WAXHAW – Sleep? What sleep?
That is how Marco Brito described getting prepared for the The Grill’n and Chill’n BBQ cookoff at the Autumn Treasures festival Oct. 13 in downtown Waxhaw.
Brito and John Crane from Killer Q BBQ were among several dozen teams that participated in the professional barbecue event sponsored by the Kansas City Barbeque Society. Teams set up Oct. 12 and spent the night and the next morning preparing their food to be judged by a panel of barbecue experts.
“We got the fire started around 1 (a.m.),” said Brito, who called himself the pit boss while monitoring their meats around 8:30 a.m. Oct. 13. “I got increments of 30, 40 minutes of sleep here and there. I froze my butt off in the tent. Then I got smart and moved up here close to the smoker.”
Crane, who also owns South Main BBQ in Waxhaw, and Brito have operated Killer Q out of Matthews for the last several years. Their enterprise includes a food truck, which was also set up at Autumn Treasures, and a catering business. In fact, around preparing their food for the judges, the crew was also setting up fare for the food truck and a catering order on a crisp fall morning.
And there is more to just giving the judges good tasting barbecue, as presentation is also very important. Brito was meticulous in preparing their chicken entry for the smoker. It took between 60 and 90 minutes to cook the chicken, which was among four meats Killer Q was preparing.
In addition to the chicken, Killer Q cooked ribs, brisket and pork butts.
“I make sure all the pieces are uniform and nice and neat,” Brito said. “It has to be perfect.”
Killer Q used a new stick burner to prepare their meats. They start off with a base of charcoal and they then use “real thin splits” of pecan and hickory wood. The cooker is insulated against colder outside temperatures.
“That allows us to maintain the temperature we want,” Brito said. “Obviously, the meats that take longer, we put them on first. Chicken always goes in last because that is the first to turn in.”
Brito has won several professional competitions over the years while competing in Texas and the Carolinas.
“This is a sanctioned event with trained judges brought out by KCBS,” Brito said. “We try not to be offensive with any of the flavors. Not too sweet, too spicy or too much vinegar. We like to have some sweetness with a nice balance of spices. This is the debut of the new cooker.”
Brito said a lot of planning goes into getting the food from the smoker to the judges.
“We stick to a very strict timeline,” Brito said. “I use an alarm system with my phone. Everything that I have to do is on an alarm system. It just triggers me. Hopefully, the judges will like what we do.”
Crane got his start cooking barbecue by grilling for friends and family and that led the Tennessee native to make a career out of it. Crane also lived in Texas before moving to the Charlotte area.
“I got into it cooking recreationally, and I think that is how everybody gets into it,” Crane said. “As a child, I experienced a lot of different varieties of barbecue. It was a hobby for me and then it was, ‘Do you want to cater an event for me or do you want to do a PTA event at the school for me?’ That’s how it starts. You learn things the hard way, trial by fire. We have developed sauces, rubs and techniques. You learn something every time you do a cook.
“It’s half magic and half luck, and there is no sleep at a barbecue competition.”