Virginia BBQ Pirates
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2008 American Royal

The Invitational

43rd out of 100









The Open

187 out of 459





207th 434rd 105th 15th


  See our BBQ Gallery for more pictures from the competition.


Wow, the Virginia BBQ Pirates go to the Royal. Who'd a thunk it? Not us. But I guess stranger things have happened. For the uninitiated the American Royal BBQ is the culmination of a month long cattle thingie in Kansas City and it's really two contests. The first is the Invitational. You need to have won at least one state championship to be invited. The second is the Open. This one draws nearly 100% of the invited plus about 400 more! This year there were 459 teams!

Our plan was to leave Wednesday drive all day, sleep, get up and do it again. We wanted to end up close enough to KC where we could get a good nights sleep in a real bed then cruise in early Friday morning ready to Rock 'N' Roll!

For the first leg of the drive we had some dreary weather. It was overcast and raining most of the day through 4 or 5 states. The up side of that was in the afternoon the cloud cover kept the bright sun out of our eyes. Our original goal was to make it to Indianapolis the first night. We stayed in Greenfield, an Indianapolis suburb so we kinda made it.

We had much better weather for day two. We got up ate and were on the road early. After transversing the mountains to get to the mid-west Christy summed up most of Thursdays drive with one word, "Boooorrrrinnng". Just miles and miles of flat nothingness.


As we got closer to KC we could feel the tension - man what a ride! We started looking for a place for the night. We don't look for a particular hotel. We usually pick the hotel by what food choices are available. This time it was the proximity of the Wal-Mart the sold us. We still needed to pick up our greens for our boxes and I had neglected to pack an extra cooler just for the greens. (Or so we thought!) Plus, the Days Inn was right next to a truck stop! Shopping, a place to lay our heads and fine dining all in one place. I could live here!

First stop was the Wal-Mart. They had a little lettuce out and it looked good - just not enough. I grabbed John The Produce Man and told him what I needed. Soon we were going a large case picking out the best they had. We left with about 12 heads some ice, a cooler and a case of beer. From there it was off to the Days Inn. We got checked it and naturally had to bring some coolers in. We needed to tend to the lettuce and did I mention we picked up some beer?

After driving all day for two days it felt great to put our feet up and enjoy a cold drink. First I made sure the lettuce had some water & ice. Before to long we realized we'd better walk over to the truck stop diner for some chow, otherwise we'd end up sleeping through dinner - and I hate to miss a meal. The diner was only short walk away and was much larger inside than it looked. We scanned the crowd looking for a familiar face but alas, no BBQers. When the menu came it was a tough choice but we both settled on the steak & fried shrimp dinner. It came with a salad, a baked potato and was under 10 bucks - how could ya go wrong? Did you know they don't serve alcohol in truck stops? Guess it makes sense when you think about it. From dinner to lights out didn't take long at all.

We were up with the dawn ready to go. We were only 10 miles from the American Royal grounds but we wanted to get in and get set up

Check in went smooth & I was able to pick up the pork butts we ordered. The other meats we packed in ice and hauled with us. For all intents and purposes the grounds are divided into two areas: lot B and the infamous Dark Zone! Most of the invitational teams were in lot B. This is where quiet time is actually enforced. The rest of the lots make up the Dark Zone, known for it's drunken debauchery. Unfortunately we never got the chance to venture over.

While setting up our next door neighbors, Prairie Oak BBQ, got to work setting up. It was amazing. There must have been 30 midgets each with an assigned task. They all went about their duties like it was some kind of Bolivian Fire Drill. They even had one - no taller than this - whose job was to stack the wood. (Correction, Christy tells me those were children and there was only a handful of them. Sorry.) On our other side was Sloppy Creek BBQ. They were already "at home" when we pulled in. (I didn't notice any little people with them.)

