Cook chat: A different taste of BBQ
BEAVER CREEK – Museums have curators. Wine has sommeliers.But what about BBQ?There may not be an official name for a steward of BBQ, but “BBQ” Brad Austin could easily fill the position.”BBQ” Brad is well versed in the art of slow-cooking meat and all that surrounds it. The Beaver Creek resident is a certified judge for the Kansas City Barbeque Society and Memphis in May Barbeque contest network, an accomplished contest BBQ cook and a caterer. For last weekend’s Blue, Brews and BBQ at Beaver Creek, “BBQ” Brad gave a behind-the-apron look at his craft.The tour de BBQ started at around noon on Saturday, although “BBQ” Brad, who works as a registered nurse, had already made some rounds early that morning. “It’s a brotherhood here,” said “BBQ” Brad, sporting a straw sun hat and shades.For vendors at the Beaver Creek, the brotherhood of BBQ is everything from a hobby to a job to an addiction. And for some, it’s all three.
“I’ve got a full-time job,” said Darren Warth of Smokey D’s BBQ out of Des Moines, Iowa. “I travel throughout the week, but luckily I have a (business) partner. We just opened up a new catering and vending business, and we compete in 20 contests a year. “It started out as a hobby and all it takes is you win one (contest) ribbon. All it took was one ribbon, and $100,000 later, I’m still playing for the ribbons.”Warth gives “BBQ” Brad a tour of his trailer, with a giant state-of-the-art smoker and kitchen area. “Did you see how the doors shut?” said “BBQ” Brad, marveling at the giant cooking device.After “BBQ” Brad got a taste of one of Warth’s ribs, he said, “Man, this guy is a ringer.”Opportunity costAs any large BBQ festival would have it, there were vendors from all over the country, including Kansas City. “There is a big contest at Woodlands Racetrack (in Kansas City), and we missed that to be here,” said Phil Hopkins of Smokin’ Guns BBQ. “This is our fourth year here, and we’re guaranteed we’ll do so much (business). If you go to a contest, then maybe, maybe not.” “BBQ” Brad knows how hard it can be to choose between a contest and sure money.”Some of the really good caterers don’t have the time to compete because they already know they are putting out good stuff,” he said. “I turned down three contests last year. It was $5,000 (in catering) versus a prize.”Contests can be quite lucrative. Smokin’ Guns has won plenty of prizes, many from its signature fare – burnt ends. Warth has 12 Grand Champion prizes to his name.
“I made $40,000 last year in prize money,” Warth said. “My partner said, ‘I don’t know if you should compete,’ but I told him we’ve gotta.'” While Warth may not make as much money at an event like Beaver Creek, he still wanted to come.”Vending can be a gold mine or a total bust,” Warht said. “We could have drove all the way, got everything set up, we could have had thunderstorms for two days. “We have friends from Smokin’ Guns and they said, ‘If you get invited, you’ve gotta come. To us it was a balance because we do so much catering and vending, that this was good time to bring the family to the mountain and have a couple days of relaxation. But we’ve been cooking for two days.” Just like Smokey D’s, the Smokin’ Guns is a family operation. At most stations, the chief cook is accompanied by his wife and kids.”My son is the backup pitmaster,” Hopkins said. “That’s the only way to keep the quality up for me.” After “BBQ” Brad finishes chatting with Hopkins, he’s got the next stop in mind.”Come on, we’ve gotta go meet the two high school teachers,” he said.Denny and Julie Mildenberger of Thornton run classrooms during the school year and operate Over the Fence BBQ year-round. “We all make huge sacrifices,” Denny Mildenberger said. “The thing I love about this is I don’t have to sacrifice my family.””BBQ” Brad, whose wife is a vegetarian, but supports him, interjects, “I feel a loss because I lost my son from cooking.”Mildenberger continued, “I get to share what I love to do and would do anyway without them. And I have my family here.”
“BBQ” Brad quickly adds, “Talk about commitment, this guy had the flu at the New Mexico Championships I was at, and he still placed (third out of 60).” The massesCooking for 10 is a lot different than cooking for a 1,000, which is why “BBQ” Brad, in his judging capacity, doesn’t worry about appearance.”You’re cooking for the masses,” he said. “You may have something that tastes good and is really tender … but it shouldn’t make a difference if I serve my food on China or on Styrofoam and have a dirt floor in my booth.” Some of the booths ran short on food, while others rushed to keep the food coming at a constant flow.”This is crazy right now,” Mildenberger said at about 2 p.m. with a long line at his booth. “We’re just trying to keep up with the volume. It’s like a rock concert. Everyone has to do their job or it won’t come out right.” Earlier in the day, around 1 p.m., “BBQ” Brad went to pay a visit to “Dr. BBQ,” but the line was long and deep-fried biscuits needed to be flipped in a giant wok – the Dr. asked him to come back later.At around 2:30, “BBQ” Brad came back and “Dr. BBQ” had already sold out his biscuits. “Dr. BBQ, I’m the BBQ nurse.” “BBQ Brad said.The Dr., AKA Ray Lampe, had no idea his biscuits would be such a hit.”I kind of feel bad about selling out,” he said. “But I wanted everything to be fresh.”
“Dr. BBQ,” much like “BBQ” Brad, started out doing BBQ as a hobby. After buying a concession trailer and moving to Florida, the Dr. got into teaching BBQ classes, started writing a column for “Fiery Foods” magazine and was asked to write a cookbook. Dr. BBQ has another book set to come out June 12. “For me, this is a promotional event, which is why you’ll notice our food is pretty cheap. We’re not looking to get rich here. We’re doing it for the fun of it and … and it’s a great place to have a vacation.””BBQ” Brad asked for one of the “Dr. BBQ’s” cards, and looked at it for a second. “Do you know who this guy is? He invented the Big Green Egg,” “BBQ” Brad said “It’s not here today, but he’s the guy.”Local’s rateAt the local booth’s, “BBQ” Brad doesn’t need to introduce himself.Mark Tamberino of Kirby Cosmo’s in Minturn greets “BBQ” Brad and offers some of his fare. The two chat about how Tamberino’s new business is doing. “My store is killing it now – we’re the new thing in Minturn,” Tamberino said. “I’ve gotta watch how I price our catering”I’m selling a turkey leg for $4, and they are costing me about $3. I’m here because I want to be here and showcase my stuff, get it out to the public, have them come in and see me and crave some (BBQ).” Tamberino had already sold out of three-way wings.”They’re becoming famous, I want to say,” Tamberino said. “I probably sell from 140 to 300 pounds a week.”
The next stop for “BBQ” Brad is Moe’s Original Bar B Q. “They put us in the toilet bowl,” Mike Fernandez yelled to “BBQ” Brad.Moe’s, while in the back end of the plaza, still had a line that backed up to another booth.”They’ve established a reputation of consistently good BBQ,” “BBQ” Brad said. “They’ve realized everyone of those guys (working there) is a trusted member of their team.” And “BBQ” Brad knows that just because there are other BBQ places in town, doesn’t mean they can’t co-exit in a peaceful environment.”They wish (Kirby Cosmos’s) success,” he said. “There’s enough BBQ to go around.” ———Best ribs: Smokey D’s out of Des Moines, Iowa.Best reason to eat: “We’re not talking about politics, we’re not talking about ethics, about religion. I’m talking about things you put in your mouth and make people smile. I’m going right at the heart. All I want you to do it try it,” Denny Mildenberger, Over the Fence BBQ, Thornton———Staff Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.