September 8th, 2010
12:00 AM ET
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Steven Weinberger is a Senior Systems/Software Developer at CNN and maintains Follow him on Twitter @KosherDIY.

On the last full week of August, I took my wife and five children on a road trip. We were going to be driving in our minivan for more than 18 hours, across six states. Masochistic? Very few road trips with five children aren't. Our inspiration for this trip? Three letters say it all: BBQ.

We were headed to Memphis, Tennessee to compete in the nation's oldest and largest Kosher BBQ competition.

Kosher BBQ? In Memphis? True enough, in Memphis pork is the undisputed king of BBQ, but at the Anshei Sphard – Beth El Emeth Congregation in Memphis, it's all about beef - Kosher beef briskets and racks of ribs shipped in from a New York distributor to be exact. Fortunately, we arrived at the ASBEE parking lot early Wednesday evening, just in time for meat selection. Determined not to succumb to the exhaustion of the drive, I chose my brisket and four racks of ribs that I would be serving on Sunday and got down to prep work immediately.

The ASBEE BBQ Competition has been going on since 1989, when members from the Synagogue decided that the Memphis Jewish community needed an competition similar to the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. The BBQ is a combination of a fundraiser and a community event. There's a 3-on-3 basketball tournament, a pickle-eating contest, and various activities for children.

There were more than 40 teams this year, from various area synagogues, men's clubs, Jewish day schools, and Jewish volunteer organizations. Every level of observance was represented. Some teams weren't even Jewish, such as the team from the local branch of Sam's Town Hotel and Gambling Hall, in nearby Tunica, Mississippi.

Most importantly, this is a Kosher event, so all ingredients, implements and cooking are watched closely by the Rabbi at ASBEE, Rabbi Joel Finkelstein, and his team of volunteers. All ingredients are purchased by the synagogue for the teams. All utensils are provided by the synagoge. The synagogue owns all of the kettle-grills that will be used. The need for Rabbinic supervision also limits the cooking to a mere nine hours - perhaps long enough for ribs, but unthinkable for a BBQ brisket.

But authentic BBQ isn't what this competition is about. There are many BBQ heresies being committed in the ASBEE kitchens. This competition is about camaraderie, good food, and of course bragging rights. This is what has brought me here three times from New York City.

That weekend we weren't The Weinbergers from NY (although that was impressive to many of the locals). We were "Fleish Gordon and his Beefy Bunch" – fleish, meaning meat in Yiddish. I was Fleish Gordon, in a red costume with golden yellow cape. My wife was "Princess Paprika". My children were "Brisket Boy", "BarB-Cutie", "The Ribster", "Beanie" and "Lil' Saucy". We were Intergalactic Barbecue Heroes, on a mission to spread good eating. We competed alongside "The LeBron Flames and the Miami Meat", "The Barfield Basters", "Hava NaGrilla", "The Pickering Potchkiers" and others.

I'm glad to say that I was the adult pickle eating champion this year, downing two large kosher dills faster than any of my competition. Upon my winning, my proud children nearly hugged the pickles back out of me.

We didn't win any BBQ related trophies, but that's not why we came. We came to celebrate good times and good food amongst friends - and to eat lots of BBQ.

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Filed under: Barbecue • Bite • Competitive BBQ • Cuisines • Kosher

soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. Refugio Draeger

    hi there

    August 14, 2014 at 1:11 am |
  2. Fabian Facteau

    An interesting dialogue is worth comment. I think that you must write extra on this topic, it might not be a taboo topic however generally people are not sufficient to talk on such topics. To the next. Cheers

    December 14, 2013 at 3:13 am |
  3. Franco Healy

    September 18th is this year's date. I hear the dry marinade is increasing in popularity lately.

    July 10, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  4. rch1559

    Steve, what a great article! I am not Jewish, but I think this is one event I would enjoy completely.

    What kind of sauce was used? Did you make your own or was bottled sauce provided?

    September 9, 2010 at 11:38 am |
  5. Oliver

    True Q is pork, yesterday, today and tomorrow. It is tradition!

    September 9, 2010 at 6:25 am |
  6. mmi16

    The reason Jews & Islamic Arabs etc can't have peaceful relations is because of the lack of pork fat in their diet.

    September 9, 2010 at 2:06 am |
  7. Carl

    Sounds like fun. Too bad I'm farther from Memphis than you were :o(

    September 8, 2010 at 3:16 pm |
  8. Hava Nagrilla

    Steven: I was in the Hava Nagrilla booth next to your booth, and we really enjoyed having you there. I happened to be watching the pickle eating contest and was amazed at the way you consumed those giant pickles. Your kids were so proud of you!! They were hugging your waist like you had just won the gold medal in the Olympics!! See you next year!

    September 8, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
  9. Whatsagirltodo


    September 8, 2010 at 1:44 pm |

    I'm going to cry the rest of the day since I won't eat any beef brisket :(

    September 8, 2010 at 1:03 pm |
  11. Gastrognome

    Great piece. Maybe they should call it "Memphis Oy-Vey"... But I digress. I'm curious why they didn't do chicken as well.

