A little bit of sweet and a little bit of heat was the holy grail for barbecue teams who competed in the 7th Annual Capital City Cook-Off this weekend. Nineteen teams competed for $3,500 in total prize money in Saturday's Backyard Competition, which was judged according to Kansas CIty Barbecue Society rules. To win, competitors had to woo the judges by cooking three meats: pork steaks, chicken and ribs.
Two Jefferson City brothers - Bryan and Brad Bowman, calling themselves "B-Boyz BBQ" - walked away with the Grand Champion prize money in Saturday's competition. They used two Weber Bullet smokers and a "Lowe's special" - a direct-heat grill - to create the flavor profile that best pleased the judges.
While the brothers have placed at competitions before, the relatively youthful team - Bryan is 29 and Brad is 31 - were clearly jubilant at the news of their win over moreexperienced competitors.
"There was a lot of tough competition in the room," Brad agreed.
The night before, about 40 teams competed for bragging rights in the Buck-a-Bone contest. About 1,300 people came out for the event, which raises money for the Special Learning Center.
Bruce Ring - a competition barbecue cook himself and an organizer of the Capital City Cook-Off event - said the weekend featured a variety of barbecue styles - saucy and dry, sweet and spicy, smoked and grilled.
Ribs tend to rule the barbecue world. To win, cooks must master the perfect level of smokiness, Ring explained.
"You have to be able to taste the smoke, without it overpowering the flavor," he said.
Judges also expect the product to appeal to the eye and to be tender, he said. That latter quality is critical, he said.
"A big mistake a lot of cooks make is they don't get them done enough," he said.
People who win contests often have honed their ability to create flavors that appeal to the widest range of palates.
"Ribs should be sweet and spicy, but not too hot and not too sweet," he said. "The first rule is: Offend no one. My personal preference is spicy, but I cook sweet for the judges."
While ribs demand a bit of spice, many people prefer a sweeter flavor for chicken. He's known cooks to play with exotic ingredients, such as honey, brown sugar, agave nectar and apricots.
But present a challenging new flavor - think a mangopapaya sauce - and you'll risk off-putting the judges, he said.
"It's just not barbecue," he said.
Mid-Missourians prefer Kansas City-style barbecue, which leans heavily on sweet/ spicy flavors and lots of wet sauce.
For newcomers to competition barbecuing, Ring tells them: "You have to be a consistent cook. Once you find a recipe that works, don't change it until it quits working."
He also believes experienced cooks learn how to control humidity inside their smokers - and that varies depending on the weather.
Saturday's event was quite soggy for the contestants, who started cooking before dawn and wrapped things up early.
Ring said inclement weather routinely plagues Jefferson City's barbecue competitions. He noted of the past 14 local events, 11 have featured rain, snow, sleet and hail.
Dan Vandersteen, a member of Q-Friends-Z, picked up a second-place award for his chicken. Vandersteen hasn't spent a fortune on his equipment, but said he's done a lot of experimenting to perfect his craft and caters on the side. When he has friends over, he'll prepare ribs four different ways to see which people prefer. He starts with a commercially prepared sauce and doctors it. Honey is a common ingredient.
His goal on Saturday was a "Missouri/North Carolina fusion."
"A little sweet, a little heat," he explained.
Not all of the contestants are competitors who spend almost every weekend on the trail. Many were just guys and gals with regular jobs who wanted to have a little fun.
Tyler Brown and Brad Shimmens both work at Jefferson Bank. Brown, who was using a Char Griller and made his own homemade sauces and rubs, said: "I'm just learning the tricks of the trade. My goal is just to have fun and hopefully make a good showing."
Saturday Backyard Competition Results
5th: Mistler's BBQ
4th: Buessen Underground
3rd: Big Al's River City BBQ
2nd: Contracted Cookers (Reserve Grand Champion)
1st: B-Boyz BBQ (Grand Champion)
Buck-A-Bone Competition Results
3rd: S and T Concrete
1st: Hawthorne Bank