In order to take some steps toward my BBQ goal, all it took was a heave of desperation!
Life happened last year and I thought that I would get back into cooking BBQ when things calmed down. As my friend Jon Acuff shared, “Enough time is a myth, just get going”–simple, yet profound!
BBQ is one of the most uplifting, therapeutic things that I do. The “getting going” for me was simply buying some meat, and starting up the smoker. Just like anything that we want to accomplish–getting back into shape, changing careers, traveling–the thinking and subsequent procrastination, are far worse than the actual effort involved. Once you take that step to get back in the game, there is immediate relief.
For almost 5 years now, I have been smoking meat. The past couple of years have felt stagnant–partly for “life” as I mentioned, and partly because I hadn’t learned anything knew in my craft. I know how to do ribs, chicken and pulled pork; at least I know how to do them my way. Taking things to the next level, would require getting out of my comfort zone. Now just what would that next level be?
It would be finding a mentor–somebody who creates master-level BBQ and who cooks on the competition circuit. My friend and coach Allan Dubon encouraged me to join some online BBQ groups. I didn’t know why at the time yet saw the wisdom later. The “heave of desperation” that I mentioned was placing the following ad on the Utah BBQ Association’s Facebook Page: “I’m looking to work with a BBQ team to help in anyway that I can. I have been doing backyard BBQ for 5 years now and want to take things to the next level. Will work long hours for little or no pay.”
Have you ever applied for a job where you didn’t feel qualified; they require a Master’s Degree and you technically have one? It takes really stretching your skills so they appear to fit the criteria. It also helps omitting some information–like the fact that you obtained said Master’s Degree in two hours time last evening while watching Fixer Upper. It cost you $128 and was from a supposed institution called the Advanced Learning University of East Timor. Sure you helped fund a rebel-led coup against that country’s government, but you have that piece of paper.
The other option is to simply be honest and pray for a mercy opportunity from someone. What do they have to lose? The latter was my plan, especially knowing that most people on that forum were seasoned and competed on the BBQ circuit. “I guess he could clean my dishes as long as he stays out of my way” they likely thought.
A day or so went by and I started to think that no one cared. And then I got one message back. It simply stated, “I can teach you how to scrape chicken.” Okay, I do need to learn how to do that better only having learned it once. From there, we exchanged messages and arranged a time and place. He was preparing for a competition that next weekend. My coming to his house would simply be an extension of his preparation.
I showed up to his house on a Friday night. We started about 8:00pm and the doctorate program in BBQ began. I have learned a lot over the years, but it was all the extra little things he did that made me so impressed with his BBQ. It was smoked to a quality I had never known. He cooked with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.
From that initial chicken-scraping lesson, came another opportunity to prep pork butt, brisket and ribs. I have cooked all of these meats before, but never to this level. And from that came an opportunity to intern with his team at a BBQ Competition. The stakes were now raised.
The Competition was the Mark Miller BBQ Showdown in Salt Lake City; sanctioned by the Utah BBQ Association. I showed up after 7:00pm on Friday night. We had dinner, then went over a game plan. Some prep happened that night and it was time for a little rest around 1:30am. That rest wasn’t long as we were back at it early.
I cannot begin to describe the level of intensity, fun and even exhaustion. Turn in happens on Saturday at 12:00pm, 12:30pm 1:00pm and 1:30pm respectively; it’s like the amazing race. When it’s over, and you are waiting for the awards ceremony, you almost forget your own name. That is either because of the lack of sleep, or the near delirium from an intense BBQ aroma (not a pleasant one) now deeply infused in your skin.
In the days following the competition, I received many texts and FB messages asking about the event. My answer was the same each time: “I loved it and knew that I had to participate to take things to the next level. I knew that I would always regret not getting into the game.”
Last year I shared in a post how I have sold real estate for a decade longer than I have cooked BBQ; yet more people know me for BBQ than home sales. In those 5 years of smoking meat, many have asked me to teach them as they claim that they have always wanted to learn. I have kept an open invite. Do you know how many of those invitees have showed up over the years–just one!
This is not a condemnation of people who have feigned interest in something and then not attended when the opportunity arrived–I have been that person more than once in my life. The thought of not attending the BBQ competition even crossed my mind–“I know enough,” “it will be a late night,” “life is busy already” were temptations that I had to face. BUT I knew that when this opportunity came–from the one person who replied to my heave of desperation–that I best show-up, smile and get to work.
Where does the road of life take you–to unknown joy, but you will only find that once you start the car. Stay hungry my friends.
Special thanks to Anthony and Rick with Smoke Ain’t No Joke BBQ. Your tutelage is a gift that I treasure. To many more times of good food, BBQ competitions and watching baseball.