MABA Teams Have Strong Showing at Prestigious KOS Event
By Brian Walrath, Pitmaster of Brown Liquor BBQ
Four MABA member teams had the extreme privilege and honor to compete in the annual Smithfield King of the Smoker Invitational earlier this month in Rancho Mirage, California. Sterling Ball of well know Big Poppa Smokers created this event years ago to bring together the best of the best to compete in one last contest of the year in a format where the playing field is about as level as you can get. It’s a literal who’s who of barbecue royalty mixed in with teams that have qualified by kicking butt week in and week out on the KCBS circuit and finishing toward the top. Sterling hand picks 25 teams and provides much of what they need to cook, in many circumstances, a very long way from home!
Our very own MABA President, Luke Darnell of Old Virginia Smoke was fortunate to be invited, along with Scott Adams and his team, Sauced!, Chiles Cridlin of Wolf’s Revenge, and Dave Pavone of Pavone Brothers BBQ. Dave earned his way in by winning the Smithfield BBQ Classic earlier in the year! All of these pitmasters had such a memorable time that they wanted to each share a little about their experience in California. Way to go guys and thanks for sharing!
When you get an invitation to spend a weekend at a beautiful resort in the Palm Springs, California desert and cook against 24 of the top pitmasters in the country it doesn’t take you long to say ‘Yes!’.
We’ve been fortunate enough to get this invitation 2 years in a row and each time it has exceeded our expectations. Being able to test your BBQ skills in an old school, no gimmicks, no frills, no holds barred cook off you really get to see who is the best pitmaster. With a crowd like this you can have this event 24 times and you would potentially get 24 different winners. There is a reason they call it King of the Smoker.
Pavone Brothers set out to win the Guinea Pig in Smithfield, VA in August 2017.
Not that we don’t want to win them all but this one had a seat at the King of the Smoker up for grabs.
KOS is a prestigious competition that only a handful of top notch teams get invited to. Well, we won; it was a surprise to even me.
This was a double edged sword. Why? Because all I could think of was how to get ready for KOS. The logistics are a huge undertaking, NOT The KOS team, Jessie, Jody and James the flame. They know just how to make everything work and man, work they did. Sleep…not so much.
Now here is a thought, you call someone you do not know 2,500 miles away and say, “Hey, I am Dave Pavone and I get to cook KOS, would you mind lending me your Jambo?” I expected a very long silence, but right away I got a, “sure thing, I’ll have it there for you on Friday morning.” From then on it was unreal!
Our plan for KOS…family, food, and fun, and try not to come in last just like every competition we cook.
I have never cooked a competition that catered to the cooks like this one. The welcome party was food, drink, music, and who knew Annella Kelso from Snake River Farms could sing? Full of surprises!
I woke up early eastern time on the west coast, all very still on the competition site. Then Big Poppa’s trucks started rolling in, and in what seemed like minutes, tent city was set up and everyone’s cook area was setup.
If you said I need…you can bet it was there. We were provided box lunches on Friday during set up. Then right into meat draw. Dinner followed and this was all top-notch food…no slacking. I did not fix breakfast burritos as I would normally do, so I was pleased to see tamales being handed out to all the teams; and man I could have just keep eating them, they were the best I have ever had.
Our cook went as normal, but I really liked our chicken and felt that was our best shot for a call.
Our ribs were, well our ribs (not a good year for ribs). The pork was average and I just knew it would not hold up to this group of cooks. Now my brisket – I loved my burnt ends but I overcooked the flat to my standards.
We finished Chicken 17th out of 25, ribs 14th out of 25, pork 24th out of 25 (say what), and brisket 2nd out of 25, for a finish of 19th out of 25. So we were on top and on bottom and some place in the middle.
On the plane ride over Jayne asked, “How do you feel?” My answer, “It’s like I am Rocky, I just do not know if I was doing the first or second show ☺.” I made sure I met every team and every team had time to say hello and spend time talking. Poor Johnny Trigg, I think I talked his ear off. Every team was top notch. Hell I got to cook next to Chris Lilly, needless to say, I was star struck from one end of this comp to the other.
My goal is to get back to the best competition I have ever seen. Sterling Ball and crew not only out did any competition I’ve ever seen, but they also raised $160K plus for the Casey Ball Foundation that benefits kids pediatric kidney foundation. Just a note with all this BBQ competition and fund raising going on, Sterling’s son Casey was set for a kidney transplant the following Tuesday. I don’t think I could have kept my head on the competition especially one this far over the top.
Chiles Cridlin, pitmaster of Wolf’s Revenge
It’s not just about competition BBQ
Over the past few years we have seen the social media postings about King of the Smokers or KOS for short. Yes, it’s an invitational contest that is organized by Sterling C. Ball, or “Big Poppa” as we have come to know him. Ok, so it’s a BBQ contest. What’s the big deal?
