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What makes great barbeque? Learn from the pros in Puyallup this weekend

Barbeque, chili and steak pros from across the country will descend upon the Washington State Fair Events Center this weekend to show off their best meats.

In only its second year, the Outdoor Cooking Competition at the winter edition of the five-day Washington Sportsmen’s Show has doubled in size. More than 45 teams comprised of cooking pros and hobbyists alike will compete in three distinct competitions over the next three days.

First up: it’s all about steak.

The Steak Cookoff Association hosts a grilling contest Friday featuring steak, salmon and, of course, burgers. Based on a random drawing, teams choose their cuts from the meat provided and then spend the next two to three hours marinating and finally cooking.

Judges look for perfectly pink medium for the red meats, according to one of the judges, Lance Rasmussen, as well as presentation, texture and execution. Too rare or too well done, too late to submit (à la Chopped): contestants lose points.

“Most importantly,” Rasmussen told The News Tribune, “how does the thing taste?”

Rasmussen recently joined the SCA as an independent judge after years with the Pacific Northwest Barbecue Association, which hosts the big draw on Sunday. He said the competition scene has evolved in recent years to include these kinds of two- or three-day events.

“Steaks don’t take a whole lot of setup,” he said, compared to the long hours essential to preparing the smoker. “I might as well get the most of my traveling bucks and expense for competing.”

On Saturday, the Chili Appreciation Society and the International Dutch Oven Society also host official competitions, the latter calling for a main dish, a bread and a dessert.

BIG-TIME BBQ

Sunday marks the first competition of the 2020 season for the PNWBA, the second oldest “sanctioned” barbeque group in the United States. It runs events throughout Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and British Columbia.

The Kansas City Barbeque Association was founded a few months earlier in 1985 and now boasts more than 20,000 members, with sanctioned events around the world.

Being sanctioned means the competitions follow specific rules laid out by the organization and opens the opportunity for participants — including those on Sunday in Puyallup — to graduate to more high-profile events.

As long as at least 25 of the expected 26 teams turn in some meat, PNWBA’s Sunday winner will be entered into a drawing to land a spot in the preeminent Jack Daniels Championship Invitational or the American Royal World Series.

Rasmussen said at this time of year, teams that regularly partake in barbeque competitions across the country (there are dozens) start “getting a little itchy to dust the rust off” and try new recipes.

They’ll each cook chicken, pork ribs, pork butt and brisket — in that order, starting at noon and turning in their last meat at 1:30 p.m.

Competition barbeque differs from its restaurant or backyard counterpart, Rasmussen cautioned. Because judges take just a bite or two, teams must “pack as much punch in one rib.”

Trained judges — who tend to also have good palates and “just enjoy good food” — consider three major factors in rising importance: presentation/appearance, texture and taste.

Pulled pork should not be chewy or mushy; brisket should not be too tough to eat; and ribs should not fall off the bone. Sauces are not required but can either make or break the entry if they overpower the quintessential smokey nature of good barbeque.

“It doesn’t take talent to overcook ribs,” said Rasmussen. “That’s fine if you want to eat them that way, but in competition you’d lose. You should be able to take a bite out of the ribs and kind play CSI and sort of see your teeth marks. The meat shouldn’t all come off with a bite, but you don’t want to have to work at the bite, either.”

GET GRILLIN’

The Sportsmen’s Show is as much about finding the right utility knife or fishing boat as it is about culinary education.

Admission to the show grants you access to the cooking field, where you can catch all the action and, if you’re lucky, some tastes of the competitors’ creations.

The cooking demos and seminars will offer samples, according to a show spokesperson.

Stop by after 1 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday to learn how to make sausage, cook the perfect steak (or alligator!) and whip up desserts in your Dutch oven. Aspiring grillmasters can dive into the specifics of smoking ribs with Brian Misko of Canada’s House of Q and making rubs with Tom Wallin of Dances With Smoke, a champion barbeque team.

Several other stages feature seminars focused on game hunting, fly-fishing and kayak fishing, the fastest growing fishing category in the United States, according to the show presenters.

Elsewhere on the fairgrounds, Johnsonville bratwursts and Busch beer, along with the fair’s famed scones and standard fare, will be readily available.

OUTDOOR COOKING CHAMPIONSHIP @ The Sportsmen’s Show

Washington State Fair Events Center, 110 9th Ave., Puyallup, thefair.com

Tickets: $15 for a single-day pass ($5 for kids ages 6 to 16), or $24 for a two-day pass

Show Hours: Friday 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Kristine Sherred joined The News Tribune in December 2019. She spent the past decade immersed in the culinary scene of Chicago and, for a time, covered the global chocolate and snacks industries. An avid home cook and beer/cocktail pro, she now explores all things edible and sippable throughout Pierce County. Reach her also at @kriscarasher on Twitter.
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