| Big Poppa Smokers âKing of the Smokerâ
I am sitting at my desk thinking about my weekend ahead. Tomorrow morning my wife and I are heading out to the Palm Springs area to enjoy the Big Poppa Smokers âKing of the Smokerâ invitational BBQ competition held at the beautiful La Quinta Resort and Club in La Quinta, California. We missed last yearâs event, but we are excited to see this great event in person this year.
Participants to the âKing of the Smokersâ are individually selected, according to Sterling Ball, the event promoter, by many different factors. Current success on the national BBQ scene is important, but not the sole determining factor. Mike Mills, from Apple City Barbecue, for instance, rarely competes anymore but his early contributions to competition BBQ and his legendary status make his team an obvious choice. The same goes for Jamie Geer. Jamieâs pits are considered amongst the finest BBQ smokers available and many of his customers are here this weekend. Anyone with an eye for art has to appreciate the Jambo Pits for their sleek lines and sexy appearance. Even last years Champion, Chris Lilly, spends more time at his restaurants than behind his smoker at competitions these days.
I started to list and tabulate the 24 teams for their accomplishments on the BBQ circuit, but after only considering 5 of the teams the list was longer than one page. It is amazing the awards these teams have earned. Cumulatively, the 24 teams have earned nearly 300 Grand Championships. Many Team of the Year State Champions. Thousands of individual meat category wins. A handful of World Championships at the American Royal, The Jack, Memphis in May and The Kingsford Cup. Needlessly to say, this is a well-honored field of competitors.
Promoter, Sterling Ball, has a tough job selecting the field of competitors for this invitational event. There are so many deserving teams from across our great Country. As many know, Sterling is the operator of one of the best online BBQ stores anywhere, Big Poppa Smokers. Through his online store, Sterling has established what he calls the âBig Poppa Smokers Elite Teamâ. Now this is the cool part, based on how his âElite Teamâ performs throughout the year, Sterling donates big money to charities on behalf of his teams. I have heard people talking that this was just an elitist club, but I am here to tell you, the BPS Elite Team is in place for the benefit of many disadvantaged people across our Country and is a great way for this great Man to give back. I highly commend BPS, the Elite Team and Sterling for their great work. To honor his Elite Teams, they are all invited the event, most are here.
Furthering the giving idea, the âKing of the Smokerâ is all about Charity. The main beneficiary for this event is the Casey Lee Ball Foundation. The foundation is a nonprofit organization where 100% of every dollar raised goes directly to pediatric kidney research. The foundation was founded about 15 years ago. Sterling had just donated a kidney to his third son, Casey, who was only five at the time. While recuperating at the hospital at UCLA, they decided to form the Casey Lee Ball Foundation. The foundation is now a leader in the research for a cure in pediatric kidney illnesses.
For years, the foundation hosted a celebrity golf tournament that featured guests including Bill Murray, Jack Nicholson, Joe Pesci, Andy Garcia, John Brodie, Robert Urich, Wayne Gretzky, Christopher Guest, Scott Hamilton, Cheech Marin, Chris Myers, Meatloaf, Steve Vai, Steve Lukather, Alice Cooper, Dweezil Zappa, George Clooney, and many more. Sterling tells me the cool thing about the tournament is there never has been an entry fee. Instead the celebrities just write a check to the foundation.
The King of the Smoker is a KCBS Invitational series event. As such, things are different from a normal competition. Besides being invited, teams have special cooking procedures that must be followed. Teams are going old school, with no electrical assistance during cook. No pit minders, Gurus, or pellet cookers are permitted. Furthermore, the four meats are being supplied to the competitors to provide an even playing field. Pitmasters will be judged on their individual skill set, not on the quality of the starting product or the fancy equipment to cook it, but simply on the end result that will be judged by an elite team of judges. Judges selected for their abilities by the west coasts finest KCBS Reps, Kelly and Kathleen McIntosh.
