August 6, 2001

Volume 1

Issue 9

Ray's Comments

                                Follow up to "Dreaming"


If you didn't read last weeks article then please read it.   It looks like this has turned into something that is bigger than I expected it would be.  Some of the things I talked about have already been started in some parts of the country.  I got a lot of email with a lot of great suggestions.  If I included all of the email this would read something like a book.  So, I will use some quotes from some of the people who offered ideas.  I can't possibly include everyone's comments so if I miss your suggestion this time you my see it in a future article.

I talked about several things last week but the ones that got the most attention were as follows:

  1. How does the public view these contests
  2. We need to get some good BBQ to the public.
  3. We need a "Program or Guide" to sell or give to the public
  4. The idea of "tours for the public."

So, lets take things one at a time.  Here are some of the email comments about BBQ contests.  All comments are from people who sent email.  The comments are excerpts from the original and may be out of context at times.

How does the public view these BBQ Contest?

Rod Grey

My wife and I are the very definition of "the spectators" you describe.  We visited several of the larger barbecue contests in Kansas City in years past. We stopped attending because there was actually nothing to do once we finally made your way into the contest site.  We were new to this area then and didn't know anyone participating.  It became evident very quickly that without connections at a competition, it was somewhat confusing and very boring. 

Several years have passed.  With the hiring a new office manager who actually competes in a couple contests a year, I have a rejuvenated interested in competitive bbq.  So much so, that I have recently completed the KCBS certified judging course, signed up to judge a couple of upcoming events, and am researching the purchase of a large, pricey smoker to eventually try my hand at competition.

Doug Bennett

I couldn't agree with you more. I have been a spectator at one of these events and was bored out of my skull. There was no interaction with the contestants, there was no information available to the public, and little enthusiasm from contestants to share their love of fire and food with the spectators

(Ray Basso) There were a lot of comments like these two.  There just isn't much there for spectators at these contests.

David Spence

Last year at the Beef outing in Emporia and this year at the Q cook off in Topeka nearly everyone said they didn't even know it was going on until it was over!  That is a shame and an injustice to the participants!


What about getting some good BBQ to the public attending these contests.

Ardie Davis

Good for you for observing and listening to members of the general public who have come to bbq contests expecting to eat and have fun, and not always getting what they expected. It's a cardinal sin to attract
people to a place where the best food known to man is just a few feet away from them, and then tell them they can't have any. Who wouldn't be furious!!? I understand the importance of safe food handling and the enforcement thereof, but we need to be up front with the public about what to expect at a contest, and how to enjoy it. We also have to come up with creative, legal ways to FEED THE PEOPLE

Paul Schleer

I was at Laurie(this weekend).  Pursuant to your ideas about the future of contests, we discussed several ideas Friday night over drinks.  One of the things we liked about Laurie was their complimentary chicken wings on Friday Night.  One of the grocery store in Laurie, over the last three or more years, has donated chicken wings.  Any contestant who wants to and will cook the wings, will pass them out to the public that evening.  This was promoted and there were a lot of the public there. No admission was charged.  Just a different angle we saw that worked. 

Scott Barentsen

I saw a program last night on a contest they have in Owensboro Kentucky.  The contest draws thousands of people to eat BBQ'd mutton and a stew called Burgoo.

Why the huge attendance?  The teams sell their food.  Almost all of the teams sell out of food within an hour.  They submit samples to the judges for the competition, and the public eats.  IMO, the flavor of good BBQ is its best advertisement and the best draw for the public.  It would also help the teams offset the high costs of competing.  Heck, top teams could auction off their BBQ to the highest bidder.  (I was surprised when a BBQ dinner at my house went for $135 at a recent church auction).  The fun for the public would be to eat the 'Q of the Grand Champion and then brag about it.  The money would enable the contestants to compete more often and upgrade their equipment.  Contests would get bigger, prize money would increase.  The thing would snowball .

Mark Darrah

Before I got into BBQ I was drug down to the American Royal and was very disappointed in the fact that you could starve to death in a place where thousands of pounds of meat were being cooked. A year or two later I got into BBQ and have tried to consider my first American Royal experience when I'm out there cooking. I try to talk to people as they walk by and look in on what I'm doing and will often times invite them into our space to see the smokers and talk BBQ with them, offer up a beer or soda and if I have something done and ready to eat , Give them a taste. That type of interaction is what will take BBQ to the next level.


