BBQ Events: Lutz Wins At American Royal
This is a bit of a cautionary tale. To one reader of this blog, whom I love dearly, I hope he gets it. This comes to us from The California Democrat.
Lutz barbecue wins at American Royal
By Daniel Klote firstname.lastname@example.org
If barbecue contests could be called a sport - and to the thousands of devotees perfecting the right marinade for a chicken thigh, or the temperature for a slab of ribs, they'd argue such - then the Kansas City American Royal would be the World Series of contests.
For three days in October, hundreds of teams gather in Kansas City to put their skills to the test.
States from around the country are represented, others from as far away as Australia. On the first Friday night, there can be anywhere from 100,000 to 150,000 people.
Most park motor homes on the spot. The smell of wood smoke and charcoal saturates the air. The grills range in size. Some contestants bring only a few Weber Bullets. Others drag trailer size pits, hulking behemoths, behind their trucks.
Secret recipes are whispered furtively between team members. Superstition abounds. Some chefs wear the same clothes and hats from other successful contests. Rituals are followed.
This is barbecue. This is serious business.
Burl Lutz, owner of Lutz's BBQ in Jefferson City, recently attended the American Royal BBQ Contest this October. It was not his first time at a competition. Since beginning the barbecue contest circuit some 15 years ago, he's seen many, won some, lost a few. This year, though, held a great surprise.
Lutz said barbecuing has always been a passion, for as long as he can remember. But, like most people, it was regulated to weekends, a small grill set up in the backyard. His full-time work was as a construction superintendent, a job that kept him on the road for days at a time.
But barbecue remained a hobby. Lutz worked in Texas at the time, a place where barbecue could nearly be called a religion.
“I had a welder friend build a barbecue pit for me,” Lutz said. “I went to some contests, and got bit by the bug.” The rest is history.
After a divorce, and wanting to spend more time with his children, Lutz decided to quit the construction business and go into the world of barbecuing full time.
Lutz said his friends and family encouraged him to go for it. He started Lutz's BBQ, which in the beginning was nothing more than a small tent set up in the parking lot of Cal's. After expanding, he moved to Lowes in Jefferson City.
But it was the barbeque contests that became his passion. Throughout the years he entered many, perfecting the small tricks of the trade: what meat works best, writing down temperature, the weight of the meat. Mark Heiman and Jeff Knipp, good friends and fellow barbecue contest aficionados, also lent advice.
So Lutz was prepared for this year's American Royal. But, unlike others, he wasn't taking it too seriously.
“I do it for the fun of it,” Lutz said. “ A lot of other guys will get upset and pout. But for me, it's about the fun, the passion.”
This year at the American Royale, Lutz' team, which included Jeff Knipp, entered into the invitational portion of the contest. This means only teams who have won previous contests can compete.
Lutz said he was confident but relaxed. He'd entered enough to know that winning wasn't everything.
When the judge announced, though, that Lutz' team had won first place for their chicken, winning certainly became a bonus. Out of hundreds of entries, Lutz placed first in the barbecue chicken category. His friends and family went wild. Cheers and high fives abounded.
“It just goes to show, when you don't think you have a chance, you never know,” Lutz said. “And you don't know if you don't go.”
Fresh from his win at the American Royal, Lutz is looking ahead to future competitions. The winter season usually marks a dead period for contests. They'll pick back up in the early Spring.
Until then, Lutz has his hands full with his business, Lutz's BBQ. After being located next to Lowes for years, they are now moving next to the Eagle Stop gas station in front of Barnes and Noble in Jefferson City. They hope to be moved by mid to late December.
Even with all the recent accomplishments, Lutz keeps a humble attitude. For him, it's about the fun. His daughter often accompanies him to contests, along with family members. It has become a special time for them to bond.
For chefs starting out, Lutz recommends going to contests and talking to other teams. Even though certain tricks are well-guarded, Lutz said many teams will be open and friendly and lend advice. It maybe a contest, but the atmosphere is loose and open.
And Lutz warns against going out and crafting massive pits. He said a simple Weber works fine in the beginning. Practice makes perfect, and going out and trying is the best thing a person can do to get into the barbecue circuit. And really, you can't loose.
“Just because you can't go out and cook and win doesn't mean it isn't fun,” he said. “And, you get to eat what you cooked when you're done. Can't beat that.”
“I just really want to thank everyone around for supporting me,” Lutz continued. “And if anyone wants to start doing contests, ask people, try a few. But don't be afraid to do it.”