Heaven Scent – Brew B’Que 2014

The 5 foot, flame gilded marker of superiority!

The 5 foot, flame gilded marker of superiority!

There are many things Buffalo is known for. Obviously, we are the birthplace of the Chicken wing. We’re known for our winters and our ability to survive – and even thrive in — them. We’re a hard-partying city who loves our sports teams, despite the decades of heartbreak. We are not necessarily known for our BBQ. But there are a few people in Western New York who are looking to change that, and What’s Going On In Buffalo had the opportunity to spend a mild Saturday afternoon with a few of them.

Clowns to the left of me!

Clowns to the left of me!

The Brew B’Que event is an annual fundraiser for Saints Peter and Paul School, and the Boy Scout Troop in Williamsville. This year it was held at Stockman’s Tavern (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Stockmans-Tavern-Grove/1088986908070), sponsored by The Knights of Columbus. Nine local BBQ teams competed for a flame-emblazoned trophy that was just shy of being as tall as I am, which, despite my lack of stature, is still pretty impressive.

When I arrived at Stockman’s, the clouds were dissipating, and the sun began to peek out onto the crowd as they poured through the entrance. Each person was invited to purchase a judging ticket. Their $10 fee allowed them a sample of pulled pork from each of the competitors. The ticket booth sat aside the trophy table, so everyone could see and feel the weight of their decision. Mere feet away from the booth was a tiki bar, which offered bottled beers and malted drinks. But a few steps further, the suds got deeper, and a station was set up where Tim Herzog and Stockman’s Manager, Scott, helped to pour some of the world-famous Flying Bison (http://www.flyingbisonbrewing.com/) brews. There was a small covered patio where local folkers, the Skiffle Minstrels (http://www.skiffleminstrels.com/), played for the tasters seated at umbrella tables nearby. Just beyond the band, the air thickened a bit, and if there is a scent lingering around the pearly gates, this is definitely it. Softly sifting through my senses was the sweet, mossy scent of good hardwood burning hot and meat that had been cooking low and slow for almost an entire day. I strolled down the alley past the competitors’ tents, and at each location the smells changed as each one’s secret recipe was leaked into the open air.

Jokers to the right!  - Here I am stuck in the middle with you!

Jokers to the right!
– Here I am stuck in the middle with you!

I had the pleasure of meeting Neil Gallagher of Too Sauced to Pork BBQ (http://www.toosaucedtopork.com/), who took a few minutes to talk with me despite the persistent responsibility of running the contest. Neil’s team has been barbecuing for almost 10 years, and recently, they brought home 6th place in a global competition held in Memphis. He wears his love for barbecuing on his sleeve, and speaking to him briefly, it is evident that his favorite part is the collaborative nature of competing. “We all help each other out,” he said when I asked about some fellow BBQ competitors. He also seemed to be excited that Western New York’s presence at BBQ competitions is growing – that we’re really putting ourselves on the map.

Around 2pm, I gathered with my fellow judges at the back of the building right next to the station where a few gallons of beer were being brewed in a live demonstration. Neil corralled the 10 judges into the barroom, and we sat at a table in the back corner far from the influence of the less-seasoned tasters. Among the elite judges were food writers for Buffalo Spree, The Buffalo News, buffaloeats.com, and the newly appointed mayor of Larkinville, Mr. Tim Herzog, as well as other notable experts; Rob and I were in good company with What’s Going On In Buffalo strongly represented. Neil explained the rules: Every five minutes, he’d bring in a tray of samples from one of the teams. Each judge would take a sample and pass the tray counterclockwise to the next judge. The judges would taste the pork and note their comments on the scorecard. At the end of tasting, each judge would mark their favorite, second favorite, and third favorite on the card. In a voice that sounded like the song of angels, Neil then said, “Let’s eat!”

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Flying Bison’s Aviator Red – perfect to whet a BBQ judge’s palate

The first sample came, and we dug in – not a person spoke until all of the meat was gone. Some ate a bite and scribbled furiously on their paper; some took their time and then wrote their notes. This process was repeated over the next 45 minutes – more delicious pork, more sips of beer, more note-taking. The character of the pork was wonderful, ranging from salty to tangy and from firm to melt-in-your-mouth. Some teams coated their pork in secret sauces; some let the flavors of their rubs take the front seat. In between samples, the conversation was lively and the table of strangers seemed like a table at any pub, telling stories and laughing loudly, enjoying their time on the panel. Before we knew it, the tasting was over. Once we had completed the judging, Neil listed the teams in the order they had been served to us. I chose 5 Hogs as my favorite, Fifth Artery second, and Smokin’ Eagles for third. Congratulations go out to Smokin’ Eagles for their Judges’ Choice award and to Pig Iron for taking home the People’s Choice award. Each of the samples was great, and the teams that took part represented the Western New York BBQ scene with astounding craftsmanship.

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Super secret Judge’s Card!!!

This was my first foray into the world of food judging, and if this contest was any indication, I look forward to my next invitation. I met some great people, ate some great food, drank some great beer. A perfect day by anyone’s definition. I am grateful to Neil and Too Sauced to Pork for the invite and the opportunity. Make sure you check out their globally renowned ribs whenever you can. In fact, if a BBQ competition isn’t on your Buffalo Summer Bucket List, you’re missing out. Get out, and get yourself some sauced-up, deep smoked Buffalove.

Skifflove=Buffalove

Skifflove=Buffalove

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