NORTH Vancouver barbecue master Justin Kyllo has won national Canadian and American barbecue competitions, but until this year never had the chance to tickle the taste buds of judges in his hometown.
As the lead organizer and a participant in PNE Rib Fest, that has finally changed. Five teams, including Kyllo's, are competing in the mouthwatering showdown, which will be running at the fairground until early next month.
Participants have come from as far away as Florida, Ontario, California and Saskatchewan for a chance to be named the fair favourite. At stake is a trophy and bragging rights.
"Every cook takes pride in his work," said Kyllo. Although for him, he added, the food on the grill represents something even more special: a new start at life.
A paragliding accident at Grouse Mountain in 2002 left Kyllo with a broken back and arms, forcing him to quit his autoworking job at the age of 35. His last surgery was in 2005, but he was hardly a couch potato in that time, developing a love of cooking and barbecue as a stay-at-home dad while his wife went out to work.
"When you're 35 years old, and you lose your career and everything you trained and worked for, you don't know which way to go," Kyllo said. "(With) a young family, you're in a desperate situation."
Barbecue helped turn things around, he said. In 2006, Kyllo took the first of several trips to the United States to study under southern barbecue masters including Myron Mixon of Jack's Old South in Georgia, host of the BBQ Pitmasters TV series, Paul Kirk, also known as the Kansas City Baron of Barbecue, and Ray Lampe, called Dr. BBQ.
It was on that first trip he decided to start his catering company, Smoke and Bones BBQ, which has been serving up slow-cooked southern meats ever since.
Kyllo took his barbecue on the road in 2009, winning the Canadian Nationals in Whistler as well as first place in the National BBQ Festival in Douglas, GA. He beat out several big names in the business on their home turf.
"In good barbecue, you can take cheap meat and turn it into something fantastic," Kyllo said.
His own rubs and sauces took years to develop through trial and error, he said. He would mix up his recipes and grill his customers on what worked and what didn't.
Kyllo agreed to share a few of the ingredients.
"We use salts, sugars and spices and a whole lot of love, a lot of pride," he said. "We're tweaking our recipes, always trying to outdo each other and win competitions."
"Down here at the rib fest . . . every team's (entry) is going to taste different; our rubs are all different; our sauces are all different."
The ribs have apparently driven the crowds at the PNE hog-wild, with lineups winding away from Kyllo's barbecue stand from 4: 30 to 11 p.m. on weekdays. Based on the feedback, Kyllo said he expects the competition to be back next year.
Try the ribs for yourself at the festival and vote for the people's choice award until Sept. 6.
For more information, visit www. smokeandbones.ca.