Joe McManus Competition BBQ for Newbies

Been way too long since I wrote an article. I guess that’s the way life tosses you around in her sea of volatility. Nevertheless, here I am again. A lot has happened since the last article, and as luck would have it, season number 3 is magic for us. We took our first GC in Clinton IA, managed to squeeze into the Royal with the minimum number of teams rule, which also made us eligible for the Jack Draw. In keeping with the spirit of our semi-charmed season, we got our name selected as the delegate from the Iowa contests for the Jack. Are we the best cooks that won Iowa contests this year…heck no. I guess we used a little skill to put us in a place to benefit from a little luck, and that’s what happened this year. And this good fortune has firmly placed me back in the ranks of a Newbie…or at least I’m getting to experience things for the first time.

Newbie experience #1: Winning a Grand Champion. Was an absolute thrill. It also felt like a little burden had been removed. Sure it was a load I put on my own shoulders, the knowing I had pretty good food most of the time, and that eventually those 4th place finishes will turn into additional walks to the stage. That day on the Mississippi River was grand in all ways possible. The people of Clinton and the bevy of volunteers make this a great contest. I got the lucky draws that day, but that newbie experience, the thrill of finally satisfying that GC goal, was unforgettable. Most important though, my family, even some extended family members, some good friends, and of course several BBQ friends who have been so encouraging over the last couple years, were there to share in the excitement.

Newbie experience #2: Waiting for the Royal Invitational letter and the notice letter from the Jack Daniels. Not knowing what to expect, I spent the next couple of months wondering when those notices will come. Some time in August, I opened the mail box and saw a nice envelope addressed to me from the Jack Daniels Distillery. My heart raced as I thought for sure this was it. Strolled into the house, opened the envelope and pulled out its contents. To my surprise, it wasn’t a letter of notification about the Draw, it was an invitation to become a Tennessee Squire. Wasn’t what I was expecting, but it’s a darn cool honor nonetheless. So thanks Keith for the nomination :-). A couple weeks later the rest of the mail started trickling in, from the Royal, and of course the Jack. Simple communications, that spoke volumes. There, I had accomplished some other goals, getting those invitations to cook, or enter the Draw. At the same time, there was a sense of humility that came with those letters. Oh I knew the other cooks who were also receiving them, folks I most often can only admire from afar. I knew how little I really know and understand about BBQ, yet I was being allowed to play in their field. Again, just feeling lucky.

Newbie experience #3: September 6th, 2007. My wife’s birthday, marathon Jr. High parent orientation that evening ruining the possibility dinner w/ my wife. And for those of us in the BBQ world, the day of THE DRAW. There we sit, hitting the refresh button on the Forum. Again unfortunately for me, got busy at work and couldn’t even do that. I checked every now and then, saw friends getting their chance at the dance…I was thrilled for them. I was standing at the copy machine, like any good office worker should be, when my phone went off…Seth Porkrastinators scrolls across. I saw they just got a bid, had to answer it to congratulate them. I say “hello”, and the reply “Dude, congratulations…” “No WAY”, I belt out, having the sense to step out of the office, but not before I got some pretty strange looks from my colleagues. Couple phone calls later, I’m still in disbelief. Once again this wonderful year’s luck gives us a nudge. My heart raced, I could barely talk, and nobody in my office could even come close to understanding the excitement I was experiencing. I’m not sure that was the birthday present my wife was expecting, but at least she was excited for us.

Newbie experience #4: watching others play, while you stay home. The first couple years in this passion, I could pretty much pick and choose when I wanted to cook. For the first time, the months of August and September had too many other conflicts that didn’t allow me the time to dedicate to doing competitions. Don’t get me wrong, I have not one regret about choosing some other things over BBQ, Dad’s 75th birthday, a weekend w/ friends we hadn’t seen in nearly a decade, and soccer games every Saturday. It was a bit of a wake-up call, that there are other things in life that are just as fulfilling. And most of them are about family. For our family, the best balance is when the support for mutual interests is balanced. In the summer months, the scale tips towards BBQ, I just guess it was time to rebalance. Sure I missed out on some things I really wanted to do, cook in several contests, participate in the Royal open, but again, its all about achieving a net balance on our limited time. Maybe next year.

Newbie experience #5: humiliation on a grand scale. Alright, that’s a little severe, but one lesson was learned; cooking the Royal Invitational after 8 weeks of down time is not a good idea. First of all, getting the Royal was an adventure in itself, new trailer, new truck, first time to the Royal. Getting situated to cook in the new trailer was a little difficult. Dealing with the spectacle of the Royal, unreal is all I can say. A little luck blessed us that day. We got a call in Pork, took 14th place, but the rest of our food, just a little piece of humble pie. Funny thing is, I thought it was very fair. My scores were fair. I don’t have a single complaint about how I was judged. Even with the humbling results of the invitational contest, I had a great time and hope I have that honor again.

A week later, we cooked another contest, little better results, in chicken, ribs and brisket. Seems they didn’t like our pork. Someday they’ll all hit.

Newbie experience #6: Jack week anticipation. This one is interesting as it’s multifaceted. First, of course there’s the thrill of prepping for what some consider to be the most prestigious BBQ contest. But honestly that part is about the same as for any contest. You still have to purchase your meat, greens, prepare rubs, sauce, or marinades. You still ponder best driving routes to a new place. This will be our last cook of the season, so there’s bittersweetness associated with that. I have told myself, I just have to get there and enjoy the contest for all it has to offer. I won’t let myself get worried about everything. This might be a once in a lifetime event for myself and my family. I wouldn’t want anything to get in the way of me enjoying everything Lynchburg, Tana, and the spirit of the Jack has to offer. In that sense, it’s the most relaxing competition I’ve prepared for.

