Thursday, October 29, 2009


"Passion. An indispensible ingredient to great BBQ. Passion led us to win the 2008 American Royal Invitational BBQ contest. We pour that BBQ passion into every bottle of Amberque, a golden bbq and dipping sauce with a perfect tangy blend of sweet and spice. It's great on pork, chicken, ham, sausage or as a pretzel dip. Its versatility will feed your creativity. Thanks for giving us a try: drop us a note at to let us know how you enjoy Amberque."

"Sharing our passion for BBQ"

Joey Mac

The above is the text on the bottle, and it sums up what we've tried to do. Now the fun begins...getting people to buy it, and then their friends, and their aunts and get the picture. Hawgeyes of course will have have it available ( ). Give it a try.
Anyway, we're heading down a new path, we'll see where we go!!!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hog in the Bog Part 3

So the rain stopped, and finally got the motivation to go slop around in the mud at midnight or so.

We un-iced "Babe"...that's what Wayne named it and since he was the guest of honor at the party, it was his to name. We jabbed creole butter into as many nooks and crannies as we could. Then the I pulled back as much of the ham and shoulder skin as I felt comfortable doing and we liberally applied salt, pepper and rub all over Babe. Whole process really didn't take all that long

By the time all was said and done, it was a little after i 1am, and Babe made the leap of faith into the Kingfisher "Pigger" to undergo a transformation. Tossed on a couple pork butts as well, and in the morning, a couple turkey breasts went on too. For about the next 1.5 hours, we watched the cooker try to stabilize temperatures...but after some minimal fiddling w/ vents and burners we got an even 275° across the cooking surface.

Went to bed too late, thought I'd drink more adult beverage than I really did. The maiden voyage with a new cooker is always fun. The unknowns are fun to adapt to, surprises keep it fresh.

Woke up at 6am...not enough sleep. Boy is awake, and the dog is begging to get up. Try fighting it, no use. Tylenol, coffee, and pop-tarts stir Joey and Wayne back into action.

Finally peeked at Babe, and was a different pig. Must have been a little steamed because Babe had smoke billowing from its ears and through its nostrils. Bet I took 25 pictures trying to capture that that...nope, sorry about that.

Weather had changed, was sunny, very cool, and gale force winds. Didn't really put it together until we tried putting up the 20x20 canopy...HA! We improvised and moved to a different spot where it was sheltered from the wind a little. All the while, Babe was just laying around and smoking.

At about noon, Babe was just being kept warm...and by 3:30p, the guests were ready for the pig so my brother in law and I hauled him out and on to the table he went. The crowd gathered and interest level hit its peak. I was fascinated by the reaction of people. Some gawk, some cast knowing smiles...glimpses into their memory of the last pig roast, all mouths were open, either from hunger or from being appalled that they were actually going to eat an animal!!!

Having only done one other pig in my life, at this point I wasn't sure what would happen. I just acted like I knew what I was doing. Lifted the face up and the skin just pulled off in one big piece leaving behind some of the tenderest, nicest looking hunks of pork shoulder I've seen in a long time. At this point in time, folks just filed in, everyone looking for a hunk of meat. Was fine with us. Spent the next hour or so picking all these morsel off the pig, saving those special tid-bits for the cook and his assistant.

I've said many time that biggest allure of BBQ is its inherent ability to capture the essence of communal sharing, sharing of food, drink, good time, great memories, reminiscing with old friends, making new ones...putting some happiness in our bellies. The food is an important piece of this great time puzzle, but without the other pieces, its just another meal. And BBQ is never "just another meal". Least it shouldn't be!

My team partner had a great day on Saturday. My Father-in-Law had a great day on Saturday. But so did a lot of other folks including me. And you know its a good pig roast when the pig finds its way onto someone's head.

I used to wonder, why bother with the whole pig thing when pork shoulders and loins are so easy to cook and are so darn tasty. But the difference is the reaction of the people. Staring a carcass in the eye, knowing your about to devour elicits very interesting responses from people. From "Gimmie some piggy" to "I just have to turn and look the other way...don't want to think about it", those responses brought people closer for that afternoon. Great event.

