Providing an inside view of the secret world of competitive barbecue, I imagined wonderful smells wafting on the breeze and massive amounts of pork products. I was not deceived. What I didn’t expect to find were competitors cleaning a saltwater panfish and a boy in a cage.
It took a minute to realize the boy was just keeping family animals company, and the pompano – who appeared to be the oversized sunfish of the ocean – was this year’s mystery meat at the Wyoming State Championships. Barbeque and the Bluegrass Festival at the Washakie County Fairgrounds in Worland on Saturday.
The crate was actually quite spacious and the puppies looked fun. I might have offered to relieve the boy, but the smell of plentiful smoked meats led my stomach to take over the rest of my over-stuffed frame.
The beefy man who cleaned the fish – who came from Florida with his guts intact, was Kevin Gordon – the meat wizard behind Burnin ‘the Bone in Billings. He grew up in Powell, but admitted to defecting to Cody during his senior year of high school and then crossing the border. Surprised by the choice of mystery meat, Gordon had to run to the nearest store that morning to purchase a suitable fillet knife.
“I was hoping for octopus,” he said with a smile. “Everything except fish. Well, this particular fish is something that’s certainly not typical here.
He and his compatriot Tommy May, a Powell firefighter, roofer and owner of the Smoke Eaters food truck, were neighbors on the smokers’ row – essentially a parking lot filled with millions of dollars of equipment creating the best barbecue in the state. In other words; a tangy and spicy Shangri-la.
May was stressed, having started her chest at 2 a.m. for the noon deadline. He and his daughter Aubrey were hoping for a golden ticket to the Kansas City Barbeque Society World Invitational in November in Shawnee, Oklahoma. They were also hoping for a large chunk of the more than $ 10,000 in state-level cash prizes and notoriety that accompanies the crown.
With her all-new hand-crafted mobile platform, May smeared a final coat of her exclusive sauce as the smoke billowed from her giant smokehouse, filling the air with the smell of split pecan wood imported from Texas. . It’s the only ingredient from his farm that hasn’t been purchased or grown in the Big Horn Basin, May said. Even his honey pot is native to the region.
“Who said there was honey in my sauce?” He said, keeping his secrets.
Worland has been the site of the state competition for 17 years, according to Kevin Bentch, math teacher and event volunteer. It was started by Jim Blake and the first year attracted only a few participants. But each year the event grew rapidly until they had to limit the number of teams entering from Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, and Utah.
It was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, but people scrambled for space last weekend as nonprofit vendors opened their doors offering the chance to experience meat sweats to everyone with a pocket full of “Bone Bucks.” “
If you had room for dessert, there were cheese-stuffed peaches and fruit strings lovingly baked by St. Albans volunteers and topped with rich scoops of ice cream.
I chose both experiences, having invested heavily in Bone Bucks and left with empty pockets and needing an extra step in my belt. Needless to say to my wife I asked Rita if she was single. She made a peach shoemaker who brought tears to my eyes. Also, maybe don’t tell Dr. Dean Bartholomew that I might have broken all the rules for a week of my diet in a few hours. His saving advice was left on the last piece of pavement before entering through the fairground gates.
With minutes to go, Aubrey May and Ashlee Pitt showcased Smoke Eaters’ entry into the event in seven categories – which includes chicken, ribs, pulled pork, brisket, mystery meat. , sauce and the price of the public.
Containers are numbered – to keep cooks anonymous and judgment fair – then renumbered for an added safety measure. Inside, about three dozen of the luckiest people in the world were sitting at church tables waiting to be served the six-course meal. Judging staff have been trained to look for presentation, appearance and taste.
After the post-COVID peak, the crowds of people rushing for barbecue delicacies were back. But the teams of judges were difficult to reorganize, said Al Bowen, national representative of the Kansas City Barbeque Society.
“We kind of went out of business last year. We are back. We have almost 500 contests this year, ”Bowen said. “But we are struggling to recruit judges because they did not come back as quickly as the teams. “
Every precaution is taken to ensure that trade secrets are not disclosed to the public. “Don’t photograph the numbers on containers or food until it’s served,” Bowen told me. Honestly, it was difficult to hear my instructions as the smells of the freshly opened containers clouded my judgment.
May had offered me tasting tests of her starters before judging them. His motivation for smoking meat is the joy he derives from making people happy.
“Personally, I don’t like smoked food,” he said, being more of the burger and fries type.
Bowen confirmed that this is a problem to become a barbecue master.
“One of the downsides of doing them every week is that you eventually have had enough,” he said.
May’s heavenly creations were moist, tender, and tangy. I don’t know if he really wanted to feed me or if he just wanted me to stop drooling in his food cart. Despite the delicious tastes, 2021 was not the year of May. At the awards show, Tommy and Aubrey hugged while waiting for the results. The final finish in the middle of the peloton was not what they hoped for.
“I was exhausted and emotional,” he said. “It’s an honor to be a part of something so big. It’s exhausting and mentally exhausting. But I will continue to do so. Someday we’ll take the state championship trophy back to Powell. I just have to keep trying and practicing.
May started her business about four years ago. He donated his talents almost as much as he ran a business. During COVID shutdowns, May – along with other local businesses – donated her services to prepare food for hundreds of Powell area residents who lost their jobs and needed a helping hand .
May’s mobile smoker will be on and used at the Paint the City Red celebration on September 10. He lends his business to the Powell Volunteer Fire Department as a fundraiser for the department’s Christmas fund, used to purchase gifts for those who otherwise would go without.
Although her recipes are secret, it’s obvious that May’s main ingredient is love.
“I am proud to represent our community at any event,” he said. “I can walk away [from the contest] to have learned a ton and to be proud that we are one of the best competitors in the state. “
American Heroes BBQ, of Casper, took home the first trophy of the event, followed closely in second by the Grillin ‘Beavers of Thornton, Colorado. Thirty teams will compete at the national level from November 11 to 14.