Hundreds of hungry meat lovers will invade Creekside this weekend, licking their chops and sharpening knives, all vying for a taste of some of the best barbecue in Canada. That's because the Canadian National BBQ Championship is again taking place right here in Whistler, and so far, over 35 teams are registered to face off at the annual event, which takes place on Saturday, Aug. 1 and Sunday, Aug. 2.
Bob Haselbach is the namesake of BBQ Bob and the Eh! Team (Hasselbach's girlfriend). They're just one of the many teams that will yield their tongs and don an apron at the upcoming festivities, but Haselbach is perhaps best known for manning the grills (or rather, the smokers) over at BBQ Bob's, the casual, barbecue side of Roland's Pub.
What many people don't know is that barbecuing isn't just a backyard hobby. For some people, it's evolved into a full-fledged passion and serious competition.
Competitive barbecuers don't mess around. (If you need proof, just Google the Pacific Northwest BBQ Association and check out the website.) For your information, in this world, propane grilling just doesn't count. Real "old school" barbecuing involves low, indirect heat, coupled with the smoke of charcoal or wood fire, slowly cooking large cuts of meat. This slow process breaks down the connective tissues of meat, making it tender and, quite simply, delicious. There are also judges and a bunch of rules in this realm, and these boys (and girls) come prepared to compete.
Haselbach has been gearing up all season, gaining experience and knowledge at the other competitions, and getting it all down to a science, really.
To "shake the cobwebs off" in May, BBQ Bob and the Eh! Team traveled to a competition at Pike Place Market in Seattle, where they placed sixth overall. Then, they went on to win the next three events, held in Trail, Richmond and Kelowna, which were qualifiers for the B.C. Cup. Using the prize money from those competitions, Haselbach was able to travel to another competition in Regina with an employee from the restaurant, where they scored third overall.
"That's the best we've ever done in the States," Haselbach said of the Seattle result.
So far, they've had a successful season, but Haselbach is quick to point out that there's another team hot on their heels: Bad Ass BBQ actually placed as reserve champion in the first two competitions, and are trailing only 50 points behind.
Here in Whistler, Haselbach should have the home court advantage, with a fridge full of prime cuts across the street at the restaurant.
"Because I have this to practice in every day," he said, gesturing to BBQ Bob's. "Like all through last winter and stuff, I think that's what's helping me."
He's also used to smoking at this elevation (and yes, apparently that really matters, because it affects the way cookers work). But he'll also be facing some additional pressure. With Whistler being his turf and all, expectations are high.
"Most of barbecue is just about controlling variables, eh? There are so many different things that you have to have on your radar and be paying attention to to have everything come out perfect," he said.
The first day of the competition, on Saturday, even amateur barbecue enthusiasts can get in on the action at Creekside, throwing their hat into the ring during the Budweiser King of the Grill Backyard Burger Championship, or the CASI-sanctioned chili competition.
But all the serious action goes down on Sunday, when the pros dish up in the four categories: pork shoulder, beef brisket, chicken and ribs. They are each judged to a maximum of 180 points. The highest total wins the title of grand champion. It's the penultimate event of the Pacific Northwest competitive BBQ circuit, and also a qualifier for the American Royal World Championships and the Jack Daniel's World Championship in Lynchburg, Tennessee. Plus, the winning team walks away with a trip to Jamaica. So the stakes are high.
While only the serious competitors have a chance to snag the top prizes (and the ensuing glory) any attendee can purchase a tasting pass, which will give them a chance to taste the teams' fare and judge for themselves.
An extra scoop
If barbecue isn't up your alley, and finer dining is more your style, head up Whistler Mountain on Sunday for Whistler Blackcomb's Taste of B.C. summer gala. The event features a selection of fresh ingredients from across the province, like Ocean Wise seafood, paired with five wine tastings and some stunning alpine views.
The dinner starts at 5 p.m., and if you already have a lift ticket, the price is just $59 for adults, $44 for youth, or $22 for kids. Prices with a lift ticket are $84, $64 and $30, respectively. Check out Whistler Blackcomb's online events calendar for more information.