The next day we had left over hog, only about 1.5 half pans though. Some of the family was stopping by the house for breakfast. What to make...hog hash of course, with scrambled eggs and beans. We were able to extend this precious family time a little longer.

Looking back, everything was a lot of work but the memories forged on May 16th, 2009 are there to stay. For me it was looking at my son's face when he first saw that pig's tongue. His squeamish delight at that sight was precious.

Plans are underway for the 1st anniversary of Wayne's retirement!

Joey Mac

Friday, May 15, 2009

Hog in the Bog part 2

We're here. Got to grandma's and grandpas and asked the kids "who wanted to see the pig". The boy, Cole jumped at the chance, the middle daughter said sure, the 13 YO, said no way.

Cole belly laughed at the pig...he was sticking his tongue out. Maura wasn't so sure, she became our photographer.

So we're off on this adventure...just drizzling right now, ground is, well a bog. Time to get to work. MOre later.

There's a Hog in the Bog

Alright...I'm sitting in my garage, watching the rain come down in buckets, trying to have a garage sale to rid our lives of old toys we don't use anymore. Morning was OK, but things are really slowing down. I guess it has something to do with people really don't like walking through rain storms.

Thought for a moment that the best thing to do was to crack open a beer and just chill for awhile...then I remember, we're driving to Peoria today. Why...christen our new hog roaster.

My competition partner retired back in February. We decided it was best to wait until the spring to have his retirement gathering. Also knew by then we'd have our hog cooker. Well one thing leads to another and now we're staring down the barrel of about a 120 - 140 person party tomorrow afternoon. What's for dinner...hog of course!!!

Here's the problem(s)

1) I've cooked one hog in my life. Turned out fine, but ended up having to quarter that swine and foil cause the cooker I was using was terrible. The meat got rave reviews that day, but I knew I could do better.

2) I'm going to use a cooker I've never used, matter of fact, the cooker has only been seasoned and cooked one pork loin. That's it.

3) Its been raining for what seems like 40 days. The yard is a bog. It'll be nice tomorrow, but all the work that needs to happen tonight is going to be very interesting. Its going to be messy.

And here's the kicker...I'm looking forward to this. It should be a blast. Sure might get a little sloppy (that's muddy not drunk) tonight, and storms are supposed to finally blow through about 2am or so. I've got to put food on the table at 3:00pm tomorrow. Expectations are high, margin for error is narrow. Sort of like a competition.

Will update over the next couple hours to catalogue this event.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Opening Day 2009 !!!!

Its only Thursday, but we’re poised and ready to embark on our 5th season in competition BBQ. Funny how things change. I think we’ve finally reached the critical mass of number of events cooked that things begin to slow down a bit. Even the ritual of preparation throughout the week has gotten less stressful. Balancing time between the real job, parental responsibilities, and BBQ is still a bit of a challenge, but it all seems more manageable.

We’re heading to Jefferson City, MO for the third year. First two years had weather conditions that were legendary to say the least. Some of the most miserable conditions we’ve cooked in. This year, forecast as of Thursday morning says we might get a little wet, but no snow is predicted so we’re happy.

We’re embarking on this year’s journey with some trepidations. We were blessed with such good fortune last year; you can’t help but think in the back of your mind that the only way to go is down. It’s all good though. A couple years into this game, I started taking things way to serious, and would be perturbed when we didn’t do as well as I thought we were capable of. Realized I was spending more time lamenting about the “would’ve, could’ve, should’ves” and forgot to savor any successes we did have. My family gave me some tough love and told me to shape up. This journey has taught me to cherish the successes, no matter how little or big, equally. It makes the whole game that much more fun. Guess that can apply to more than just BBQ, I’m still working on that.

So here I sit, wishing the day would speed through so I can get on with the trip to Jeff City, enjoy some time with my partner, father-in-law, and buddy (all the same guy), see old friends and make a couple more new ones. And with a little luck hear our name called on Saturday.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also acknowledge three of my biggest fans my kids, Ciara, Maura, and Cole. But most importantly, I need to thank my big enabler, my wife Carla. Without her full support, this would be impossible for me.

