Masters of the Pit: Rob Bagby
October 11, 2011
Each week we feature a different master outdoor cook from across the country. This week, we head south and catch up with one of Florida’s finest, Rob “Rub” Bagby.
Rob, first of all, it may seem obvious but how’d you get the nickname Rub?
I was at my first barbecue event which was the 2003 Florida Barbecue Association’s annual Fun Cook. I had been invited to hang out with a team called The Dixie Boys and Joby Stanaland. When I got there I found Joby with a group of people and introduced myself to him. He then introduced me to the group, one of which was Ray Lampe aka Dr. BBQ. I don’t know if Joby mispronounced my name, or if Ray misheard it, but Ray said “His name is Rub? If his name is Rub I want him on my team!” And from that point on it has stuck with me.
And from what I can tell, you started cooking rather early. What’s your first memory regarding outdoor cooking?
From as far back as I can remember my mom used to have me in the kitchen with her helping out and watching. I remember being outside with my dad and he taught me about the basics of arranging and lighting charcoal using fluid. And of course holding my hand over the grill and counting “One Sparky Charcoal, Two Sparky Charcoal, etc.” to test the temperature. Away from the grill I would cook over small open fires. We lived on a lake and my friends and I were always catching bluegills and shellcrackers and frying them up over a fire outside. If we didn’t catch anything we’d take the little clams and mussels we were using for bait and boil them open then sauté them up in some butter. We felt like we were eating like kings.
So you had officially taken control of the cookers and I believe you started hosting your own backyard parties in the late 70s. Care to share a little bit about those early parties?
I’d invite all my friends over and we would have an all day outdoor cookout. I’d get a couple pork butts and double wrap them in foil and put them right down around the coals of the oak wood fire in the morning. As the day went on we would tap the keg and roast some fresh oysters for snacking on, and then eventually add in some corn on the cob. Usually around mid afternoon we would dig up the butts, pull off the corn, and have a feast. There were usually around 30 of us and we would spend the whole day outside eating, swimming in the lake, and hanging with friends.
What year did you make the jump from backyard cook to competitive cook?
I entered my first barbecue competition on my own in January of 2004, and it was the KCBS Lakeland Pig Fest. At the time they touted it as the largest KCBS Backyard competition in the country. I won GC there, and it was my first and only Backyard division contest. I have cooked on the “pro side” ever since.
So since that point, what has been your favorite competition BBQ memory?
Wow, to pick just one is a challenge. We’ve been blessed so with so many great barbecue competition memories. My barbecue career has been a series of personal goals and challenges, and each one that is met has been special. I guess if I had to pick just one though, it would probably be being invited to cook at the Jack Daniel’s World Championships and hearing our name called for 1st place in the pork category. Being there symbolized reaching a major goal, and winning the pork category was just like the barbecue sauce on the meat.
Being from Florida, do you prefer the Florida BBQ Association style of cooking or KCBS?
My first preference will always be with the FBA. I’ve been on the BOD including as a two term president for going on six years now. Not having to deal with the garnish is a huge relief and saves me a couple of hours of tedious work. The one hour between turn-ins is also nice, especially when I am solo. That being said, I really enjoy most of the KCBS format as well. The half hour between categories is a bit of an adrenalin rush, and can be a lot of fun. I just wish they would do away with the greenery though. They call it “optional” but if you want to be competitive you’ve got to play the game and use it.
Is there any one dish, ingredient or cooking technique that defines outdoor cooking in Florida?
My opinion of what defines outdoor cooking in Florida would have to be the Cuban influence on our methods and marinades, as well as the varied citrus fruits that have become popular ingredients. There are many marinades, sauces, and glazes that incorporate citrus juice. Mojo Criollo is a popular base for a marinade, and can be made with sour oranges, lemons, limes, tangerines, etc. The zest from many fruits adds a great layer of flavor when rubbed on fresh fish, pork loin, or chicken.
What’s next for Swamp Boys? Any contest that you still want to do, one that you still want to win or a category that you still want to refine?
There is too much on the horizon for Swamp Boys! Barbecue could easily be my full time job, but I have 7 more years until I can retire from my regular job.
In the meantime, here is my current list of goals:
- I want to expand Swamp Boys Q School to other states
- I want to earn another invitation to the Jack via the seven wins like I did in ’09
- I really want to win my home town contest. It’s an awesome event that draws a lot of top teams from across the southeast
- Category wise, I have to become more consistent in ribs and pork. There has been a gradual flavor change among the judges that I am still trying to figure out
And lastly, is there an item or dish that you still want to master on the smoker or grill?
I’m still experimenting on grilling the perfect steak. We don’t eat it that often, but when we do it’s got to be great!
Good stuff and continued success in everything you do!
Clint Cantwell, Grilling.com Guest Editor