After getting set up it's always time to get the lay of the land. There are several things that need to be addressed: where are our friends, where is water & ice and who can I get to look at my meat? Here is where the trouble started. I flagged down one set of volunteers who were checking out some other guy's meat "You must be on the other list" they said, "I'll call and someone will come by" An hour later still no meat inspection. I stopped another set of volunteers. They were much more helpful. Seems we were not on the list. WHAT??? Not to worry they said "A lot of teams were left off". You just need to talk to Judy.

About that time a KCBS rep came by passing out turn-in boxes. Cool, I thought, all the reps I've ever encountered were very helpful. This dumb SOB could not have been ruder or less helpful if he took classes. Why aren't we on the list? Don't know. Can you help us? No. Do you have our boxes? NO. Will you have our boxes? NO. How can I get my boxes? Come to the cooks meeting I have to go make them now. If Mike thinks he has what it takes to be on the KCBS board of directors he is even dumber than I give him credit for.

The volunteers (Better suited for the BOD the D.H.) inspected our meat & gave us the "Inspected Sticker" and we went to find Judy. Thankfully it only took a couple minutes to fix. We were in one book but not the other. I went to the Cook's Meeting. There was a stack of boxes for teams also "left off". Again I was less than impressed by "he who wishes to lead us". A.H.!

At least now we were on the list and had our boxes. While we were able to get everything worked out, it is more than a little disconcerting when those entrusted to provide guidance and support couldn't care less!

OK. We prepped our big meats and went out to see some folks. A lot of our friends had also made it. I walked down to say hi to the Dizzy Pig guys and they were set up down from Dr BBQ. "Hey Ray" I called and Dr BBQ came on out. I introduced myself and he said "You guys are having a great year." I thanked him but inside I was all like "He knows who I am! He knows who I am!"

OK enough of that. Our personal food is often an after thought & that is something we plan to improve. Luckily there was a vender selling some of the best burgers we ever had. We ate them Friday and Saturday nights. One thing everyone warned us about at the Royal was crowd control. We had our front section pretty well blocked off. Our neighbors to our left and right were pretty secure. What I hadn't really given any thought to was the indifferent attitude of the people behind us. In the back I had our three bullet smokers lined up a metal folding table and a bunch of buckets. People still cut through the site even though they had to climb over and go around stuff. AND they did it in front of us. I seriously considered hanging up a dead one as a deterrent the way they used to hang dead pirates at the mouths of harbors. We heard later that there was a fight almost directly across from us for the same reason.

Just a swingin'

We did get to sleep around midnight to the soothing sounds of our neighbor's generator. It seemed to block most everything else out. Even when someone staggered through our camp knocking over two 5 gallon buckets of water we didn't hear it. I did find them (the spilled buckets and water every where) during a nocturnal nature's call. That made getting back to sleep a chore. I think I jumped at every sound. I kept picturing my brisket laying on the pavement next to some drunk who tripped over the smoker. Morning came and my big meat was safe! (My big meat = brisket & butts)

Morning means only one thing - time to get the ribs ready. But first I always grab a diet coke and take a little stroll. I think I've said it before; the early morning is my favorite time at these shindigs. People are just starting to stir, the air is cool and filled with the scent of smoldering hickory mixed with cooking meat. I think it helps to clear my head and focus me for the day ahead. (Christy says that's crap and I just hope to catch some chick climbing out of her tent in her underwear!)

With the stroll over and the morning's hellos completed I turned my attention to my ribs and a second can of DC. I got the little Weber going and pull the ribs out. Soon they are slathered in French's - I know, old school - rubbed and on the cooker. Time for Christy to get up. Breakfast was quick just a Danish & another DC. Are you starting to see a pattern? Then Christy started on the boxes and I monitored the big meats.

At least we were on the Open list. While I was up to my elbows wrestling with the ribs, trying to get them in foil a golf cart rolls up and a woman jumps out and offers to take a gander at my meat (for the open). Since I've got rib juice all over my hands and I'm not sure if me or the ribs are winning I asked Christy to pull my meat out so the nice lady can see it's 100% unfooled around with. She took one look and approved! Cool.