Good luck to all and we’ll see you down the trail!!!!

Joey Mac

Monday, March 23, 2009

Stop Judging and EAT it already

Got to thinking the other day, why do so many people choose to judge every piece of BBQ they eat like they are some sort of all-supreme bbq judging deity?

Before I get too far, let me state that if you are at contest judging, then by all means take every bite, smell, taste as serious as possible. That’s why your there. You owe it to the cooks and the organizers and ultimately yourself to do your best to judge the tastes, smells, textures…to the best of your ability.

What I’m talking about is the person who walks into a restaurant and orders a ½ lb of brisket. Or maybe pulls over at a roadside stand for a pork sandwich, or is eating ribs at a ribfest on a hot summer evening. They carefully analyze and scrutinizes every millimeter of this piece of meat. With perfectly choreographed fingers, the rib bone or brisket slice is twirled and spun so the front side and back side and all over can be analyzed. Then the morsel is placed between the teeth, and they gently try to glide through the meat like a precision cutting instrument. The bite is savored and the palate absorbs all sorts of complex flavors…intertwining of sauce and rub…the subtle hints of smoke…is it hickory….


It’s a rib. It’s a pile of pork. It’s a couple hunks of brisket. Some pit boss cooked it for you. It’s BBQ, now just eat it. BBQ is made to be enjoyed not analyzed.

Ironically, competition cooks are often the most likely to break this rule of BBQ etiquette. We spend so much time seeking perfection that we can never really shut it off no matter where we go. We are constantly comparing how this stacks up against our own ribs. The nature of most competition BBQ is to impress people (read judges) with one bite. It all comes down to that single opportunity to connect with and impress the judges. Formulating opinion about BBQ with one bite is absurd. At a contest, there is no choice. But if you’re not at contest, eat it like it’s meant to be eaten, an indulgence in porcine or bovine morsels that are consumed with gluttonous abandon that would have made Roman royalty envious.

Recall the first time you started preparing BBQ food for people. You saw their eyes roll back in the head. You heard the guttural grown of pleasure. You saw the eyes light up and you watched them dive back in for another helping of B A R B E C U E. The burliest men, the frailest of females, all react the same way. They dive in for more. Fresh pieces taste the best, and the best way to taste the BBQ is make sure you’re getting a new morsel often. But this one bite habit has to end, one bite…huh…how in the world can you think that’s the way BBQ should be consumed.

Next time you go into a BBQ restaurant and you order up a rack of ribs, dive in like you’re supposed to do. Leave the overly analytical efforts for the judging table. Pick up a bone, eat the meat off, grab another bone, repeat. You will feel better about eating it, and the pit boss or owner or just the worker there will notice how much you’re enjoying your meal and that is the thanks they crave.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Chicagoland BBQ gathering #3 – Smoque


Late last year, Dave Raymond and some other BBQ enthusiasts thought it would be a good idea to get other Chicagoland BBQ freaks together to chat about BBQ, especially during the frigid Chicago winters. After a little thought, it was determined that they’d go to different Chicagoland BBQ establishments around town. The only credentials required for joining this group is to have an interest in BBQ.

The Group consists of folks in the restaurant biz, folk in the meat supply biz, competition cooks, and back yard enthusiasts. The inaugural session was at a place called Honky Tonk BBQ, then the group met just before Christmas at Honey 1 on the west side. This article is about the third session and it was at Smoque. Barry Sorkin, one of the owner/operators volunteered to host the event on a Monday night, a night they’re usually closed.

Smoque – this place, as new as it is, already has a great reputation as a true BBQ stop. Great TV coverage, and some great reviews mean the place is hopping most of the time. This is a great testament to Barry and his partners, because they did their homework on how to do it right and so far so good. As for the reviews, check out their webpage, they do a great job at explaining all that.

The Food

The team at Smoque has a reputation for having great authentic BBQ. Well this could have been their toughest crowd of critics yet, a bunch of know-it-all BBQers coming in to eat their food. They rose to the challenge and performed quite well.

Appetizers – Jalepenos stuffed with sausage, wrapped in bacon, and cooked in the smoker until done. What’s not to like? This modified ABT was a great way to get started.