Newbie experience #7: On 7/7/07, we took our first GC. My birthday’s on the 7th. I was accepted as a Tennessee Squire in 07. I have a daughter who turned 7 this year. 7s have been lucky, very lucky for me this year. So, I’d like to thank good Old Number 7 for the luck we’ve had this year. And when you get a chance, raise a glass of Old No. 7…here’s to…BBQ 2007, thanks for a great year!!!

Joey Mac

I started writing "Random Thoughts" earlier in the summer. I couldn't quite get anything organized into a meaningful stream of thoughts, so I started jotting down
fragments. Six months later, some are relevant, some aren't so much. I massaged them a bit, added some, and submit this article for your holiday
reading. I've included dates to give a point of reference.

June 29, 2006

Why are you nervous the days leading up to a contest? You've doubled checked lists,
you've got a handle on what needs done, you know how to pack, you have your meat, you know how to get
there. Yet you pace like a caged tiger.

Why is it so difficult to communicate with the meat cutters? I either can't communicate due to language barriers, or I get the
"I know all about meat and how to cook it better than everyon" attitude.

July 2, 2006

Why, why, WHY can't all four categories click at the same time? Why I ask, why?

Ever wonder how this "hobby" got so out of control? One cooker led to two.  Two led to
three. Three WSMs led to an FE. One canopy isn't good enough. Two is better. Maybe three is
best. Maybe an RV is the ticket. Tell me you haven't had those thoughts.

Ever wonder why you are so introverted in your everyday life the closer it gets to BBQ competition day, but when you arrive at a contest, this different person is released.

I wonder how much sleep I've lost because of the BBQ adventure? Cooking, prepping, packing, thinking,
tinkering. Guess I'll do without.

July 6, 2006 (just before Shannon)

I kind of like cooking back to back weekends a Newbie first for me. Not sure the family has the same feelings, but they are troopers and tag along

July 10, 2006 (just after Shannon)

Why, why, WHY can't all four categories click at the same time? Why I ask, why?

Wonder what it would be like cooking three weekends in a row. Have a good feeling what the family would say to that.

9, 9, 9, 8, 8, 5. Need I say more?

How long do you consternate over the scores of the day. As exhausted as I was on Saturday, there I was at 11:30pm, still trying to figure out pork scores.

Why, why, WHY can't all four categories click at the same time? Why I ask, why?

Corn fields, Shannon, sun rise a little piece of heaven.

Those newbie teams that got called this weekend now the hook is set HA! You're in this for the long haul

Watermelon pie that sounds goooooood.

Unless you win Grand Champion, are you ever satisfied with how you did?

August 2, 2006 (preparing for Waucoma)

How do I fit an FE100, all my competition stuff, AND all our camping gear into a Dodge Grand
Caravan? Enterprise car rental!

An FE100 looks much bigger on its side than it does standing up.

Waucoma – I wonder how many people in Iowa know where Waucoma is.

August 8, 2006 (after Waucoma)

4 CATEGORIES CLICK FINALLY!!! Still didn't make the fifth walk.

The only way to beat Clone cook where he ain't!!

Is there such thing as a leak proof tent?

Boy, an RV is sure looking nice (see previous thought).

Entry fees, typical. Meat prices typical. Rental van to get family to Waucoma,
expensive. Having your 10yo daughter hold your hand walking back from awards and
say "I like this contest, this is fun" priceless.

August 18, 2006 (before Dubuque)

Wonder if it'll rain this year?

Wonder if the Bobcat is going to be on the prowl this year. Least my FE stands a little better

August 21, 2006 (after Dubuque)

Whoa the unveiling of the Clonesicle.

I'm a sick man wake up at 6:00a Saturday morning, from a dream where I was in a panic, not about turning in brisket when pork is due, or it being 11:45 and I forgot to cook the chicken, or I trip on the way to turn in
brisket no instead I'm panicking because its 8:30 and I might be missing the "pre-shot" Joey, you have a problem.

No calls humph. 6th, 10th, 6th, 10th frustration and that was damn good BBQ!ERGHHHH!

September 12, 2006

Haven't cooked a competition in a month, but I've cooked more food in that month than I have at all contests combined.

On a plane to go to the AZ desert for work, all I can think about is brisket and ribs, and pork, and that little pecker

Great seeing your buddies going to the Jack! Someday, someday!

5 weeks without a competition is TOO long. I'm convinced I'll go crazy.

September 25, 2006 (just after Bloomington)

70mph wind EZ-ups EZ parachutes is more like it.

7:30pm, Friday September 22, 2006, Bloomington IL Sale barn welcome to BBQ Baghdad.

1st, 1st, 8th, 8th .good enough for 4th getting closer. I can only hope that my first GC will be met with the same enthusiasm that Alex of Dr. Porkenstien exhibited on
Saturday. Now that was excitement!!

3 canopies wasted this year. Dang that wasn't part of the budget.

October 12, 2006

I feel better today. 5 days of a wicked intestinal flu bug. If I hadn't paid my entry for Arthur,
I'd stay home.

October 16, 2006

Bitter cold, should have stayed home! Oh 8th overall, not bad, couple calls, just a tough contest to feel good about.

October 23, 2006 (Just after Libertyville)

That was the best Friday night I've ever had. That's why we BBQ.

Smack talk – boy there's a topic for the blog!!! Need a guest writer for it. Darren? Scottie? Carp? better think about that one.

KRE – good job!

Why, why, why, can't all 4 categories hit. Chicken and ribs, great all year, tank in
Libertyville. All year, couldn't buy a call in pork, Libertyville, 1st place. WHY WHY WHY
can't they all hit $%^@!

October 28, 2006

Scottie did it! Quick phone call to him, learn the true bittersweetness of the
win. BBQ and fairytale ending don't seem to go together, except this time!