I remember doing the Royal one year and saw a couple get totally irate that they spent money to get in and couldn't eat anything. I don't blame them, I would be mad too. I'm sure they weren't the only people that got mad. What they should do is put up huge signs saying PRIVATE PARTIES -DON'T COME IN UNLESS YOU WERE INVITED!

Ted Watson

I totally agree that some way must be found to let the public sample the BBQ. I am not interested in attending cook-offs because I don't get a taste of what the other guys are doing and how much better mine is than theirs. That's a joke, son! I don't see any way BBQ cookoffs are ever going to be serious events with the public without this. If the competitors want it to remain an esoteric event ( and that may not be a bad thing) then the present practice can remain.


What about having a "Program" to give or sell at these events.

Rick Salmon

I totally agree with you.  BBQ just needs some marketing and education of the public.  NASCAR started out very small.  Contest organizers could use a little education as well.  I just had a contest organizer e-mail me and say I could not use my Traeger as KCBS does not allow electric cookers.

The program is an excellent idea.  If nothing else it will stop the public from asking "I've never been to one of these, am I suppose to buy food from you?"  I always feel like a jerk when I tell them that I have no food for them.  Additionally, with a name like Smokin' Salmons they can see in the program that I do not cook salmon but it is my name. 

Teams could send in a short bio with their registration form.  Organizers could allow a few teams in without paying or paying a reduced fee if they cooked samples for the public as well as the contest.  Allowing BBQ venders (products and demonstrations) in at a reasonable cost would aid in the education of the public on products that the contestants use.

Rod Gray

Selling a printed program with team bio info is a great idea.  To keep the cost down, the promoter could sell advertising.

John Underwood

I am in charge of the Alabama State Championship in Decatur, Al. and we might try some of the additional ideas you have come up with. We already put together a program that explains the
rules, etc., to the public and profiles several of the teams. It is a sponsor driven program, very shiny and professionally done. I say it is sponsor driven because we give it away to all who enter (one sponsor is always a printer). We do need to add the list of events around the country to show how big this is becoming.

Lester Norvell

I like your comments. I forwarded a copy to the organizers of Riverfest-in Decatur Al...
I hope that they can do a flyer/hand-out...and also maybe some tours.  I remember my first few BBQ contests and all I could do was watch, slowly people began to recognize my familiar face and I was able to get the fine people on the teams to open up.

Tours for the public and other ideas.

Charles Bearden

I attended the NRA convention in KC this year and saw something that may be of interest.

There are different kinds of shooting sports such as hunting, target shooting with pistols, high power rifles, smallbore rifles, shotgun sports of several kinds, single action shooters, black powder, and on and on.

There were several rooms with a hundred chairs or so in each of them and all during the day there were different educational programs going on in them.  Each area was there promoting and informing about their interests, usually sponsored by a manufacturer.  There was no charge to attend any session for NRA members.  You had to be an NRA member to attend the convention.  What they were doing was educating and informing people of all the other things going on in shooting sports. 

At the big contests, it seems to me their needs to be a special effort to draw new people into barbecue.  It should be the vested interest of manufacturers, not only to be there and support those already using their products, but also to appeal and educate and sell those visitors who could become their customers.  Buying a ticket would permit folk to sit in any of these sessions.

Seems to me this would have to come from a national organization that could derive funds from a large membership.  A large membership will only happen if potential members see and receive worthwhile benefits from joining.

Harry Silvs

The teams need to spend some time before/after the judging and have seminars on how to smoke for the common grillers.  To charge for it or not to charge is the question!!!! 


I think there is one very bold move that would get things on the right track to good relations with the public.
Judging on Sunday. You cite many people disappointed about us not talking to them but I'd bet a lot of this occurred on Saturday close to or during the judging. If these folks had been strolling around Friday evening they might have found a different situation. Of course if I didn't know better I'd think Noon on Saturday was a good time to show up too. If teams were setup or in the process of setting up on Saturday you'd find a lot more interaction. Many of us would be there Friday anyway.
Of course my proposal would also solve the problem of the public showing up at 4:00 Saturday to find us all packed up. That's clearly not good PR. If NASCAR ran their races on Saturday morning they wouldn't be where they are today........

These vendors would surely prefer an event that didn't end Saturday afternoon. John Underwood in Decatur uses some of these vendors and they do a good job of making top quality BBQ available to the public while not obligating the teams that just want to compete.

