The following is a guest post from my brother Jeff Stolper, a member of the Smokin’ Bunz BBQ team in Kansas City!
Three years ago for our anniversary, Lisa bought me a smoker. At first I thought to myself, “Great! I’ve always wanted to try smoking and can’t wait to use it!” Fast forward about two years and I had used it maybe three times. Fast forward another two years and here I am writing a blog post about my last BBQ competition having used the smoker more times than I can remember. She had great vision towards my future hobby!
Living in Kansas City there are any number of fantastic BBQ restaurants from Joe’s KC (f/k/a Oklahoma Joe’s) and Arthur Bryant’s to lesser known establishments like Q39 and Brobeck’s (I would highly recommend both). While the restaurants are great and you can tell the proprietors have a passion for their food, there is another level that can be found typically on weekends only. What I’m talking about is competition BBQ. The typical competitor is not a full-time chef nor do most have classical training in the culinary arts. These are home grown men and women who are out there for the love of the meat. My team, Smokin’ Bunz BBQ (@smokinbunz on Instagram), has now been on the circuit for a little over a year and I’ve loved every minute of it.
Our last competition was by far the largest we have done yet, and also has the most name recognition. On June 24th – 25th we competed in the Lenexa BBQ Competition at Sar-Ko-Park in Lenexa, KS. There were 183 teams that competed ranging from people out there just to have fun all the way to the serious competitors who enter the whole animal category (our team doesn’t quite have the butcher skills to enter this category…yet). Prior to the Lenexa BBQ, Smokin’ Bunz had done four other competitions, none of which had more than 50 teams.
The journey began Wednesday of that week when Frank Emert (captain of the brisket) and I went to pick up the smoker as well as buy the meat. To date we have been borrowing a smoker from a friend that can handle the quantity of meat we need to smoke. The typical categories in a Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS) sanctioned event are chicken, pork ribs, pulled pork and brisket. To fit all of these onto the same smoker requires either a large smoker, or some serious finesse. We opted for the large smoker (note this was not taken at the competition):
For meat we headed to Costco. I’ve found that the combination of quality and price at Costco truly makes it the best place to buy large quantities of meat.
On Thursday of that week it was time to start set up. Frank and I hauled the smoker out to Sar-Ko-Park and found our spot. Located right next to the bathroom, I decided it was either going to be the perfect spot, or we were going to end up with some delicious looking food that tasted like a Johnny on the Spot. Turned out to be the former!
Friday hits and it’s go-time for the competition. Two of our teammates, Ryan Staub (captain of the chicken) and Nathan Daniels (captain of the pulled pork) headed to the park at about noon to fire up the smoker, as well as set up our tents. Frank and I arrived later that afternoon around 3 PM to find the set up complete (good work Ryan and Nate). It was time to start prepping food for the night.
Friday nights at a BBQ competition are essentially a big party. One of the reasons I love the competitions is that so many friends stop by our tent to eat and have a great time; outside of the finished product and turn-in, this is easily my favorite part of BBQ competitions. Friday night we served up some pulled pork, beef ribs, brisket, Nate’s famous chicken wings and some damn good times.
After all the great friends leave for the evening, around 11 PM, it’s time to go to work for tomorrow’s turn-ins. For the Lenexa BBQ we entered five categories: chicken, pork ribs, pulled pork, brisket and sausage. The two that take the longest to cook are the brisket and the pulled pork. We put the brisket on at about 10 PM Friday night and the pulled pork went on around midnight. These will smoke for 12 – 14 hours at approximately 235 degrees Fahrenheit (I know this blog has several international readers, so you can do the math on converting to Celsius…or Kelvin if you prefer). Since the brisket and pork are on for so long, the team actually sleeps overnight at the park to tend the fire:
As you can see, we were VERY close to the bathrooms.
After tending the fire for the night, wake up was at 6:00 AM to prep and put on the ribs and chicken. For the ribs, it’s important to remove the membrane from the underside…no judge likes biting into that! Once all meat was on, most of the time was spent tending the fire and waiting for turn-ins to start at noon. At about 11:00 we start to pull meat off the smoker and start to prep our turn-ins. It is not as easy as putting meat into a Styrofoam container and bringing it to the judges table. There is an art involved in prepping turn-ins. The first turn in was chicken at noon:
The second turn-in was ribs at 12:30:
The third turn-in was pork at 1:00:
The fourth turn-in was brisket at 1:30:
The fifth and final turn-in was the sausage, for which no picture was taken.
Overall our largest competition was a great time. We gave it our all and the results came in as follows:
Chicken – 35 out of 183
Ribs – 137 out of 183
Pork – 132 out of 183
Brisket – 104 out of 182
Sausage – 130 out of 151
Overall – 96 out of 183
Although we may not have been the grand champion, I think we took first place in having a great time.
Until we ‘que again!