December 15, 2006

The sophomore season. Did I meet my expectations? I'm not sure. Did I have fun?
Absolutely. I didn't take my 5th walk, but I certainly learned a lot. Am I happy with our
team's performance, yeah, I guess. Doesn't remove the fact that I "wannab"
better. Biggest lesson of the season, enjoy the camaraderie. I was finally able to relax a bit and genuinely enjoy the company of my fellow
Qers. So maybe that's the lesson of the sophomore, relax, enjoy, and have a good time.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all. We'll be grouching about the heat soon
Joey Mac

Last year I submitted a series of articles about judging and what goes on under the big top. It been awhile since
I've discussed competition decorum, so I thought it was time to acknowledge some people that all cooks, judges, and organizers must become familiar with…the KCBS Representative or simply the
"Rep". These men and women are the extensions KCBS at the contests being conducted any given weekend. The reps are instrumental in assuring everything runs smoothly at an event. They are the folks that make sure a contest in South Carolina will have the same basic look and feel as one conducted in Kansas City, or Washington State. Hope you find it informative. Again I enlisted the help of some folks in coming up with the following question / answer format discussion.

Q. What is the role of a contest rep?

A. The canned answer: the reps are present to ensure the published rules of the KCBS are followed. Those rules are in place to keep the competition fair and apply to the teams, the judges, as well as to the reps themselves. More practically, reps ensure teams prepare and present their entries according to the rules, oversee the judging process, tabulate the scores, verify the results, distribute them, and do the KCBS paperwork. In a business sense, the reps serve as the public face for the KCBS to the
contest's organizers and its sponsors. Countless hours of planning go into putting together a contest and tens thousands of dollars will change hands before the contest is over. In this respect, the contest representatives are responsible for delivering a satisfactory product, a well-run contest.

Q. What is the background of a typical rep?

A. Most reps have long experience with the KCBS and have come up through the ranks as competitors and/or as certified judges. Many still cook competitively. In their ‘real' lives, most reps are business people, employed in a wide range of professional and technical fields.

Q. Do reps get paid for serving at a contest?

A. Yes, contest reps are paid a fee, set by KCBS, by the contest organizer for their services. They are reimbursed for mileage, lodging, and meal expenses. Most reps usually use at least one day of vacation from their regular jobs, and have to spend much of the weekend away from their homes and families.

Q. How many reps are needed at a contest?

A. Two reps are required by the KCBS for contests of up to 49 teams. A third is called for at 50 teams with an additional rep for each increment of 25 teams above that.

Q. Do the same sets of reps always work together?

A. There are a few married couples where both spouses are reps and they do tend to always work together. Some reps tend to work exclusively with certain other reps. Many reps can be thought of as free agents, electing to serve contests as their schedules dictates.

Q. How does a rep get assigned to a particular contest?

A. There are several ways. When the contest calendar for the upcoming year is published, the reps can request to serve at certain contests. A contest organizer can request to have particular reps serve at that event. An organizer can also express the desire to have a particular rep not serve at the event. As a general rule, reps will serve at contests within their own geographic region. This saves the organizers the additional expenses of airfare or mileage associated with bringing reps in from other parts of the country.

Q. How does a person become a contest rep?

A. A candidate must train under qualified reps at a minimum of four sanctioned contests before earning his or her ‘wings.' Under the
reps' supervision, a trainee is expected to satisfactorily perform all of the tasks – both those behind-the-scenes and those in the public eye – a rep would normally do during the course of a contest. After each contest, the
candidate's performance and knowledge of the rules are critiqued by the supervising reps. Ideally, a candidate will train under as many reps as possible in order to be exposed to a wider variety of
reps' ways of managing a contest. "Reps in training" do not have expenses covered by the organizer.

Q. Could you provide a timeline of a rep's activities from when a contest starts through its conclusion?

A. The reps' involvement begins several weeks before the contest when at least one of the scheduled reps will meet with the organizer either in person, by phone, or via email. During these meetings, they discuss how the plans for the contest are progressing, get an update on the status of the team and judging rosters, and provide any needed input.


Reps will arrive onsite late Friday morning or early afternoon. They first meet with the organizer to discuss last-minute changes to the teams. Reps usually then walk around the contest site and introduce themselves to each of the teams. This allows the reps to rekindle old acquaintances and gives them the opportunity to meet new teams and answer any questions they may have. Later in the afternoon, after the team roster has been finalized, the reps retreat to a secure location where the information is updated in the computer. It is at this time that the reps assign each team their unique identifying number according to the numbering convention
they'll use at that event. Those numbers are then written on the Styrofoam boxes the teams will use for turning in their entries. The cooks meeting is held later in the day and the boxes are distributed to the teams at its conclusion. Depending on when the meeting was held, the reps may hang around the site for an extended time or they may leave shortly afterward for the night. The reps are not required or expected to remain on the contest grounds overnight.


Upon arrival on Saturday morning, reps typically visit each team again ensuring everything is in order, times are understood, and answer any questions the cooks may have come up with. Next they set up in the
judge's tent. This means setting up the computer and printer and conducting the
judges' meeting. The reps must also compare the number of judges against the number required and make a decision as to how any judge deficiencies will be rectified. If necessary to recruit judges from ‘off the
street,' one of the reps will give them a judging crash-course after the meeting. At the meeting the judges will be assigned to their table for the day.

When the judging begins, both reps will initially oversee the renumbering and the judging. As the completed score cards are turned in, one rep will begin entering scores into the computer while the other continues to monitor the turn-in table, the renumbering station, and the judges.

After judging is completed, reps finish entering scores, verify results, print and make copies of results, collate them, and get them ready for distribution at the awards ceremony. If time allows before the ceremony, the reps will also do all the invoicing, accounting, and other reports necessary to close the books on that contest.

Much like the teams, the reps' schedule at a contest starts with an initial period of planning and preparation followed by an extended period with little to do
that's capped by several hours of intense activity and high stress to meet the deadline of the awards ceremony.