As usual, before we knew it the brisket and butts were in the cooler, the ribs were out of the foil and the chicken was on. We use this time to relax and re-plan our strategy. We go over how we will present each of the "Fantastic Four" (Chicken, Ribs, Butts & Brisket). Chicken 2 rows of 3 or 3 rows of 2? How many ribs we gonna jam in the box - 6 - 8 - 11 - 13? Slice some pork? Burnt ends with the brisket? Do we shoot for an early turn in or do we try to hit it in the middle? Does it matter? Ribs or chicken done yet?

What ever we do for presentation is ultimately up to the meat. It will tell use how it wants to go in the box. This time things went well. Christy even managed the 1/4 mile walk to the turn in table (each way) despite being in an orthopedic boot due to a broken leg.

Usually after turn ins you can relax, kick back and start packing up. Unless you're at the Royal. With the Invitational done we needed to start prepping the big meats for the Open. The one constant for our prep is that I will make a mess. It makes no never mind whether it's the back yard or the American Royal the juices will fly.

There always seems to be something to do or somewhere to go. After the meat prep it was off to the awards ceremony. It was held inside but the infield was dirt. We were honored just to be in the Invitational and had no delusions about pulling an upset and sweeping all 4 categories. It woulda been cool though! First up was Kid's Q. They let you BBQ a kid? That don't sound right. Wouldn't they be stringy?? Wait - I'm told the kids actually do the cooking. That explains why the stage looked like something from Children of the Corn! We had some friends get calls and we are proud of our showing. Top half in everything but chicken. Gotta work on that.


Saturday night was much more relaxed and we got to vist with our friends and neighbors. I even hit Chris up for some Chicken help. There was far less "trespassing" Saturday then there had been on Friday. My guess is it's because the open teams now had to get down to business and didn't have the time to go trampling through other peoples stuff.

As the evening wore on the beverages continued to flow. It was getting a little windy but no rain was predicted. We just battened down the hatches and got the butts and briskets going. With the meat on I didn't want to venture to far from home. So I was standing there minding my own business when David from Prairie Oak Smokers offered me a rum and coke. Said his son makes the best ones around. Has a pirate ever turned down rum? I don't think so? It was good - and big!

I'm thinking that that drink helped me get the best nights sleep I have ever had at a BBQ competition. I trust my little Weber smokers buy I still usually wake occasionally and glance at the remote thermo-meters. (It's a specialty meter designed with the sole purpose of measuring thermo units.) Rarely do they need any adjustments. This night was different. I slept like a rock straight through the howling winds and rising cooker temperatures.

When I got up around 5:30 I looked at the remotes and knew something had to be wrong. My butts were OK but there had to be something wrong with the brisket thermo-meter. I went to investigate with my Handy Dandy Super Fast Blue Thermapen. What I found was shocking. The wind must have been blowing at just the right angle to stoke the brisket fire. I probed the brisket again. Holy Flying Spaghetti Monster! My Brisket was done! I yanked it off, wrapped it up and tossed it in the cooler. All before 6AM. Oh well time for my morning walk! I just did my first high heat brisket. I did get some sage advice along the way that made me feel a little more comfortable. "Better to be looking at it than looking for it!"

The other stuff continued as planned. I felt our ribs were real good - maybe not over cooked like I wanted them. (We've found that when ever you have a bunch of non-certified judges you score better if you over cook everything.) Turn ins went smooth, we hit all the times and as usual I took the last box.

Soon to be 15th place brisket at the American Royal Open BBQ Competition!

After the last turn in it's deflation time. We just sat and looked at each other. We did it! Now just look at this mess - and it all needs to be jammed back into our little trailer so we can start the two day journey home. We had a beer - put up our feet and contemplated the rest of our day. We had a couple hours until the awards and we really needed to make some head way. I dumped the ash and old greasy water from the smokers while Christy started washing the dishes. We got a good jump on it then it was off to the awards.