Catherine Mayhew

Two suggestions:

1. Set up a free "learn to be a BBQ judge" class that only lasts 30 minutes to an hour. Get somebody who's not competition cooking and who's very entertaining to run through chicken, ribs, pork and brisket with samples for the participants. Get a local company or BBQ company to sponsor the class and give away coupons for the company's products. This would NOT be to certify judges, just to show the public what judges do (with tasty tidbits to make it more fun). If you set it up between the judges' meeting and the first turn-in, or after last turn-in and before awards, you could get actual judges to do the class. I'd volunteer - it would be fun.

2. Many festivals (non-BBQ) do a "taste of" row of restaurant booths where festival-goers can taste the best stuff the restaurants have - at a price, of course. We could do the same thing at a BBQ contest using volunteers to vend products produced by the teams (cooked the day or night before) on a separate site. Even if the product wasn't quite up to judging standards, it would be better than anything they'd ever eaten in a restaurant and would give them the chance to say, "I ate the grand champion's ribs". Those teams who sell sauces or rubs could also sell them at the off-site "taste of" sites. A lot of people would buy them if they knew they'd just eaten championship 'que.

Bruce Kennedy
Arizona BBQ Society

People do not come to BBQ Contests because they are interested in who is cooking or who wins. They are there to eat good BBQ, and I am not talking about the vendors selling boiled meat slathered in BBQ Sauce. I am talking about the product produced at BBQ contests.

How about setting up an area displaying the different styles/kinds of cookers? Show the public how the cookers work and the various price ranges. You can bet that many of the commercial endeavors would send some results of their efforts.

I think conducting a 30 minute seminar on how, why and what the judges are looking for would be of interests.

A slow pit bbq cooking school would go over as well. After all, these people love very good pit BBQ, so show them how it is done. Run the judging school about 45 minutes long and repeat and run the cooking school at an hour long and repeat.

Connie Smith

You need some outgoing and witty people (or judges) to lead tours, give talks, cook and explain,
etc. etc. etc.

John Underwood

I love the idea of the tours. I think they would be a great idea and well received as well.

Barry Whitten
USBC Director
I intend on using, with your permission, some of the ideas you have presented in our contest. We are 30 days away from our event and I still have a hundred things to do for or event but I'm going to peruse this. I liked the event tour idea and the completion guidebook with histories etc...

Rod Grey

However, your description paints a mental picture of a carnival type atmosphere with fire-eaters and men on 16' stilts walking around with the sound of a strained voice offer to guess your weight off in the distance.  Even though people love a carnival, I think a more controlled chaos type setting would generate more of a buzz amongst spectators.  Maybe rather than guided tours, there are a dozen or so BBQ Ambassadors strolling about the grounds, available to answer anyone's question.  Of course, they would know most of the teams because of their history in the "sport" and they were involved in the check-in process.  They would have a good general knowledge of equipment, techniques, processes, and good barbecue in general.  They would be easy to pick out of the crowds because of the contest marked hat and vests they wear.  These people would be similar to the Kansas City Chiefs Red Coats, the Kansas City Royals Lancers, and heck, maybe even the Wal-Mart Greeters!  It would be the Ambassador's business to speak to most everyone, even if it were just a simple greeting.  

The contest participants would make their booths more people oriented with things like required banners with team names and their hometowns.  Each team would designate someone to greet passers-by and chat with interested onlookers.  The BBQ Ambassadors would call on this person to answer questions specific to their team.  The teams would also offer up more of the great barbecue left over after the entry is submitted as good will to those who chose to pay admission to tour the grounds.

As you suggested, at a specific location, a sampling of good barbecue would be offered to those interested (who could resist?).  How many people say that firing up the smoker brings out neighbors they haven't seen in weeks?  As a spectator, I suffer bbq envy ten fold after walking the grounds.  A taste of melt-in-your-mouth smoked brisket or pulled pork fresh out of the smoker would be enough to convince me to get excited about barbecue.  And if I were a smart retailer, I would set up my well-stocked booth of various sauces, a wide variety of barbecue books, and the latest videos right at the exit where those delirious observers can gobble them up on their way home.

Speaking of vendors, touring the grounds would obviously get the spectators' bbq juices flowing.  For that reason, equipment manufacturers, suppliers and retailers of barbecue related items would be encouraged to staff a booth displaying their products.  Vendors from related areas like lawn & garden, kitchen gadgets, and automotive items could display their products as well.   Similar to display booths at other events, these displays would obviously generate interest in their products.


................. There are so many ideas to make barbecue more spectator friendly.  Here are
just a few other ideas:

· The event organizer could hire a promoter to represent the event.  Good promoters generate big interest in events that sometimes otherwise go unnoticed.