Q. What is the most rewarding aspect of being a rep?

A. For me, it's getting to meet the new teams and introducing them to this pastime. The experienced teams already know all the ropes and almost make the reps unnecessary, at least up until the judging commences. Should a new team get their first call during the awards ceremony,
it's especially gratifying to watch the members of a team who, just seconds earlier, looked utterly exhausted and overwhelmed by the experience leap to their feet at the announcement and dance to the stage.
It's easy to remember going through that same broad range of emotions the first time I heard my team name called.

Q. What's the least enjoyable part of being a contest rep? Is it having to disqualify a team?

A. Informing a team that they've been disqualified is unpleasant, but I accept that responsibility. I
don't want to dwell on disqualifications but I won't declare an entry to be illegal unless
it's a clear-cut violation and the other reps present are in complete agreement. I can then deliver the bad news to the team with a clear conscience.
I'd be much more troubled by the task if the decision was made for ambiguous reasons.

The most basic task of a contest rep is to solve problems and manage people with the goal of conducting a contest as fairly and efficiently as possible. At a 60-team contest, once all the teams, judges, and volunteers are added up, somewhere around 250 people are directly involved with that event during its 30 to 36-hour run. A contest rep must interact effectively with every one of those people at some point: sometimes under difficult weather conditions and always under the pressure of time.

Conflicts are inevitable during the course of a contest, regardless of its size. I’ve found that what troubles me long after the contest is over, are those rare occasions when I’m not able to find some way to communicate effectively with a cook, or a team member, or with a judge to everyone’s satisfaction. Fortunately, conflicts such as these occur much less frequently in a contest environment than they do in ‘real’ life. Barbecue is great at bridging many of the personal differences between people. This common ground can usually be used to foster a civil, working relationship with the people I encounter at contests.

As a contest cook and formerly very active judge, I respect the teams who invest their time, money, and prestige to compete as well as the dedicated judges who give up a significant part of their weekend to participate in a contest. 99 times out of 100, the teams and the judges return that respect and recognize my desire and efforts at managing a contest as fairly and efficiently as I’m able. It’s the memory of that 100th one that always dogs me long after the contest is over.

In closing, the benefits of serving as a contest rep in this most unique and enjoyable passtime outweigh the negatives by a factor of…99 to 1.

Hope you enjoyed the article and have a safe and happy holiday season.

Joey Mac

In the twilight of the sophomore season, the progression has begun.  What progression you ask?  Moving from a green Newbie, to a “Wannabe.”  When I first volunteered to write this Newbie article, many folks commented that even though they’ve cooked for 2, 5, 7 years, they still feel like newbies because they’re always learning something.  I can’t disagree with that statement.  I think each contest cooked, something registers, something is learned.  But someone who has cooked 6 or 10 or 30 contests?  I find it difficult to say that they are still having the Newbie experience.  
What begins to evolve is a “Wannabe”.  What’s that?  Pretty self explanatory, you want to be at the top of the list.  Top 5, reserve grand champs, grand champions, Royal invites, Jack draws all become items on the wish list.  When you start to sum up how many points you have accumulated for the year, regardless of how small that number may be, you have begun making the transition to a Wannabe.  I can only imagine that the Wannabe in each of us gets worse and worse each year…I wannabe in the Jack draw AGAIN, I wannabe a 7 contest winner, I wannabe a top ten team of the year in each category, I wannabe a repeat Jack winner. 
Wannabe’s are driven, constantly setting and striving to attain that next goal.  But with each goal getting loftier and loftier, the falls become a little harder, a little more painful. But the pain is short lived for Wannabes.  They understand how to bounce back, strap on the cookers, and get back at it as soon as they can.    
Wannabe’s don’t consternate for days prior to a contest the way a Newbie does.  They’ve figured out their system of checklists or notes or mental markers to ensure competition stuff is in order.  Wannabe’s don’t make broad changes to their product from contest to contest.  They instead implement changes in calculated sequences, monitoring how the adjustment plays with the judges.  Wannabe’s know average BBQ.  They know pretty much what their turn-in boxes look like before the meat goes in.  They don’t bother to listen to the CD at the cook’s meeting. And Wannabe’s have learned to respect, admire, and be happy for, the accomplishments and successes of fellow Wannabes out there. 
Some of those fellow Wannabes might have evolved their goals a little further than you.  That usually comes with experience and some success.  For whatever reason, you’ve put these folks in a category a bit higher than yourself.  They cook more often, they have had ongoing success, they seem to be unstoppable.  But you’ve shared stories with them.  You’ve gotten to know them.  They’re good people.  They share most everything, food, beverages, stories, and even advice on how to be a better cook.  All of a sudden, you’re cheering for them as they get their awards…again!  And you do so with genuine enthusiasm. 
Some of the Wannabes are folks you consider your equal.  They cook as much as you, cook on similar equipment, are funded like you are, do their homework like you do, win like you do.  There you are again, cheering for them as they get their calls on Saturday.  Better yet is the gratification you get from hearing them cheer for you as you walk up for your ribbon.   
So, enjoy the Newbie experience.  There’s comfort in knowing you’re still going about things with a streak of green.  That streak never really disappears; it just asymptotically merges into experience.   
So to the Wannabes out there who are going to the Royal Invite, the Jack, or are getting all the calls you set out to get…congratulations.  There’s a lot of us who “wannabe” in your shoes. 
Joey Mac

Hey everyone.  Been awhile since I posted.  We are after all in the throws of the middle of BBQ season.  But contests aren’t all KCBS events.  I decided to throw my hat into a local rib burn this coming weekend.  I’ve heard bad things about this contest, about the judging, and its living up to that label.  I’ve tried calling, emailing and smoke signaling the coordinator to ask some questions, but have heard nothing back.  So, I’ll just wing it on Sunday, do my best and see what shakes out.  Anyway, this one is all about fun.  No need to get all uptight over it.

One interesting facet to this one is it has an “ambiance” factor to your cooksite.  A couple judges walk by and check out your “ambiance”.  At first I thought what does ambiance have to do w/ BBQ?  I’ve seen party themes there, palm trees, flamingos, make shift cabins etc.  I can’t do any of that. 