Fans are paying $20 per person to enter the event. However, the fans are not invited into the venue until 1:30pm after the last turn-in. While I understand this is being done for the privacy of the teams, as most of the fans will be from other competition teams. If there were one change I would make, this would be it. I would love to walk around and see the best of the best preparing their âComp Qâ. I think the die-hard fans that will be coming to this event would appreciate watching the Pitmasters pulling their meats and doing their finishing touches as they make their boxes.
The King of the Smoker does offer educational opportunities, as 10 of the Pitmasters will be giving lectures. Jamie Geer will be speaking about his pits. Leftcoast Q will be talking about California competition BBQ. Wine Country âQâ will be talking about âHot & Fastâ cooking. Mark Lambert will speak about his win at Memphis in May. 2012 KCBS Chicken champ, Harry Soo will speak about Backyard Competition Chicken. Steph Franklin will be talking about his Simply Marvelous Rubs. Iowa Smokey Dâs will talk about their Championships at the 2013 American Royal Open & Kingsford Invitational GC. Smoke on Wheels will talk about BBQ marinades and Injection. Rub Bagby of Swamp Boys BBQ will demonstrate his skills with turkey Breast. And the 2013 leader in Brisket, Hog Tide will give tips and tricks about his brisket success.
Next week I will report back on the contest and the results.
OK, itâs Monday morning. Just had a great weekend. We first went to the Indio Tamale Festival. We arrived about 15 minutes before the official opening and walked the grounds. It was about 6 city blocks long by 3 city blocks wide. There were vendors of every description and perhaps 100 tamale teams. As we approached the last corner, we saw our friend Andy Soto. No other Tamale Team had a line; there was a line approximately 100 yards long at Mama Lupeâs. Andy said, âShe makeâs the best.â We waited in line for almost 3 hours to buy 4 tamales. OMG, they were great.
It was time to head to the main event, The King of the Smoker. We arrived at the front doors of the resort and they valet parked our car. How many contest valet park your car. I knew this was going to be special. We walked in, presented our electronic tickets and were given wristbands. The competition turn-in station was right in front of us. At 1:35 the last turn-in was made and the gates to the venue were opened to the public.
What a great venue. The resort has a bunch of small casitas, a Mexican word for small residences. They were white stucco walled buildings with red Spanish tile roofs. Each team was setup in front of their own casita with a King of the Smoker canopy and a workstation set up for them. To show how amazing the contest was, as each team arrived, a group of workers carried all the teamâs supplies to their casitas.
With the competition done, many of the teams hung out in their camps and greeted the arriving fans. I saw Chris Lilly, Harry Soo, Mike Mills, Jamie Geer, and Rod GreyâŚ Guys that I have seen on TV, stars of BBQ, legends. Oh, so cool. Each of these big guns, taking time to say hello, to talk with all us fans. The best part, like the BBQ community as a whole, these guys were down to earth, regular people with the same love and passion for BBQ as we all have. Awesome to meet these guys!
The King of the Smoker had several of their Pitmasters giving seminars on many different topics. Jamie Geer started it off talking about his Pits. Unfortunately we missed his seminar as we had a few logistics to workout. We did attend the second seminar hosted by Matt Dalton, from Leftcoast Q, the #1 team in California two years running. Sterling Ball was there to assist and they spoke about how California competition BBQ has grown over the last few years and where California stands on the national stage.
JD & Rhana McGee from Wine Country âQâ was next and they spoke about cooking Pork and Brisket âhot & fastâ. We are pellet poppers so we skipped their presentation, but several of our friends said it was a very good presentation.
Mark Lambert from Sweet Swine Oâ Mine hosted the next presentation, discussing his win at the 2013 Memphis in May. A great speaker and ambassador of BBQ, Mark was open to every question and even offered his recipes to people that asked.
The 2012 KCBS Chicken Champion and BBQ Pitmasters TV star, Harry Soo was next. Harry gave a âhands onâ presentation of how to cook competition style chicken in your own backyard. Next up was Steph Franklin from Simply Marvelous Rubs. Steph demonstrated how each of his rubs would taste on a pork loin roast. Going to have to experiment with his cherry rub, that was great.
