Grillin’ out in Austin

Published 10:17 am Monday, May 18, 2009

“Look at that smoke ring … Ooh, hoo,” Bob Nelson gushed as he and Mark Jurgensen hunched over the barbecue-coated ribs, examining the color and making incisions like a surgeon with a scalpel.

“Good. Meaty,” Jurgensen said, nodding with approval.

The relentless wind and biting cold didn’t stop more than 70 teams from competing for a $10,000 purse at the annual Minnesota in May BBQ Contest Friday and Saturday at the Mower County Fairgrounds. Originally held in Cambridge, Minn., the contest is one of five state championships in Minnesota this season sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society.

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Jurgensen, who has experience barbecuing with Austin’s Piggy Blues Bar-B-Que team, made his debut last weekend with Marvelous Mark’s BBQ Co. Teammate Nelson, owner of the Restaurant Warehouse, brings his professional chef experience.

“I helped him a little bit with the rub,” he admitted.

“This is my very first competition,” Jurgensen said Saturday. “I was with Piggy Blues for four and a half years – they talked me into it.”

Jurgensen said they competed in the “Anything Spam” contest Saturday morning, submitting his pan-fried specialty, made with brown sugar and butter.

His team competed in every category – pork butt, chicken, ribs, brisket and dessert competitions, as well as the chicken wings and chili cook-offs Friday.

Like any good barbecuer, Jurgensen holds his recipe sacred. He uses a hand-built, red-colored charcoal grill with applewood.

Nelson said cooking the pork butt is very tedious; Jurgensen stayed up all night to keep the temperature at a consistent 200 to 225 degrees.

Each meat requires different methods and lengths of time, depending on tenderness.

“Brisket is typically the worst part of the cow – if it’s made wrong, you know it,” Nelson said.

Teams each swear by their method of cooking, and for Tippy Canoe BBQ Crew, theirs is a Backwoods Smoker, which is fuel-efficient and user-friendly for the second-year competitors.

“It’s all about, in my opinion, temperature control,” team owner Joe Beland said.

“When we mess something up, it’s usually because it gets too hot.”

Tippy Canoe, based in St. Ansgar, Iowa, has three other team members: Jeff Beland, Matt Hanna and Brian Bork. Its namesake is Joe’s 14-year-old daughter, Sommer.

“My daughter’s nickname is ‘Tippy Canoe,’ ” he said.

The team entered the chicken, ribs, pork and brisket categories. Joe said his team’s instincts are terrible; people’s favorites are “usually the ones we don’t like,” he said.

Fledgling Tippy Canoe has already placed in two contests: second place at the 4th Annual Ben Biken BBQ Bash in Sparta, Wis. last year and first at a non-sanctioned competition in Northwood, Iowa, which Joe dismisses.

“Doesn’t count for me,” he said.