So I looked beyond the visual aspect of ambiance. I decided to try to capture the total sensory aspect of ambiance.  After all, there’s a lot more to BBQ than just the visual stimulus.  It’s the sight of ribs and cookers, it’s the smell of smoke, it’s the audible tones of John Lee Hooker, it’s the texture of the tables.  So I’m trying the simple, a red checked table cloth, a board w/ some ribs on it, some cool tunes playing in the background, the smoker kicking out some smoke, and a little soliloquy about our passion. 

Here are some thoughts to how that diatribe might go.  I’m not trying to memorize it, just convey some points.  I’ve rehearsed in my head, but just like a cook gone awry, the best tends to come out when you improvise a bit.  I tested it on my oldest daughter tonight and she laughed at first, then her eyes started lighting up, and she finally giggled and said “Daddy, you sound like a preacher”.  Don’t know if that’s what I’m going for, but at least the passion came through.  Take a read, let me know what you think. 

Good afternoon my friends, and welcome to Joey Mac’s Smoke Stax cooksite for the annual Last Fling rib contest. 

I was a little troubled when I first learned that there was an ambiance factor to the contest, but after a little thought, I realized that this could be lots of fun.  What better vehicle to share with others my passion, my passion for the all American Cuisine of BBQ.

Come on in.  I chose not to create a party, or rustic scene, or a flying pig scene for you today.  No, rather I chose to bring a little piece of true authentic BBQ to our wonderful town of Naperville.  Something reminiscent of BBQ joint in Memphis, or Alabama, or deep in the heart of Texas.  A table, a checkerboard table cloth, some condiments, and a simple roll of paper towels, oh yeah and some ribs. 

I want to focus on the passion of BBQ.  All of us cooks here today have it, or we wouldn’t be here.  But there’s more to a BBQ passion than hoping to win a trophy.  Its deep rooted in our understanding of Americana.  And above all, BBQ is simple.  Simple meats, simple cooking fuels, simple flavors, all melding to form a little piece of heaven, but only after a caring, or daring, cook decides to mentor the meat, guide it to its final destination. 

We have to start with what is BBQ?  It ain’t boiling, that’s pork soup, it ain’t about sauce, it ain’t really about the meat.  No BBQ is a passion.  A deep rooted passion about taming an inferno, coaxing out the tenderness of seemingly impossible piece of meat to cook, about dusting meat with a mélange of spices, delicately coating these morsels with just the right liquid.  This passion culminates on the tongues of those who dare to trust the passion of a cook.  A culmination of eyes rolling, of lips smacking, of tastebuds popping, and a consensus that this is good eats. 

And by stopping by Joey Mac’s site, you have entered the lair of true BBQ passion.  I love this stuff.  I love eating it, I love cooking it, but above and beyond everything, I love sharing my passion for BBQ.  I love sharing everything about BBQ.  But most importantly, I love sharing my food with others, it the best way I know how to share my passion. 

We’ve taken our passion out on the road, done a few contests, and we’ve even pleased a judge or two along the way and have been blessed with winning some nice hardware.  I’ve brought that along to share with you too.  But in the end they are just trophies and ribbons, they don’t reflect what BBQ is really about.  They don’t reflect the fact that it is about sharing, sharing food and drink with family and friends, backyard gatherings, or feeding some folks who may be having a hard go of it.  Now that’s why I cook BBQ, to share. 

In a little while, I’ll share some of my passion filled ribs with judges, and I can assure you that there is no one around who will pour more passion into every rib on that judge’s plate.  The ribs you get won’t be Carson’s, or Famous Dave’s or Smoky Bones, they won’t be boiled, but the will have passion.  They’ll be kissed by the smoky angels who see to it that all those who pour their passion into their BBQ, will be granted a little piece of heaven.

Thank you gentleman, and in parting I’ll leave you with one final thought, we all have our passions.  Some try to steer that passion, but some of us, just some of us have the courage to let that passion guide us, and mine had guided me to share my BBQ, my passion with you today.  As you step away from this makeshift shrine to my passion, my BBQ, I hope you will never view BBQ in the same manner.  Thank you again for listening to Joey Mac, he appreciates it!

I set out about a week before my first contest of the year, Carmel, IN to write about the dreaded sophomore season.  I had lots of talk about worries and trepidations, concerns, and how my own expectations might not be fulfilled.  Things got busy, I didn’t get to finish the article, and the first contest came and went. 


Sure enough I was kicked square in the teeth with the reality I didn’t want admit prior to the contest…I just might not do as well as I think I should.  Yep, we had our worst performance since our very first contest.  Chicken was OK, Ribs were OK, Pork just didn’t come together, and brisket, it was like I’d never seen one before.  Have you ever cooked a brisket so much that when you go to pick it up it just crumbles in your fingers?  It disintegrated right there in my finger tips.  I had to make slices about as thick as a politician’s head.  The taste wasn’t bad, but knowing how judges have a tendency to eat with their eyes first, I knew I was doomed. 

I really didn’t want to walk to the awards ceremony that day.  But I did.  As we were walking up, I looked at my wife and told her we were going “oh-fer-four” today.  Just a feeling I had.  And no there’s no “feel good” story about how bad I thought our food was, but the judges didn’t see it that way.  Our food wasn’t great that day, and the judges let me know it!

That day was another Newbie experience in the books.  After spending a year of making constant improvements, we were relegated to the middle of the pack.  Humbling?  Yes.  Deserved?  Absolutely.  Discouraging?  A little bit.  A wake up call?  No doubt about it.

I tried coming up with excuses for our poor showing, but what it came down to was we just didn’t prepare, cook, and serve the best food we could.  I never quite hit the BBQ stride that day.  I felt one step behind where I should be.  I felt too busy.  I felt cheated that I wasn’t able to visit my buddies as much as I would have liked, or sit in a chair with my feet up and relax.

