With more and more good barbecue joints opening in and around Denver, claims that the Front Range barbecue scene is awful are growing weak. But if you still can't find the ribs, brisket or pulled pork that you long for, making your own is always an option. And if you're good enough, you can turn those hard hours of manning the smoker into awards and national recognition. That's what local competitive pit master Jason Ganahl is doing as he prepares to head to this weekend's American Royal World Series of Barbecue -- the country's largest barbecue competition -- in Kansas City.
Ganahl and his team, GQue, are members of the Rocky Mountain BBQ Association (Ganahl also sits on the board of directors) and are currently in first place in the organization's point tally to win the annual RMBBQA Cup Contest. Ganahl himself is the number-one brisket competitor in the organization and is in the top ten in the country for that meat. "We have won perfect scores in our chicken, pork and beef," says Ganahl, "and have a membership in the exclusive 700 club -- earning 700 out of a possible 720 points in a professional BBQ contest."
Great barbecue starts in the early hours of the morning and often requires a half-day or more of slow-smoking and tending the beef, chicken and pork -- and that doesn't even include tinkering with sauce and dry-rub recipes, prepping meats the night before and finding the best wood available for specific cooking styles. "it's a labor of love, no doubt," he adds.
That work has paid off for the GQue team; it's ranked in the top one percent nationally. "For a team from Colorado to be ranked that high nationally is unheard of, as we don't have the volume of contests that teams from Missouri,Oklahoma, and Kansas do," Ganahl explains.
"We recently won the third-largest BBQ contest in the U.S.," he adds, "and it was held right here in Denver. Dick Monfort, owner of the Rockies, sponsored it."
Keep reading for a Q & A with competitive barbecuer Jason Ganahl.
Cafe Society: When did you realize that you had a passion for barbecue?
Jason Ganahl: I have always liked BBQ - I was born and lived in St. Louis till I was 29. I remember my dad cooking pork steaks on his Weber kettle as a kid - I always enjoyed eating meat. Hearing the sound of meat searing and the smell of the meat cooking over fire ignites some Neanderthal gene in me and in most men I think.
How long have you been doing competitive barbecue?
I was a judge for a year and thought I could hang with the entries. I have been competing for five years.
Do you have a regional style or sauce in which you specialize?
My style would probably be described as Kansas City style. I like the savory sweet! I am a huge fan of burnt ends, which is the epitome of KC BBQ.
What's your favorite meat to work with, and what's been most successful for you in competition?
I am the number-one brisket cook in RMBQQA and number five in the nation out of over 4000-ish teams, so brisket as been the most successful meat for me. Its also the meat that separates most of the contenders from the pretenders, so doing well in that helps me overall in the Grand Championships.
Do you have any favorite BBQ restaurants in or around Denver?
With three little kids I don't get to eat out as much as I would like. Their are certain things I like about each of the BBQ restaurants around my house. I have had everything at all the BBQ places around me. I like the turkey at Rib House in Boulder, the chicken and chicken wings at Moe's in Boulder, I like Wayne's brisket in Superior, I like the ambiance and beer selection at Lulu's as well as their brisket chili.
What equipment do you use when you're cooking, either at home or for a competition?
I have four smokers and a gas grill. My smokers are kind of like children, which I have four of as well -- it's tough to pick a favorite and sad to see them leave home. I am a firm believer that it's not the cooker but the cook. A good cook can cook on any pit. It does take a couple of cooks to learn the pit and how it handles. Some pits like to cook hot and some -- well, you just have to set the temperature.
How many people are are on your GQue team? Does everyone have a specific role?
GQue is a family team -- myself and my wife of five years Heidi. We have four children -- Tori, Hollie, Jack and Jenna. I also have a Pit Bitch named Kenny Crochet. I compete by myself at most competitions. Kenny gets to as many as he can -- usually about a third to half of them.
Do you have a couple of tips for home barbecuers to improve their BBQ?
I think the best thing for home BBQ'rs to do is relax and have fun. BBQ is FUN -- I see people get all caught up in their processes and ingredients. While fun to debate and try new things, if you're not having fun and it is causing angst then why spend your discretionary time? There are great websites like BBQ Brethren that have any topic for backyard cooks to go to and ask any question they have.
What will you be cooking for this weekend's competition?
The American Royal is a KCBS sanctioned contest, so we will be cooking chicken, ribs, pork shoulder and brisket. All scores are added from the four categories to give the overall placement.
How long does it take to get ready for a competition this big?
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I start on Tuesday and do a little each day up to Friday, which is when I leave for a "local comp." Since I am leaving today [Wednesday, October 1], I started preparing the weekend before, given the short prep week.