The Bare-Bones BBQ: A Contest and a Manifesto

This blog, strictly speaking, is for home cookers; competition barbecuers are another breed of person, half-mad from the smell of smoke and meat, and lusting for a glory that is all-too-elusive, even for the masters of the game. But that game has become corrupt. It’s become about specialty equipment, about pellet cookers and automated fans, remote smartphone thermostats and vacuumn tumblers. The art of smoking meat, so pristine and primal a skill, has become as shrouded in fraud and technology as the meat it buries in foil and margarine. It has gotten away from the true path.

I am therefore founding the Bare Bones BBQ Contest, an all-natural, back-to-basics, IROC-style skill contest. It is for master barbecuers only. No special equipment is required, or allowed. This will be a purist’s contest, animistic and fundamentalist, with each cooker given identical smokers to cook on, IROC-style, along with a pile of wood, a bag of charcoal, and some meat. They bring seasonings and a thermometer and their skill in cooking. That’s it. The slogan is “Wood, Fire, Smoke, Skill.” They are given identical portions of beef and pork to cook, and they are welcome to use the seasonings of their choice. Period. The event will be held on September 22nd and 23rd at Jack London Square in Oakland, California, as part of Meatopia @ Eat Real, our inaugural Bay Area event. I’ll be giving barbecue pointers all summer here on Rachael, and if you want to do your own contest, I’m in the process of preparing an open-source guide for how to do it. In the meantime,  Here is the Bare Bones Barbecue Manifesto. It’s not so much an event announcement as a cri de couer, a passionate plea to bring back barbecue to its roots. It’s animistic and fundamentalist and not for everybody. The prize pool will be $5000, winner take all.  If you don’t live on the west coast, fret not; reach out to us and we will hook you up with the basic rules. Here at Rachael we are out to further good cooking and good eating. Here then, without further chit-chat, is our statement of purpose.

The Bare Bones Manifesto

BARBECUE, primal and profound, has been corrupted. Its essential elements are wood, meat, fire, and smoke, in a state of encounter with a barbecuer. That connection is simple and sacred, an unbroken continuity based on skill, patience, intuition, and desire. It is is uniquely and universally human, and an art that is essential to the human experience. It comes out of Eden; and it returns us to that uncorrupted state, if only for a few hours.  It does not and should not require pellets, propane, vacuumn tumblers, or aluminum foil. Those objects have rightly been called crutches and, at best, are impediments and obstacles in the union between barbecuer and barbecue, between the art of cooking and the food we eat.

  • To go back to basics; to promote true cooking and true eating; and to give real masters of barbecue cookery a clearing to test and show their skill, in a fair and even playing field: for all these reasons Meatopia and Eat Real have joined forces to create the Bare Bones Barbecue Competition, to promote true natural barbecue and the deep arts of cooking it. The key principles are as follows:
  • All entrants will be issue identical “stick burning” offset-firebox smokers and cast-ironpans and trays as requested.
  • The only acceptable fuel is natural hardwood, and charcoals made on premise from that hardwood. A standard hardwood will be available to all teams, but they have the option of bringing their own wood.
  • No manufactured materials of any kind are allowed to teams, including but not limited to aluminum foil, bluetooth-equipped digital thermometers, meat glue, etc.
  • All voting is done by barbecue experts with a minimum of ten years of barbecue experience either as a cook, judge, or commercial pitmaster. Celebrity judges will render honorary verdicts only. A People’s Choice honor also be awarded.
  • In all categories, entrants may use any natural spices, herbs, seasonings, etc. they wish, as well as any sauces, mops, or glazes desired.  KCBS garniture and blind-tasting protocols do not apply. Entrants can present their food in any manner they wish. Two supporting non-protein elements can accompany the meat but if cooked they must be cooked via the same means as the meat itself, i.e. via smoking or grilling
  • All meat must be all-natural, antibiotic- and hormone-free, and from a certified cruelty-free manufacturer. Meat, setup, and fuel will all be inspected before cooking begins.

The Bare Bones BBQ movement is presented not as a condemnation of contemporary barbecue practice, but instead as a celebration of the art of barbecue cooking, distilled down to its purest principles. We welcome all existing barbecue organizations to adopt our protocols, and we welcome all sanctioning requests.

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