Guess what? It’s A VERY BIG DEAL and arguably one of the biggest deals in BBQ! This contest brings together 25 of some of the best cooking teams in the country, including more than a hand full of legendary pit masters! This is also an invite to cook for one of the highest payouts (over $75,000.00) in all of competition BBQ. King of the Smokers is a KCBS recognized contest (I am not saying sanctioned because Team of the year or TOY points are not awarded) but the philanthropy, hospitality and format are like nothing we have ever experienced in BBQ.
Imagine putting your rubs, spices and knives in the cargo hold of an airplane and traveling to the other side of the country.
No trailers, no running water, no electricity for the pits, no digital monitoring devices or electric knives! Only one lonely lightbulb from a single clamp on painters light is allowed to guide us through the cold desert night. We also have no idea what the judges may be looking for on the West Coast. The cook has not even started and we are already feeling the challenges of being outside of our time zone and way outside of our comfort zone. The venue is the Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort in Rancho Mirage, California and its five star all the way. Every meal, including the reception, Sterling’s handmade tamale’s for breakfast, Smithfield and Snake River Farms provided proteins for dinners… It was all over the top. This could be a little intimidating as we are used to sleeping in trailers and eating gas station hot dogs, not fine dining and resort hotel rooms when on the road competing.
The contest format is not typical for KCBS. All the teams are given coolers via lottery containing two whole chickens (you have to turn in both white and dark meat), three Smithfield Prime racks of ribs, three Smithfield pork butts and one Snake River Farm brisket. No one gets to bring in their own meats and there is even a secondary inspection after the coolers are received. When you are used to turning in six thighs, one quickly realizes that two whole chickens don’t have six of anything. More pressure… At least we didn’t have to garnish our boxes and that’s a big relief. Oh, chicken turn in time is 11AM and not noon. All times have been moved up by an hour. That’s ok, just keep the curve balls coming.
Next we (and most other teams) had a smoker loaned to us that we have never cooked on before. We were fortunate enough to land an Ole Hickory ACE BP (Big Poppa that is) and a brand spanking new BPS drum. We fired the ACE up on Friday to make sure it would reach and maintain our preferred cooking temperature. Bingo! It worked like a charm and we can keep our timeline. Santa needs to bring us one of these!
All the teams are provided a 10×10 tent, two 4 foot plastic tables and basic supplies such as gloves, foil, paper towels, foil pans and charcoal. A trip to the local Walmart revealed that there was an unexplained shortage of Blue Bonnet margarine… Who would have bought all that? Onto the next store and then the next.
A quick look across the courtyard and we see the banners going up on the tents of all the teams. It took the fingers on both of my hands to count that there was not one, not two but SEVEN pit masters that I have taken classes from! To me, all of these guys are living BBQ legends and the ones I have not taken classes from will be or at least should be teaching BBQ classes in the future. Either way, no pressure here, right? I am sweating and its 50 degrees out.
With the exception of carving up the two chickens, our cook went without a hitch. Barry and Randy (Wolf’s team mates) continuously reminded me how much faster the other teams were at trimming their meats on both side of us. Thanks guys, more pressure. With a few adjustments, we succeeded in nailing our timelines and still managed to make appealing presentations, even without garnish. We finished first place in chicken with a score of 180, 11th in ribs and although our pork and brisket were near the bottom of the pack, Wolf’s Revenge BBQ placed 14th overall in a field of 25 of the toughest competitors and conditions we have ever faced. As tough as it was, it was a very even playing field and tested our cooking skills in a way we had never been tested before, all while still having fun!
That’s just the BBQ. For those of you that have not picked up on the philanthropy and generosity that BPS does for different children’s charities, it’s worth taking a read at elite.bigpoppasmokers.com. This single Smithfield KOS 2017 event raised over $167,000 for the Casey Lee Ball foundation for Pediatric kidney Disease Research. 100% of every dollar raised goes directly to the cause as this is truly a non-profit foundation. In addition to the money raised for the foundation, Sterling also announced the contributions raised for the BPS Elite Teams. Each BPS Elite Team gets to choose a charity near and dear to their hearts. Based on how a team performs during the year, their KCBS points are tallied and a dollar value is assigned. BPS cuts a check to the chosen charity on behalf of that BPS Elite team. Over $35,000 dollars in donations were announced for those charities that span coast to coast and all for benefit of children.
King of the Smokers is the best example of what can happen when big BBQ comes together with great cooking teams and both corporate and private sponsors, all for a great cause. Everyone wins, especially the kids that benefit through BBQ.