Pork – Barry gave us a pig picking treat. He cooked about a case of some very special Berkshire pork butts, plopped them in front of everyone, handed out some rubber gloves, loaves of white bread and cole slaw. We were asked to just dig in. This Berkshire pork is richer than anything I’d expected. And what better way to get started than to dig into some awesome pork.

The Platter – They decided to give everyone a “little” sample of everything. Back ribs, Spare ribs, a Texas sausage, brisket, mac-n-cheese, beans. Nobody was going home hungry. All I can say…if you’re in the city, and your hungry, this is a place to take care of that appetite.

The Event

Sitting here now, a couple days afterwards, I’m trying to recall the feeling, and the only thing that comes to mind is festiveness. There were 60 folks who were happy to be with others who were crazy about BBQ. Lots of ideas were exchanged for upcoming events. One theme was definite; this group is primed to take the BBQ word to the people. Now its just answer the question, how to execute that task.

The other theme that’s evolving out of these sessions is that by spreading the word about BBQ as cuisine, all the participants stand to benefit. A collective effort to promote BBQ will help everyone, and it’s a lot easier taking on the “cuisine-in-a-can” places like Applebee’s or Chili’s collectively than individually. Wayne Mueller from Louis Mueller’s in Taylor, TX conveyed a similar message (see earlier Blog about Louis Mueller's). They have an extremely dense collection of BBQ restaurants in a sparsely populated area, yet they all manage to make a go of it…for generations. But this is something they all understand, in order for them to do well, people have to know about BBQ in the first place and each place has an interesting dependence on the success of the other. Sure in Texas, BBQ comes second nature to even the most common folks. Chicago is a little different. Some preaching still needs to be done about this great cuisine. That’s the lesson we all can take away from these sessions. Do not hesitate to get out and spread the word about this fine cuisine.

Barry and his gang at Smoque set a high standard for how to make and serve BBQ as well as how to host such an event. Their great food and hospitality make it easy…and genuine…to recommend to all our friends and families to get out and try their local BBQ place.

The Next One – a date hasn’t been set, but the venue has been chosen…Mr. Mark Link graciously volunteered his place Uncle Bub’s in Westmont to host the next event. I can’t wait!!!

Monday, March 2, 2009

You Que, I Que, Who Que's, We all Que

Just a little fun today...only today go to and check out the name. Its Dr. Suess's birthday today so I'll post one BBQ competition tip for each correct identification of which Dr. Suess book the Google letters came from.

G - ???
O - ???
O - ???
G - ???
L - ???
E - ???

I don't know for sure, but I'm pretty confident these folks in charge of creative at google found these images in the actual books themselves. See I have three kids, and as much as I loved Suess books growing up, I like them even more as I read them to my kids.

The challenge will likely have to end tonight sometime as the picture won't be there for long.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

True BBQ - Elgin, Tx

We strolled out of Taylor Café late that Friday afternoon, with not a care in the world. Into the Chevy we pile again, pondering where to next…someone suggests Elgin, so that goes into the GPS…we’re already on the road, so it was an easy choice. A couple miles out of town our Canadian guest is amazed at the little shack on the side of the road with a big sign above it saying “GUNS”. Some old west traditions never die. The landscape between Taylor and Elgin is gentle. Trees and grasses are springing to life in the early spring sun. Ranches and acreage just pass by. Our conversations resume a breakneck pace, usually a couple going on at the same time.

As we approach the intersection to turn into Elgin, we notice Southside Market on the corner. We take a quick vote, unanimous to head in. At the NBBQA conference, Southside was featured in a couple presentations, branding and marketing. It was here that we first heard Bryan Bracewell speak of how they re-invented their brand image. He shared his passion for the family business and some of the challenges of being a 3rd generation owner. His motivation for growing this operation came naturally to him and his enthusiasm was contagious to those who met him. It made perfect sense to experience first hand the lessons we learned just one day earlier.

