“Barbecue may not be the key to world peace but it’s a start.” – Anthony Bourdain

Greetings and welcome back to Uncle Tom’s Corner. The clouds have parted; the snow has melted; the rains have stopped; the birds are singing and there is the intoxicating smell of barbecue wafting in the spring air. That said, don’t put the snow shovel away just yet. Mother Nature has and unpredictable and sometimes wicked sense of humor.

Barbecue season is really revving up. This last weekend (Mother’s Day weekend) took me to Lamar, CO…a town of 7800 on the eastern border that is primarily an ag town. The reason for the trip was the Wild West BBQ Cookoff.

One of the first things that struck me about the drive out there was that Montana is known as Big Sky Country. Whoever came up with that tag line should maybe take a drive to Lamar. The next thing was how plush and green everything is. Not sure that I expected anything less…it is early spring and we did just get a ton of moisture but it made for a pretty drive. And the third thing was all the cow/calf pairs. I never get tired of watching baby calves playing or nuzzling up to their mama for a warm meal.

One of the attractions of going to these things is that I get to stop and look at all the Points of Interest along the way. Somewhere out in Cheyenne County sort of in the middle of nowhere was a tall spire made of stone with a wagon wheel mounted on top. “Well”, I thought to myself, “that’s weird enough that it sorta demands my attention”. I hail from a small town in western Nebraska…Big Springs. I’ve always been aware of (but never visited) Big Spring, Texas. There is a Big Springs, Idaho that is just that…a big source of water in a park. But I was totally unaware that there was a Fort Big Spring, Colorado. Seems that was a stopping-off point for the cattle drives coming up from Texas.  The other bit of information gleaned from this Point of Interest was the name of a frontiersman who was killed by the Indians but, out of respect for his bravery, they didn’t scalp him. Small consolation I’m thinking…but that’s just me.

I got into Lamar Friday afternoon/evening and went to the park where the competition was being held. When I got there all the teams were in the judge’s tent for the cook’s meeting so I wandered around the various cook sites and admired the various bbq pits…from a distance. I truly believe a person would fare better messing around with a pitmaster’s husband or wife than laying a finger on their bbq pit. That, by the way, is right up there with my theory that guys my age don’t do well in prison. Not a theory I want to put to the test.

The cook’s meeting over I got to talk with some of the pitmasters. Friday nights before the contest its OK to fraternize with the teams and after the judging is over is also OK. I learned from one of the KCBS reps that talking with the teams Saturday morning before the competition is NOT OK. Might I mention that he wasn’t particularly nice about the manner in which he delivered that message.

So here’s a cooking tidbit I picked up. In talking with one of the pitmasters I asked how it was possible that some of the turn-ins had the distinct taste of lighter fluid when none of the cooks even use lighter fluid when firing up their pits. Cumin. Too much cumin and too high of temperature will impart the flavor of lighter fluid. Who knew?

So, back to the competition. To my relief, I got to table captain…which means I didn’t have to sit there and eat approximately two pounds of meat and then get in my pickup and drive the 3 ½ hours back to Denver. Granted, most of that meat is absolutely delicious but… A lot of times the local Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club, Economic Developments Committee…whoever is putting on the contest will select several locals from the community as Celebrity or VIP   Judges. This time I had three (out of six) including an insurance salesman, a child abuse hotline telephone operator and a District Court judge. I asked the judge for a business card…you know…just in case. He graciously declined. He did inform me that he would be useless for such things as traffic infractions…he only deals in much more serious issues (see the previous statement about my theory about incarceration).

And that was it…another one in the books and time to begin the drive home. So, until the next issue, I’ll bid you farewell. See you through the smoke.