The Jack and Us

Botte di Jack
Credits: Sergey Kohl

What is Changing

Let’s admit it: the task for European Pitmasters who want to be compared with their American colleagues, is far from being simple. Making a smart comparison is like if we Italians we create a circuit to sanction a competition concerning the cooking of the best pizza, and that competition was attended by an American who was not born in Italy, who did not eat that pizza since he was a child like us and that maybe in Italy he have not even ever been. Knowing to the perfection the Chicago pizzas, won’t help him to get a good score if the yardstick is the Neapolitan style pizza, simply because a Chicago style pizza is not what expected by the judges. If he wants to place himself well, the american will have to understand why certain characteristics are essential for us as first, then figure out how to play them and then learn how to manage this. Not so easy.

bbq-plus-jack 2014You can easily understand what a hard work it faces who wants to go to United States and attend a competition against the masters of the branch, people who not only has decades of BBQ challenges behind their shoulders, but also eating Ribs and Pulled Pork ever since they were childs and are extremely familiar with barbecue rubs and sauces since forever. As Carolyn Wells says, in Europe is going on what happened in the States three decades ago, only on steroids: everything changes with breakneck speed, Europe is alive and in turmoil and the boundaries of possible are moved beyond a few centimeters each day.

The Jack Daniels Invitational is the ultimate expression of this concept. For the few who do not know it, this is one of the four major barbecue competitions in the world, certainly the most prestigious of the invitationals, that can only be attended as a result of an invitation from the organization. The Jack invites only a limited number of teams, drafted among the winners of at least one State Championship on that season. These are joined by the defending champion, the winners of the other big three national events, such as the American Royal and the Memphis in May, those that during the season they have won at least seven games (yes, like the Jack No. 7) , the veterans who have exceeded the number of 10 appearances at the Jack and the best Canadian teams for a total of about one hundred teams. In short, the best of the best of the best.

Miss Piggy Jack 2015In an American competition, created to elect the best American team, the relationship between Jack and europe has had over the years a few fleeting appearances, but takes on a real meaning only since 2012, the year in which the participation of eropean teams begins to take place “by right.” In 2012 the first KCBS sanctioned BBQ competition has been held in Europe, the legendary Tony Stone in The Netherlands, and the winner, in addition to the best-placed among national teams, are automatically invited and not by permission, just like the American teams.

The first two years of this recent history have a strong British accent: In 2012, Miss Piggy’s UK placed surprisingly to 25th place overall, with what is still the best finish for a European team at the Jack, with an excellent 19th on Ribs and a fantastic 11th on Pork. Add to that an equally remarkable 9th Ribs for the German team Bavarian Smoke BBQ, an American team making base in Germany. The next year are the Bunch of Swines to represent England with an excellent 32 ° Overall, and a fantastic 15th on Ribs and even 10th on Chicken. We should also mention the good placement of the Danish National BBQ Team, Overall 43th and 17th on Chicken.

But it’s in 2014, that the average growth of the European level becomes more evident. Recording discrete placement Overall for the Bunch of Swines 46th and the dutch iQ 53th, but especially on the individual categories, where the same iQ recorded a 15th on Pork and the Belgians BBQ + even can place themselves in the incredible result of 5th on ribs, one of the cornerstones of the American BBQ. In that edition I was present and I remember very well, the amazement with which the speaker announced “it’s an international … !!”, when he called on stage the strong Belgian team. Someone began to realize that Europe was not there in the only role of colorful appearance anymore.

BBQ Wiesel Jack 2015The following year was in my opinion the consecration one. If before some results amazed, those of 2015 have definitely taken the European teams from sparring partners to rank opponents. The Miss Piggy’s UK placed a great 30th Overall, together with the Austrian Longhorn Ranch 40 °, but especially in the Chicken category the European teams succeed in the task of occupying two of the first three places, with BBQ Wiesel 2nd and with Miss Piggy’s UK, 3rd. The British team also confirmed their strength with a fantastic 8th place in Brisket.

The fireworks of 2015 and the consequent inevitable excess of expectations, may bring up the feeling, of slightly low-key scores. Miss Piggy’s UK, 66th Overall and 6th on Brisket and BBQ Wiesel 19th in Chicken, was one more time the bearer. In reality they were some very good consolidation results, in a rapid and steady growth process, waiting for a 2017 edition to be experienced.

And what about Italy? Our history with Jack has so far been a bit more troubled. The first historic participation at the Jack by our country was in 2014 with the BBQ4All Interantional of which, I had the opportunity to be a part. An adventure that, probably lived in unique conditions. We were 9, selected from the best barbecuers the tricolor barbecue could express at the time but but we were arrived at the Jack as probably the only official Italian team, from a nation that had not even an official State Competition. We were full of enthusiasm, but seen through the eyes of today, terribly immature for such an important stage. The results were without praise or blame, a 79th Overall and decent 54º on Brisket. Anyway I remember well the cheering that accompanied us via Facebook during those days. Italy turns out that once a year, in October may have its national BBQ team.

The following year, the conditions were very different, we faced the draft in the family between us and the BBQ4All Defenders with a year of experience more, a Grand Champion and a Reserve Grand Champion in the showcase. The fate smiled on us giving us in our hand the ticket to Lynchburg but for non-sport reasons we had to give up and leave the Italian place at Jack vacant. It was a big disappointment because this was a very good team, who may had their own say.

In 2016 the Italian draft is further enriched with three teams for a total of 3 Grand Champion and 2 Reserve Grand Champion on the table. The talented Brig Boys, probably the surprise team of the season, overcome, but in Lynchburg they did not have their best day, probably paying the same duty of experience BBQ4All International had paid the first year. This may happen, it is right, and it is only through these experiences that you become stronger. Go Brig Boys!

In two months a new season starts At the end of it Italy will have another opportunity to cheer for his national barbecue team and will try to leave for the first time an indelible mark among the biggies of this sport. It remains only to find out who will be. Good luck to everyone!

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