Our bellies were filled to capacity, so we stumbled and groaned our way out of the truck. The first thing we noticed was application or yesterday’s lesson: branding. The Southside Market emblem, sort of a coat of arms was prevalent everywhere you looked…and we hadn’t even entered the building yet. Stepping in the door you quickly realize this was a polar opposite operation at the front than from the previous two establishments. This place was meticulously clean. Everywhere you looked, Southside Market shields smiled at you. Merchandise was everywhere…bottled goods, apparel, packaged items, a full service meat counter, and of course the restaurant.

We casually strolled to the meat counter. Dave asked, “Is Bryan around?” Almost on cue, Bryan turned the corner. We introduced ourselves; a couple of us reminded him that we met him the day prior. Within minutes we were ushered through a door or two, embarking on our tour of Southside Market’s operations. This included a little extra since they not only produce sausage for consumption at the restaurant, but for regional retail distribution as well. This is a USDA approved and supervised operation and there’s nothing small about it.

Bryan spent a couple minutes giving us a family history, explaining how their revised brand vision had to be not only developed, but also sold to every interested party in the family, not a small undertaking with his grand parents. His commitment to his family is evident; it’s a commitment to take this brand to the next heights. We donned our hair nets and moved into the sausage making facility. Huge sausage stuffers, smokers, racks, storage…all the pieces for what it takes to sell LOTS of sausage. All the time the Southside Market shield was everywhere.

We moved from the sanitized confines of the sausage making part of the operation to where the smoking magic happens. Massive pits, smokers making brisket for the next day churning away, friendly staff everywhere were just indications that this operation had taken itself into the 21st century not only very well but with a passion that was undeniable.

We finally made it back out to the dining area. Bryan called back to his eager kitchen staff to let them know we wanted a “little sample platter”. We got drinks and started sauntering to our seats. Bryan emerged with one of the most incredible “little sample platter” I’d ever seen. It was huge.

Bryan let us know we didn’t have to eat it all, and he was also heading home. The time had come for him to enjoy time with his twin boys, the 4th generation Bracewells. His hospitality, passion, enthusiasm, dedication to his work and his family were a joy to witness.

There we sat, staring at this mountain of food. We dove in. Brisket and sausage and ribs and chicken and pork steak and…all so good. It was like Thanksgiving dinner sitting here with this bunch of BBQ freaks. We laughed until we cried, or maybe it was the jalapenos. We nibbled and picked until the brisket and sausage was gone. The 5 of us bonded that day, and there couldn’t have been a better way to end this True BBQ journey. There were other BBQ joints to hit, but not today.

We climbed back into the truck and rode into the sunset. How better could this adventure be scripted, an afternoon of experiencing the emotions of True BBQ capped by a perfect sun setting on the west Texas horizon? Just a couple days earlier we hardly knew each other, now, each of us feeling the effects of endorphins from our protein overload, knew we had forged new friendships, with each other, with True BBQ.

Brief Recap of True BBQ
To put a definition to “True BBQ” is doing it a disservice. It must be experienced. The 5 of us were fortunate to experience first hand some great examples; the perseverance of Vencil Mares, Wayne Mueller’s commitment to tradition, and Bryan Bracewell’s dedication to his family. But the glue that bonds all of them, their families, their staff, is deep-rooted passion; a passion for sharing a cuisine that is capable of conjuring such strong emotions of pride, Texas pride or American pride. Thanks again to all of you!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Movin' On - Taylor Cafe

We all sat in the truck. Wondering, how can that (the visit to Louis’ Mueller’s) be followed up? How can an experience like that one be equaled? Like the perfect song on an album, how do you follow it up? Its difficult, but record companies try, there is no choice. We did too.

A mere 6 blocks away from Mueller’s is the Taylor Café. The exterior gave no hint that this was the 21st century. Rustic, run down, and almost forgotten as it sits at the foot of the highway’s bypass. It’s a bar (we had been told that the beer was cold here). There were a dozen or so patrons sitting at the bar. Our stomachs were full, but our trek was more than satiating our appetites. We just set out to find BBQ experiences of Texas and this place has to be on the “must visit” list. What makes this place so iconic is their pit boss, Vencil Mares. And on this Friday, of course he was here.