    I did my passover seder this year with a BBQ theme. I made Texas style smoked Brisket (slightly overdone as is our family tradition) and Big Bob Gibson style smoked BBQ chicken with white BBQ sauce (and Lexington NC style and KC style BBQ sauces as alternatives). We served style Memphis style crunchy cole slaw, sweet potato kugel, potato salad and laid it all out on gingham checkered tablecloths. Yes.. with some decent paper plates and plastic cutlery for a picnic feel (and easy cleanup!). It was a pleasant break from the norm, and made some ponder if the manna from Heaven during the Exodus wouldn't have tasted better cooked low and slow.

    BBQ is quite popular in with Jews, and not exclusively Kosher 'cue either. Last year I judged a KCBS sanctined contest the day before Yom Kippur, and the KCBS rep had the award ceremony moved up so that all the Jewish judges and contestants could get home in time for Kol Nidre! Talk about getting those last sins in before the day of atonement...

    One just has to just scratch the surface of the internet to find there's a whole subculture of Jewish BBQ fans that secretly wish pork was kosher. Truly unfair, haven't the Jews suffered enough? Can't the Chosen ones choose bacon? Oy vey is mir!

    Yours in smoke...

    September 8, 2010 at 1:00 pm |
  12. jjheinis

    So it is possible fo create my ideal ethnic restaurant: Irvings Kosher Delecatessen / Bubbas Bar B Cue!
    Paper plates and cutlery please!

    September 8, 2010 at 11:43 am |
  13. Shante's mom

    Hooray for beef. If dressed properly and cooked long enough it is just as good if not better than pork. Looks like a fun time was had by all.

    September 8, 2010 at 11:13 am |
  14. WasabiPotPie

    I am telling all of you, BBQ could solve a lot of problems. If Jewish people and Islamic people could just give up on the whole anti-pork thing and embrace the goodness that is Pork BBQ, they would be much happier. Someone could open up a chain of BBQ restaurants and call them West Bank BBQ. Ice cold sweet tea sold by the gallons, Corn Bread, Green Beans, Mac and Cheese, Fried Okra, the whole works! All the problems in the Middle East would be solved with West Bank BBQ!!!!!

    September 8, 2010 at 10:38 am |
    • Kat Kinsman

      And our pal John T. Edge thinks so, too! Well, not the no-pork part, but BBQ as a unifier.

      September 8, 2010 at 10:41 am |
    • Bill McGrath

      Good idea, but the kind of meat consumed is not relevant to the sit-down-and-get-to-know-you objective.

      September 8, 2010 at 10:47 am |
    • Grey, Atlanta

      Dude, it was G-d who forbid Jews to eat pork. So, drop your "Jesus declared all foods clean" nonsense. You can continue eating pork, though. The 613 laws, which include the Ten Commandments, were given to the Jews and not to the Gentiles. So, enjoy your pork.

      September 8, 2010 at 11:12 am |
    • jjheinis

      Or you can have Irvings Kosher Delicatessen / Mo's Shiskabob / Bubbas BBQ with paper plates!

      September 8, 2010 at 11:47 am |
    • kjcube

      I'm not jewish so I don't claim speak authoritatively in any way on this issue but I'm pretty sure you're completely missing the point of eating kosher.

      September 8, 2010 at 1:15 pm |
  15. John

    Dear Feel Good;
    As a kosher jew, I feel this article is awesome. A great areticle to start the morning with, and now I must venture out and find some good kosher barbque

    September 8, 2010 at 10:18 am |
    • Michael

      John, Good Kosher BBQ is redundant as all Kosher BBQ is good. :-)

      September 8, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
      • John

        Actually, Beef Brisket is pretty good, Kosher or Not

        September 8, 2010 at 6:06 pm |
  16. pk

    @feel good – this isn't the news section, it's Eatocracy, which by nature, is non-news – that's why this article is here. I thought it a very fun read – I prefer beef BBQ to pork, so this was fun to learn a bit about.

    September 8, 2010 at 10:12 am |
  17. Deb

    Mmmm – I love a good smoked brisket!!

    September 8, 2010 at 10:04 am |
  18. feel good

    irrelevant non-news piece that isn't even a topic in the Jewish community. why post it? so you can beat up Israel and use this as proof you're not Anti-semitic

    September 8, 2010 at 10:03 am |
    • Kat Kinsman

      Hey – for some of us, BBQ is ALWAYS news!

      September 8, 2010 at 10:14 am |
    • Walker

      @feelgoof – why are you all bu**hurt over this? It's part of the entertainements/food section. Ever read a newspaper before – guess what they have a food section? Or it your white hood on too tight?

      September 8, 2010 at 10:19 am |
    • Kosher_Cowboy

      Okay... Actually, I found it very interesting, having never heard of the event, being a Texan, a regular user of the smoker, who is Jewish, this is a very interesting article for me... 'Feel Good', why exactly do you consider a P.C. article that should come from CNN?

      September 8, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
    • moondoggie

      Silly comment

      September 8, 2010 at 2:05 pm |
  19. Uhhhhdel

    how were the charcoals lit? It looks like they had lighter fluid put on them. Wouldn't a charcoal chimmey starter be a little more kosher versus marinating your charcoal with lighter fluid?

    September 8, 2010 at 9:57 am |
    • Steven Weinberger

      Fear not, Uhhhhdel – I used a chimney starter. What you see is the unlit coals I poured the started ones onto.

      September 8, 2010 at 2:38 pm |
  20. GastroDude

    There are some badass kosher places in NYC. One steakhouse in particular, on the UWS has AMAZING beef ribs. They're huge, but tender as hell.

    September 8, 2010 at 3:44 am |
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