We have been on the road for a month already and time has flown by. We have traveled from Texas to Kentucky and lots of places in between. We still have a few more BBQ joints to head to and a couple more things to see. Our last stop and where we end this crawl will be at the American Royal in a couple of weeks. Its been a blast up to now with the crew who has been working hard.

Here is your very first look at BBQ Crawl coming this Spring 2013 on the Travel & Escape Channel produced by RTR Media. I hope you like it. Let me know what you think. Its my life on the road.


I often get asked for advice about starting a Competition BBQ Team. Its a never ending process. I learn something at every contest.

Here are a few forms I use for each and every competition

Diva Q Cook Log 2012

Diva Q Competition Checklist 2012


Here are some helpful tips to get you started as a competition team. Remember Having fun is a big part of it but planning it can make it a whole lot better.



Practical tips & advice for new competition BBQ teams


  • Practice

Keep practicing until you get completely comfortable within competition timelines. Practice until you are sick of eating bbq. When you practice at home follow the same timelines as a real competition. Set up like you would a real competition (no running back into the house).


  • Analyze

Ask your friends to critique your food. Ask them to rate it just like at a competition. Give them score cards. After a competition analyze your scores. Find out what the judges didn’t like. It’s not personal. It’s just competition. Learn from it.


  • Good Notes are worth their weight in gold

At every contest and for every test cook keep notes and take lots of pictures. In addition your expenses should be tracked as well. How much you spend on all of the items you need and what it cost to get there. Be practical. You can’t do every contest (unless you are a millionaire) so pick and choose carefully based on your income and comfort level in spending money on a hobby.

Things to take note of:

Temperature outside, and inside your grill

Humidity levels

Placement on the grill

Holding times



Finishing glazes


Cooking times

Wind direction

  • Change one thing at a time.

When making changes to your flavor profiles, cooking temperature or any other competition change – only change one thing at a time. Measure the results and adjust accordingly. If you change too much you don’t know what you are measuring.

  • Clean as you go.

When you finish a turn in clean up and set up again for the next category. Don’t leave this till the last minute. A clean and de-cluttered competition table makes for an easier environment to work in.

For easier cleanup I like to use Smoky Mountain Smokers Disposable Cutting Boards– they make cleanup  lot easier and there is much less chance for cross contamination.

  • Consistency  Consistency  Consistency

Set up the same at every contest. Set your grills up, your tables up even the drink coolers in the same location. Do things on schedule at the same time. You should plan what you are doing every hour of the contest. Saves valuable time when it comes to turn in crunch time.


  • Have a back-up plan

If you use electrical based grills- have a generator and make sure you have gas.  Same for electrical appliances – be prepared. If the contest runs out of power how do you recover? Make a plan.

  • Be Considerate, have fun and play nice.

Introduce yourself and your team to other teams. Don’t play your music too loud. Don’t encroach on your neighbours’ competition site. Ask before entering anyone’s site or wait to be invited. Share electricity and water fairly. Mind your own kids- don’t let them run all over other people’s sites. Offer to help someone if you can. Ask general questions but don’t ask specifics i.e. – what’s in a competitor’s sauce or rub. Everyone remembers the idiots.

  • It’s a lot cheaper to party at home.

Drinking to excess at a contest really doesn’t make that much sense. It is a pretty darn expensive party. Save the liquid libations for after the last turn in time and when the packing and cleaning is done. It’s not a pretty sight to have to clean up BBQ gunk and grease when you are hung over.  Plus if you play make sure you stay the night or have a designated driver.

  • Taste trumps everything.

Taste is the #1 most important factor in scoring for KCBS. Keep that always in mind that you should be spending more time on taste than appearance- always.

  • Be Prepared

Find out what the weather is going to be like well in advance. Search the contest location on Google maps. Take note of where the water and electricity is. Find out who you should contact in case of an emergency.

Have an inventory list of all the items you use in competition. For sauces and rubs make sure you have enough for each contest.  Order regularly to ensure freshness.

