The SPAM champ among us

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(Read Jason Sheehan's SPAM confession here.)

All hail the SPAM king, ruler of all that is pink and meaty and rectangular.

This year, the king is from Colorado Springs. Ron Pearman -- 48-year-old Lockheed Martin engineer, father of four (soon to be five) and Colorado State Fair cook-off champ -- has been crowned National SPAM Champion, a title he's considering adding to his resume.

"It's, like, overwhelming," Pearman said by phone yesterdayduring his lunch break. "SPAM king! It's like, what? I can't wait to go back to my next class reunion and be like, SPAM king!"

His majesty debuted his winning Mini SPAM Nacho Burgers at the 2008 Colorado State Fair, where they took home the blue ribbon. Pearman's recipe -- which calls for cheddar cheese, guacamole, jalapeño peppers, chipotle salsa and Hawaiian sweet rolls -- was then entered in the national contest, where it bested 39 others from around the country and netted Pearman $3,000.

Pearman is no stranger to SPAM or state fairs. He grew up eating the former and has been racking up blue ribbons at the latter, thanks in part to his cook-off-savvy wife and her family. She's the reigning Colorado State Fair Iron Chef and her mom is the 2008 state Ghiradelli Chocolate Champion, a title she stole from 2007 winner Pearman. (He didn't enter in 2008.) But, as Pearman lamented, before this year "we'd won other contests but never done well in SPAM."

Still, Pearman didn't sweat the details of his entry. He started off by finding a way to make the SPAM look appetizing -- by slicing it into mini-burger patties -- and then rummaged through his fridge for stuff to put on top: leftover salsa and guacamole, some cheese. "And boom! Voila!" he said.

He got the call that he'd won the national contest, which is conducted in secrecy at the Hormel Test Kitchens in Minnesota, while he was at work. After suppressing the urge to jump up and down -- "Software engineers don't do that," he explained -- he asked about the grand prize.

Pearman was told he had a choice: Two tickets to the SPAM JAM in Waikiki, a celebration of all things pink and meaty and rectangular. (Tagline: "Get tan and eat SPAM.") Or $3,000. Pearman chose the cash. He and his wife plan to use it to adopt a second daughter from China.

Check out Pearman's recipe, provided by the PR people behind the Great American SPAM Championship. Also provided by them? Fun SPAM facts, including this one: How many SPAM cans would equal the length of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco? Answer: 13,440.

MINI SPAM® NACHO BURGERS (Ron Pearman, Colorado State Fair)

FOR SALSA: 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar 2 teaspoons honey 2 teaspoons minced canned chipotle chili in adobo sauce 3 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced 3 tablespoons diced red onion

FOR BURGERS: 1 (12-ounce) can SPAM® Classic 12msmall squares of cheddar cheese 1 (12-ounce) package small Hawaiian sweet rolls, lightly toasted 1 cup prepared guacamole 6 red pickled sliced jalapeño peppers, cut in half

Cooking Directions:

In medium bowl, stir together the salsa ingredients; set aside. Slice SPAM® Classic into six 1/2-inch thick slices. Cut each slice in half. Lightly grill or fry SPAM® squares until lightly browned on both sides. Place one slice of cheese on each piece of SPAM® Classic. Let cheese begin to melt. Place grilled SPAM® Classic on toasted roll bottoms. Top each burger with guacamole, tomato-chipotle salsa and a piece of jalapeño pepper. Makes 12 mini-burgers.

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