We sat down, ordered up a little brisket, ribs, sausage, and some cold beers. Did find some humor in the fact that they don’t have imports there…”no Corona, no Shiner”, so we settled for Lone Star. The food came, and we all let the food perform the magic that it has for more than a half century. What makes Texas Icon BBQ special is the direct connection you have with the pit master who labored over these morsel hours before I even considered coming here.

In what seemed like a flash, Dave came to let us know that Mr. Mares would be happy to show us around. Like kids on Christmas morning, the 4 of us popped out of our seats scrambling for front row seats to take part in this Icon’s lecture. See he’s not just a pitmaster, but he’s an 85+ year old pitmaster. He’s been tending fires and cooking meat longer than any of us who were there had been alive. These are moments you take out your old fashioned reverence for your elders and come listen this man explain his approach.

The thrill of being granted the audience is quickly tempered with respect and a healthy dose of sorrow as you meet this feeble man. His hands and wrists are arthritic…he holds a twisted hand up for you to shake…you gaze into his steel eyes and genuinely thank him. Authenticity is easy to come by, the authenticity of these BBQ Icons is contagious. Fighting the urge to feel pity for this man, you listen to him, for you can see it in his glimmering eyes, hear it his voice, it is not pity he seeks, but just another opportunity to talk BBQ and share a story or two.

Vencil begins to describe how he prepares brisket. His voice is feeble, he pauses often to collect his thoughts about what he is going to say next. You find yourself straining to hear every word this man utters, he flashes a smile at you and you wonder why? Did he say something funny and I missed it? Is he finding humor in us? Is he just letting happiness out that might seem to impossible from such a feeble body? In the end it doesn’t matter, you smile back and get a knowing glace. “Lets go back and see the pits” he commands. Like soldiers, we rise and follow.

He leads us to the back through a narrow hallway holding on to his walker. “Briskets for tomorrow are in there” as he points to a cooler. Every movement he makes is a struggle. His assistant helps him undo the strap holding the lid tight. He opens the cooler and utters “hot…stay that way till ‘morrow”. A strange force comes over us all as we place our hands on the butcher paper wrapped briskets, and sure enough, they’re hot.

Every motion for this man is a monumental effort. So many years of hard work, work that one would only do for that long if it was a labor of love. And its then it hits me, he’s not just giving us a tour, he’s sharing his life with us. He’s sharing what he knows better than anything in the whole world, what he knows better than almost everyone else in the whole world. He senses his captivated audience; they’re not interested in his secrets, they crave to understand the story behind this icon. He turns to walk us out to the sausage room and you see it again, a wry smile.

We eventually make it back to his office that is closer to a closet. Every receipt he needs is stored in old cigar boxes whose only markings on the outside are the year of the receipts. Then someone sees the military medals on the wall. We ask. He tells of his service days with a gleam in his eyes. For a man of his age to have such vivid memories of experiences gained when he was 17 years old is priceless. He goes on…D-day invasion, but on day 4 or 5, medic, battle of the Bulge, Lieutenant says get the hell of here…”don’t have to tell me twice”, working next to a German medic...the two of them working on any injured man. We start walking back out to the bar, he pauses in the dimness of the hallway, turns, and casts those steel eyes our direction again…”sometimes ‘t was bad…real bad.”

Second place, second surreal experience. This visit left me riddled with tragedy. I was forced to wonder that when Our Father decides to take Mr. Vencil Mares, there is no heir apparent. This legacy is smoldering its last embers. I’m one of the fortunate ones to have had the opportunity to feel its warmth. “Sometimes it’s bad…real bad” haunting words uttered by a True BBQ icon.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Taylor TX - Louis Mueller's

Dave from the group had already been there and insisted it was worth the trip. In retrospect, that was an understatement. Its 1:00pm, parking lot is filled with mostly pick-ups and some large sedans…not a Prius in sight..

