Competition brings passion, fun to barbequing

By Matt Daray

The air is filled with the smell of various spices and smoked meat that would make anyone’s mouth water for some delectable barbecue.

But this isn’t your average backyard cook-out, this is the 26th annual Murphysboro Praise the Lard Barbecue Competition.

The competition brings teams of friends, family and coworkers from across the country, and even some from as far away as Germany, to compete and prove who has the best barbecue. Competitors have their chicken, briskets, pork and ribs tested by professional barbecue judges.


The crisp Saturday morning started out with a special “prayer” for all the competing teams, a heart-warming speech for all to have fun and a shot of Gentleman’s Jack Daniels for all. Teams then went to their various tents, trailers, and make-shift work stations for a hard day’s work.

Every team has their reasons for entering; to win the $25,000 prize money, to establish themselves as barbecue experts or maybe to just enjoy time with friends — but ultimately, it comes down to the love of the craft.

Such is the way of team Beer and Smoking in Las Vegas, a group of four Chicagoland friends who like nothing better than to practice barbequing at competitions with Praise the Lard as their third. The team has a very relaxed and fun environment, as their team T-shirts with a Hunter S. Thompson pig on it would suggest.

“We really don’t give a s— about winning,” team member Alan Brouilette said. “We don’t want to be disqualified, but some of these guys are here to be serious competitors. We’re more beer league softball and these guys are the Yankees.”

Brouilette started the team after he wrote an article on another barbecue competition. He then got some of his friends together and set off barbecuing with them at competitions when they were able to go.

Even with home-made smokers comprised of barrels and electronic thermometers, each painted a different color to distinguish what is inside, the team said they stand just as good of a chance as the other teams because they’ve seen teams with small operations rank higher than serious competitors before.

Beer and Smoking has their own unique method of creating their barbecue as team member Shelby Bower summed up into a simple process.


“Here’s how it works, we throw a bunch of s— in a bowl and we say ‘is this good’ and if it’s good, we rub it on the meat,” she said. “And then we burn it for a really long and then we shoot the s— like old men talking about the war for hours.”

This competition marks the first time the team has tried to use a new butcher member Bob Lindely found. During one of their last competitions, the meat members bought ended up being rotten, almost ruining the entire competition for them.

However, team member Jason Paliatta said the debacle did turn around and the team was still able to present their work to the judges.

“We had gotten it from a restaurant supply company and we opened up one cryovac of ribs and it was rotten, we opened the second one and it was equally rotten,” he said. “So Alan had run to the nearby grocery store that was, fortunately, open for 24 hours.”

Other incidents of a more humorous nature have occurred to the team, such as Paliatta accidently pouring out grease from smoking a brisket onto his foot while he was wearing sandals. Bower said it was surprising to see a six-foot-four grown man scream like a little girl.

Receiving criticism from fellow competitors and attendees is one way the team tries to get better, Lindely said.

“For people like us who are new, especially new to the game and trying to improve, is that negative commentary or constructive criticism, is really valuable and desired.”

All team members insisted that while they take an incredibly casual approach to the competition, they understand the pressures of the competition and take it seriously.

As soon as it came to check the condition of the food or prepare it for the judges to receive, all team members jumped up from their fold-out chairs under their Chicago Bears tent and made sure their food was ready and tasted great for the judges. Once everything has settled down, the four friends went back to drinking beers and chatting with each other.

Deadline pressure can be tremendous, as the team agreed that the clock is God when it comes to competing and any late entrees will earn the team a zero for that category. Deadlines tend to be easily met though and most of the problems come from teams trying to take their barbecue out at the very last minute, Brouilette said.

While it is important to improve, cook-offs like the one in Murpyhsboro are less about competition and really about having fun with friends, even for many of the teams who are more serious, Bower said.

“Choosing to do something on your weekend, where I took two days off of work to not sleep and exhaustively cook for people I don’t know and maybe not be disqualified, is really about hanging out with your friends and doing something you like doing,” she said.

Team Beer and Smoking in Las Vegas placed 57th overall in the competition, with their chicken placing 36th out of the 76 teams who competed.