Saturday schedule for Colorado State BBQ Championship in Craig:
• 11 a.m. — Event opens
• 11 a.m. — Live music by Leaner, Lunker, and Friends
• Noon — Judging for chicken
• 12:30 p.m. — Judging for ribs
• 1 p.m. — Judging for pork
• 1 p.m. — Live music by Four to Play
• 1:30 p.m. — Judging for brisket
• 3:30 p.m. — Awards ceremony
• 4 p.m. — Live music by Little Laura and the Nude Blues Band
By mid-morning Friday, things were already heating up at the first Colorado State BBQ Championship in Craig.
A field of 29 regional and national contestants stood under blue skies, a warm sun and windswept clouds of smoke.
Among the teams assembled for the weekend event at Wyman Museum are local cooks from Craig, Hayden and Meeker.
“There’s some real competition here,” Craig resident and competitor Alan Webber said. “Johnny Trigg just showed up. He’s a two-time (Jack Daniels) champion, and he’s done the BBQ Pitmasters (television) series. That guy knows his ribs.”
Webber’s team, Webber’s Old West BBQ, is one of four local teams. Adrian Nelson from Craig, C’s Catering from Hayden and Smokin 101 from Meeker are also competing.
Webber, a planning department supervisor for Tri-State Generation & Transmission, stood Friday morning beside his 1,800-pound, multi-chambered cooker.
“This rig is specifically for competition,” said Webber, 49. “I designed it and built it.”
Webber, whose home-built cooker resembles a large Weber-brand grill, said the similarities in appearance and spelling can cause some confusion.
“When some people see (the rig) they ask, ‘Is that a custom Weber grill?’ And I say, ‘Yes, it’s a custom Webber,” he said.
Nelson also built his own rig. He said he purchased “about $1,000 of materials” to fabricate the cooker.
“I don’t want to stop and think about how much time I’ve put into building my cooker,” said Nelson, 37. “It would probably scare me.”
Nelson, who has been to seven competitions in Colorado and Nebraska, describes the Northwest Colorado–style of barbecue as a mix of all BBQ cultures.
“There aren’t a lot of people who are truly from Craig,” Nelson said. “We have people from all over the country, so I think our barbecue has a little bit of everything.”
Nelson isn’t counting on a win at this weekend’s inaugural championship in Craig.
“I’m just figuring this is a learning experience this year,” Nelson said. “We’ll see. I would be really surprised to win it, but you never know.”
Despite the competition — and a grand prize of $3,500 at stake — the event is mostly lighthearted.
“A lot of these people are doing it for fun, and some of them are hardcore competitors,” said Charlie Epp of C’s Catering. “This crowd is not secretive. Well, they don’t share all their secrets, but if you need something, they’re there to help you out.”
Asked about his chances of winning, Epp, 63, a first-time competitor, shrugs.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said. “It’s an honor just to be competing alongside some of these guys.”
To prove his point, Epp pointed down the midway.
“Have you seen the guy from Florida? Have you seen all his trophies? Holy cow,” he said.
The man Epp referred to is Rooster Roberts, 51, from Arcadia, Fla. Roberts represents Skin & Bones, a team that has won 20 state championships all over the country and “finished in the top 10 of the world last year,” he said.
For Roberts, traveling the country, selling barbecue and competing is a full-time job.
And, while other competitors said winning takes a backseat to simply having fun, Roberts makes no bones about his reasons for being in Craig this weekend.
“Winning,” Roberts said. “This is a sport.”
Barbecuing is something Roberts said anyone can participate in.
“You ain’t even gotta be an athlete,” he said. “You can have one leg, one eye and one arm. As long as you can barbecue, you can win a trophy.”
The secret to good barbecue is simple, Roberts said.
“Slow cooking and secret recipes,” he said. “I make a spice called ‘skin and bones’ and I use it pretty much on everything. A lot of other teams use it, too. They buy it from me and use it against me. I’ve been beaten by my own stuff before. More than once.
“In the end, it’s all about the flavor of the meat. That’s gonna determine who’s the cowboy and who’s the horse.”
Trigg, 71, has an even simpler explanation for his success.
“A lot of luck,” he said.
The 29 teams in the weekend championship may be competing each other for prize money, but they’re also contributing to a good cause.
On Friday afternoon, event organizers were arranging for leftover food to be donated to a local charity.