Saturday, February 6, 2010

On the Scene at the National Barbecue Association Conference

Posted By on Sat, Feb 6, 2010 at 2:32 PM

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Camaraderie.

That was the word, or some variation of it, I kept hearing today at the National Barbecue Association Conference and Trade Show, which is wrapping up after four days at the Whispering Woods Hotel in Olive Branch.

"I'm not alone," Bertrand Newson said. "It's a pleasure to be around people who love barbecue."

Newson is one of the 300 attendees — backyard barbecuers, restauranteurs, caterers, competitors, and retailers — who attended the event, now in its 19th year.

Bertrand Newson
  • Bertrand Newson

Newson travelled from California to be at the conference. He spoke to me during a break of Jack's Old South Cooking School, a nearly 12-hour course led by Myron Mixon, owner of Jack's Old South in Georgia and one of the stars of TLC's reality show BBQ Pitmasters.

Newson is backyard barbecuer, albeit one with two smokers and a gas grill, who grills every weekend during football season. (He was leaving at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday to make it back to California in time for the Super Bowl and grilling. He's rooting for the Saints, btw.)

"It's a true art," Newson said of what he's learned over the course of the conference. "For consistency, there has to be a plan. It can't be random."

Tim Hansel
  • Tim Hansel

Tim Hansel was working the trade show, selling Bear Paws. Bear Paws are "meat handlers," handy for transferring huge hunks of meat from the roasting pan to the platter. They're also good for shredding meat.

Bear Paws
  • Bear Paws

Joe Oaster, who owns Porky's Place BBQ in Pennsylvania, is president of the National Barbecue Association. He said the organization has about 1,000 members and that membership has doubled in the past 12 months.

Joe Oaster
  • Joe Oaster

Oaster said that the conference-goers network and share tips, no matter the preference for woods or meats. So no beefing between the Memphis-style guys and Kansas City loyalists? No, said Oaster. "It's all good."

The conference included a "Meet the BBQ Masters" event, bus tours of local barbecue restaurants, seminars on such topics as food safety and organizing competitions, as well as the trade show and an awards ceremony.

One of the bona fide barbecue celebrities at the conference was Mike Mills, aka "The Legend."

Mike Mills
  • Mike Mills

Mills is the owner of 17th Bar & Grill in Illinois. He's a three-time Memphis in May barbecue contest champion and one of the authors of Peace, Love and Barbecue.

While Mills has been barbecuing his whole life, he said he picks up as many pointers as he gives out at events like these. "I learned something every day," he said. "I'm picking their brains for what they're doing."

Mills cooks with apple wood but said there's no one way to go about it. "There is no perfect barbecue," he said. "If you like it and your friends and family like it, then it's perfect. What works for you works. That's why there are so many flavors."

One last question for President Oaster. Does he ever tire of barbecue? "I can't. It's my passion," he answered. "And if I did, I wouldn't tell you."

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