Used to be that barbecue wasn’t much more than a kettle grill or a barrel smoker that you stoked with charcoal and wood to slow-roast your meat, which you figured — or, because you were good, knew — was done when it attained a certain color and texture.
Nowadays, the guesswork is all but gone. You got your temperature regulators and your remote thermometers. Indeed, to tame the unpredictability of fire and smoke, there is all manner of technological wizardry.
Eric Forrester sells a lot of barbecue products at his Mason-Dixon BBQ Services store in Greencastle, Pa. The outlet, which he opened in 2010, is doing so well that he just completed a 450-square-foot expansion.
Mason-Dixon sells more than 500 sauces, rubs and spices, the vast majority of them boutique. “This is a specialty store,” he says. “We stock products used by competition teams. You can go to a supermarket and buy lots of sauces. These are different.”
The store carries several different types of grills, mostly wood- and charcoal-based. “We’ve sold rigs as big as $35,000 and as little as $300,” he says.
Despite his success in the specialty barbecue business, Forrester has long had a soft spot for the bygone days.
In 2008, he put on the Smoketoberfest BBQ Challenge, a competition event for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. During the contest, he got talking to a couple of competitors about “how technology has taken over, when it comes to competition barbecue. That old-school pitmaster — me against the elements — is out of it now.”
“So we were talking about just doing something in which it’s just you against the weather on your pit with no electronic controls whatever,” he continues. “No thermometers in their meat that tell you the temperature as the meat cooks. None of that.”
His tone becomes exercised. “If you are a pitmaster, you should know your meat,” he says. “You should know, dammit.”
Last year, Forrester converted his passion for the old ways into action by founding the Go Naked BBQ Show. On April 7, he’s doing it again.
“There are no electric gadgets permitted whatsoever,” he says.
No electric rotisseries. No vacuum pumps for marinating. No electronic thermometers. No temperature regulators, such as the popular product known as BBQ Guru. Not even gas lighters or electric starters to ignite the fire.
“We have Boy Scouts around in case you forgot how,” he says.
Forrester capped the entrants at 30, up from 24 teams last year. Each team must prepare 10 pounds of chicken wings that will then be sold for 50 cents apiece, the proceeds going to Wounded Warrior Project, which provides programs and services to injured service members.
The day before the event, one of the biggest names in competition barbecue, Paul Kirk, will teach a pitmaster school. Known as the Baron of Barbecue, Kirk is the winner of numerous awards and the author of several barbecue cookbooks. His heyday was in the late 1980s through the mid-1990s, and he was among the first to make a name in competition barbecue.
He only competes occasionally these days. “I don’t cook the way they cook now,” he says.
Kirk especially decries the use of aluminum foil to wrap the meat while it is cooking. “You’re getting, basically, pot roast,” he asserts. “It’s tender. But it has no flavor.”
And he doesn’t much care for what he says is the preference these days for sweetness. “The ribs and chicken have a half-inch of candy cane on them, they’re so sweet,” he says.
He likes the back-to-basics idea of Go Naked BBQ. “I love it,” he says, noting that there is a similar competition in his hometown of Kansas City. “I wish we’d do more of them like that.”
For his part, Forrester says he gets nasty correspondence from those who oppose the event. “We’ve gotten e-mails from around the country from people who say, ‘I love this idea,’” he says. “We’ve also gotten e-mails from people who say, ‘You guys are being snobs.’”
“We are not being snobs,” he says. “People have a craving for the nostalgia. You don’t like it, you don’t have to compete.”
The event is Saturday, April 7, on the Mason-Dixon BBQ Supply Company grounds, 1542 Buchanan Trail East, Greencastle, Pa. For more info, check out the Go Naked Web site.
Second Annual Smoke Signals BBQ Sauce Recipe Contest. Who makes a better barbecue sauce than you? That’s right, nobody. Now you can prove it by entering the best little sauce contest in Washington. Lots of details to tell you, but, for now, I’ll just say this: The deadline for your recipe entry is May 2. So get cookin’! More details in Wednesday’s paper and future blog posts.
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