Slow cooking chicken, ribs, brisket and pork shoulder in a variety of spices, sauce and different types of wood smoke is many North Americans favourite way to pass the time on weekends.
But for guys like Kevin Phenix, it’s a bit more serious.
Competition barbecue has been a mainstay in American culture for decades, and has slowly been making its way north of the border.
Phenix has chosen to take his culinary skills with charcoal and flavour injections to the next level, and has been actively putting his food up for judging.
“Barbecue in Canada is in its incipient stage,” said the longtime resident, who along with his competition partner Garry Mutter and his family, comprise the Sasquatch Barbecue team, registering with the Pacific Northwest Barbecue Association (PNWBA).
It started innocently enough for Phenix.
He was watching a barbecue competition on television and thought that he could do better. His curiosity spurred him to take a pitmaster course in Munroe, Wash. with the PNWBA, and since then, he’s been studying the intricacies of flavour profile, the complexities of wood choice, and the chemistry of how to take tough cuts of meat, and transform them into tender works of gastronomical art.
And the work has been paying off.
Last weekend, Phenix placed 10th overall and earned first place for his chicken in the Canadian National BBQ Championships. Last year, he finsihed 33rd overall.
Also, his one-hour chicken marinade earned him third place in the Man Tested Recipe category at a competition in Munroe, plus he’s won a number of ribbons at other contests.
Everything from the choice of meat, to the temperature of the grill, whether your rub is used with granulated or powdered spices, along with whether you’re using apple, pecan, cherry, hickory or mesquite wood for smoke are all factors that influence the final result.
This slow-cooking alchemy is all based on balance, and award-winning results are hard-fought and time-tested, making the cooks who create them intensely cautious about tipping off the competition.
But Phenix has been getting direction from one of the best in the region, Brian Misko from House of Q, the frequently featured chef on the morning news.
“He’s my Canadian mentor,” said the 20-year corrections officer.
While competitors like Misko won’t flat out tell an up-and-comer their secrets, they are glad to point you down the correct path, said Phenix.
His current weapon of choice is a Napoleon kettle grill and another Weber, and he buys his meat from a big box store in Abbotsford, which he maintains has better consistent quality.
At a competition, entrants are required to prepare a chicken, pork rib, pork butt and beef brisket. These are judged on appearance, texture and taste, all scored out of 10. The overall highest score wins.
This means you can place lower in one category and still come out ahead in the end, noted Phenix.
This is his third year competing, and he has his eyes firmly on one goal: the Stanley Cup of barbecue, the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue. To qualify you must win a grand championship — which Phenix aims to do within two years — and then your name is entered into a lottery.
Following that path will take money — each competition can cost around $1,000 to enter — more barbecuing, competing and schooling. He’s actively seeking sponsors to help him reach his goal.
And while the competition is a serious endeavour, Phenix’s mindset is simple: This is not a business, this is a competition barbecue team.
“It’s a culinary sport.”
• To contact Phenix, call 604-768-9491. For more information, visit www.pnwba.com.