There's more to barbecue than meets the eye, according to Andrew Eckert. He should know. As the head chef at Dusty's Bar & BBQ he's helped to host the Bull's-Eye Canadian National BBQ Championships for the last six years. (It's been held at Dusty's for the last 12 years in a row.) "Barbecue to a lot of people is burger and steaks on a grill, but really what it is is a lot of smoking meats," he says. "A lot of time goes into it. Chicken, ribs that stuff take about three hours. Then pulled pork and brisket, that's overnight."
Eckert never expected be at the helm of the grill in the Creekside restaurant where pulled pork and the "bucket of bones" (a.k.a. ribs in a bucket ready-made for sharing) are the top sellers. He moved to Whistler from Niagara Falls about seven years ago, thinking he would try out a winter season. Whistler Blackcomb initially hired him to work in the kitchen up on the mountain, but, eventually, he worked his way up to the top spot at Dusty's. "The Dusty's (job) was during my second season out here. I got a job there and worked my way up within Dusty's and learned a lot about barbecue," he says. "The biggest challenge with barbecue is when it comes out of the smoker it's the best you'll ever see it then getting it to the plate and keeping it fresh was a big challenge. At a typical barbecue place in, say, the Carolinas or Texas they just go until they're sold out. They just have a batch come out of the smoker and they sell it until it's gone. It would be nice if we could do that up here, but being a mountain resort we have to be open. Running out is not an option."
So, he's had to learn how to manage the supply throughout the day to keep the barbecue fresh as hungry skiers and snowboarders come in. He's currently dealing with a new challenge, bulking up his staff and organizing for a busy weekend ahead as Dusty's hosts the championships. "We're open all spring and summer," he says. "It's a skeleton staff. This weekend we boost up our staff to something like 100 people working for us. It's really busy. It's our time to shine. We throw everything we have at it."
Chefs from around North America have attended in the past in hopes of qualifying for the world championships in Las Vegas later this year. Also up for grabs is $7,000 in cash and prizes. It can be a little intimidating serving food to experts in the field, Eckert says. "I do go out and talk to the tables and talk to people, see how they're enjoying themselves," he says. "If I start stressing about that it might be a full stop to the whole weekend. I don't let that bother me too much. It's interesting cooking for people whose lives are revolving around the products they're putting out. It's always in the back of my mind. Generally I think we do a pretty good job of keeping up with the pace."
The event begins on Friday when the teams will come in, set up and settle in. Later that night will be the Whole Lotta Ribs featuring the Whole Lotta Led event, which includes all-you-can-eat ribs and an acoustic set by Whistler's Led Zeppelin cover band. Tickets are $20. "I'm looking forward to that one," Eckert says. "Everyone I mention it to says they have a different story on how many ribs they can put away. It will be family-style service. You pull up at the table and order up the bottomless ribs. We'll bring them out until they're done."
On Saturday, look forward to (limited) samples from the competing chefs, live music from noon on and the first day of the competition with chili and burgers. The Dusty's menu is another bottomless affair, this time with suckling pig and barbecue chicken. FOMO will take the stage later that evening. "As far as Saturday goes, it's more seeing what goes on," Eckert says. "You get a chance to talk to the competitors. They're all pretty sociable. On Sunday, they're a little more (stressed) out trying to get it done exactly perfect."
The following day begins with a pancake breakfast then the kick off of the competition, which will include categories like pork butt, Ravenswood pork and cork, beef brisket, chicken and ribs. (To clarify, these offerings are for the judges, not the public.) The weekend caps off with shows from The Hairfarmers and The Matinee. "We see huge crowds and everyone is coming down to see what fresh barbecue is," Eckert says. "If you get to taste any samples from one of these tents you won't regret it."
The full schedule can be found at www.whistlerblackcomb.com/bbq.