· Find a spokesperson for barbecue.  Look what Emeril Lagasse has done for
Food TV.

· At a central location schedule three or four 30 minute presentations Saturday morning on specific topics like barbecue basics, rubs & marinades, judging, etc. (Maybe get someone like Chef Paul to speak passionately about the topic)

· Create a mascot similar to the San Diego Chicken or the Philly Fanatic

· Organize a rib eating contest or other contests for spectators.

· Combine BBQ competitions with other events (i.e. Nascar, Motorcross, Monster Trucks, RV & Boat shows)

· Provide entertainment for children.  This could come in the form of an area similar to the Fun Zone at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City or a simple petting zoo off in the corner of the event.

Baby steps may be what's necessary to move competition barbecue to the next level.  A professional wrestling atmosphere would not adequately promote these contest.  Efforts from several areas are necessary to generate more interest in these events
.  Most of my suggestions stay to the conservative
side as my wife feels I could easily create that carnival atmosphere I discourage.  These ideas attempt to bring more people, which will in turn bring more interest.  More interest brings more sponsors.  More sponsorship translates to more money.  The additional dollars brings added interest by teams, and before you know it, the whole thing snowballs into something beyond our wildest dreams.  Build it and they will come.


If we had a Buck a Bone option at every contest you would see the sport get huge. Just like Frisco's contest. Plus it is a great way to make some extra money for the contestants and for the City. ( or maybe a charity).

I remember talking to the people running Frisco a couple of years ago. With in 2 hours they sold 10,000 tickets. They then got another roll and sold 3000 more tickets in another hour. Buck a ticket. Back then the BBQ'rs got 50cents and the city took 50. In 3 hours the city made $6500 and the BBQ'rs met a lot of people made friends and made some money also. I have even had people come back a year later and ask if we were going to be serving our BBQ salsa like we did last year. It was great to hear that from people.

Also, I like your idea about a program for education, the tours would be nice but a nightmare to organize. The Buck a Bone is an easy fun quick solution to get the public interested.

Ken Kelley

Although I doubt that your suggested tour idea would actually be very practical, there needs to be some group of activities which will draw people and maintain their interest.  There does need to be a mechanism for people to actually obtain some barbeque; that seems terribly logical, but it is also uncommon, at least for smaller contests.

I suppose that what I envision, again in terms of attracting and holding public interest, is something along the lines of the traditional "county fair" event.  And of course, one of the first problems will be thatpromoters of smaller contests, or of new contests, will be hard-pressed to arrange and coordinate all these auxillary activities.  But "Rome wasn't built in a day", and if the concept is to attract a large public
interest, it will be necessary to develop a program which appeals to, and entertains, the general public.

A question I would have, is on the issue of how the public perceives a cookoff which is tied to a separate event, such as a local rodeo or already existing county fair.  If the cookoff is largely invisible to the public, then the problem is a matter of promoting the barbeque as an event along the same lines as, say, calf roping or bronco riding.  And it may well be that the awards ceremony may have to be both streamlined and jazzed up, in order to hold the interest of the general public.

Having said all that, let me submit for consideration that there is nothing wrong with having a contest which does nothing except.....have that contest.  However, that choice of a program will do nothing to
promote public interest; it will serve only to provide a venue for competing and judging.  That's not necessarily bad; but it doesn't address the issue of attracting people to the activity of barbequing.

Conclusion and final comments from Ray and others.

As you can clearly see a lot of valuable ideas have been opened up for the future of BBQ Contests.  In my estimation, this has started something that I think will be good for BBQ.  Out of all the email that I received I only had one person kinda get after me.  I think he felt that I was meddling in an area I had no business being in.  At least that was the impression I got from him.

As it turns out some people have reached the same conclusions I had reached.  Some people are already implementing some of the ideas I proposed.  I understand that Joe O'Connel  and the SCBBQA is already planning on a visitor's handout, a visitor's booth and public tours with tasting events.  I'm not surprised.  It's clear from the email that many people had reached the same conclusions I had and just hadn’t voiced them. 

After all, at one time in history there were two people trying to develop the light bulb at the same time.  One was trying to make it work with AC and the other with DC.  The same sort of thing is going on in BBQ.  We all have the same goals and ideas maybe one idea is working on AC and the other DC but we all want to get to the same point.

Well, maybe everyone doesn't want to get to exactly the same place I would like to see things.   Their view- point is just as valid. 