  • Share with your competition neighbors.

Wherever possible try other competitor’s entries. Write down what you taste.  Make notes on their turn ins. Ask for honest feedback from them. Its good – doesn’t tell you much. Ask them to be specific.


  • Shorten the learning curve.

Before the contest read the Competition forums on the net. Watch you tube videos. There is lots of great information out there on box presentations, rubs, how to videos and sauces. Take a class from an experienced competitor. Take a judging class. Judge a contest. See what is being turned in. All of these will help shorten the learning curve.

  • Shut up Pay attention and listen.

Pay attention to your competitors and what they are doing. Listen to experienced bbq’ers on the competition circuit. Ask the contest reps for advice. You have two ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion. Often the best advice received is not the advice that was solicited.

  • Edit delete and remove.

After a contest take a look at what you packed and what you actually used. Always go back and edit your notes, delete anything unnecessary and remove anything you didn’t use. Packing too many just in case items just adds up to a much longer competition clean-up. For example I love these heavy duty bus pans. They serve multiples of purposes. i use them to pack items in them. Then when I arrive at a contest I line them with bags to prep- then finally as a dish pan. Three purposes one item to pack.

  • Show me the money!

Remember that you don’t write the check. You don’t give out the scores. What you like to eat and the flavor profile you enjoy- doesn’t matter. The only people that matter are the judges. It’s their opinions and taste buds that put you on the podium.  You should taste test everything with a clean palette (no smoking or drinking anything but water) but remember just because you love 5 spice powder with a heavy hot sauce doesn’t mean the judges will.





We went to this contest as a family. It was a super nice change from the Royal. I love being with my family at BBQ contests. The route to and from PA was spectacular with all of the fall foliage.

Vlad the happy driver!

The contest was a KCBS & MABA event. KCBS categories Chicken Ribs Pork and Brisket and MABA categories Weavers Bologna, Bell Evans Chicken Wings Bell Evans Leg and thighs plus dessert.

I got the shock of my life when we received our products to use in the auxiliary categories.  The Lebanon bologna was unlike anything I had ever seen before. It is much closer to a sweet summer sausage. I had no idea what to do with it. My plans went out the window as soon as I saw it. I had never entered a bologna contest ever. Both the bologna and the wings were submitted on Friday night so it was a busy evening.

 So I cubed it up and slathered it with Sam Dog BBQ Mustard Sauce and a few other ingredients. Placed it in one of the Traegers and let it smoke for 4 hours until all the sides were caramelized. Lets just say it wasn’t pretty, but it was super tasty. We put it in our individual containers added a shot of Forty Creek whiskey as a chaser and sent it off to the judges.

We also competed in the wing category.  I love categories with open plating and we had a lot of fun with this one. We decided to give the judges some of our Yeungling beer as a side to the wings. I mean really who doesn’t love wings and beer?? I wish we could have tried one of teh wings but we had so few to work with (Meat was supplied) that we just had enough to barely fill the plate.

The rest of our Friday night was spent socializing. There are a lot of teams we got to catch up with including one of my Sisters in Smoke Jenny from Black Cat BBQ.

I believe there may have been some tequila involved. Really really good tequila from the fine folks Chip & Sally at Red Lion Spicy Foods one of our neighbors.

After a few libations I headed off to bed for a couple of hours. It was a lovely albeit cold evening.  Perfect for me.

When I woke up one of my other neighbors was up and stoking the fire in his Jambo. Mike Richter is an uber BBQ competitor. Currently ranked #3 in the KCBS TOY. He is super kind and nice to chat with I am glad to call him a friend.  I don’t get to see him or Barb often enough.

Then as the sun rose I took a bit of a walk about. Got to visit with the Smokin Gnomes, Tim, Tiny’s BBQ, and a whole lotta other terrific people.

The time got away from me a bit and I put on my Bell Evans best legs contest meat a bit late. Grill Grates came to the rescue and we turned in grilled chicken. It was tasty chicken. Much different from our normal KCBS chicken.

