So two and a half weeks after experiencing one of the biggest BBQ contests of my life, I’m finally sitting down and putting down my thoughts about the American Royal. And let me say… what a ride it was!
It Started with Pitmasters…
The whole thing started while this season of BBQ Pitmasters was being aired (recaps on the episodes can be found here). The nice thing about doing these episode recaps is that I was able to connect with many of the pitmasters from the shows. One of whom I was able to connect with was Lynnae Oxley of Sugar’s Championship Barbecue. We chatted back and forth over a period of weeks, and she made an offer to me that was too good to be true: she asked me to be a box runner for Sugar’s at both contests for the American Royal (Invitational and Open). My initial fear was that I was going to have to turn it down due to monetary constraints; however, a combination of frequent flyer miles, hotel points, and car rental discounts made the trip possible!
Some Background Info
For those who are unfamiliar with the BBQ contests at the American Royal, there are actually 2 contests: the Invitational and the Open. As the names suggest, the Invitational is open to teams who receive an invite based on wins in qualifying contests, while the Open is open to any team. The events have a lot of prestige and draw teams from all over the world – this year the Invitational had 174 teams, while the Open had 535 teams. I believe this is correct, but both the Invitational and Open winners receive automatic invitations to the Jack as well as next year’s Invitational. If this is incorrect, someone please correct me.
The Arrival & BBQ With Friends
This won’t be an exact chronological recap, so bear with me. I actually arrived in Kansas City on Thursday and was able to hit up a couple of BBQ joints that day, but I’ll save that for another time…
On Friday morning, I negotiated traffic and made my way to the contest site. Just in case you didn’t know… the contest site is HUGE! We’re talking “take-every-parking-lot-and-even-go-under-the-overpass” huge! I guess you have to be if you’re going to have 500+ teams there… luckily for me, I didn’t get TOO lost. I only had to ask for directions inside the contest area once, in fact. And once I arrived on-site, I found myself to be in luck – there were a slew of teams that compete in the Carolinas close-by. Directly across from us were David and Celeste Mauro of The Blue Bloods BBQ Team, and right next to them was the crew from Redneck Scientific. And if I went one row over and a couple of spots up, I could find Walt and Rebekah from Rocky Top Barbeque. It was nice to have a little familiarity in an unfamiliar environment. Then I finally got to meet Lynnae and the rest of the Sugar’s crew, Brian and Stephanie!
But even if I wouldn’t have known our neighbors, it wouldn’t have lasted long. A couple of spots up from Redneck Scientific was Redneck Cooker and one of my BBQ buddies, SmokinRonnie Halcomb! It was great to be able to put names with faces, but this wouldn’t be the only time that would happen… By the way, check out SmokinRonnie’s blog for more great American Royal photos!
Later that weekend, I was able to reconnect with the guys from Hot Grill on Grill Action after having met them at the Jack 2 years ago. These guys know how to have a good time, and they sure as heck know how to cook! They stocked me with copious amounts of Hi-Chew, brews, and good food – enough to help me power through the remainder of that weekend.
There were tons of people there that I finally had the chance to meet. People that come to mind immediately are Randy and Andy from Southern Krunk BBQ Society, Phil Wingo of Top Shelf Specialty Foods, and Fred Grosse from MojoBricks. And thanks to Fred, I got to meet and connect with a slew of others. We also were able to get a peek at the hog being cooked by Operation BBQ Relief for their fundraiser dinner at the Royal. I could go on and on, but I think pictures will do better here…
The Contest Cooks
This promised to be an interesting set of contests. For starters, it was my first time participating in a back-to-back contest weekend. Secondly, we were breaking in a brand new pit whose maiden voyage was the American Royal Invitational.
Also making things interesting was the chance of some severe weather coming through the area. The weather definitely arrived in full force, bringing with it torrential downpours and seriously strong winds. Luckily this only lasted about 30-45 minutes total (with two different squalls passing through).
Fortunately, we did most of our meat prep earlier in the day, so the weather didn’t affect us too much. There was a little bit of a learning curve to the pit which probably contributed to our placement in the Invitational (116/174) (Full results can be found here). Our strongest finish was a 30th place chicken, while ribs and brisket were our Achilles’ heels, placing 134th and 143rd (respectively). The cook for the Open contest went much better – we were able to get the pit dialed in and under much better control, and the cook seemed to go much smoother and as planned. But with a contest the size of the American Royal Open, it’s always a crapshoot. Ultimately, Sugar’s Championship Barbecue finished in the top half of the contest, placing 209th out of 535 teams. Once again, chicken was our strongest category of the day (finishing 92nd). Ribs were once again a nemesis, placing 314th, with pork not faring much better with a 298th place finish. Full results can be found here.
Even though we did not bring home any hardware, I had an amazing time with Lynnae, Brian, and Stephanie! A huge thanks go out to them for having me on-board and making this trip a possibility. Here’s to hoping for another Royal trip soon!
Oh yeah, you can check out more pictures at the Facebook page.