Dylan Rousan

Sometimes I think it's already gotten too big. If things were like you fantasized just imagine how  restaurant owners, Pit manufactures, anyone with anything to gain, would go for the win at any cost frame of mind..

Which is fine, if they had divisions at the contests. Professionals (people in the bbq business, whatever that maybe) and Non-professional (people competing, not with anything to gain other than pride)

Ray I have recently heard a story of someone buying a Kobe beef brisket, $225.oo a pound.  They didn’t place, because they didn't cook it right, but  that is an example...

So what I'm saying is, it would be cool to have all the things you stated but there is also something to keeping it small, keeping it simple.

I think separate divisions would be a good idea for the future. Like, Next Year.


And then there's the comment from:

Ardie Davis

Part of me can get as carried away as you were with the vision of big time BBQ and big time money associated with it. Another huge part of me resists the idea that we should go in that direction. Seems to me that the more money we put on the stump for contest winners, the more we feed the insatiable human appetite for greed. Greed brings out the worst in us. Therefore I favor generating the big money at contests for charity, educational and community development purposes, instead of multi million dollar competitions aimed at lining the pockets of a select few. I'd venture to suggest that if it became such, most of the individuals competing today would have no stomach for it, and the field would be dominated by people in pursuit of money instead of perfect barbecue.  Ray, the barbecuers I know, including you, are 100% committed to building better communities and a better quality of life for all. By using the primal power of barbecue and the generous, friendly qualities of today's competition barbecuers, we can literally change the world for the better. As for "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire Barbecuer?", I say let's please not go there. We can't take the money with us when we die, but we can sure as heck leave behind a better world than what we were born into.

Yes I would like to make the sport big I still think about:

The Future  (from last week) 

Who knows what could happen next, but lets think big for a moment.  Lets take a look into the future.  It’s now the year 2003 and BBQ is big business.  There are over 1,000 contests being held all over the country.  There are 20 major professional money events being held this year.  The average prize money is $500,000 per event.  There are a couple hundred professional BBQ teams competing in the contests of year 2003.  All the pro teams have logos of the corporate sponsors on their equipment and clothes.  The big professional contests draw an average of 50,000 spectators to each event.  To top it all off Food TV has a weekly program called the “Iron Chefs of BBQ.  It’s a smash hit and is being broadcast all over the world.  The movie “BBQ Crazy” is a big box office hit.  It’s the story of the adventures of two men and a woman who all compete separately in contests.  The movie is centered on the “Big National Contest” and what they will do to win. 

Mike Merucci
Event Manager
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

I really enjoyed your ideas and visions.  Last year we held our inaugural Fry's Barbeque Pigskin Classic Cook-Off and we are very interested in growing the event.  Here at the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, we are accustomed to hosting large well attended events, but the Barbeque culture here in Arizona is almost non-existent.  We've received tremendous support from the Arizona BBQ Society and the KCBS, but it's tough to convince people how much fun this can be if they've never experienced it before.  For our first year, our
attendance was much lower than we had hoped.  Your views on educating the public are right on!  The more they understand, the more they will want to get involved.  I agree that these events can bring in huge numbers if done properly.  Our goal is to create a fun family event with plenty to see and do (and of course eat!)  Thanks again for your vision, it's great to know we're not alone.

If you would like to comment to this please email me.  I will forward all future emails to KCBS and any other BBQ association that wants them.  If you want your comment to be anonymous then please say so in them email

Finally the last word comes from a long time BBQ Forum contributor:



You're going the wrong way. The public shouldn't be allowed into a contest.  Prize money is getting too big.  Ribbons and trophies are good enough.   When I cook at a contest, I don't want a bunch of strangers around.  I try to avoid eye contact with the general public at all times.  If you don't, you'll end up answering a bunch of dumb questions.  "Where's the bathrooms"..."where's a guy named Mike that I work with, I don't know his team name but he's about this tall and has big gut"... "Are you selling sandwiches?" 

In fact there's too many teams too. It ought to be me and two or three other teams that I know I can beat (all rookies, please).

Have a nice day.

David Brewer


Ray Basso

(Next week I'll talk about a little Barbeque book “Whatcha Need to Know to BARBEQUE Like a Pro”)


Copyright 2001
Ray Basso

Past Comments from Ray:
Review on the Grand Barbecue book and companion video
My Grandfather and his watch 
Top Secret Rib Rub Review
The Lake

The 100,000 message to the BBQ Forum

Some things I like


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