Local guys take barbecue to the next level.
September 5, 2001
There is no crying in barbecue.
It is, after all, an event dedicated to good sauce, good meat and good fun.
But Duane Felker and Phil Hyatt were nearly driven to tears when they learned Monday their catering company, Carson City BBQ, won both the People’s Choice and Best Sauce awards at the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cookoff in Sparks.
“It was mayhem,” Felker said.
“There was hugging and crying,” Hyatt added.
Carson City BBQ’s win marks the first time a team has ever won two first-place events in the competition.
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By a slim of margin of seven votes, Hyatt, of Carson City, and Felker, of Reno, edged out 21 other rib cookers for the People’s Choice honor.
Joined by family and friends, who donned aprons to help the one-time weekend barbecuers in the five-day event, Hyatt and Felker said they couldn’t be more surprised.
“I was just amazed,” Felker said. “How do two Carson City guys come up with this? How do we beat those guys who grew up with this in their families?”
They call Asquaga’s Nugget’s annual rib festival the “super bowl” of barbecuing.
The secret to their award-winning sauce lies somewhere between just the right amount of onion and lemon juice.
“This is the one we covet,” Hyatt said. “This is judged by executive chefs. To compete and win against those caliber of people is an honor.”
Not bad for two guys who only decided to become competitive cookers five years ago.
“It’s amazing what happens if you get lucky,” said John Loomis, a friend and barbecue helper.
Before there was Carson City BBQ, there was Phil’s Kitchen – Hyatt’s and Felker’s equipment loaded in the back of a Toyota pickup bound for select weekend locations. One dry September when the water skiing was particularly bad, the duo found themselves at the Sparks rib cookoff, marveling that their ribs were tastier.
“We just figured we could do better,” Felker said. “Plus we saw all the people and saw dollar signs.”
Felker, a driver for Sysco Food Service, and Hyatt, owner of PR Doors and Glass, started learning about barbecue, discovering there’s more to a good sauce than everyone’s secret ingredient.
Felker bought several cookbooks – he figures “15 of the silly things” – and after learning the basics, he and Hyatt advanced into their own sauce.
“He would come over every Sunday, and we’d try this, taste it and then go to McDonald’s,” Hyatt said. “We ate at McDonald’s a lot because it wasn’t good.”
Heartened by the encouragement of friends and family, they bought $20,000 worth of cooking equipment and headed for a competition in Phoenix in March 1996.
It was, Felker said, “ugly.”
They spent another $5,000 on travel and lodging expenses and didn’t even make enough to pay the competition entry fee.
They came home, put the equipment in Hyatt’s backyard, and for months the word “barbecue” was taboo.
Then a friend asked them to cater a wedding, and they slowly began to regain their cooking confidence. In 1997, they entered South Lake Tahoe’s Horizon Resort Casino Best on the Mountain cookoff and won best sauce. Buoyed by that win, they returned every year, winning best ribs this year. They started at the Nugget cookoff in 1998 where they placed fourth for best ribs and garnered fifth place in 1999.
Hyatt and Felker are supported in their endeavors by family and friends, who are paid only in T-shirts and bottles of sauce emblazoned with the team’s devil pig logo. They cater about 60 events a year, and hope their catering business will continue to grow.
“We hope to establish ourselves as the premier barbecue catering company in Northern Nevada,” Hyatt said.
They’ve made friends in the barbecue community and will help a fellow rib cooker at a Portland event this weekend. Their next Nevada stop will be Genoa’s annual Candy Dance festival.