In spite of this, there were the midnight strolls.  The chatting with new and old buddies.  Catching up with the guys from Hoosier Hogs who were instrumental in getting me started in this game.  Learning about some new pits that I had my eyes on.  The teasing I got from my neighbors when they saw the crowd gathering to watch me trim chicken on Friday night like I was some sort of cooking show host or something.  There was sitting around with my teammates, sipping our midnight spirits, and enjoying the cool evening air.  The smell of BBQ everywhere.  The sounds of doors banging.  The laughter echoing through the night.  It was great seeing my oldest daughter’s face light up as she received well deserved praise from my fellow competitors after showing off her first attempt at making chicken thighs (which turned out very good I might add).  The allures of what competition BBQ is all about were all there that weekend.

So come 4:00p on Saturday, knowing my fate, I made that walk up to stage area anyway.  They announced the chicken winners, I of course wasn’t called, and that was the only category I even had a chance in.  Ribs and Pork and Brisket prizes were awarded.  Some familiar names got called up, some new comers also.  They announced the reserve grand champion and I let out a cheer as genuine as they come.  At the Carmel contest last year, I got my first calls ever, and at the end I can remember Fred from Hoosier Hogs being genuinely, enthusiastically, thrilled that I got those calls.  It was time for me to reciprocate, and it just came naturally.  I was thrilled to see these two guys marching up there.  Grand Champion that day went to Ulcer Acres…another one of the teams that was so instrumental in getting me started.  Again, with no feigned enthusiasm, just an authentic feeling of jubilation, I cheered as Randy, in his red shirt / overall uniform, sauntered up to receive the prize he and Marla deserved.

Was it being a good sport, no, it’s much deeper than that.  It was a genuine happiness for these folks I respect, admire, and call friends. 

The Sophmore season.  I can tell it’ll be difficult to accept results that are merely mediocre, especially having sniffed the bigger rewards that are out there.  But that sophomore season also brings more familiar faces.  There is more camaraderie with old and new buddies.   More chances to cheer for them.  More chances for them to cheer you. 

As I prepare for my second contest of the season, those feelings of trepidation have subsided.  Any cockiness that was present has been whittled down to subdued confidence.  Mistakes that were made were noted and not to be repeated (like cooking a brisket to the point where it crumbles…dummy!). 

Some teams have had their start of the season and are in full stride.  I’m just now getting my season rolled into high gear.  It should be fun seeing what other Newbie lessons I’ll learn during this sophomore season. 

Hope to see you out there soon. 

Joey Mac

I was struck by a recent string posted on the BBQ Forum started by Odis or “The Pork Jesters”.  In summary he found his wife’s Smoky Angel Pin in her purse.  But in one of life’s harsh realities, she had fallen victim to cancer 17 months prior.  Odis’ account of finding this precious memento struck a cord in many, including myself.   I’ve never met Odis, but by sharing this moment in his life with us, we couldn’t help but draw a little close to him, our friends, and our own families.

Got me to thinking about BBQ again and why we do this.  The question comes up often.  I’ll go to my grave believing in deepest of my heart that it’s about sharing.  Sharing our talents and our passion for this truly American Cuisine.  Whether its cooking for a bunch of soldiers returning from their duty and their families or if its raising money for a cause, whatever that cause may be, to feeding hungry volunteers of clean up efforts, to pitching in to feed refugees, a word that’s not supposed to be used when referring to our fellow American citizens, from a string of nasty hurricanes.  Across to board, we’re a generous folk.  With our time, our advice, our opinions, our monies, our talents.  We share.

The BBQ crowd is a diverse one.  We are urban dwellers, farmers, wealthy folks, folks barely making ends meet, outgoing charismatic types to quiet introverts, polished to burly, but we all have that common bond…a passion for BBQ…which ultimately translates to a desire to share.  Maybe that’s why we feel so comfortable with each other at competitions.  But its not just at competitions, it’s where ever the smokers are out, its where ever people have gathered for some Q.  We BBQers haven’t cornered the market on generosity, other folks who have never cooked anything resembling BBQ have demonstrated unbelievable generosity, but there is definitely a common bond between us.  A bond of understanding of how to go about being “good people”. 

So many of us silently step out to help others, not for recognition, not for accolades, not for anything other than we know what’s right.  How many times have you given a slab of ribs or a plate of pork to a neighbor who was have a rough go of it?  Sure it’s kind of a Mayberry type gesture, but what’s wrong with a little of that wholesomeness?  We like helping folks, we live to share, and the only thing we really crave in the end is to be able to do it again, and maybe a simple little “thanks”.  Nobody is craving awards, we don’t seek out toasts and glasses raised in our honor.  We’re a proud folk, we like to boast…about our BBQ…not our actions.  They speak for themselves. 

So Odis, Thanks.  I think, no I know, you understand how much goes into that one little word! 

Joey Mac

Please allow me to introduce Mark Pepelea, head cook for Slug Bug BBQ, and his tag on the Forum is ‘pepeq’.  The Slug Bug team consists of Mark and his wife Lisa.  They currently reside in the Cleveland, Ohio area, but have roots in Northern Illinois and the Chicago land area.  Mark and Lisa were some of the very first people I met in competition BBQ and I consider them to be not only BBQ buddies, but friends as well.  Like so many of us, Mark and Lisa would love to cook at contests every weekend, but also like so many of us, other obligations prevent that, so they get out when ever they can.   I’ve asked Mark to write a little piece about choosing to attend a competition BBQ cooking class.  I haven’t done that yet, but I knew he and Lisa had, so I thought such a discussion would be better coming from someone who had actually attended a class.   So if you’re out on the circuit, and happen to run into these guys, stop by and say hello.  But be careful, because it was Mark’s gently persuasive demeanor that pushed me over the edge and got me into this obsession we call BBQ 😉 !  Thanks for the article Mark.  Joey Mac.   