I can blame the time getting away from me on one thing. Donuts. Seriously damn good donuts. The biggest box of donuts ever that was provided to the teams along with coffee too!  Like a moth to a flame I was entranced….

The rest of the entries including dessert last went off without a hitch. They went in the boxes fine but the brisket was dry and I tried a couple of new presentations that I was thinking of doing for the Jack next weekend.  I figured if the brisket came in above DAL well then the judges were going to be very generous.

The awards ceremony time came and we headed off.

To my absolute shock we got a 1st place in bologna. LOL still makes me giggle.

We also took a 3rd in dessert 4th in wings and a 4th in Pork. The judges were uber generous and gave us 39/47 in brisket. They didn’t like our ribs 23/47 or our chicken 24/47 overall coming in at 21/47. Ugh. The Bell Evans BEst legs I am not sure where we ended up as they only reported to 5th place.

Huge congratulations to Aporkalypse Now (aka Myron of the North) for their GC and to Lo & Slo BBQ on their RGC and to all who competed!

So that’s it for regular comps for the year for us and we are now packing for the Jack next weekend. Hopefully we come home with at least 1 of these again :-) that would be spectacular !

I just need to get through catering a wedding and a baby shower this weekend plus a couple of soccer matches with the kids- a presentation at school and then driving there for 18 hours. I’ll sleep when I am dead. God bless the staff at Starbucks. They are keeping me upright with all the caffeine I am consuming.



Wow. What a trip. What a challenge. I am still sleep deprived and catching up on blog posts……


I flew into Kansas to compete in the American Royal Invitational and the Open. It was a blast. Absolutely exhausting and completely absorbing.

My illustrious site. One 10×10 tent 1 table and a really cool Q Kitchen equipped with an FE and a mack daddy char-broiler.

I am lucky to have some great friends all over. Truly once again let me repeat BBQ people are awesome. They do anything and everything to help. So with friends like Andy & Kim Groneman and the Early family, I had everything I needed to compete. Bare bones but all of the essentials. A complete kitchen with an FE and a charbroiler, a Tent a cot, some coolers and friends to help. I had stocked up the previous day with Kim at BBQFans, Liberty Fruit and the hen house and I was all set.



However I will say my site had to be one of the worst possible locations ever. Horrible would be an understatement. I was right along the end of the entrance (AKA  HALLWAY OF HELL! – see below)  for the folks heading into the dark side and when they wanted to drag their drunk obnoxious loud asses home they had to go right by my site again.

Then there was the lovely* cleaning crew located right around the corner that seemed to take great joy every morning at 3am waking all of us up with their noise. They didn’t stop till well past 7 or 8 am.

Total sleep for 2 days less than 6 hours. Total times I wanted to throttle someone — ———– I can’t count that high.

My super comfy cot with Big Poppas Smokers Sweater pillow.

Just an example of two of the drunks that stumbled by.  Freak clowns. I should have just set up a video camera.

Sleep deprivation aside it was a challenge. I have only cooked on an FE 3 times prior to this. Thank fully I had taken Butcher BBQ and Plowboys class and they covered how they run their meats in their FE’s In addition Andy was uber helpful. Anytime you do 2 contests back to back it is a challenge :-)

I got to spend some time socializing with friends and thats a big part of getting to go to the Royal

I also had a couple of Texans – Chris Jones and David Henry plus Neil Strawder with me to run boxes and to help where they could. That was a really fun part of the weekend. Loved hanging with the guys.

I also got to spend time with a Legend and dear friend of mine Dave Raymond from Sweet baby Rays. I love this guy. He rocks.

The Royal is an interesting contest. On day one for the Invitational I came in 88th out of 141 and in the Open 81st out of 498 . Not stellar by any means. It was a challenge and I am really glad I did it no matter what the results.  It was an excellent personal challenge just to get through it all. I know I made some good BBQ.

Another huge highlight for the weekend had to be participating in a steak throw down as part of the KCBS tour !I got to compete against Heath Hall of Pork Barrel BBQ Fame. We had a blast with this and it was tons of fun!!