Our conversation became more spirited as we unloaded from the truck…we gazed at the sign and snapped some photos. The dust blowing over our shoes transformed our stroll into a reverent gait as we approached the BBQ shrine. The building’s cracked bricks hinted at their age, the hazed windows prohibited premature peeks in, the wooden (as Im writing this, Stevie Ray comes on the iPod…coincidence?) screen door banged as patrons entered (I hadn’t witnessed anyone exiting yet). 5 minutes prior, our conversations were boisterous and spirited…now each of us had become introspective, holding conversations captive in our mind. The opened door let hints of oak smoke escape; a faint blue haze hangs in the dark room. I cruise in, one step, two, and a force anchors me to the floor. It’s one of those moments you instinctively pause, adsorb everything the instant offers, for the only fact is, the sensation will flee, never to be regained. The creaking floor, the relentless assault of the knife on the chopping block, the drone of intertwined conversations, warp time to an era long gone. It’s 2009, but it maybe it was 50 years ago, probably more than that. Men we call grandfathers, in their youth, gathered in such places. You feel them at your side, joining your gaze towards the giant pit in this cathedral of smoke houses. More forefathers joined, one generation back, two generations, three, four…that’s when you get jarred back to 2009 trying to cipher just how many years that might be.

Eyes scan every inch of this hall. I had similar experiences my first visits to the cathedrals of Europe. Edifices that welcomed and sheltered spirits from eras long gone…here too, the spirit of True BBQ dripped off of everything, the smoke darkened walls, the menu scribbled on butcher paper, the self serve ice machine, the wooden chairs and tables. Nothing conjured, nothing marketed or imaged…just a simple feeling of admittance…this iconic edifice had welcomed my friends and me with her arms wide open on this sunny Friday afternoon.

The line to the front counter was 2/3 the way to the door, about 20 people deep. There wasn’t a seat to be had. I kept thinking “where do they come from?” Like in “Field of Dreams”…if you build they will come, cept not out of the cornfield, but from all ends of Texas, the US, North America, Abroad…I wondered if everyone who entered here gets a hug from her like we got?

We’ve only seen the tip of this passion iceberg by now. The pit boss (Lance I think) behind the counter recognizes Dave from a trip he made to Louis’ last year. We request a sampling of sausages, brisket and ribs, a couple sides. Lance tosses us each a piece of brisket to nibble on while we wait. The rest of the counter staff somehow take care of everything else for us…pickles, white bread, butcher paper, Texas sized cups of ice tea. Personally, I sort of just floated though that portion of the visit, mesmerized by how they handled the meat…into the warming oven, out, knife banging, butcher paper flying, a bbq ballet perfectly choreographed. A table vacated for us just in time so we sat and revered in the magnitude of the BBQ before us. The crusty bark, the smoke ring, the sausage glistening. Pictures will never do the food before us justice. We tried. We failed. Sorry Kodak, it was one of those moments that must be experienced, not captured.

A food critic I’m not. Let it suffice to say that the food that crossed my palate from that point not only lived up to the expectations, but exceeded them. I was struck by the simplicity and how the unadulterated nature of the edifice was echoed in each slice of brisket…salt, pepper, smoke, meat. A simple pleasure, no need to complicate this cuisine. Its BBQ, but BBQ the way THESE men and women and generations before them intended for us to eat it, not some corporate mogul, not some pretentious food critic. It was a solitary experience, a connection between me and that pit boss, being chaperoned by an incredible staff.

A commanding yet gentle man stepped to our table “how y’all doing” “I’m Wayne Mueller, and thanks…” Wayne spent the next hour or so giving us a tour of his BBQ operation. From the pit to the butcher blocks, it was evident that these sentinels of BBQ art were thrilled to share their passion with us.

Wayne then shared a little of his story. He did so with an authenticity that left no room for doubt. How he tried to flee Taylor, made himself a nice life in the big city, was happy. Nevertheless he was pulled back, learned his father’s art form. Like in the era of apprentices learning from their fathers to take on and fill their “daddy’s” roll, for the family…for the community. Wayne was doing it. He totally captivated his audience, myself, Kelly, Danielle, Chris. You could feel his passion building…you could feel the emotion thickening, and for a moment there was an uncomfortable uneasiness of what was happening. Wayne’s gaze went far beyond what we could see…reaching, searching for words…something…someone…then we saw the eyes begin to glisten, and the words that followed froze us all…”My Dad pulled me aside and looked at me one day and said, ‘promise me, never let her go’”.

