Dave McKay of the North Vancouver cooking team, and specialty caterer Bad Ass BBQ, has taken home every award there is at the Canadian National BBQ Championships over the years.
That is, except the big one: the title of Grand Champion.
It's a streak the event's longest-running competitor hopes to break this weekend at the annual cook-off, held in Whistler Creekside at Dusty's Bar and BBQ.
The pitmaster has been a fixture of B.C.'s budding barbecue scene for almost two decades now, and has taken part in the Whistler national championships in each of its 13 years. It's the vibe in the resort that keeps him coming back for more.
"It's such a great venue, so beautiful and so well hosted," he said. "I just love that event."
But McKay, who runs Bad Ass BBQ with his ex-wife Karen, didn't always have his sights set on grill glory, and got into competition cooking by accident in 1995 while working as a cameraman for Global TV covering the Canadian Festival of Chili and BBQ in New Westminster.
"I decided to go check it out and I ended up covering the thing and making a story out of it," he explained. "I fell in love with the people, the food and the whole vibe of the thing."
Back in those days the festival was the only barbecue competition in the entire province, but over the last 20 years McKay has seen the region forge its own identity on the barbecue circuit, typically dominated by cooks from the southern U.S.
"It has changed drastically from '95... and I used to do competitions in the States over in Washington, but now you don't have to leave the Lower Mainland," he said. "There are competitions all the time now and it's just grown so huge and so popular."
The Canadian Festival of Chili and BBQ, which McKay now produces, was also the place where he earned his moniker after a cook began calling him "Badass." The title stuck and McKay started using it for his team name and hasn't looked back since, taking part in as many as 10 cooking competitions a summer across North America.
But while the B.C. cook is no slouch behind the grill, winning numerous awards for his barbecue over the years, it's the communal atmosphere at cooking competitions that he relishes the most.
"We're kind of like a group of nomads that meet up over the summertime," he said. "It's seeing old friends and the fun of competition, and everybody wants to win and beat the other guy, but we're also best friends. It's a perfect venue to get together with people, party for a weekend and just cook."
While it's clear McKay has tons of fun going up against some of the best barbecuers in North America, that doesn't mean he takes his competition lightly, and explained the drastic difference between cooking for a panel of judges and a backyard of hungry buddies.
"With competition cooking, you're aiming to get as much flavour as you can into one bite," he said. "I'll cook two 14-pound beef briskets, let's say, and that's just to get six slices for judging. You want to get as much flavour into that one bite of brisket they're tasting by layering it with different flavour profiles on top of each other."
Now, the acclaimed cook is elevating his game to the next level, tweaking his technique and recipe as he goes. Recently, he travelled to the Midwestern barbecue mecca of Kansas City to learn from one of the city's most accomplished cooks.
"I've been cooking the same way since I started and so now I'm on a new curve to try some different things," he said. "Usually I was cooking at about 215 to 230 degrees (Celsius), now I'm cooking at 275, so it's a hotter, faster cook and I'm using different rubs and sauces now as well."
And, just like McKay, any self-respecting grill guru should always be looking for ways to improve, and the head of Bad Ass BBQ said he constantly sees amateur cooks make the same mistakes. Thankfully, he's here to help.
"The first thing is remove the shiny silver skin off the bone-side of the ribs so the flavour can penetrate," he said. "Also, never boil your ribs. They never did anything to you, so don't do that to them. You're not making soup."
The Canadian National BBQ Championships run from Aug. 1 to 3. Visit www.whistlerblackcomb.com for the full schedule.
Ultimate Italian Burger
½ to ¾ cup chopped onion
½ to ¾ cup chopped red bell pepper
1 cup chopped mushroom
When softened add 1 ½ cups thin sliced spinach leaves until wilted.
Season with cracked pepper, seasoned salt, dried basil and oregano.
Cool then mix with:
Two pounds ground chuck
One pound ground pork
½ pound chopped fried thick cut smoked bacon (cooled)
½ to ¾ cup sundried tomato feta cheese
Mix together and form thin patties the shape of Portuguese rolls.
Lay a ¼ inch thick slice of jalapeno havarti between two patties and seal the edges well. Chill to set patties. Smoke at 225°C for an hour turning once till almost cooked through (145°C internal). Remove from smoker, brush with olive oil and flat top or grill to sear outside. Top
with a slice of sundried tomato havarti to cover and melt the rest.
Sundried Tomato Mayo
Julienne sundried tomatos in oil and mix with Mayo
1 T Bulls Eye BBQ sauce (optional)