I had a huge surge of patriotic Canadian pride seeing 2 of my fellow countrymen Tim Brown and Daryl Maybanks from Can’t Stop Grilling take Reserve Grand Championship in the open!! They had a rough Invitational and came out on top HUGE congrats to them both and for also using Kingsford as it doubled their prize money!! WTG guys!!

Congratulations to all who got their name called and to everyone who just survived the Royal again!!

Results for both Days Invitational (Congratulations Tippycanoe BBQ Crew GC!) and Open (Congratulations Motley Que Crew GC!)








I must sincerely apologize for the delay in posting I have been busier than a bee. We have been travelling from BC to Buffalo competing!

In Langley BC I had the distinct pleasure of teaching once again at Well Seasoned. It was a terrific set of days we had a sold out classes for Ribs and received a lot of positive feedback from the classes.


Then we headed up to the gloriously beautiful Whistler BC to compete at the Canadian National BBQ Championships!!  This is the most gorgeous location to have a BBQ competition. At the base of the mountains beautiful wisps of smoke plume upwards . It is a sight to behold for sure. Our site was once again shared with the teams from Well Seasoned with pitmaster Angie Quaale and David Gassaway, Praire Smoke & Spice with pitmaster Rob Reinhardt and Jaci Reinhardt.  We all get along really well and there was a lot of sharing involved with cooking techniques and recipes.












Congratulations to Wine Country Q for their GC and to the Canadian Team Well Seasoned RGC and the ticket to the Jack !!!! We received 7th in burger and 6th in King of the Q,  1st place pork and the rest lets just forget about it till next year. Overall we came in 13th out of 43 teams. It was not our best results for sure. They really didn’t like our food other than our pork this year. Oh well. We still had a blast!

Angie and David. Wow were they ever surprised awesome to see!!

After flying back from BC we had just 36 hours to prep and pack for the Taste of Country Nationals in Buffalo BC. Talk about some quick packing!!

This new event combines great country music family friendly events, BBQ vending and of course a BBQ competition. Moe Cason from Ponderosa BBQ and I were asked to go on the local TV station ABC WKBW News 7 in Buffalo and do a short segment on the event!!

The event was a blast to do and the crowds were enormous. The vendor lines never stopped the entire time we were there and there were hundreds of people in the Peoples Choice tasting lines as well. For this contest we were joined by a Ninja. No kidding. A Pork Ninja named Jamie. :-) We were really appreciate of his help all weekend for sure and we could not have done the sampling without him.

We were lucky enough to come home with some hardware!! 1st place pork 3rd Chicken 7th ribs 13th brisket for 5th overall. Plus for the first time ever we won 1st place people’s choice. that was a big thrill for us. We usually don’t participate in peoples choice. This one was a blind peoples choice for pork. IT was a thrill for sure and we will be back next year.

Then right after awards we raced back to Canada for a VIP catering event for some lovely folks.

Catering table as we were setting up.

Good times but we are now taking a well deserved long overdue …weekend off. Catch you next week!!



Heath Hall & Brett Thompson of Pork Barrel BBQ are building up their BBQ empire one step at a time….

From their award winning competition BBQ team:

To their Rubs and Sauces

Then they moved on to the Shark Tank:

Plus they are in the process of building their very own restaurant (including their already flourishing catering business) :

Now if that wasn’t enough they have also just recently started their own BBQ forum   BBQ Social Network… BBQ This is where I called Heath and pretty much asked him everything I could think of about his BBQ empire……

Heath tells me their motto is:

Reward lives in the house of risk

They are also incredibly big believers in social media as a means to get their name out there….

In regards to Social media – on Twitter Pork barrel BBQ is the 80th most followed food site.

It has provided them with incredible success.

As Heath states Where else can you have 28000 people follow you .  ??? for free.

He likes the the fact that it is not concentrated in marketing. – ie radio is concentrated… paper is concentrated twitter is global. Facebook is global.

