Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Fancy pheasant at the BBQ contest June 2, 2011

Members of The Q Crew from Waldorf set up their tent and competed recently at the Minnesota in May BBQ Contest at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault. It is the first time the event has been held here.

HERE’S HOW MUCH LITTLE I know about fancy food. Once while dining out with my 23-year-old daughter, I mistook balsamic vinegar for chocolate. I wondered why chocolate had been drizzled across a plate and served to us with bread.

So when I saw bacon-wrapped pheasant fancily-plated at the Minnesota in May BBQ Contest in Faribault recently, I was beyond impressed. This could have been on any upscale restaurant menu. But this appetizer had been prepared on the grill by an Appleton, Wisconsin, team and sent to the judges in the open class competition.

The artfully displayed bacon-wrapped pheasant prepared by a team from eastern Wisconsin.

This crisscross of raspberry chipotle sauce, bacon-wrapped pheasant and several sprigs of whatever artfully arranged on a square white plate would have wowed even Chef Gordon Ramsay. I was wowed, by the presentation and the taste—love that raspberry chipotle.

My husband and I sampled several meats as we wandered the Rice County Fairgrounds competition site. Chicken. Pork. Ribs. Brisket. And then an apple-topped cheesecake.

Another Wisconsin team handed me a fork and told my husband and me to eat whatever we wanted. They had prepared 60 pounds of meat for the competition, were tired of eating it and didn't want to take any home. So we didn't hesitate to taste some mighty fine BBQ and dug right in.

I wanted to try the apple dumplings tended by Tom Mcintosh of the fancy pheasant team, but those were going to the judges.

Tempting apple dumplings.

All in all, even though I arrived too late to watch competitors grill (due to pouring rain) and prepare their entries, I saw enough to realize you can do a lot with a grill, knowledge, creativity and a love of cooking.

Left-over grilled meat prepared by a team from western Wisconsin.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From backyard barbecuing to competitive barbecuing May 23, 2011

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An example of the barbecued meat prepared for the Minnesota in May BBQ Contest.

Tom Mcintosh of Appleton, Wisconsin, shows off bacon-wrapped pheasant with raspberry chipotle sauce for the open class division.

THEY START OUT innocently enough, barbecuing in the backyard.

Then, before they know it, they’re competing in barbecue competitions, driving all over the country with their gargantuan grills loaded into trailers.

Some have created their own rubs and sauces, while others doctor up purchased sauces.

They spend hundreds of dollars on meats, entry fees and travel expenses. Maybe, eventually, if they win enough contests, they’ll break even.

I met several of these die-hard barbecue contestants Saturday while walking the grounds at the Minnesota in May BBQ Contest in Faribault. By the time I arrived in the early afternoon, the teams had already turned in their mandatory entries—chicken, pork ribs, pork and brisket. Teams of judges evaluate the food on taste, tenderness and appearance in this Kansas City Barbeque Society sanctioned event.

The competitors had been grilling for hours—under tents in pouring rain—when I got to the contest site at the Rice County Fairgrounds. Now they were relaxing, some of them kicking back with bottles of beer, others visiting with attendees and/or packing up.

As I wandered the soggy grounds with my husband, sidestepping puddles, I spied grills that looked more like space age inventions than grills. Mighty impressive. The Q Crew from Waldorf has even appropriately named its grill “the pig casket.”

Since I’m a word person, I noticed the creative names these teams of barbecue enthusiasts have given themselves: BurntOut Smokers, Rebel Fire Que’n Company, The Monkeys’ Uncles Competition BBQ Team… I didn’t pause to ask the stories behind the names and logos; I simply snapped photos.

At least one group of guys, from western Wisconsin, had time to talk. Not about their team name, which I don’t remember, but about the reason they do this: “To get a break from the wives and kids.” Not that they don’t love their families, but…

These buddies especially enjoy the fun of small town BBQ contests, like the one in Gilmanton, Wisconsin, where they start the day with Bloody Marys.

They’re an easy-going, laid-back bunch, these barbecuing fanatics. Or at least they are once the meats are turned into judges. Before that, I’d guess the atmosphere under those team tents rates as tense. After all, they’re in it to win it.

BBQ sauces and rubs were for sale.

Contestants arrived with mega-sized grills.

Creative team names were posted on tents and trailers and vehicles.

The Q Crew from Waldorf appropriately calls their grill, in the background, the "pig casket."

The team trailer for spitfire, one of many creative BBQ team names.

WATCH FOR MORE BBQ images in one more blog post.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Iowegians bring their barbecuing passion to Minnesota May 22, 2011

Bubba'Q's logo and slogan on the side of their BBQ trailer.

MEET BUBBA AND SABRINA.

They’re from Ottumwa, Iowa. That’s “A-ttum-wa (short “a”), not “Oh-ttum-wa (Minnesota long “o”).

They’re about as cheerful and friendly a couple as I’ve met. Talkative with a definite accent that I would have placed as more southern Missouri than southeastern Iowa. They set me straight, in a kindly way, on the pronunciation of Ottumwa, a community of 25,000 along the Des Moines River.

Big smiles accompanied their language lesson and an intro to barbecuing at the Minnesota in May BBQ Contest in Faribault Saturday. Nearly 60 teams competed for about $10,000 in prizes in the two-day Kansas City Barbeque Society-sanctioned event.

While Bubba and Sabrina didn’t win a prize this time—they have taken grand champion honors in other competitions—they seem content simply to barbecue, win or not. Clearly, this is their passion.

They own Bubba-Q’s, a restaurant and catering business in Ottumwa that features traditional pit style barbecued meats. The dessert menu of scratch made pies, triple chocolate fudge espresso brownies, banana delight pudding and more sounds mighty tasty too.

I wasn’t able to sample any of Bubba-Q’s meats, but Bubba tells me their style is “a little sweet, a little heat.”

I’ll take his word for it.

The ribs they prepare for competitions differ, they say, from the ribs prepared in their restaurant, where customers prefer them falling-off-the-bone tender. The judges, want tender, but chewable, still on the bone ribs.

The two agree that no matter how often and where they compete, and they’ve traveled to many competitions as far away as New Mexico and Las Vegas, they never quite know what will please the judges. Bubba says that’s OK. Then he smiles. Again. He’s just that kind of guy—with a face that shows he’s happy to be barbecuing, whether in Iowa or Minn-e-soooooo-ta.

Bubba and Sabrina's home on wheels and traveling BBQ central.

Even their pick-up truck advertises their barbecuing passion.

WATCH FOR MORE photos from the Minnesota in May BBQ Contest in future blog posts.

For the first time ever, Faribault hosted the Minnesota in May BBQ Contest at the Rice County Fairgrounds.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling