Getting The Royal Treatment

After 18 hours in a pickup truck, 5 dudes rolled into the American Royal with absolutely no clue what was going on. The campus itself is, to use a technical term, "Ginormous". There were teams camped out in every inch of the 3 parking lots we drove through just looking for our spot. Eventually we got to the right entrance (there were several, most we didn't even see) and found our spot.

We had to take a step back for a moment and just relax and take in everything. This was the BBQ Mecca - more teams than we had ever seen before were here to cook. Some were here to party, some were here just to experience the event. It was a pretty humbling moment, but it also was inspiring. We were here to make a name for ourselves, and to show that we can hack it with the best in the country. And at that point, we began setting up and putting together our home for the next few days.

Once settled in, we got the chance to go and see the sights. We made it into Kansas City, KS to visit the BBQ store, and taste some Oklahoma Joe's. We even ventured into a local pub to catch some football and take in some Karaoke. And in the evening we got a chance to walk the campus, make our way through most of the team areas and check out just who was there.

Needless to say, the Royal was host to a plentiful amount of TV celebrities, national and world champions and tons of well known teams that you might read about in headlines. As we walked through what might as well have been a 'Who's Who' for BBQ it began to sink in that we were here, competing on the same playing field as these big shots. With all of the competition around you, your begin to think two very different things. Your confidence level rises. You began to have a bit of some swagger, representing your home town, your state, and you get a feeling of invincibility, that you have "Arrived". But then comes the other side, which is sheer terror thinking that with all of these well-known, long-time winners, you don't stand a chance in the world against these guys. They show up in a trailer decked out with their team name, sponsors flying their names on everything they touch. It's like going to the grocery store and seeing name brands all around you, and you're the generic store brand. The humble thought of not being able to hold a candle to these guys, mixed with the confidence of being one of the best 150ish teams in the country, made for a huge psychological battle, and Thursday night, we all were a little unsure of what the weekend would bring.

All of the mental struggle was completely gone by Friday. The Royal Campus came alive and we got to enjoy everything the event had to offer. From Sasuage Gravy and Biscuits for breakfast, to shopping at the Sam's Club area and checking out new types of smokers, we checked out every thing there was to see. We met up with some other friends from 'up North', the Q'n Canucks and enjoyed a few drinks and helped talk each other up for the big cook. And when it came time for the cooks meeting, we parted ways. Seeing the room, and thinking "wow, there's going to be this many judges here tomorrow..." you get an appreciation for the grandeur of the event. It's not only a prestigious event for teams, but judges get to sample some of the best BBQ in the country all at the same time. It's no wonder why this is the biggest BBQ event in history. At the Cook's Meeting we got to see a small handful of teams, and listened to the normal spiel from the KCBS reps regarding turn-in times and rules for garnish. We even got to gush a little bit, as Harry Soo of Slap Yo' Daddy BBQ sat at our table.

As the evening wore on, the party crowd got bigger, and bigger, and bigger. We began to see people entering by the hundreds. We performed an old pre-BBQ ritual of ordering pizza and having it delivered to the campus, and just walking to the parking entrances you were jolted with an exciting buzz of energy as enough people to fill a football stadium came pouring in. And as evening turned to night, the crowds got bigger and bigger. Finally, despite the warnings of many of our friends who were veterans of the Royal, we decided to check out the 'Dark Side' and see what all the fuss was really about. Some say the 'Dark Side' is to be avoided at all costs. It's where the craziness happens, the things that "stay in Kansas City", and a place where a team who's just trying to make it through a BBQ competition would be completely distracted by. And it was. And it was exactly what the Meatheads needed.

What started out as your typical BBQ competition after the first mile or so of walking, turned into the biggest party we had ever experienced. It was tailgating, corporate mixers, barbeque expos and club scenes all rolled into a giant place to get bbq and beer. Every site was throwing a party all at the same time. Some sponsors had bought 6 or more adjoining sites to accommodate their patrons as well as their entertainment. DJ booths, hot tubs, mechanical bulls, everything was available to just come and have a good time. Who knows what drew the crowds to this event, why they paid the cover to get in and then a second cover to get into every party. But it didn't matter. We walked all over for what felt like hours, soaking it all up.

After a long day and night of carrying on, and taking it all in, there was no more competition jitters, no more mental blocks or psychological breakdowns. We were ready. The Saturday event was a normal competition for us. We relaxed, and on point. And it paid off. Putting together the Pork box was uplifting, as the look, feel, texture and taste was one of the best we've done. Our brisket had an excellent flavor. Our Ribs were just the perfect tenderness. Things were definitely looking up for us. We had joked all day about how as long we come in the top 100, being one of the 100 best teams in BBQ was just fine with us. But truthfully we were so happy with our food turn ins that the place didn't matter to us.

With the vibe at the reward ceremony giving us a nervous excitement, the Meatheads listened intently as Buffalo's BBQ got called more than once. And with tension building, the Grand Champion was announced to be Big Poppa Smokers. While we didn't hear our name called, we still took a lot away from the experience. And with a score of 671, we were extremely happy with that, and finishing a very respectable 46 overall, the team was content, fulfilled and satisfied with our performance.

The Sunday competition was pretty typical for us as well. Normally our Sunday events entail an NEBS competition, with strange and unique categories, an unfamiliar cooking schedule and a lot of organized chaos. At the Royal, the Sunday Open is a standard KCBS event, which had us in a bit of a different mindset. Our goal was to do just what we did the night before, including all of our normal superstitions. We were very happy with most of our turn-ins including the brisket, which is always a crap shoot. We even managed to throw together a sausage turn-in we found out about at the last minute. So despite being a little out-of-sorts we were still extremely pleased, and amid the home town Kansas City fans, the Bills game was alive and well in our tent. And in true Meatheads fashion, the teams next to us got a perfect view of how to take down your site in under 45 minutes. It was a beautiful day no matter how you slice it.

Sitting in the Award room of the American Royal, the stage is in the center of a bull-riding arena. Some people are in the bleachers, some are sitting on chairs right in the dirt at the foot of the stage. We got to the awards on the early side, to pick out our seats. Usually we sit near the exit, as we're not real big on being the center of attention. And this time was no different. Plus, you got to see the immense amount of people -- 545 teams -- turned out for the event. Despite such a sheer mass of people, you did hear a couple of repeat calls from the day before, and its hard to fathom how good these teams really are. In the dessert category (we did not participate) the top 10 teams all got perfect scores, and we cheered pretty loudly for Danielle when Diva Q got a call for 3rd place. With competition this thick, anyone could win. Sadly we received no calls, although we finished with a very respectable 652 good enough for 161 overall. We didn't learn our places in each category as the booklet (literally a book) that had the team scores only had the scores, and the overall ranking. But we did get to see that despite changing up a couple things with the brisket from Saturday to Sunday, we finished with the same exact score. All in all it was a good lesson - that no matter what you do, you always have a chance to win.

As soon as the awards were over, we headed back to the already packed truck, ready to start the drive home. It's always easier coming home, because you're so anxious to get back, that the hours seem shorter and faster. And once we were back at the clubhouse and unpacked, a celebratory beer down the hatch. Everyone was ready for some well-deserved rest.

Thanks to the American Royal for hosting the best event in Barbeque, and accepting our application for a once in a life time experience. The Meatheads move on to the Jack Daniels World Invitational this weekend in Lynchburg, Tennessee in the hopes of bettering their showing on the national level, but more importantly bringing the Meathead experience to the Jack, and taking a piece of it home with us.