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In search of BBQ: Local competitions plus recipes to try at home

Barbecue season is sizzling and with it the annual debate: Who does barbecue best? 

It’s a delicious debate, complicated and, at times, contested. It’s driven by regional preferences and styles as well as history. That combination feeds a nationwide barbecue culture now celebrated through official societies worldwide.

The St. Louis BBQ Society is where barbecue enthusiasts and professional to amateur pit masters gather to venerate all things smoked and grilled. Counted among the benefits of membership is the  opportunity to become a St. Louis BBQ Society-certified judge and the chance to learn skills from championship teams who compete in the society’s Backyard Barbecue Series. 

Kevin Jaenke heads up the backyard team Smokin’ Tinman BBQ. He entered his first Backyard Series contest in April after being bitten by the barbecue bug last year while attending the Smokin’ On Main contest in Collinsville, Illinois. 

“I attended as a spectator and enthusiast to see what was going on,” Jaenke said. “ I was hooked after that. I did my first backyard competition in April.” 

For anyone dreaming of taking their barbecue passion out of the backyard, Jaenke has a tip. Begin at the amateur level before making the leap to professional competitions. 

“The Backyard Series is an easy gateway into the professional pit master circuit,” Jaenke said.

Backyard competitions usually cook only two categories: chicken and ribs. Pro teams cook four meats: pork, brisket, chicken and ribs. Pork steaks occasionally are added to the lineup. Jaenke, like any true blue St. Louis backyard griller, has his own special method of barbecuing pork steaks. 

“I like to use thicker cut pork steaks and marinate them in pineapple juice. Then, I use 5-0 Rub from Code 3 Spices.” 

Jaenke’s team cooks with drum smokers fueled with lump charcoal. When asked about his best tip for fellow backyard grillers, he advised: “Don’t be afraid to get away from the traditional. There’s just not one cooking method you can use.” 

Pro team captains Chris Schafer [Heavy Smoke] and Rick Seavey [In the Red Zone] are counted among St. Louis BBQ Society’s finest pit masters. Proving their pit prowess, each team has won an armful of trophies. 

In the Red Zone is a St. Louis BBQ Society two-time Reserved Grand Champion. Seavey’s advice to novice cooks. “Avoid the No. 1 mistake many make. Don’t over season. And when it comes to competing, don’t worry about what other people are doing.” 

Seavey also recommends using the best quality meat you can afford. His No. 1 tip is to keep it simple. It’s easy to get distracted with all the rubs and sauces on the market, he said.

Heavy Smoke’s Chris Schafer has similar advice for backyard smokers from his 13 Grand Championship team. 

“Keep it simple, watch your fire and don’t use too much smoke,” Schafer said. “Smoke is an ingredient. You should be able to taste the smoke without it overpowering the meat. You don’t want to taste too much smoke because it can get too harsh.”

Thinking about taking your barbecue out of your own backyard to compete? Check out what pro and backyard teams do during a competition by planning to attend one of the society’s summer competitions or events – and don’t forget to bring your appetite. There is always plenty of great barbecue to eat.

For a complete list of sanctioned STL Barbecue competitions and events as well as information on teams, judging and featured recipes, check stlouisbbqsociety.com 

The following is a short list of upcoming St. Louis Barbecue Society events along with a couple of recipes that might inspire you to light the smoker or grill tonight.

July 27-28

Smokin’ On Main Street

Pro and Backyard Series

Downtown Collinsville, Illinois

Aug. 3

Concordia’s Backyard BBQ

Backyard Series 

Concordia Hall

708 S. Union St.
Staunton, Illinois

Aug. 2-4

Route 66 BBQ Blast

Pro Series, Kids Q

Legion Park, 321 Bald Hill Road
Eureka, Missouri 

Aug. 10-11

Chillin’ and Grillin’ 

For the Boys in Blue

Pro and Backyard Series

Marine Village Park, 300 N. Duncan St. 
Marine, Illinois

Sept. 6-7 

Rock Road BBQ Battle

Pro Series

The Crossings at Northwest in St. Ann, Missouri 

Sept. 27-29

Wildwood BBQ Bash

Pro Series, Kids Q

St. Louis Community College, 2645 Generations Drive
Wildwood, Missouri 

Oct. 5 

Edwardsville Roots Festival

Edwardsville City Park 

222 Park St.
Edwardsville, Illinois

Oct. 19

Hits For Heroes 

Backyard Series

Athletic Association Complex, 1 Ballpark Drive
Ballwin, Missouri 

Nov. 2-3

Veterans Honor Que

American Legion Hall, 375 East Locust
Columbia, Illinois

Smoked Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf 

Recipe by: Rob Cherni

Captain Porkard of the USS Burnt-End-erprise

• 1 cup whole milk

• 4 slices white bread

• 2 pounds ground beef

• 1 cup Parmesan cheese

• 1/4 cup chopped parsley

• 2 whole eggs, beaten

• 1 teaspoon  of your favorite rub

• 2 pounds bacon 

Place everything except for the meats into a mixer and mix on low for 2 minutes. Add the ground beef and mix until incorporated.

Take a piece of plastic wrap and begin shingling the bacon out on it. Each piece should cover half of the previous one. Place the meatloaf mixture into the center and form the loaf. Pull the plastic over the loaf and pull it tight to help form it. Let it rest for a few hours to overnight before cooking.

Smoke to an internal temperature of 150 degrees and glaze with your favorite sauce. Allow the meatloaf to rest at least 20 minutes before serving

St. Louis-Style Honey Grilled Pork Steaks 

Recipe courtesy The Pork Checkoff 

• 4 pork steaks, 1/2-inch thick

• 1/2 cup barbecue sauce

• 1/3 cup honey

• 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

• 1 teaspoon garlic salt

• pepper to taste

• 1/2 teaspoon mustard 

Prepare a medium-hot fire. 

Season pork with salt and pepper. Grill the pork steaks directly over fire, turning to cook and brown evenly, for 15 minutes.

In a small bowl, mix remaining ingredients. During the last five minutes of grilling, brush on sauce. Serves 4.

Note: The Pork Checkoff reports 145 degrees is a safe internal temperature for pork, which will yield a pink center.

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