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The American Royal 2014
In 2014 a group of Aussies went across to Kansas City to the largest BBQ Competition on the planet, the American Royal. We were lucky enough to be hosted by Andy and Kim Groneman from their BBQ Team ‘Smoke on Wheels’. This is an article I wrote for Manspace Magazine, this version has a much larger photo gallery and I have added a video of the event. I am going back in October 2016, this time to compete and I am so excited. I hope you enjoy our memories from The Royal
The American Royal
World Series of Barbecue 2014
History Of Barbecue
The history of cooking meat with flames goes back a million years or so to homo erectus, shortly after man first learned to control fire. There are even references in the Bible to ‘burnt offerings of animals’, when Moses came down the Mount with the Ten Commandments. So grilling meat has had references scattered throughout history.
The word Barbecue is said to come from the Spanish word ‘Barbecoa’, which means a frame raised of sticks. This was used in the 1600’s and was credited to the Taino Indians.
There are two ways of cooking meat, the first is called grilling, which is when meat comes in contact with a flame and is cooked, hot and fast. In the USA the work Barbecue is more associated with indirect low and slow cooked meat. This is used to cook tough muscle groups, over a long period, at a low temperature, to make the meat moist and tender. This type of Barbecue is said to have come from slaves and poor white people. They could only afford the tough cuts of meat that nobody wanted, this was typically the muscle groups that have worked hard during their life. Some of these cuts would have been Beef Brisket, Cheeks and Pork Shoulders. They learned different ways to cook these cheap cuts of meat, to make them delicious.
This type of cooking then took on differing tastes in different regions of America. These types of Barbecue are split into different flavor profiles in Kansas City, Memphis, North Carolina and Texas. Very different sauces have been developed with each region claiming that theirs is the best, these are tomato based, vinegar based and mustard based. The competition between these styles is fierce and spreads into the modern BBQ Competitions.
BBQ Restaurants started to pop up during the 1920’s and 1930’s, with some of those pioneers still around today. The first commercial BBQ sauces hit the market in the 1940’s.
As cooking BBQ at home became more popular, BBQ Competitions started to emerge at State Fairs during the 1970’s. These then quickly became standalone competitions that were held across many States.
In 1986, Gary and Carolyn Wells and Rick Welsh formed the Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS). Whilst many other Competitions are held, the KCBS sanctions over 300 events, across 44 States and has a membership base of over 14000, throughout the world. I am a KCBS member and a certified KCBS BBQ Judge. The KCBS was formed to create a framework, from which to run BBQ Competitions. All KCBS BBQ Competitions consist of cooking Brisket, Pork Ribs, Pork Shoulder and Chicken, this meat cannot be cooked on electricity or gas, it must be cooked on charcoal or other type of wood product, including wood pellets. Entries are blind judged and are score on look, texture and taste.
The American Royal
In October a group of 6 Aussies went to the American Royal in Kansas City, 2 cooked and rest of us were spectators, just trying to learn. The Royal is the largest BBQ Competition in the World and is sanctioned by the KCBS. This year they had over 560 teams from 6 Countries. This is an incredibly popular event, I had never seen anything like it, the sheer scale was phenomenal. I spent the whole week walking around with the biggest grin on my face.
We were very lucky to be staying at the home of Andy, Kim Groneman and their daughters. Andys BBQ Team is called ‘Smoke On Wheels’ and they won many, many Grand Championships. As you can imagine we felt very privileged to be staying with such awesome people. For most of the week they put up with 6 Aussies crashing on their Lounge floor.
The week was going to be about eating BBQ, going through the lead up to a major BBQ Competition and spending time at the American Royal, learning and soaking it in.
The first night we went to a new Kansas City BBQ Restaurant called Q39. This place was amazing, the food was smoky and really tasty. You could tell this was going to be amazing food, as lots of other BBQ Teams were already eating there. The highlight for me was the Burnt End Burger, it was the best piece of Brisket I’ve ever tasted. The restaurant is run by Rob Magee who is a national barbecue champion, he spent time telling us all about how he cooks his BBQ and gave us lots of tips.
As we found out thoughout the trip, everyone was willing to talk to us and offer lots of tips and advice.
The next day we headed Plowboys BBQ Restaurant for lunch. Todd Johns the owner was amazing, he took us around the kitchen and showed us what is involved in making BBQ on a large scale. It is a lot more complicated than you think, with some very impressive commercial smoking equipment. Todd was the 2009 Royal Invitational World Champion, I was even lucky enough to try on Todds Championship Ring. Plowboys Yardbird Rub is one of our favourite rubs on chicken, so it was a highlight meeting someone I held in such high regard.
