Jon Lord Remembered:
His own words about BBQ
Jon Lord 1956 – 2013
So, whats with the BBQ?
In 1993, I was a Founding Director of a new Calgary event, called BBQ on the Bow (www.BBQonthebow.com) whose purpose was to promote slow southern BBQ using Alberta beef, pork and poultry, and have fun. Our little group came up with some ideas for Prince’s Island Park and next thing you know, we had organized an event!. I had to compete, since we had so few teams entered. It poured rain. Almost no one came. We lost $60,000 right off the bat. Not so much fun anymore and we were at financial risk, personally. We persevered anyway, and a couple years later, along with the BBQ competition, we invited the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra to come and do the 1812 Overture outdoors, complete with real cannon fire, for the very first time in Alberta. People liked the outdoor symphony stuff so much, they created Mozart on the Mountain in the following year, which went on to great success.
As a result, we got the military marching band to do our 1812 overture event the year after that, (they had monster real cannons to do the firing with) and the conditions for the battlefield scene were perfect down at Prince’s Island. The smoke from the blasting cannons filled the air like an impenetrable fog all around us, the blazing fireworks flashing all through the haze which was spooky thick – and then out of those swirling mists marched a Scottish bagpiper, explosions behind him, smoke swirling all about his kilt. It was so surreal, right out of a Hollywood movie, I have never forgot that, and I’m sure neither did the 5000 people there.
It was so cool, we didn’t even mind getting smoked again in the competition the next day by the Americans – as usual – who for many years completely dominated our event. Apparently, they were travelling from great distances to win here, so that they could qualify for Kansas City, the pinnacle of the BBQ world, where you couldn’t get in unless you won the equivalent of a state championship, which our event qualified, as since Ralph declared us the official Alberta Championship. So, slowly we learned BBQ from them, although few share their real secrets in the BBQ world. While I had beat Rocking Ronnie once or twice, he was I think the first Canadian to finally win the event – and ended up building a career out of that. You can buy his books – they are pretty good. Our BBQ festival was becoming more and more successful, finally.
BBQ is actually tough work. Lots of preparation. Then, careful cooking. You have to get it up to temperature that will melt all the tough fibre inside – the collagen – and turn it into gelatin – but without burning it or drying it out. A brisket takes 15 hours, prep time on 6 chicken thighs can be 6 hours all by itself – we start Saturday morning, cook all through the night with maybe a few hours sleep in a chair, and somehow have to survive to Sunday afternoon when the final turn-in is done. Then load up all the equipment again. I became known as the Zenmeister of BBQ, for trying to keep my equipment so simple and so minimal I could load and unload in 20 minutes – a single smoker, a $50 kettle grill, some tin foil. I always said it is all in the head..but still, it was pretty hard to compete against people with $50,000 stainless steel rigs and a half-dozen smokers, digital everything, computer algorithms, warming fridges and all the other technology people are using these days to win. But win I did anyway.
And so it went for 18 years of competition each Labor Day weekend, through wind, rain, sleet, snow, freezing ice and the occasional nice sunny day. I won every category multiple times except the Brisket, King of BBQ. Only a Lord, never the King. Without the brisket win, it is really tough to win the Grand Championship and without the GC you don’t get to go to Kansas City, or especially the Jack for that matter.
So, after 18 years of grueling competitive grilling, smoking and no sleep for those weekends, I decided that it was time to get serious about this BBQ thing. Buckle down and do the research. Talk to the experts. Google it.
And that year, we won the GC. We followed up, by winning it again the following year – only three of us in Canada have ever done that. So it was – off to Kansas City World Series Championship Invitational and while we were there, the Open as well, back to back – the largest BBQ cookoff in the world. Also, the ultra-exclusive Jack Daniels International World Championship, with teams from 20 countries in addition to the State Champion of every US State and 3 from Canada, sent me the coveted embossed Invite. Now that is a story all in its own – but bottom line, they had really cool souvenirs, and a tour of the distillery to boot!
BBQ on the Bow is now nearing it’s 25th year, and we are looking to do something really big. 10’s of thousands have learned about slow southern style, and all about smoking. I think it’s a pretty good event and I have been very proud to have been associated with it – as a Director, then Chair for many years, now finally Past Chair. BTW, did you know that Chairman, I often felt the word must derive from the old Latin world Char, as in to burn, the hot seat, get burned? I also know for sure it means you are the guy who puts out the chairs at the beginning of the meeting, and puts them back at the end. I’m just making that up, but sometimes, it seems so appropriate!