry!
Kyle Johnson is a "Memphis in May" Turkey Smoke World Champion, and has won a Grand Champion in the KCBS Pro Series and other top placing wins. Another down to earth guy who is starting to rise up in BBQ, and his wife Tara is usually with him, but today it was all Kyle.
Darren posted this photo on Facebook and said, "It’s a great day when Herb Kane shows up with homemade potato salad at a comp. Best potato salad I’ve ever tasted. $10 says the container doesn’t make it past turn ins. Thanks for thinking of me Herb."
A few days before the contest, Kyle texted me, "Don't forget my potato salad this weekend. Darren said he didn't want any."
I think Kyle wanted Darren's share. Nice try, Kyle! I gave Jeff Vanderlinde (Shiggin' & Grinnin') some potato salad so he wouldn't snatch up Darren's container. I think it worked!
It was great giving out my new BBQ CRITIC APPROVED stickers to teams. It is a fun way for me to thank them for what they do for us judges: Cooking up some of the most delicious competition BBQ on earth!
For those teams who did not get a sticker, just hit me up at a contest. and I will give you one and take your photo for the BBQ CRITIC site.
BBQ CRITIC APPROVED TEAMS
The SMOKHOUSE 72 BBQ team (brother's Ray & Jay Ringgenberg) named their new gravity smoker "Christine" in honor of her. So cool!
By the way, check out SMOKEHOUSE 72's "Sweet & Savory" BBQ rub. It is the first BBQ CRITIC APPROVED product. Read the review here.
JUDGING THE BOXES
CHICKEN: I looked around the tables and saw everything from wings, breasts. legs and thighs. It all looked so delicious! Our chicken table was amazing. Oh my, all the 9's!
RIBS: Probably my least favorite category of the day, but the two I liked were a 999.
PORK: Oh, man! So delicious and so many creative ways the boxes were laid out. Cooks, please make sure if you want to include two or more different types of pork such as money muscle, chunks, pulled, etc., to ONLY ADD THE GOOD MEATS in the box. If one did not turn out that great, scrap it.
BRISKET: I noticed today how the texture of the meat can really help enhance the flavor of the brisket.
Slices can be solid-like (hard/dry) or can stretch out nicely like an accordion (moist/tender). When it has just the right amount of smoke, tenderness and rendered fat (marbling) in that slice, it is music to my taste buds! There were a couple of boxes that nailed it.
Competitions are becoming more difficult to win because the overall quality of boxes are so high. Way different compared to when I started judging back in 2008. The scores will be very close, indeed.
The awards ceremony at the Rose Festival BBQ is always exciting to watch; and I have witnessed many over the years. Congrats to all the teams competing and those who got calls.
While taking photos of the TOP 3 winners in each category, strangely I heard someone say, "Bubba-Q's" from the crowd of cooks. It immediately reminded me of all the good times I had cooking with Bubba & Sabrina Knapp (who own Bubba-Q's restaurant in Ottumwa, IA). They now live in Cody, WY and I wish they could be here today. They won Grand Champion here at the Rose Festival BBQ in 2011. What a great memory!
Thinking of roses, I remember singer Bette Midler once said in her song THE ROSE, "I say love, it is a flower, and you, it's only seed."
Well if we are the seeds of love, I saw a lot of it planted and growing at the Rose Festival BBQ this year.
Moments like when Megan Willier was going through a stressful time and cooks showing appreciation for everything she does to make this event successful, or watching Darren and Sherry Warth loving up their grandchild, or Francis Dutton reflecting on the love of his life who passed on to be with God. Even the simple act of sharing food and stories and memories with each other, and experiencing all the fun that can be had at a BBQ competition.
The seeds have been planted!
Like the Rose Garden in State Center, we will all bloom again and come back next year to see our BBQ family. Bette Midler describes this best at the very end of her song THE ROSE:
in the Winter
the bitter snows
Lies the Seed
that with the sun's love
In the Spring
becomes the rose.
- BBQ CRITIC