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Epicurious: Fire up the barbie

Eighth annual Canadian National Barbecue Championship returns to Creekside this weekend

If you notice a giant cloud of smoke encircling Creekside this weekend, breathe in before you call the fire department — catch a hint of hickory? Well, that’s just the byproduct of the eighth annual Canadian National Barbecue Championship, which is being held at Dusty’s from Friday night until Sunday evening.

The weekend is basically a vegetarian’s worst nightmare — about 25 competitors are set to prepare loads of pork butt, beef brisket, pork ribs and chicken. The top six places in each category receive a prize, and first-place winners walk away with $250 and a barbecue valued between $400 and $500.

Joshua Kearns, manager of Dusty’s, is also one of the organizers of the annual barbecue event that has been held in Creekside over the August long weekend every year since 2000.

The Pacific Northwest Barbecue Association (PNWBA) helped them build the event, providing the overarching guidelines and regulations that make it a qualifying event for the world championships in Lynchburg, Tennessee. They also send three head judges to certify people to act as judges and run the overall judging system.

“These guys take this very, very seriously — for a lot of them, this is their lives,” Kearns said, pointing out that many competitors also run restaurants that include barbecue on the menus, and accolades from these competitions can mean big money for their business.

The event starts off on Friday evening, and organizers go whole hog — literally.

Kearns explained that most people equate barbecuing with grilling, when in fact, competitive barbecuers actually smoke the meats over low heats for a long period of time — from 12 to 16 hours. So the first night of the event, they have one of their cooks, who competes in the world’s every year, cook a whole pig from raw, which takes 24 hours.

“He comes and just shows people the process, and then we do a buffet dinner with that pig on Saturday night,” he said.

While the whole hog demo isn’t part of the competition, it’s a great way to get people involved. Then, on Saturday, they hold a local’s BBQ day.

“Again, this is us, trying to bring locals down,” Kearns said. “So, if you’re going to compete in the Sunday events, you kind of need to know what you’re doing.”

The King of the Grill and Backyard Burger competitions offer amateur and aspiring barbecuers a chance to see how the real competitions are run. Organizers have developed their own categories and rules, which allows the average at-home griller a glimpse at how the competitive process is run, and perhaps encourages them to compete at the national level.

It looks like the idea is working — they’ve seen more locals throwing their hat in the ring for the big day of competition on Sunday.

“I think there’s 10 registered teams from the Pemberton, Squamish, Whistler area this year, which is huge for us, and that’s really different, considering there were none the first two years,” Kearns said.

While high gas prices have definitely deterred some American teams from making the trip up to compete, Kearns said they have seen more Canadian teams entering, which has balanced the numbers out.

For $5 you can pick up a taster’s pass (the proceeds go towards the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of Canada), which entitles you to priority tasting, and shows you turn-in times for each of the categories on Sunday, so you can plan when to be around for some delicious samples.

“They’re going to cook two or three pork shoulders to make sure they get the best one,” Kearns said. “And then a lot of these guys just take out the nicest cut, which is right in the centre.”

The rest of the meat they’ve prepared is given away to interested — and hungry — people who are on-site to watch the spectacle.

“So as a spectator, this is an opportunity for people to try real, fresh, right off the smoker barbecue, the way it’s supposed to be eaten, from 30 different people if you can get around fast enough,” Kearns said.

This year, they’ve also added a few new elements to the event.

A new category, the Ravenswood Cork & Pork Classic competition, which is designed to challenge competitors to find the perfect balance between BBQ pork butt and Ravenswood’s renowned Zinfandel wine, will take place on Sunday, with a trip for two to Napa Valley for a tour of Vincor Wines up for grabs.

They’re also beefing up the entertainment aspects of the weekend of carnivorous indulgence (pun intended). A Black Sabbath tribute band kicks the event off on Friday evening, Big John Bates and the Voo Doo Dolls perform on Saturday night, and Whole Lotta Led does an acoustic show on Sunday afternoon, followed by a full show on Sunday evening.

“We’ve always done live entertainment on the patio Saturday and Sunday, which we’re doing again, but… the goal is to keep kind of growing it one step at a time,” Kearns said.

Head down to Creekside this weekend to get your fill of music, meat and much more.