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.
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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