Darren Warth from Iowaâs Smokey Dâs was next. As the winner of the 2013 American Royal Open and the Kingsford Invitational, Darren discussed how he got to where he is now and the mind set it takes to accomplish that. I really enjoyed his talk and I think I can use his inspiration to bring my game to the next level as well. I hung around this one so long, missed the next two demos.
However, we did catch Drew McNatt tell almost all on brisket. Drew trimmed a brisket for us showing how he has become the 2013 KCBS Brisket Champ. Very informative and I hope all my fellow California competition mates missed his presentation, LOL. It was great.
I learned a lot in a very shot span. Excellent job by everyone. Thank you. It was now time for the awards ceremony. We grabbed seats up front and center. Just in front of us on the stage was a collection of NUDS, Not-so Ugly Drum Smokers, in 3 different sizes. These were the trophies for the event. The trophies were fully functional drum smokers with all the accessories on each.
Sterling was joined on stage by his son, Casey for the presentation of the awards. Chicken started the festivities. Each team was given 2 whole chickens to prepare for the judges, a small twist for these amazing teams. And the winners were:
1st place- Iowaâs Smokey Dâs BBQ
2nd place- Wine Country âQâ
3rd place- Simply Marvelous BBQ
4th place- Blazen BBQ
5th place- Tippy Canoe BBQ Crew
At Darrenâs seminar, his lovely wife Sherry was right behind me and showed me a picture of their turn in box. All I can say was wow, literally a work of art. All the parts of the bird perfectly cooked, parted and presented. Iâm only surprised it wasnât a 180 score. It looked perfect to me.
Ribs, of course, were next to be awarded. Each team was given 3 racks and the winners were:
1st place- Hog Tide Bar-B-Que
2nd place- Pigskin BBQ
3rd place- Tippy Canoe BBQ Crew
4th place- Grills Gone Wild Iowa
5th place- Simply Marvelous BBQ
We were sitting next to Steve and Kathy Nelson, who were right next to their son and Daughter in law, Scott & Katy Nelson. Really cool to see Dad & Mom getting fourth with Scott & Katy cheering for them, then watching Scott & Katy nail down second and the parents being so excited for their Kids.
Pork was next. Each team was given two butts to create with. The best went to:
1st place- Blazen BBQ
2nd place- Pigskin BBQ
3rd place- Tippy Canoe BBQ Crew
4th place- Sweet Swine Oâ Mine
5th place- Gillyâs BBQ
Brisket was next. Each team was supplied two Strube Ranch Waygu briskets. And the winners were:
1st place- Leftcoast Q
2nd place- Moonswiners
3rd place- Swamp Boys
4th place- Sweet Swine Oâ Mine
5th Place- Big Tâz Q Cru
Before I get to the overall I want to describe for you the great camaraderie of this competition. Everyone that came on to the stage to receive their checks exchanged a hard felt huge from Sterling. And you could tell that the hugs meant a lot to everyone involved. The teams were as thankful to receive their honors, as Sterling was to give them their rewards. The event Raised $205,000 for the Casey Lee Ball Foundation plus several of the big winners donated their checks back to the Foundation as well.
In addition, Operation BBQ Relief, was the official food vendor and raise $20,000+ and I understand, Sterling made a generous donation on top of that.
When you are cooking in such a stellar field of competitors, there are no losers. Sterling stated he felt the overall category was the most important category, thusly he chose to award through seven places. And the best of the best at the 2013 King of the Smokers are:
Grand Champion- Tippy Canoe BBQ Crew
Reserve Grand Champion- Pigskin BBQ
3rd place- Moonswiners
4th place- Grills Gone Wild Iowa
5th place- Simply Marvelous
6th place- Swamp Boys
7th place- Iowaâs Smokey Dâs BBQ
As I sit here, looking to close this article, my only thought to surmise this wonderful event is, âWow, what a great event! Perfect in every detail.â Thank you to Sterling Ball and his family. Thank you to the event staff. Thank you to the wonderful teams for coming out to California and sharing the BBQ love. Thank you to the La Quinta Resort and Club for allowing BBQ to share your facility. And thank you to the fans for making it out to this great event.