The pause in his story gave us all a moment to breath deep, ponder what was just said, stare at the ceiling and swallow hard to choke that lump down. His moistening eyes welled a little more…the lumps just got bigger, the blurriness of my own line of vision added to the surreal moment even more. “Lost my dad in September”.

These are moments that cannot be scripted. Cannot be feigned. In two minutes we learned the why’s, how’s, what’s, that drive this man. Why he dares to take such an incredible yoke on his shoulders with pride and joy. Everyone shuffled around for a little while, cleared their throats, guffawed, took sips of tea and regained composure.

The conversation wound down. Wayne then paid us and every other competition and backyard BBQ enthusiast a humbling complement…his appreciation for how we throw our pride to the lions, toss hard earned money around, and dedicate time to what some call a hobby…”Y’all are the foot soldiers of BBQ”. Taking it to new audiences, increasing awareness at a grass roots level. Creating the ripples that will build to tidal waves. “Thank you” he finished.
With few words, and a couple glances to each other, the 5 of us knew how fortunate we were, the right place, right time, perfect coincidence of events to capture True BBQ. All the passion, emotion, authenticity, just rolled up in a piece of butcher paper…enjoyed by those who take a moment to find it…the True BBQ. And Wayne Mueller…Thank you!!!

Monday, February 23, 2009

The TRUE BBQ – Passion and Protein

NBBQA was filled with some great presentations from some truly passionate BBQ folks. It’s easy to se why they do what they do. But being in Austin also fosters dreams of trekking to some of the BBQ icons that are just a drive away. On Friday, February 20th, we had a little time to kill in the afternoon so several of us who hadn’t had the fortune of taking the bus tours earlier in the week thought we’d try some of those BBQ places we’d only heard about.

The Players

Dave Raymond – Dave together with his brother created Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce. He’s from Chicagoland, so I already had run into him at various BBQ events in Chicago. He’s a man hungry for understanding any and everything BBQ. He’d been to many of the places before so he graciously volunteered to be a guide of sorts, or at least the guy who knew where to go.

Kelly Wertz – Head Cook of 4 Legs Up BBQ out of Great Bend, Kansas. Better yet, Kelly is the reigning Jack Daniels Champion. He has a restaurant in Great Bend and under his quiet demeanor lies a hunger for providing the simple pleasure of excellent BBQ.

Danielle Dimovski – DivaQ. – Canadian BBQ champion and a person so filled with passion for BBQ. Her spirit is like that of a west Texas mustang. Hang on because she’s going to blaze a path where this is none. The energy she exudes is contagious and she knows BBQ.

Chris Jones – A young man from Midland Texas. He became our official Texas ambassador. A man of few words, yet a pride very deep, and when he spoke, words of wisdom and knowledge flowed. That cowboy pride was the perfect addition to this hungry crowd.

What made this amazing was these 5 folks really didn’t know each other at all prior to coming to Austin. But a little fate, a little luck, and a desire to understand True BBQ brought these 5 together. We piled into Chris’ truck and asked Dave where to…Taylor was the response; a couple buttons into the GPS and off we went.

With Stevie Ray Vaughn playing on the CD, low volume, our conversations were fast and furious. There was an enthusiasm about trekking to these places of lore. We’d heard of them, read about them, seen them on TV, our friends has told us of them, now it was our turn to search of True BBQ.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Getting Started...again

Been awhile since I've actively blogged, but the time has come to start again. For those that don't know me, my name is Joe McManus from Naperville, IL. I have a passion for BBQ, or Bar-b-que, or barbecue, or barbeque...that most often manifests itself in Competition BBQ. Our team name is Joey Mac's Smoke Stax and we've been at it for about 5 years now.

Having just attended the National BBQ Association conference in Austin, TX, I've come back motivated to share some of my BBQ passion with the many folks who are out there thirsting for more info about outdoor cooking.

I'll be updating soon, so come back often to visit. So thanks to all those passionate people in Austin who helped motivate me to start sharing the passion once again.