New England Barbecue Society 101

August 22, 2013

New England BBQ Society interview

Over the past few weeks we’ve looked at the various organizations that help manage competition barbecue and grilling contests across the country.  This week we turn to New England, home of the New England BBQ Society and of Steve Farrin of team I Smell Smoke!!!


So Steve, according to my calculations, I Smell Smoke!!! is by far the most winning competition team in New England. Roughly how many grand champion titles do you all currently hold?

We’ve won around 40-45 grilling and barbecue competitions from Maine to Alabama. We’ve actually won a contest in every New England state, which I think no other team has been able to do.

And how did you get starting cooking competitively?

Doug Pini is one of our founding members. He visited a competition and got the New England BBQ society newsletter (Burnt Ends). He gave a copy to his brother Charlie. Charlie and his girlfriend Carlotta (now his wife) signed up for a contest in Cape Cod. They showed up with a grill and some chicken (not knowing that to win they had to compete in all 4 categories) and won a ribbon. They were hooked and the rest, as they say, is history.

Any “can’t miss” contests on your annual schedule?

Harpoon is definitely a ‘can’t miss’ contest for us. We have competed there since the inaugural event and every year since. Peter’s Pond is one we try not to miss since Charlie and Carlotta actually got married there.

And what is your most memorable contest to-date?

Talladega, Alabama was the biggest contest with the largest prize purse we have won so that’s pretty memorable. Winning ribs at the Jack is also a highlight of our competition career.  Another memorable contest was Rhode Island. We walked in every category in both the grilling and bbq contests, winning Grand Champion in both.

Some people may not think of New England as barbecue and grilling country but there are some serious outdoor cooks up there. How long have you been cooking with live fire?

I’ve been cooking outdoors since I was very young… too young to remember. Outdoor cooking is actually a long tradition in New England. It may not be known for brisket or whole hog but some lobsters and steamers cooked on an outdoor pit are pretty spectacular.

Any regional specialties you like to do on the grill, maybe a lobster dish?

There’s plenty of fresh seafood in the area and much of it is great cooked on the grill, lobster, bluefish you name it. Not being a huge seafood guy, steaks and chops are my favorites on the grill.

So we’ve been taking a look at the different regional BBQ and grilling organizations across the country and would love some insight in to the New England BBQ Society (“NEBS”). How long has NEBS been around?

NEBS was officially formed in 1994 but its roots can be traced back further than that to the New England Wood cookery society. I’m proud to say I’ve served on the NEBS board for several years and even took the helm as President for a couple of years.

And how long have you been an active member?

I believe I joined NEBS in 1997. Some of the original NEBS members are still active today. People like “Dirty Dick” Westhaver for example.

What sets NEBS events apart from say KCBS or FBA ones?

Where KCBS and FBA are single day events NEBS tends to have 2 day events (pretty hardcore if you ask me). A NEBS grilling competition on Saturday and a KCBS bbq event on Sunday are a typical weekend for NEBS. What’s great about the grilling contests is that teams get to show off their culinary ability. Many of the categories are open garnish so the cooks can get very creative with their presentations. Everybody is trying to one up everyone else so the judges get to sample some great dishes.

Having competed in several NEBS grilling contests over the past five or so years, I can legitimately say that the competition has gone to a whole other level. What I see being turned out with portable grills and equipment would rival many restaurants. How do you continue to set yourself apart when the competition gets fiercer by the day?

We are always changing, never staying stagnant. Just because a certain dish did well one weekend does not mean it’s going to do well every weekend. We may use a dish at 2 or 3 contests tops but then we know it’s time for a change. There are trends in food and we try to stay current with those trends. The Internet is a great tool for finding new inspiration in creating new dishes. Personally I don’t follow recipes but I look at recipes all the time to get ideas for new dishes.

And what’s on tap for you during the rest of this year? I believe you’re now a full-blown restaurateur? Does that mean fewer contests?


If all goes according to plan I will be too busy to compete as often as I used to. If that’s the case I’m ok with that because it means my business is becoming successful. With that said I have no plans to give up competing completely, I just enjoy it so much I can’t see that happening.

Anything else we didn’t cover or perhaps a word of advice for someone looking to get their feet wet on the competition circuit?

My advice is to jump right in, that’s what we did. Sure you might come in DAL a time or two but you’ll get some practical experience and have a ball doing it. After you cook a couple of contests then it might be time to take a class. Shameless plug…… We hold monthly classes at New England BBQ and Catering, check out our schedule on Oh, and we also sell award winning rubs and sauces at

Thanks, Steve!

By Clint Cantwell, Guest Editor

Related Topics: Competition Barbecue | Competition Bbq | Competitions | Events | I Smell Smoke!!! | Nebs | New England Bbq Society | Steve Farrin

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