Countdown to the Kingsford Invitational: Iowa’s Smokey D’s BBQ
October 24, 2013
Veteran’s Day weekend, winners of this year’s biggest barbecue contests will travel to New York City for the second annual Kingsford Invitational. Today we’ve got the latest entry in to the winner-take-all contest – Darren Warth of Iowa’s Smokey D’s BBQ, winner of the 2013 American Royal World Series of Barbecue Open.
Clint: First of all, congratulations to you and Sherry on the huge win at the American Royal World Series of Barbecue Open. As the were reading off the top finishers and getting closer and closer to announcing the Grand Champion, did you all feel like you had a shot at taking home the ultimate prize at one of the country’s most prestigious contests?
D: I am very confident when it comes to the American Royal and I had a feeling with the cook that I had that we would be in the hunt even before we got to awards. I thought we had Reserve Grand locked up pretty tight when all the teams with multiple calls got called in the top 20. After Burnt Finger, whom I thought had it won, got called I had a good feeling we were in. But you always have that eery feeling that you bombed a category. The anticipation of waiting to hear the word Iowa come out of the announcers voice is quite a feeling.
D: How long did it take for the victory to sink in? Did you wear your cape and crown on the drive home ?
D: To be honest, I’m not sure even 2 weeks later that it has sunk in. My wife was freaking out when we were called and I was pretty much all business saying “Honey, we have to go to the stage”. What a special day, it’s was the 3rd time we’ve celebrated our Wedding Anniversary at the American Royal. 2 Reserve Grand Championships and now a Grand Championship. Not sure anyone could ever have a more exciting Anniversary. Unfortunately it will be 2018 before we are able to celebrate it there again.
C: How did you all feel about your turn-ins having just come off a fifth place finish in the Invitational one day before? Any one category that you felt you really nailed or one that had you worried?
Darren Werth: We had two really good cooks at the Royal, not sure that I could have put any better food in the box. Pork was weak in scoring both days but I thought it was the top of my list both days, but that’s sometimes how Competition BBQ goes.
C: Now many folks don’t automatically think of Iowa when it comes to barbecue but you’ve been making noise in the competition circuit for several years now. Do you feel that your success on the circuit has help change that perception?
D: We always joke that Iowa BBQ rules the world. I think the fact that an Iowa team has won the American Royal two of the last three years (Tippycanoe 2011, Iowa’s Smokey D’s 2013) and two Iowa teams have won the Sam’s Club National Championship both years (Tippycanoe 2011, Lucky’s Q 2012), along with an Iowa Team winning the Jack Daniels World Championship in 2012 (Pigskin BBQ) is changing that perception.
C: Did you grow up around barbecue and grilling?
D: Not really. My mom is a wonderful cook so all of my brothers and sisters and I were in the kitchen at a very early age and are all great cooks today. Most of my grilling memories revolve around my dad cooking chicken breast on the grill and the charred flavor that came from the Open Pit BBQ Sauce on the grill.
C: Is there a certain flavor profile or perhaps a dish that defines your regional style?
D: Not really. I have found that competition BBQ is pretty much the same around the country. In today’s world, judges travel just as much as cooks. I cook the same everywhere I go. My attitude is Great BBQ is Great BBQ no matter what region you are cooking in.
C: How did you get started in competition barbecue?
D: It started with Deer Sausage. I went to pick up my deer sausage at the local locker back in 2002 and the bill was $1200. I told myself that I should be able to do that. So I started investigating smoking sausage on the internet, but quickly found competition BBQ. My wife and I visited the American Royal in 2002 and were instantly addicted. Within a few days after the visit I had ordered a new smoker and was ready for the competition circuit.
C: Obviously the American Royal win tops the list of most prestigious wins for Iowa’s Smokey D’s, but are there any other victories that you’re most proud of?
D: Winning the American Royal Open was my dream. Every victory has a special memory for us. Winning every meat category at the Royal is probably at the top of my accomplishments. We’ve score two 180 Perfect scores at the Royal in Ribs and Brisket. My new goal is a 180 in all 4 at the Royal.
C: In addition to your success on the competition circuit, you all also run three successful restaurants with your partners Shad and Angie Kirton of a Boy & His BBQ, winners of the 2010 season of BBQ Pitmasters. Is there much trash talk that goes on when you all compete against each other?
D: Not a day goes by that Shad doesn’t remind me that I’m the luckiest guy in Competition BBQ, which I can’t deny. You don’t win 40 State Championships and the American Royal being unlucky. I probably get more trash talk from the Smokey D’s Wannabees, two of our long time employees that compete against us both. They won 3rd place overall at the 2012 American Royal Open. It’s pretty interesting that we don’t share recipes back and forth. We all make our sauces at home so the others can’t see. We are actually more competitive against each other than we are against other teams.
C: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about doing his or her first contest?
D: Buy quality equipment and learn it very well. Practice, Practice, Practice. Don’t try and shortcut by buying the cheap hardware store model, you won’t be happy with it and you’ll be spending more money to replace it quickly. Review the top teams in the country and see what they are using for pits, it takes a good cook to win but equipment plays a very important role in how your product will turn out for the judges.
Study the internet forums and take a class. There is a lot of great information out there. An investment in a $700 class could pay big dividends very quickly. And no, I have no plans for classes.
C: When you’re not competing or running the restaurants and you’re just cooking at home for friends and family, is there one particular dish that you’d say is your “go to” favorite to grill up?
D: I cook a mean pork tenderloin on the grill. Pair that up with some grilled potatoes, onions and peppers and grilled asparagus and everyone at our house is smiling.
C: Because of the World Championship win, Iowa’s Smokey D’s BBQ is heading to the winner-take-all 2nd Annual Kingsford Invitational. You’ll be competing against some of the best teams of 2013 including the winners of the Houston Livestock & Rodeo, Memphis in May, the Jack Daniel’s Invitational and others. Any overall thoughts or expectations regarding the contest?
We are excited to get there and cook. I’m guessing that the weather conditions aren’t going to be that great on New York harbor in November, but we’re from Iowa. We’ve cooked and won on a frozen lake in MN in February, we can take it. We are just happy to get the opportunity to promote our restaurant and team on a National level. What other restaurant in the world is run by a World Champion BBQ team and a winner of BBQ Pitmasters?
C: Have you been watching last year’s Kingsford Invitational program or spoken to any of the competitors for tips?
D: We’ve been so busy with Royal PR work that I haven’t even really thought about it. Even though I did do a little practice last night on my One Bite Challenge which has to involve Steak. Ideas in your head always don’t look so good coming off the grill, definitely going to take some more practice. J
C: What’s next for you all? Any plans for expanding the growing restaurant empire or other projects?
D: We are actively looking for another restaurant spot on the West side of Des Moines. We want to build the perfectly designed restaurant that will serve as a model for future growth around the country if we decide to franchise down the road. We’ve definitely got plenty of trophies to stock them with.
– Clint Cantwell, Grilling.com Editor