If you’re one of those people who cooks your barbecue in aluminum foil, Paul Kirk (aka “The Baron of BBQ”) and Ardie Davis have a message for you: Knock it off!
Aluminum foil is the most common shortcut that people in Maine take to pare down their barbecuing time, according to the two barbecue legends from Kansas City. It’s also their biggest mistake, because foil-wrapped meat doesn’t get enough of the smoke that adds enormous flavor to barbecue.
“People aren’t patient enough because they’re used to grilling, whereas barbecue is indirect cooking, and it takes a longer time,” said Kirk, who has won seven world barbecue championships. “They do the dreaded shortcuts, which I hate, which is cooking in aluminum foil — or as I like to call it, the ‘Texas crutch.’
“To me, that’s not real barbecue, but it seems to be what’s going around now.”
Want to learn how to do it right, both from the Kansas City experts and from teams that travel the competitive barbecue circuit? Then head down to Eliot this weekend for the Mainely Grillin’& Chillin’ Country BBQ State Competition, where you can take a Pitmaster’s Class from the Kansas City posse, sample lots of succulent ‘cue, and watch 44 teams with names like Hogbutts BBQ, the Bastey Boys, and Dirty Dick and the Legless Wonders wow the judges with their prize-winning pit skills.
The Maine competition, which will be held at the Raitt Homestead Farm Museum on Saturday and Sunday, has been sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society and the New England Barbecue Society.
The grand champion will win $1,500 and automatically qualify for the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational in Lynchburg, Tenn., and the American Royal Invitational in Kansas City, which is the country’s largest barbecue competition.
Last year’s winner from the Maine festival, a team called IQUE from Massachusetts, went on to beat more than 500 other teams and win “The Jack” in Tennessee.
Barbecue has become insanely popular in recent years, especially during these tough economic times.
“We call it American food, but it’s also comfort food,” Kirk said. “It’s also less expensive to feed a bunch of people barbecue than steak.”
Ardie Davis, author of five barbecue cookbooks, said backyard amateurs have told him they’re intimidated by some of the higher-profile barbecue cooks that ride the competitive circuit, but a lot of their posturing and bragging is just blowing smoke and isn’t meant to be taken seriously.
“One of my goals is to be more inclusive,” Davis said. “And this Mainely Grillin’ and Chillin’ is a great example of how to attract people to the sport and art of barbecue. You don’t have to be a contest cook to enjoy it.”
Last year’s festival drew about 3,500 people, and this year, organizers hope that number will double.
Hungry visitors will be able to chow down on competitors’ barbecue (some of them will be acting as food vendors) and even partake in the judging.
The public will be voting on the best chicken wings in the “People’s Choice” contest Saturday — last year, 250 pounds of chicken wings sold out in 28 minutes — and three people will be chosen at random to judge the final round.
The barbecue teams will also try their hands at dessert during Saturday’s Wymans Blueberry Dessert Contest, a new addition this year.
Nothing goes better with ribs or a pulled pork sandwich than beer, so the folks at Shipyard will host a beer garden. There will also be live music both days, children’s activities, crafts, a green expo, and a preview of nine Colonial encampments that are going to be part of the town of Eliot’s upcoming bicentennial celebration.
“They dress up, they cook, they do everything like it’s back in the day,” said Lisa Raitt, event coordinator for the Raitt Homestead. “They keep in character the entire time. They have cannons that go off.”
Kirk, who attended last year’s Mainely Grillin’ and Chillin’ event, said he was impressed with the family-friendly festival, which reminded him of “the way barbecue was when we started back in the early ’80s.”
Mainers lucky enough to get into Kirk and Davis’ all-day cooking class on Friday will divide into two-person teams and try their hand at cooking pork butt, brisket, chicken and ribs. The teams will also learn how to make sausage and develop their own signature rub.
“The people in the Pacific Northwest, the left coast, they say this class takes three to five years off trial and error,” Kirk said, “whether it’s backyard or competition” barbecue.
Just leave the aluminum foil at home.
Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: [email protected]