He an Brett run the business like politics -We market its strengths not the weaknesses.

Tips from Heath-

Know your audience

Who are they? Cater your content to the audience

Ease of use – how easy is it to use your website, your forum your brand-

Analytics- page views is one of the most important things. Use them to drive your content.

Twitter- its advertising – place engage them – post interesting stories not just about your own brand but of others that are interesting too.

Reciprocal relation you will get back what you give …

Create brand ambassadors – free employees testimonials over advertisements. Its better to have other people spread the word about how great your brand is…

Now as they make their foray into the work of BBQ Backyard what do they hope to accomplish- I asked him point blank there are lots of already successful forums out there on BBQ & grilling what makes yours special?  What will keep people engaged and ultimately grow the population :

Heath had a lot to say about this.

We perused all the BBQ sites –the majority of the forums using old technology.. We are in a stage where things are rapidly changing  ie:  Tablets- zoom 30 /40 other ones. Ipads etc all of these are 5 times or so user friendly..we need a BBQ forum that is that user friendly too.

Our site offers lots of amenities:

User interface – familiar with most people  – not like facebook but it has the same type of feel -You can friend people, you can have your photo up or team logo identify who you are. We want to go beyond the Q&A forum and simplest way you can express yourself personally. You can go on your page here is my name – personalization you can blog post. You can customize it all. You can have blog posts, video uploads and photo uploads.

For example just this past Monday we had over 900 photos uploaded. WE are creating an easy user friendly place to do all this.

Additionally we want people to show off your awards and your food.  Especially keeping everyone in the loop-One of the clearest examples of this is Saturday afternoon. Everyone in the competition world is getting on their computers from 4-6pm to find out who wins  We provide a platform for viewing it finding out information…

This isn’t just a professional competitive BBQ site .This is being established as a BBQ community as a whole.

It gives people an opportunity to interact with people. – Backyard bbq’ers into comps

You can even import address books from your own accounts.

We have completely integrated facebook & twitter. This has provided ease of use in signing in and addressing the current needs of people.

Heath describes their website as a neighborhood – In it you have your own House (page)  your page , customizable. Ability to change colors make it your own.  Also our Icons and name use- requires a person to think about it- make sure you are really talking to a real person. These are real people you are talking with and discussing things with.

Heath also went on to describe some of the upcoming additions to the site which will make it even friendlier:

  • Recipe share book. Still work in progress.
  • Future: live chat
  • Ad space- future.
  • Further down the road- They want to create a page on there a Triple AAA route – hotels sites etc.
  • Create a similar ultimate map for a BBQ crawl .. routes for great BBQ joints all over.
  • Members- rate the joints. Stars the grading system – it will give the joints … higher priority viewing..

Heath also makes it clear the site will always be free its a  priority to both of them. Going forward creative ideas will fund the project. We will use integrated advertising – but we don’t want a barrage of ads just a few ad spots.

Then Heath told me a bit about their restaurant project :

Pork Barrel BBQ restaurant  Opening End of March Beginning April. Location is in Alexandria Virginia Del Ray Neighborhood.

They will be serving traditional bbq food : Brisket, Pulled pork, ribs, chicken, also they are designing our own sausages – jalapeño cheddar and occasionally the fun stuff. – lamb etc.

They have even been toying with the idea of tasting menus where you could come in and try a unique menu selection of their delicious BBQ.

Their location will be licensed & they are excited to also be introducing a line of smoked cocktails.

You walk in to the counter at the back and you can see the butcher station. If you walk in and say I want a half pound customers will be able to see our staff cutting it for them right in front of them.  They will dish up traditional sides as well beans corn puddings coleslaw and more . Our cashier at the end of the line right beside a big open ice chest open with regional and micro sodas.

Heath says they want a family atmosphere. with some exposed field stone a really nice open space. It will seat 70 people. An outdoor patio will also add between 15- 20 more seats

Delivery and to go. Catering tied in as well.

