THE BARBECUE in Winnipeg’s BBQ & Blues Festival

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I arrived at Winnipeg’s BBQ & Blues Festival late, not too late to take in a night of fabulous blues from renowned singers, but too late to taste the award-winning barbecue recipes from participating contestants. They were shutting down their trucks when I arrived; where were the leftovers I wondered and asked since I was on a mission to taste.

Apparently they had opened their trucks to the public and the leftovers were gone in….an hour? I wasn’t that late I thought and yet there wasn’t any barbecue to be found.

Discouraged, I was immediately perked up by the BBQ King himself, Jim Johnson from Tennessee. There’s a long list of awards and kudos next to his name not to mention his 25+ years of cooking barbecue and mega-Grand Championship title winner. He has done numerous television appearances as well, which he has a natural affinity for, something I noticed within two minutes of meeting him having coached many executives on how to shine on camera myself. 

Overtly passionate about barbecue, he is also one of the most knowledgeable on the hobby, which is growing in popularity and not just in the states.

Jim was an International Cooking Instructor at Jack Daniel’s Annual World BBQ Invitational and has coached barbecue addicts and wannabes in several countries around Europe, including Denmark, Poland, Germany, and London.  He said that he taught a class in Amsterdam (Netherlands) which had 50 sign-ups; three years later, the event had 2,000 people in the class.  

Although it was Winnipeg’s first BBQ & Blues Festival, the event managed to draw contestants in from around the globe and attract the likes of Jim Johnson. I thought he would have been tired after days (including pulling an all nighter) of cooking, coaching, teaching and training but he was as perky as if he just woke up after a ten hour sleep. Talking a mile a minute, I couldn’t keep up with the pace of his storytelling and I’m an incredibly fast writer.  He says he’s done over 700 competitions over 27 years, had seven perfect scores and won over 300 Grand Championships.

“Most teams will cook their whole life and never get a perfect score,” says Jim. “If you want the WOW factor, you should position your sauce on the meat so it hits the bottom of the mouth since there’s no taste buds on the roof of your mouth.” Interesting point of course, but not something that every contestant has clearly thought through.

He continued to talk about the WOW factor which can be applied to most things in life. “The WOW factor works for appearance also. If your presentation looks amazing in the judge’s minds eye, then they will think it taste great.” I laughed thinking how true the statement was.

Presentation matters a lot and some of the best chefs in the world subscribe. Jim taught contestants prior to judging on how to best present their meat; 90 minutes alone was spent on how to cut your lettuce, which would ‘bed’ the meat on the bottom.

There is blind judging and regular judging, the blind judging is obviously designed to be unbiased since they don’t know whose barbecue it belongs to. Contests typically include four meats including the Winnipeg BBQ event: chicken, ribs, pulled pork and brisket. He spent 35 minutes or so coaching teams on each meat and additional time on smoking: how much smoke is good for meat, what woods work best (fruit woods versus charcoal), when is a good time just to use heat, and so on.

This event was sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society and their official rules and regulations applies; all judging was double blinded by KCBS trained judges.

Below, the contestants pack up their trucks at the end of the competition.












While I was too late to sample any of the contestants barbecue, renowned Winnipeg food truck Lovey’s BBQ was on-site, so we were able to at least get into the BBQ mood.












My host Jodi, decided we should sample a little bit of everything.













Here’s the Two Little Pigs BBQ Truck. They have a great name and their colors pop….

Jim handed me a print out of some of his recipes. “Isn’t this your secret sauce?” I asked. He says he doesn’t really compete anymore and besides, for a man who has won hundreds of championships, it would be hard for anyone to catch up, recipe or not. Below is one for his Mustard BBQ Sauce:

Mustard BBQ Sauce

  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup yellow prepared mustard
  • 1/3 cup Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons Clover Honey
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon of fine grind black pepper.

Mix all of the ingredients in a medium bowl. It makes about 2 1/2 cups and goes well on pork dishes including pulled pork.

Jim wasn’t the only king of BBQ at the event; celebrity BBQ competitor from TLC’s Pitmaster’s TV Show Moe Cason competed in the contest this year.

As Jim and I walked around the area, stopping at a couple of trucks, some contestants asked to have their photo taken with the BBQ King. I talked to Chris Hunt and his team who placed this year, and said they purchased all their meat from Marcello’s Meats. Their results by category were as follows:

  • Chicken – 12th
  • Ribs – 9th
  • Pork Butt – 4th
  • Brisket – 10th

Below is a photo of one of their submissions: (taken by Chris).








As part of the Winnipeg BBQ & Blues Festival, over 100 semi-trailers were presented in River Red Exhibition Park. Titled the House of Chrome Show ‘n Shine (fun name), and now in its 5th year, they featured a number of very impressive rigs at the south end of the Park. They had a one-of-a-kind 1990 Diamond Reo tractor with trailer, the longest 5th wheel tractor known in the U.S, measuring 93’ from bumper to bumper. The truck weighs 72,000 pounds, features two 11×6 LED screens with sound on the outside of the unit, and has traveled down the highway from Wisconsin to the east coast and Florida.

Below are some shots of the rig at the show this year.











































Photo credits: Purple truck and shot of Jim Johnson cooking (BBQ & Blues Festival). Chris Hunt barbecue shot taken by Chris Hunt and team. 3 other truck shots at the bottom of the post by Vince Pahkala. All other photo credits: Renee Blodgett.

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