My love of BBQ started about 8 years ago on a trip to North Carolina where I tasted pulled pork for the first time. A short time after that on another trip I tasted some Texas BBQ. That is when I said “I gotta learn how to cook this stuff”.  I cooked BBQ at home for about 5 years and just like everyone else, my friends and family said my food was the best they ever tasted. My wife Lisa and I became CBJs under KCBS and judged a couple of contests. When I tasted the food I thought “My stuff is better than this!”  Then we jumped into competition and had a real awakening.


Our first contest was at Shannon, IL  and we competed in all the usual categories chicken, ribs, brisket, pork and the optional categories of sausage, beans, and pie. We tried a citrus based sauce for the chicken that we thought was terrific; the rest of the food was prepared how we like it. The only call we got was for the pie. Of the four main categories our best finish was middle of the road. Our chicken and pork came in close to last. Our overall finish was at the top of the bottom third. We realized that we needed to cook for a different palette, not for ours. Boy, competition BBQ was different than what I cooked at home just for us.


The second contest was in Peoria, IL where our overall finish was slightly better, but still in the bottom half (although we got a call for dessert!!). Since my wife does the dessert and I cook the meat, I was happy for her but getting frustrated with my turn-ins.


At contests we kept hearing that one good way to do better at contests is to cook at a lot of contests. Since we only cook 2 – 4 contests a year due to time limitations, we needed something else.  I wanted to improve, but could not commit the time for competing more.  I heard about the various competition classes that were offered and looked into them. We decided to take Ray Lampe’s (Dr. BBQ) Real Deal class. The one we took was offered early in the season and my real attraction to it was that you cooked overnight, just like a competition. The fact that Ray competes in some of the contests that we consider for our schedule and does very well at them reinforced the decision since he would know what works at those contests.  I signed up to cook and my wife attended as a non-cooking spouse.


When we arrived, we were surprised by the number of faces that were familiar from the competition circuit including some teams that I considered successful and experienced. Now it would not be fair to disclose the content of the class but I believe Ray really did reveal what he does for competitions.  Despite a 34 degree night with rain wind and a little sleet, the class was fun too. We received many pointers and tips from prep, to cooking technique, to rubs and sauces, to presentation that we put into use. At the very next contest, I got my first two calls in meat.  Nothing stellar, but substantially better than we had done before and I give most of the credit to the information I learned in class. I know that one person’s experience does not mean that everyone’s experience will be the same, but I am certain that the class shortened the time it would have taken us to reach this level. Our overall finish was right in the middle – I still went my own way on ribs.


My wife and I agree that the class was worth every dollar that we spent and we recommend Ray’s class to anyone that is interested. Even the experienced teams said that they picked up some worthwhile information from the class. Every issue of the Bullsheet lists cooking classes taught by big name BBQ cooks. I have only taken Ray’s class so I cannot comment from experience about the other classes, but there have been very positive comments about them on the BBQ Forum.


If you can cook with a winning team, it might not be worth your while to take a class since you already have a proven source of information.  If you are fortunate enough to do well on your own, you might not want a class. But if you are like me with limited time and/or are not improving in you scoring, a class might be the thing to help break into the next level.


Mark Pepelea

Slug Bug BBQ

The theme of my last article was goal setting.  I mentioned that setting a goal also dooms you to failure.  Sometimes it’s just a little miss, hitting 11th place brisket instead of top ten.  But other times the failure can be utterly dismal, like last place.  There’s nothing quite so humbling as to get your score sheet back and there at the very bottom of the list is your team’s name.  Oh there might be some team listed below yours, but they didn’t even turn in food because they have zeros across the bottom.  No, the truth of the matter was your food was terrible. Talk about failure. What do you do?


1) You WILL shake your head in disbelief, stomp your feet on the ground like a two-year old, shake your head back and forth uttering choice expletives about, at, around, and to the judges.   “What the heck were they thinking…a 4 in taste?  At least this guy gave me a 9 in texture, so what if the others gave 5s and 6s, at least someone knew how to judge.” 


2) You WILL blame the system.  “Someone at the turn-in table switched my number. Wasn’t really their fault, I know, but they better be careful, messing w/ my pride like this.  There is no way on this earth that my ribs were the worst at the contest. Someone really messed up.” 


3) You SHOULD eventually begin to take an objective look at what you turned in.  You’ll carefully taste and assess the texture.  At that point, maybe you’ll return to reaction 1, or maybe, just maybe, a shadow of doubt will be cast upon your confidence in the product.  You think, it’s a little spicy, and these black char marks, I thought they looked appealing, but….now you’re ready to start building a better product. 


Evaluate – This is the first step in assessing your product.  What was it about my food they didn’t like?  Was it too spicy, too salty, or too sweet?  Was it the rub or the sauce?  Was it too done or underdone?  Was it too smoky or not smoky enough?  You have so many questions and no answers.  Some will contend and bemoan that they long for some additional comments from the judges, a statement that indicates a reason for their distaste or even what they enjoyed about your submission.   Look at the score sheet in front of you, they already have!  That sheet is a record of what every person who scored your food thought about it.  What more do you need?    To do well, you’ll need mostly 8s and 9s across the board.  Do you have that?  Do you have some 8s, but some 4s at the same time?  Rather than moan about not having enough information about how to improve, look to what the numbers are telling you and interpret their message.  It’s not as hard as you think it is.   


Practice – This is the most important action to improving your food.  Get comfortable cooking the meat in question.  Focus not just on how TO COOK the meat, but on how the meat IS COOKING.  Observe how the bark changes, observe how tenderness is adjusted. And take notes.   Take meticulous notes.