We brought our own chairs this time. There was plenty of room in the bleachers but Christy couldn't climb steps with her broken leg. They called to twenty in all categories and there seemed to be a lot more categories than I remembered. Dessert, veggies, beans, sausage then finally the ones that count. With over 450 teams there is not a snowman's chance of us getting a call. Sure enough they go all through everything and he starts on brisket. I think to myself my brisket was done so early I had to reheat it - we should just leave. But wait - Christy was talking - what did he just say? "Fifteenth - The Virginia BBQ Pirates!" Yippee!! That's us! Nothing has ever felt cooler than that. (OK, We all know there's some stuff that feels way cooler - but you know what I mean.) It was neat to just stand there as they called the rest. Our friends Andy & Brett (Stoddard & Brown) got second!

Immediately following the awards we scrambled to find out how we did in the other catagories. We rocked chicken!! Well, top half anyway. We just can't believe what happened to our ribs. WTF 434! We have never been in the bottom half in ribs but hey, life goes on.

Following the awards we really needed to turn our attention to getting out of Dodge. We had about a ton of stuff to pack up. As we packed Christy came to me with a question, "If I left the car key on all night it's OK, right?" She had turned the ignition on the night before to pull a CD out and just forgot to turn it off. Oh crap - and I didn't carry cables. So off I went on a new quest. Brett offered up the battery he runs his Guru with, it wasn't fully charged but almost. Cool - back to packing.

Once packed I ran over to get Brett's battery. I hooked it up and nothing. Crap! My battery was dead, dead, dead. I returned it and went to talk to the BBQ Brethren guys. Sean offered up some cables and Sled brought his car over. We hooked it up and let it charge while we had a beer. This time it did start! Yea, we didn't have to sleep in the parking lot again. I let it run while we through the last of our stuff in and said our thank-yous and our good-bys. It was almost dark so we really weren't to far off schedule.

We hopped in the Explorer and headed out the nearest gate. Things were really going our way. There were signs directing up to the highway. About a minute later we were headed up the ramp to the highway when Christy turned to me. "Did you lock up the trailer?" Of course I did - do I look like an idiot? I thought to myself as I looked in the rearview to see the back door flapping about! Guess I know what an idiot looks like now. At least there was very little traffic. I pulled over on the ramp and ran back expecting to see our stuff littered behind us. Fortunately for us we were packed so tight we didn't loose anything. (Or so we thought. When I unpacked the wheel chocks were missing).

We headed down the road looking forward to sleeping in a real bed. We decided to stop at the same place we sopped on the way in. After a good nights sleep it was time to head east.

Some time after lunch we stopped for gas and I noticed the trailer light wiring was hanging a little low. Kinda like me on a hot day. Only these were rubbing the ground. It only took one look to see one of the wires was worn away and just a quick test to confirm that we had no trailer lights. No lights at all. To make matters worse, the gas station we were at had none of the things I would need to fix it. At least it wasn't dark - yet.

This can't be good      This place has everything!

We drove on for what seemed forever. I kept one eye on the setting sun and the other on the trafic behind us. Christy watched the road ahead. I was looking for a truck stop or a Home Depot type store where I could get stuff to repair our wiring. Then just as we were about to give up hope, there it was. A Pilot Travel Center! We had been in one of these before. They have everything!

As Christy cruised the aisles looking for goodies I went straight to the automotive section. Some wire, a wire stripping / cutting tool, a knife and a roll of electrical tape and we were on the road again. I didn't need lights yet but I left them on anyway. Just because I could.

We made it to Indianapolis and ended up staying in the same hotel we stayed in on the way out. We were getting good at this. The next morning we started the final leg of our journey. Along the way we recapped the Royal experience. We learned some things & would do some things differently. I like lists. Here's one we made:

  • The Royal is expensive - we need a sponsor.
  • Not all KCBS Reps deserve their title.
  • Have a plan for meals and stick to it.
  • Secure your site. Next time we fence ourselves in.
  • BBQ people are great to hang out with.
  • Sleep is king.
  • If you ever win a ribbon keep it where you can find it.
  • It's an honor just to be invited - it doesn't matter where your ribs finish!

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