WASHINGTON – The grand championship trophy from Maryland’s biggest barbecue competition won’t be going back to Virginia this year — not if Chip Gray’s team, the War Pigs, can help it.
This weekend the War Pigs will look to smoke out last year’s winner, Dizzy Pig BBQ, of Fairfax, Va., at the third annual Pork in the Park in Salisbury.
Gray, 41, of New Windsor, his father, Forest Gray, 63, of Sykesville, and high school pal, Matt Alexander, 36, also of Sykesville, are the team that won the Maryland championship in 2005, but fell short of the grand championship. They’ve competed in more than 40 competitions in the last six years, placing as high as second place, at Bel Air’s BBQ Bash last year.
At least 55 teams will converge on Winterplace Park on Friday and Saturday to compete in seven events for $11,000 in prizes. They will come from as far away as Essex Junction, Vt., to see who can cook the best chicken, pork, pork ribs, sausage, brisket and chef’s choice. The Frank P. Perdue Award has been added this year in honor of the Salisbury native, in which contestants can use only Perdue chicken.
Members of the two teams are good friends, but when it comes to barbecue competitions, there’s no love lost. Dizzy Pig BBQ was also the team that beat out the War Pigs for first place last year’s Bel Air competition. Gray doesn’t have any doubt his team can beat Dizzy Pig BBQ this time:
“I certainly plan on it,” Gray said.
But it won’t be easy — Dizzy Pig BBQ finished 11th last year out of more than 1,000 teams in the Kansas City Barbeque Society rankings. Captain Chris Capell of Fairfax has been barbecuing his whole life and said the secret to their success is the rubs and the equipment. Capell makes his own barbecue rubs from a secret recipe, and his team cooks with a ceramic barbecue that distributes heat very evenly.
“The War Pigs are some friends of mine, and they’re pretty good cooks,” Capell said. “If they have a good day, they could easily beat us.”
Both teams still have some warming up to do this season. At their first competition this year in North Carolina, neither placed in the top 10.
Gray has been barbecuing for more than 20 years. His whole family used to live on the same road in Winfield, and he earned his stripes cooking whole pigs in a fire pit with his grandparents and uncles.
His first grill was a portable charcoal Weber. Now he has seven grills but still only uses charcoal.
“Gas grills are good for the homeowner,” he said. “For me, we don’t cook with gas at all. I have one, but haven’t used it in a couple years.”
Though Gray won’t reveal his best secrets, he said the best flavors come from barbecuing with woods that compliment each type of meat. He likes to use apple and cherry woods for cooking ribs, and oak and cherry woods for cooking chicken.
Barbecuing is all about camaraderie and people getting together to swap tales and lies, he said. Gray remembers having the wool pulled over his eyes on more than one occasion. At one competition, a rumor was circulating that comedian Steve Martin was cooking with one of the teams. The War Pigs kept their eyes open all day hoping to get a glance of him, only to learn it was a ruse.
“They had a big cut-out poster of him sitting in a chair,” Gray said.
No matter what, where, or how you barbecue, there’s only one way to do it right:
“Low and slow,” Gray said. “Sitting back, cracking open an ice-cold beer and relaxing. That’s what barbecuing is. You can take your time.” – 30 – CNS-4-20-06