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I Am BBQ – The NBBQA Conference & BBQ Bash

Craig Renfro

Its bigger, its better, it’s the National Barbecue & Grilling Association in Fort Worth Texas!

It’s been said that everything is bigger & better in Texas.  While that’s not always true, the “I Am BBQ 2017” event lived up to the hype.

Nearly 2,000 people attended the National Barbecue & Grilling Association (NBBQA) sponsored event held April 1 at the world-famous Billy Bob’s Texas honky-tonk in the historic stockyards of Fort Worth Texas. Certainly some BBQ events may attract more people and be “bigger,” but it’s unlikely that you’ll find one that’s any “better”.

A virtual carnivore heaven on earth was prepared on the outdoor Rodeo Plaza grounds of Billy Bob’s on this beautiful spring day, as a literal who’s who of T.V. personality BBQ Pitmasters grilled, smoked, roasted, rotisserie and charbroiled an ultimate smorgasbord of meats.

The various cuts included brisket, steak, tri-tip, beef ribs, pork ribs, pork tenderloin, pulled pork, chicken, turkey and a variety of sausages. Other delicacies such as lamb, goat, and whole-hog were prepared as well.

The event offered the rare public opportunity for area BBQ lovers to experience a fire-kissed showdown of epic proportions, & epic portions, from nationally known BBQ Gurus such as Myron Mixon (Jack’s Old South BBQ), Tuffy Stone (Cool Smoke Barbecue), Chris Lilly (Big Bob Gibson BBQ), Brad Orrison (The Shed Barbecue), Harry Soo (Slap Yo Daddy BBQ), and Mike Mills (17th Street BBQ).

In addition, “Dr. BBQ” himself Ray Lampe (sponsored by Big Green Egg) and Danielle “Diva Q” Bennett (sponsored by Traeger) were cooking tasty treats.  Last but not least, Big Moe Cason from Ponderosa BBQ, perhaps more recently known as T.V. pitchman for a national pizza chain, was serving up “certified and smokified” quality dishes.

People attending the event had the opportunity to meet these master keepers of the flame, and experience first-hand and in action their various cooking techniques, tips, and tricks.  Then, they had the opportunity to sample the meats cooked by these grilling & smoking virtuosos.

In addition to the celebrity pitmasters, about 50 other cooking teams participated in the event via the International BBQ & Grilling Village. Each team prepared one primary specialty item to be judged for the awards competition, but every team was free to cook additional items as they desired.

One of the more interesting, entertaining, and certainly flavorful cooking teams was husband and wife Greg & Kristina Gaardbo from Rockin’ Rodizio catering in Palatine, IL.  Their fire-hissing Brazilian churrasco-style of cooking originated with the cowboys of Southern Brazil and Argentina where meats are slowly cooked over natural wood charcoal on rotating skewers.  This results in wonderful, succulent and tender cuts of meat.

In addition to all of the food sampling opportunities, the public had the chance to attend instructional seminars and product demonstrations from NBBQA official partners and sponsors.

Ultimately, event attendees then voted in the friendly People’s Choice awards for their favorite food and BBQ sauces from all over the country.

The public event was the culmination of the NBBQA’s 26th annual conference held at the nearby River Ranch Stockyards.  Over the course of two days NBBQA members from around the world gathered together to work hand in hand with various industry leaders to share ideas and network.

As NBBQA President Linda Orrison stated, “the purpose of the NBBQA is to preserve the past and fuel the future of BBQ”.

Conference agenda items included such topics as how to operate a BBQ restaurant, food service, or catering business.  Other subject matter included financial sessions, social media marketing, and growth strategies through advertising, branding & networking.

Various special interest groups within the association also met to discuss such topics and ideas as business start-up, product introduction, and event or festival organization.

One of the more entertaining sessions was moderated by NY Times best-selling cookbook author “Meathead” Goldwyn as his hour-long multi-media presentation on the history of BBQ provided a unique perspective about the subject. Google “history of BBQ” and the link outlining the basics of his speech will appear on the first page of results.

Another session detailed how to make authentic Mexican Salsa, while yet another showcased how to best utilize knife skills, via selection, sharpening, and various cutting techniques.

At the end of each day multiple cooking teams from around the world, including pitmasters from Japan, Brazil, and Mexico prepared dinner on the stockyard grounds for all the conference attendees.  On the last night of the conference, the first annual NBBQA Legends award ceremony recognized the accomplishments of renowned Austin, TX BBQ master Aaron Franklin and his iconic restaurant, Franklin Barbecue.

Other events included a comedy performance by Vic Clevenger the Cookin’ Comedian (see our back page this issue), and a live auction of items donated from the various event sponsors and partners.

The NBBQA charity of choice for the event was Operation BBQ Relief (OBR).  OBR was formed in May, 2011 in response to a need for relief efforts for the victims of tornado-stricken Joplin, Missouri. Volunteers from BBQ competition teams in eight states responded to the need to help feed displaced families, firefighters, police officers, the National Guard, and other emergency personnel.

Since that time, OBR has served over 1 million meals in 21 states to people affected by natural disaster. Their funding comes from fundraisers, online merchandise sales, and donations. For opportunities to volunteer or donate, please go to www.operationbbqrelief.org.

All in all, a great time was had by all. If you’re interested in learning more about the NBBQA, or perhaps want to join the association, please go to www.NBBQA.org.  The vision statement of the association is to create “an expansive barbecue community that embraces all things barbecue – from low and slow to grilling, catering to competing, or simply the fun and friendship of a backyard cookout.

For those that like to plan in advance, please know that the 2018 conference and public BBQ bash will once again be held in the historic stockyards of Fort Worth Texas next spring. The NBBQA hopes to see ya’ll there!