On the Wednesday we headed off to Restaurant Depot. This place is similar to Costco and is meat heaven. We struggle in Australia for American cuts of meat, so to see the most amazing Pork Ribs, Brisket and Pork Butt made me very jealous. The ribs were cut perfectly with a decent amount of meat on them, which is not the case over here. Ribs in Oz are called shiners because they have the meat trimmed off to the bone.
The cost of meat was also phenomenal. Pork Butts were less than $4/kg, we are lucky to pay less than $17/kg and in most cases, the shoulder is not cut in the right way.
On the Thursday morning we headed off to the American Royal for the first time. This is a fantastic venue and when we arrived we already saw masses of RV’s across this huge site. Andy drove us around and introduced us to many people, everyone knew him and wanted to know about the Aussies that were staying with him. Due to the sheer number of people that stopped Andy to chat, he was christened ‘The Mayor of the Royal’ and this stuck with him for the rest of the Competition.
Once we arrived at the Royal a number of us had booked into a KCBS Judging Course. At the end of the 4 hour course we all became KCBS Certified Judges. The course taught us how to judge, what the criteria for judging was and we even ate all 4 of the KCBS Meat categories and scored them accordingly. We now have approx. 10 judges in Australia.
During the afternoon we went for a walk around the Royal, checking out the teams, BBQs and RV’s. I was very lucky to meet some of my all-time BBQ heroes. A lot of these BBQ Superstars are on the BBQ Pitmasters Show that is on Foxtel. Myron Mixon is the self titled ‘winningest man in BBQ’, he was awesome, happy to chat, sign things and take the piss. I also met Johnny Trigg, he is in his 70’s and is known as the ‘Godfather of Ribs’ again he had plenty of time to chat. I also had the great fortune top meet Tuffy Stone, who has really started to take the Competition Circuit by storm and is incredibly well loved by everyone who competes, as he is a great bloke. Tuffy went on to win the American Royal Open on the Sunday, winning $25k.
On the Friday we all moved into our RV onsite at the Royal. This was great fun and kept us in the middle of the action. The Competition is split into 2 parts. On the Friday/Saturday is the Invitational. Only teams that have been invited are allowed to enter, this part consisted of over 100 team, with a grand prize of $12.5k that was doubled up to $25k. The Friday night is a massive party, it is huge. I’ve never seen anything like it or laughed as much. Everywhere we went we was offered moonshine, we drunk lots of flavours such as apple pie, blueberry, coconut and a few others. All of them were delicious and definitely had the desired effect. The problem is that those competing in the Invitational had to start prepping meat on the Friday afternoon and starting cooking the meat at around midnight, ready for turning in around lunchtime on the Saturday afternoon. Andy was in the Invitational but we were out to party!
After a big night in the ‘dark side’ we got up and watched Andy go through the processes he has done many times. This was an amazing learning experience. Each meat category is handed in 30 minutes after the previous one. The meat is handed in, in a tray filled with parsley, this goes to the judging area and is scored blind. At 4pm we all gathered in the main Arena and each category is announced. Finally all 4 category scores are added together and the Grand Champion is announced. The team that took out the 2014 American Royal Invitational was Smokin’ Hoggz, they won $25k
On the Saturday night the Aussie Team started prepping the meat for the next days Open Competition. We had 2 Aussies cooking in the Competition, Garth and Jesse, they were helped by a local. We were able to use an American Teams spot, the Aussie Team was called ‘Big Guns BBQ’
Both the Aussie Team and Andy were cooking in the Open Competition, along with another 560 teams. Jesse cooked the Pork Ribs, Garth cooked the Brisket and Pork Butt. Steve, the honorary Aussie cooked the chicken.
In Chicken the Aussies came 469th out of 548
In Brisket, we placed 301st out of 546. Andy came in at 177th with the turn in below.
In Pork Shoulder, Garth placed we placed 494th out of 549, the Brisket didn’t get up to the correct internal temperature and was a little tough
In Pork Ribs, Jesse placed 238th out of 551, he managed to beat both Myron Mixon and Johnny Trigg, this was definitely a claim to fame
Overall the Aussie Team came 412th out of 552 teams, this was a great result for a first time cook, using equipment we were not used to.
The winning team was Cool Smoke headed up by Tuffy Stone, the nicest guy in Competition BBQ. The team won a total of $25k, not bad for a days work.
This was a fantastic trip that I’ll never forget. I only booked at the last minute but had the best experience ever. I am hoping to take my family back to the USA in 2015 and do a BBQ crawl, that will hopefully end up at the Memphis in May Competition. It would be great to catch up with some the amazing friends I was fortunate to meet in Kansas.
Andy and is family are heading to Australia in February 2015. He will be doing lots of events and classes, if you get a chance go and see a real master in action. He is heading up the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival where he will be cooking with Gary Mehigan.