Process is taking longer than we had hoped or imagined.

Looking forward to closing the toolbox  and firing up the smoker.

Fast Casual type of place.

Ultimately Heath stated this :

The Process is taking longer than we had hoped or imagined.

We are looking forward to closing the toolbox  and firing up the smoker.

I have no doubt these BBQ empire building folks will succeed in everything they set out to accomplish.

You can find Pork Barrel BBQ on twitter , Facebook, their website and of course their new BBQ Backyard


Its no secret I am a huge fan of the Stockyards in Toronto (recently voted Best Barbeque in NOW’s 50 Best Restaurants in Toronto 2010).. I have had multiples of meals there and every one of them has been excellent.  Their porchetta (fennel and garlic scented pork loin, belly,and cracklings served on a baguette,with garlic aioli) with rapini and shards of delicious well seasoned crackling is one of my all time favorites sandwiches. Their buttermilk marinated chicken is perfectly cooked every time  (and always worth the wait!) with each bite a crunchy symphony of flavors (love it with their in house made smoked hot sauce) and their fries are decadently indulgent. My super fly fry girl and the guys manning the flat top and fry stations  kick a$$.  Basically they serve consistently great  food all the time. They have such a dedication to serving excellent food that there is no wonder why the place is always busy and people leave happy & full.

This past weekend I made a return visit. I had to make sure my BBQ BFF Angie Quaale who had flown in for some business got to try their food.  We had the porchetta and the fried chicken ( two of my all time favs) and they were both excellent. We were very happy and along with the meal one of my favorite drinks as well… Black Cherry from Boylan

Tom Davis (owner) likes to play with his food.  Thank God.  This tall lanky guy has all the excitement of a kid at Christmas when he tells me about some new and upcoming menu items -Korean fried chicken sandwich and Viet-Lyon sandwich. (Roasted pork belly, house made pork rillette, daikon, carrot, sriracha mayo) His enthusiasm is infectious and I can’t wait to come back and try them.

In the mean time however I got to try something I had never had before … their Pit Beans.

Now I have eaten a lot of beans from bbq Pits.  I love BBQ beans. I have made gallons of them myself. However I have never  had better beans than at the Stockyards.  Truly I was shocked. I knew they would be good. IT pretty much goes without saying if Tom puts it infront of me I’ll probably like it. However I have never had better at any one of the BBQ joints I have visited all over North America (and that list is getting longer all the time). I personally cannot make beans this good.  I don’t know of anyone who can make beans this good.

What makes these so special?? Well they come to you and they really don’t look like anything exciting. Unassuming  looking bowl of beans. . Truly beans are a simple thing so many places serve them and more often than not they are a disappointing bland side dish. These beans could be a stand alone meal and you would be incredibly satisfied eating beans alone. Now think about that for a second.. How many places have you been where you could say their BBQ beans would be enough. Enough to satisfy your BBQ craving > These do. . Cooked in his homemade charcoal pit these capture the very essence of BBQ.  From the second the aroma starts to fill your nose with its hint of smoke and spice.. you want to dig in.   Let me wax poetic about these beans for a bit..  your first bite happens and you know immediately these are not your average pit beans. These are something truly magnificent. Starting with the texture of the beans themselves…They are not mushy they are not hard they have integrity but they meld in your mouth beautifully coating your tongue with flavor. Then a wonderful thing happens you taste some of the beautiful pulled pork mingled in amongst the beans and it is awesome meaty goodness.  Seconds later the back heat builds and it is a pleasant warmth like a BBQ hug of happiness. .  These beans are amazing. Well seasoned, cooked with care and truly special.

I am so glad to have tried them. I will be back for more soon. They are worth it.


Our year end final numbers for 2010  KCBS TOY Standings

Overall~130 out of 5713 KCBS teams !!

I am really pleased since we only had 9 competitions that qualified towards these standings.


Thats a BIG improvement from our year end last year where we came in 241 out of 4716

We still need to work and keep focused for 2011. You just never know where we may end up and at what contest!!