Carson City BBQ Company in national spotlight at cook-off
August 28, 2007
How to become a barbecue god:
Step 1: Create a sauce that smells good in the bottle, better on the grill and tastes best falling off the bone.
Step 2: Invite your friends to try, heed their advice, keep improving.
Step 3: Buy a cooker, a smoker, a half-dozen barbecue pits, the right combination of “flavored” woods, and fire it up.
Step 4: Enter the biggest barbecue competition in the West on a whim because you’ve tried the rest and think you can do better. Dust off your mantle. Take home the People’s Choice award – twice.
OK, so it might not be that simple; but for Phil Hyatt and partner Duane Felker – proprietors of Carson City BBQ Company – that’s the winning recipe.
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“We used to go up to the lake and have a barbecue, we called it ‘Phil’s Kitchen,'” Hyatt, a lifetime Carson resident, recalled while setting up for the 19th Annual Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-off in Sparks on Tuesday. “We cooked for everyone that showed up. Soon, we had lines of 40 and 50 people on the weekends.
“One year, there was a drought at the lake. We said ‘let’s go to the rib cook-off’ – we went, decided we could do better, and bought a cooker.”
That was 1995.
Since then, a single cooker has turned into a mega-business.
Carson City BBQ Company annually sells more than 12,000 bottles of sauce in 40 stores regionally. It caters more than 100 events a year.
Hyatt and Felker have traveled more than 1,000 miles to cater a single event (a wedding where one groomsman remarked: “This isn’t wedding prime rib, this is fine-dining prime rib.”)
For this year’s rib cook-off alone, the architects of Carson’s best ribs have made up more than 250 gallons of barbecue sauce – which Hyatt predicts “may last” the six-day event.
From a single barbecue to a 20-foot trailer “filled with tents, grills, warmers, banners and cookers,” the Carson City BBQ Company has grown up in lockstep with the Sparks-based cook-off.
“We were highlighted in the New York Times two weeks ago, that speaks to how big this has become and how national this is,” said Nugget spokesman Michael Traum, noting the edict and work ethic from Nugget employees has always remained the same even as stakes have gotten bigger. “The big difference is we were begging people to come in the beginning – back 20 years ago – we’d cold call barbecue restaurants to come out to this deal.
“Now, we’ve got a waiting list.”
Indeed, Carson City BBQ Company and Sparks-based BJ’s Barbecue are the only local purveyors.
“To be invited is a pretty prestigious thing,” Traum said. “We feel fortunate to have two of our best involved.”
Carson’s rib revivalists also believe the hype – perfecting the rib, as an edible piece of folk art, is what keeps them cooking. And when the competition gets hot, there is a certain dogma which unites the fiery bunch of cooks from across the country.
“One thing all rib cooks have in common: They all exaggerate and they’ll all take advantage of you,” Hyatt joked. “No, they’re all great guys, masters of a big story. You know how you can tell a rib guy from out of town is lying – his lips are moving.”
It’s that kind of cooking bravado, the feral West locale of the event and the emergence of barbecue as America’s true culinary free-form art – the gourmand’s jazz – that puts the Nugget cook-off at the fore of the epicurean zeitgeist.
“I’d say there is a little surprise involved about how big this thing has gotten,” the Nugget’s Traum said. I don’t think anyone envisioned it would go six days and we’d serve more than 100 tons of ribs, but here we are.”
• Contact reporter Andrew Pridgen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1219.
19th Annual Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-off by the numbers
1 – Competitive eating champion. Joey Chestnut is set to compete at 6 p.m. tonight at the Best in the West Nugget World Rib Eating Championship. Chestnut beat Japanese eating legend Takeru Kobayashi by downing an astounding 66 hot dogs on the Fourth of July.
2 – Local barbecue cookers competing: Carson City BBQ Company and Sparks’ BJ’s Barbecue.
6 – Number of days of the cook-off; an extra day was added this year.
8.4 – Pounds of rib meat Joey Chestnut can eat in 12 minutes.
17 – States in the union represented by barbecue cookers.
24 – Total barbecue cookers competing.
100 – Tons of ribs will be served through Labor Day.
$14,500 – Total prize money.
500,000 – Expected visitors to the cook-off.
11 a.m.-9 p.m. Today through Sunday
11 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday
Victorian Square, Sparks.
For more info