Pull up to any barbecue competition, and you’ll see tents filled with big burley men, getting their que on. Sprinkled among the boys are a few women who aren’t holding back. In fact, they’re the head cooks for teams competing in the Cowboy Charcoal Fire & Ice Women’s Championship Barbeque Series.
The series is open to registered Kansas City Barbeque Society teams who proudly have female pitmasters at the helm. As the teams rack up points throughout the year, they climb on the leaderboard.
I’m proud to say that Girls Can Grill was part of the series this year, but I only competed in one KCBS-sanctioned competition, so I didn’t ratchet up enough points to make the top 10, but these ladies did.
They’ll go on to compete at the World Food Championships November 10-12, 2017, where they will compete in a two-hour Fire & Ice Grilling Challenge, as well as the World Barbecue Championship. The Fire & Ice Grand Champion will receive a $9,000 prize package. The Reserve Grand Champion will receive a prize package of $4,000 and the remaining top 10 ladies will receive a $1,500 prize package.
The top teams are no strangers to the BBQ circuit. They all have a few years of competitions under their belt, so I reached out to a few of them to see if they’d be willing to share a few secrets for other women interested in competitive barbecue.
The first step is just jumping in and going for it
“For some reason grilling and BBQ has been considered a man’s activity. I don’t know why, women can do it better and smarter, so they should jump in and get cookin’,” said Kim Hicks of Midnight Burn.
Shannon Turner of Muttley Crew BBQ echoed her advice. “Get out there and do it. Most of the guys are supportive. You just have to be confident and bring your game ready to prove you are here to play,” she said.
I couldn’t agree more. I was a little intimidated at my first competition, but before getting started, I joined the Nevada BBQ Association and made connections with other first-timers and seasoned cooks who helped me every step of the way. I recommend looking for your local association or reaching out to other teams in the area for support.
What is it like to compete?
At KCBS sanctioned events, teams compete in four meat categories: chicken, ribs, pork butt and brisket. Traditionally, the competition is on a Saturday, so teams arrive on Friday to setup. After their meat is inspected, they can begin seasoning and cooking it for the first turn-in.
“I’m in a very happy zone when I’m competing. I’m with my husband, my friends and the public, and it makes me feel great,” said Kim.
“I am very intense when I am competing; perhaps that comes from my career as a chef. Chefs are known for being intense and demanding, so I guess I fit that mold,” said Tina.
How to stand out
What’s cool about KCBS competitions is that the Grand Champion is based purely on the quality of the food that the pitmaster cooks. As a Certified Barbeque Judge, I can confirm that judging is completely blind. Teams are assigned a number, but that number changes before it reaches the judges’ tables. Boxes can’t be marked, and meat can’t be shaped to make it identifiable.
A table of six judges is given up to six boxes of chicken, and they each record their scores on appearance, taste and tenderness. During the next turn-in, the judges are given up to six more boxes of ribs – most likely from six other teams. In a larger competition, it’s possible that four different tables of judges could judge a competitor’s separate turn-ins.
“My BBQ stands out because I like my low and slow method, and I have excellent color from my rub and sauce combination, and of course it smoked with love,” said Tina.
Shannon said she likes to keep things as simple as possible while bringing out the most flavor as possible.
What it’s like to win
A few hours after judging is complete, teams gather around a stage to wait for their name to be called. Both men and women pitmasters will tell you that getting “a call” is quite an accomplishment.
“There is nothing better than when you get your name called after prepping for most of the week prior to the contest and then cooking the food to the best of your ability with the circumstances you have at a particular contest,” said Shannon.
She’s been competing for four years. Her team Muttley Crew BBQ won its first grand this year at Greenwood, South Carolina. “We had been so close to winning for so long and to be able to experience the win with our friends was priceless,” she said.
Tina said she is anxious at awards ceremonies and feels a sense of relief when she hears her name called.
Her proudest wins include being the first female pitmaster to win the Georgia Championship, winning on the Travel Channel’s American Grilled against all male competitors and taking grand championship in a kosher BBQ contest.
Even though Kim and her Midnight Burn team have won a number of grand championships and perfect scores, she said she still gets nervous at the awards ceremony. One of the awards that really stands out to her is her first place brisket at the World Food Championship in 2016.
Preparing for the World Food Championships
Now that the top 10 teams have been announced, the ladies are making final preparations for the World Food Championships.
“I have been practice cooking various dishes for the past few months for the WFC. Every time I eat out or even cook dinner; I think to myself, could this be an entry for WFC or Fire & Ice,” said Tina. “I also ask friends and family as well as just random people about dishes that they loved in the past, or what is their favorite dish.”
“We practice our two-hour grill competition for a couple months, perfecting flavors, process and timelines. For the BBQ part of the competition, we just do our thing,” said Kim.
Why Fire & Ice
The Fire & Ice Women’s Series started in 2016 as a way to showcase women in barbecue. In 2016, A Mazie Q took the top prize. You can read about her win here.
“I think it’s great that Cowboy Charcoal is supporting women in BBQ. I wanted to be a part of that,” said Kim. “We use Cowboy Charcoal product, and really like it, so that made it really make sense for me.”
“The ladies are the best, and it is a lot of fun to see what everyone decides to cook and then celebrate with the winner. BBQ is a big family,” said Shannon.
Rapid Fire Questions
Team Muttley Crew BBQ
Pitmaster Shannon Turner
Team Members Brian Turner
Years Competing 3
Hometown Apex, NC
Cooker Stumps Smoker
Favorite Meat Chicken
Wood Preference Apple and pecan
Paper or Foil Foil
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Team Midnight Burn
Pitmaster Kim Hicks
Team Members Wayne Blessing
Years Competing 8
Hometown Pisgah Forest, NC
Cooker Southern Q Limo
Favorite Meat We’ll…last year it was brisket, we were winning pretty often, chicken was our weakest category. This year for some reason that has reversed. The judges like our chicken this year, so we do too.
Wood Preference Mix of hickory and cherry
Paper or Foil Foil
Visit her online
Team The Pit Crew GA
Pitmaster Tina Cannon
Team Members SuZy Q Burton
Years Competing 7 years
Hometown Newnan, Georgia
Cooker Southern Q, gravity fed cooker named Sunny Belle. I often cook my chicken entry or burnt ends on my Grilla Pellet Grill
Favorite Meat Ribs
Wood Preference I use a blend of pecan and apple and finish with hickory during tack up for aroma. I get my wood from a Smoakfirewood.com, I have been using it for the past three years. She is a local lady that sells kiln-dried wood. I bet you will never meet another woman that sells smoking wood.
Paper or Foil I foil the flat and paper the point
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