Barbecue is more than roasting a sausage or cooking a burger. It’s more than an hour of fun in a summery backyard. For the Mountain High Smokers the barbecue represents not only a lifestyle, but also a sport they practice at a high level and in which they strive for perfection. Barbecue is an elite sport.
For Bart Schoone, barbecue has always been a fun hobby, to practice in the time off from his regular job. His passion lead to an online store, BBQKing, in which he sells anything that’s needed for a good barbecue. “A hobby this fun might as well lead to a profession”, Bart reasons. He came in contact with an organisation that was active in barbecueing competitions. That made Bart decide: “I want that too!” He decided to form a team. In his quest for team-members he took to an online forum where he met Jim Bogers (33) with whom he shared his hometown, and John Adams (30) and Roland van Aert (23) from a nearby city. Together they formed the Mountain High Smokers, a team name that subtly refers to the hometowns of the team members, where “mountain” refers to Bergen op Zoom – “Bergen” being Dutch for “mountains” and “High”, which translates to “Hoog” in Dutch, pointing tot he town of Hoogerheide, where Jim and Bart are from. Recently the boys took part in there first contest in Delft, which they ended in fourteenth place. That thrust them into position 29 in the Kansas City BBQ Society Dutch Barbecue Championships, organised by the Dutch Barbecue Association.
The challenge for the four elite-barbecuers is to prepare the best piece of meat in four categories, being “chicken”, “ribs”, “pork shoulder” and “brisket”. A jury of six judges their makings on looks, taste, tenderness and temperature. An elite sport, the men say. “Teams sometimes do battle for one thousandth of a point”, Jim says. Roland explains that this form of barbecueing is about so much more than cooking a piece of meat in a few minutes. “Cooking pulled pork takes 18 hours”, he says, “and in that time you need to keep the temperature at a constant 107 degrees. How you achieve that? By knowing your equipment and its abilities, but also by knowing how the ambient temperature, wind and the fuel you use influence the preparation of your meat. It’s a continuous learning process, that’s why you need to practice as much as you can. We do just that. Even at Christmas we fire up the barbecue!”
Barbecue is no cheap sport. The Mountain High Smokers found that out the hard way. “A contest costs us about 200 euro’s each. The registration fee, equipment, meat and other ingredients must all be paid for”, says Jim, “and in a contest you don’t want to be cooking meat from the supermarket. Only products from the best butchers are good enough.” His teammate Bart continues: “That’s why we are always on the lookout for sponsors. At this point we simply don’t have the financial means to contest the whole championship.”
Although the team aims for the top of Hollands barbecue elite, John Adams says that that isn’t all that counts: “It’s good to share this hobby. During contests you meet posh captains-of-industry as well as humble carpenters. When you start this you tend to think you’re good at this, but your first contest will serve as an eye-opener. That is what we want tob e too. We want to surprise people, and show them you can make virtually anything on a barbecue. From pulled pork, to a pie or even bread. But yes, showing how good we actually are is also fun, obviously.”