West Fargo bar and grill owner takes shot at Jack Daniels barbeque championshipSome would say Fargo’s Tim Olson, co-owner of West Fargo's Spitfire Bar & Grill, is competing in the Super Bowl today. No, not that Super Bowl; the 21st Annual Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue competition, which has been called the Super Bowl of barbecue cook-offs.
By: J. Shane Mercer, The Forum
Some would say Fargo’s Tim Olson is competing in the Super Bowl today.
No, not that Super Bowl; the 21st Annual Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue competition, which has been called the Super Bowl of barbecue cook-offs.
Olson, the head cook of the barbecue operation and co-owner of the Spitfire Bar & Grill in West Fargo, is pretty pumped.
“I want to get on the road right now,” Olson, 49, said the day before he left.
“The Jack” is held in Lynchburg, Tenn., home of the Jack Daniels distillery, and this year’s field boasts more than 60 teams from the U.S., plus smoke jockeys from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, England, Estonia, Germany, Luxemburg, Poland and Switzerland.
When it comes to competitive barbecue, “The Jack” is a big deal.
“It is very prestigious,” says Carolyn Wells, executive director and co-founder of the Kansas City Barbecue Society. Wells says the KCBS, which licenses The Jack, is the world’s largest organization of barbecue and grilling enthusiasts and sanctions 300 contests a year.
There are those who consider it the most prestigious barbecue competition, Wells says.
“(That) depends on who you ask,” she says. “It’s certainly right on up there.”
The Spitfire team shares its name with the West Fargo restaurant and usually includes only Olson and his wife, Mary. His $4,300 smoker lends a hand as well.
Getting into the Lynchburg competition is a big deal. But Olson’s entry into “The Jack” is made all the more impressive by the fact that he’s a relative newcomer to the sport. He competed a little in 2008 and then stepped it up for 2009, hitting about 14 competitions.
“I think it’s a great achievement, and it’s really, really amazing,” Wells said of Olson’s quick route to Lynchburg.
That road went through South Dakota, where Olson took grand champion at the Great Aberdeen Pig Out in July. That title was based on how well judges liked the Spitfire brisket, chicken, pork ribs and smoked pork. Along the way to grand champion, the Spitfire brisket took first and the chicken took second.
The competition in the Pig Out and “The Jack” are judged, not only on taste and tenderness, but on appearance as well.
That means spraying the meat with apple juice to make it shiny, and Mary says sometimes you “even get out your tweezers” to pull off a corner of meat that doesn’t look so good.
Of course, looks aren’t everything when it comes to barbecue. And Olson says, good barbecuing “starts with good meat.”
“You’ve got to have good protein,” he says.
He ages the brisket 40 days and uses aged – but not too aged – wood. Then he cooks it “low and slow.”
The rules at “The Jack” and other competitions of its kind are stringent. Chicken has to be ready at noon, followed by ribs at 12:30 p.m., pork butt/shoulder at 1 p.m. and brisket at 1:30 p.m. And competitors have a
10-minute window to meet those times.
And you get disqualified “if it’s a second late,” Mary Olson said.
Taking the title could be fun. It could also be financially advantageous. “The Jack” doles out more than $30,000 in cash and stuff to the winning barbecuers.
But Olson didn’t know what prize money he had a shot at when he was interviewed early this week.
“I guess I’ve never looked,” he says. “I’m just thrilled to get down there and compete with people from around the world.”
Olson enjoys the cooking and the camaraderie, but he also gets an adrenaline charge out of the events.
“I think men are competitive, and it’s just another thing to compete in, barbecuing meat,” Mary Olson says.
Olson says some would probably call him a perfectionist and that he likes to do everything he does well. But the question is, can a chiropractor (yeah, he’s also a chiropractor as is his wife) from North Dakota go down to the barbecue-cocky South (where barbecue never means a sloppy Joe) and win?
Olson says everybody there is going to be good, but he also says he’s “not at all” intimidated.
And why should he be? When he took the title in Aberdeen, he knocked off three teams that had already been in the Jack Daniels competition. And he’s had people from the South say Spitfire cooks up the best barbecue they’ve ever had.
“Yeah, I’d like to say I have a shot,” Olson says. “Most definitely.”
Judging for the Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational Barbecue competition in Lynchburg, Tenn., is today. Competitors must submit their barbecued chicken for judging by noon. Ribs are due at 12:30 p.m. Pork shoulder/butt is due at 1 p.m. And brisket must be submitted by 1:30 p.m. Competitors are allowed a 10-minute window to meet those times.
The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.
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