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My First Time at the American Royal

By DAN CANNON ( BBQbyDan / Coyote Road Kill ) 1-Nov-2001

KANSAS CITY, Missouri -- Since everybody has not been to the American Royal, I thought I would put in writing a few of the feelings and experiences that I had on my first visit.  I should state that I was not there to cook either the Invitational or the Open.  But was fortunate enough to have been invited to judge the Invitational.  Heck, I might never get the opportunity again so felt I should accept their invitation.

Air travel

As you can all guess, this being post September 11th, the air transportation system was unlike anything I have ever seen.  There were lines and unique systems in place everywhere to facilitate the air traveler.  Looked worse than it turned out to be in that no line was longer than 30 minutes.  But, I had to stand in 3 lines prior to actually getting in the air.  Happened to meet fellow SCBBQA member Rob Kelso while waiting in line at LAX for the same flight.  So, the trip was extra nice.

Took off from LAX about 07:00, October 4th, and arrived at the American Royal parking lot about 14:30 their time, me driving and Rob navigating.  

McDavid Barbecue Class

I was scheduled for a Jack McDavid Cooking class at 14:30 and was really in a hurry to make it.  Ended up getting into the class about 14:45 just as the attendees were walking outside to where the actual cooking class was going to be held.  Good thing I made it not a minute later as I would never have found out where they had gone.  

Jack's class was very interesting and informative.  He was a very nice person and exactly as he is on the Food Channel.  Paul Kirk happened to be assisting with his hardware and food preparation for the class.  So together they made quite an entertaining and adversarial pair.  All was in good fun of course.  That was the best $25 I ever spent on a class.  If they do it again I recommend you attend.

A place to sleep

Got out of the class about 16:00 and finally had a chance to get back to the rental car to get my important things (cooler, food, refreshments, and rain / warm cloths) straightened out for the next two nights.  I was planning on sleeping in my car for the duration and had to ensure that everything was set to go prior to beginning the evening's festivities.  Being at the Royal only for judging makes all-night accommodations more challenging if you choose not to go to a hotel.  I really did not care about a hotel or comfort as much as observing the 24-hour a day cooking activity, so I rented an SUV (car) to be my on-site hotel.

But, then along comes Don Grissom of Dueling Bubbas who finally, after twisting my arm hard enough, talked me hanging with them.  It was very nice under their EZ-Up and awning the first night when it rained 2 or 3 Inches.  And, sure beat running to the porta-pottie from the rental car all night as well.  Thanks Don and Derek for making my trip so much more enjoyable and an even nicer event while I was there.  I hope I stayed out of your hair.

Private Porta-Potties

One new thing I learned about, that is "private Porta-Potties" that were located at many of the individual team sites.  Never heard of such a thing before at a Cook-Off, but I sure heard about it when I exited one.  I was very firmly told that this WAS NOT for public use.  I apologized and asked, "how can I make up for my mistake", they said, "don't come back".

Jerry King

Dueling Bubbas happened to be parked next to Jerry King.  Jerry King won the Fry's Pigskin Classic Fiesta Bowl BBQ Cook-Off in Arizona last year, and he won the Speedway contest (with hundreds of teams) this year, so he is pretty hot.  

He has converted a full size (40 foot) horse trailer into his house / BBQ pit.  The front half is his house, the back half is his cooking area.  While everybody else on site was running around in heavy rain torrents trying to cook and stay dry, Jerry was roaming around the back of his trailer, hanging around next to his built in heater (his pit), in his socks, watching his meats and relaxing.  Since I was not cooking that night, he let me partake of his heat and dryness.  What a great person and rig.

Judging a major

About this time the jitters of my responsibilities are starting to enter my mind.  I must correctly, and fairly, judge the top 65+ teams in the World.  I have not been there or done that before, so I was starting to feel a bit queasy.  But, I just told myself I am an expert at this (competed in the last 20 straight contest in California) so I know what to look for and how to judge responsibly.  

It was really great to be in that room with all the top BBQ folks around.  I won't throw names around but you can guess who the judges, table captains, and organizers were.  What a great thrill it was.  Everything went very smooth and perfectly from my perspective.  If somebody wants to know what the top 65+ teams in the World turn in and how it tastes, well, catch me privately.  That is another story and I certainly learned a lot!

Enjoying the Friday night party

Phew, I walked out of the judging quarters about 14:30 and really felt light headed and relaxed.  My job was over!  I can't explain how foreign a feeling that is to me at a BBQ Cook-Off after having cooked so many consecutive events.  I was there enjoying it completely but had not brought equipment, spent hours setting up, and most of all, did not have to break down a cook-site and pack up to leave for a long trip home.  All I had to do was now enjoy the victories our California teams had deservedly won throughout the Invitational and fly out the next afternoon!  Way too much fun for so little work, I almost felt guilty!

Friday night was really unlike anything I have every seen.  There were close to 400 teams now set up and cooking for the Open.  They were spread over a VERY large area.  You might get lost, or get sore feet, trying to pass all the sites.  Without exaggeration I would guess there were maybe 20 - 30 simultaneous bands playing at different team locations spread throughout the whole complex with fireworks going off overhead.  Where we in California might have a couple of EZ-Ups, a team there might have a real multi-peaked tent.  That is capable of holding a band, lots of seated people, and kegs of beer.  

Yes, kegs were everywhere.  Myself having no cooking responsibilities found that I was roaming all the different sites, enjoying all the amenities. When Roland Cook showed me the "Booze Lounge" he had found on his explorations, I really found out what fun is (only $1 per session).  If you can't imagine what that is, catch me privately.

Danny Gaulden's Perfect 180

So, as I wonder back to the Dueling Bubbas site, Danny Gaulden is cooking one of his four side dishes and warns me not to step on or rock the RV.  His cake in the oven might "drop".  

Well, Danny knew what he was doing.  Dueling Bubbas scored a Perfect 180 on Danny's sweet potato pie entry in the potato category (another team also received a Perfect 180, and the tie-breaker gave Dueling Bubbas second place).  This was Dueling Bubbas and Danny's first time at the American Royal Open.  

The previous day, in the American Royal Invitational, Dueling Bubba's won fourth place for its Brisket.

Saturday farewell

I was so happy for all seven Southern California Barbecue Association teams at the Royal:

  • BBQ'n Fools (Tom Brohamer with Grant Ford)
  • BBQ Bandits II (Stu Carpenter, with Dick Stuart, Mark Shardlow and Steve DiLura)
  • Dueling Bubbas (Don Grissom and Derek Muller, with Danny Gaulden, Dr.  Don Iverson, and Joe O'Connell)
  • Madd Momma and the Kids (Judie and Amy Anderson, with Melanie Jones)
  • M M B BBQ Co. (Franco McGonagle and Jay Diener)
  • Pork Belly Bandits (George and Donna Baroody, with Rob Kelso)
  • Rare Breed (Hayward and Eva Harris)

After having stayed up most of Friday night, I felt I better get some shut-eye in preparation for leaving the next afternoon.  The next morning, Saturday, I dispensed all my leftover food and drink supplies, said my farewells to all my new and old dear friends, and left for home.

What an unexpected, and terrific, event and trip I had.  I knew it would be good, but never dreamed this good.  I never had any great desire to travel to the Kansas City American Royal to participate in an event.  Knowing the work and cost that would be involved.  Well, I will be there next year competing, one way or another.

I can only say in closing, I would make this event "mandatory" for any BBQ lover.  You will meet the best people you have ever met, and you will see, taste, and feel, the best BBQ environment in the World !!!





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