Research – The internet has given us some great tools for assisting here.  Scour archives of BBQ websites.  Add some good BBQ books to your personal library.  Look in non-BBQ places for advice to understand how food cooks.  Go about your quest armed at least with a rudimentary understanding of how and why things do what they do.  Ask trusted sources for their opinions, their critical assessment of your technique.  By trusted I mean people who know the difference between good competition BBQ and just good BBQ.   LISTEN to what other BBQers tell you.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  In Mike Mills book, Peace, Love, and BBQ, he introduces the concept of “tips”.  It’s the little extras that Moms and Grandmas and cooks add when describing HOW they cook.  And they’re not written in the recipe.  He credits Desire Robinson of the Cozy Corner in Memphis of coining the phrase.  He goes on to say: “Good cooks look and listen for tips – even if they can’t get the actual recipe.”  You must learn to listen to what folks are telling, not just hearing the words they speak.  Not so much to repeat or replicate the exact process, but to apply their lessons to the process you’ve chosen. 


Refine – After researching and practicing, begin to refine the approach you’re using.  Determine whether it’s your flavor print that needs adjusted or the technique you’re using.  Is the technique you’re using compatible with the cooker you’re using?  Take ribs as an example.  Many people win with loin back ribs, many people win with spares.  Which do you prefer?  Will you use foil or not?  Will you cook at low temperatures, or higher temperatures?  Will you do dry or wet ribs?  Will you spritz or not? 


Practice – There is no substitute for this.  You will become your neighbor’s best friend, your workmates’ hero, and the scourge of your family as you practice the same thing over and over.   Before last season, my nemesis was ribs.  From October through April last year, my family got so tired of ribs, they were ready to throw them at me rather than eat them.  But I did get to where I was cooking them with mechanical repetition.  I was consistently getting a similar product.  When I launched my now refined technique at competition, scores improved, but still not as much as I would have liked.  However, now I could make smaller adjustments to get past the point of mediocrity.


Another area to practice is presentation.  When I make Q at home, most times I put at least some into a turn in box, sometimes with garnish, sometimes without.  It’s not so much to explore new presentation approaches as it is just becoming more adept at putting food into those tight confines in a prescribed amount of time…and making it look good.  That process should become a mechanical action, rather than a guessing game at 5 minutes before final turn-in.   It may also sound a little silly, but I hone these presentation skills for normal meals as well.  .  From presenting cold pizza or mac-n-cheese with hot dogs for the kids to serving apricot glazed pork tenderloin medallions with green beans and roasted new potatoes to dinner guests.   Try making a bologna sandwich into a gourmet offering. 


There are a couple words of caution.  After careful scrutinization of your scores, you need to determine whether a gross overhaul is in order, or just a minor adjustment.  Last place scores are pretty solid indicators for the need to make major adjustments.  But middle of the pack scores, or slightly better, might not necessarily need a complete overhaul.  Sometimes the most prudent thing to do is to be patient and not adjust anything to see how well that flavor profile/technique does at a different contest, with different judges and different table rotations.  You might not be as far off as you thought.


And that brings me to yet another method to improve your competition BBQ prowess, taking a competitive cooking class.  There are several offered throughout the year.  Many people who have taken them swear they are the single reason they’ve gone from “also rans”, to forces to be reckoned with at every contest.  I can’t comment on this as I have not been able to work one of these classes into my schedule…yet.  I probably will someday, was looking forward to it this year, but it just didn’t work out.  Because I can’t really comment on how taking a class affects you, I’ve asked a guest to write an article for me.  Hopefully I’ll get that posted in the near future. 


In conclusion, remember to:



Practice cooking


Practice cooking


Practice cooking



And remember, the most important thing about KCBS competitions are, “keep your area clean.”…least that’s what the CD says.  Have fun with all the practice and hopefully scores will start improving, and you start getting those calls to the stage…before me of course ;).    


Joey Mac

I’d like to talk a little about goal setting.  Does everyone do it, probably not.  Should everyone do it, probably not.  Why is it important you might ask?  The answer is in how you perceive your success.  Without having some expectations prior to starting competitive cooking, or competitive anything for that matter, how can you ever measure a degree of success and judge how satisfied you are with your performance?  The interesting part about goal setting is not only does it give you a gauge to measure success, but it also sets you up for failure.  Yes, set a goal, you don’t achieve it, you failed.  It’s how you rebound from this failure that becomes the measure of how effective you are at chasing your long term goal. 


Honestly, I struggled with this when I got started in competition bbq a couple years ago.  Hey, I just wanted to go out there and have fun.  Cook some food and get measured up against others who share in this passion.  But something clicked.  Something sparked me to find a means to get beyond the satisfaction of merely completing a competition.  For some, that is a totally legitimate and reasonable goal, it’s where most of us started.  But like every other goal in life, BBQ goals are allowed to evolve. 


I’d venture to guess that everyone who cooks more than one contest wants to someday cook in the Jack Daniels Invitational.    That’s a goal.  But it can’t be achieved until you win Grand Champion at a qualifying event.  That’s another goal.  In all likelihood you’re not going to win that until you win a category, or start doing very well in at least 3 of the 4 categories.  Still yet another goal.  See how easy this is? 


Starting on competition week Mondays, I begin to tell my teammates and family that this is the beginning of our Grand Championship contest…usually somewhat tongue in cheek.  I get a lot of “ohhhh Daddy, sure it is” as her cute eyes roll around into her head and she sighs in disbelief.   Sometimes I think the only person who’s on board my GC bandwagon is my partner, but we all have fun with the banter throughout the week.  And the goals constantly change throughout the contest so usually by 1:35p on Saturday, my only remaining goal is to have a respectable showing and to not embarrass myself.  And the goal modification doesn’t end there.  The grand champion moniker still eludes, so I have to find some other success…top 5, which often eludes…top 10, there some goals met, sometimes.


Some may contend that when a hobby becomes something that has to have goals and metrics associated with it, its time to find a new hobby.  I can appreciate the apprehension of associating the level of enjoyment out of a pastime against some arbitrary metrics.  But I also believe that even the goal setting aspect is an escape from the everyday rituals and that any BBQ related escape helps me enjoy this hobby that much more.

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