Secrets and mentality of 2016 European Champion
We talked in part about this a few months ago, on the occasion of the post concerning the Jack Daniels Invitational, summing up the season 2016. It was probably the most balanced and exciting one of the recent history of the European barbecue. The first months were marked by the domination by the great Austrian team of BBQ Longhorn Ranch, heeled until early summer by very good English team Bunch of Swines. Here begins the slow recovery of the Dutch team iQ BBQ, that has gnawed point by point until the final passing at the last competition of the season, the BBQ Society Cookoff in Holland to which we had the pleasure of attending also us.
The 2016 season has been exciting for iQ BBQ: European Champions EBCC and TOY, Dutch champions, two pins for exceeding the score of 700 points in a competition, one for the perfect score in the category Chicken, at culmination of five years all passed at the highest levels.
If you attended any competition abroad it’s impossible you don’t know Richard Wagers, team leader and main representative of the iQ BBQ, a fairly reserved guy but always smiling, incredibly kind and helpful to everyone. Before entering in depth of the 2017 competitive season we asked Richard to spend some time with us for a chat and tell a bit about himself.
Since how many years the barbecue is part of the life of Richard Wagers?
Well, in a way, BBQ has always been a part of my life. I am from Alabama and I grew up with it. It is in our culture and it was as common to me during my childhood as I imagine pasta was to you during yours. I was fed it from the time I was in diapers. It might have been my first solid food 😉
You already did competitive level barbecue even before leaving to Europe? Was continuing your competitive activities here more difficult? If yes, how much?
No not at all! I only I started learning to cook BBQ 5 or 6 years ago when I realized how eating the food I grew up with made me feel less homesick. Before then I had never cooked it myself and I had never heard of competitive BBQ or the KCBS. No, I started teaching myself to cook BBQ simply because I was hungry for the food of my youth and there was no where in Europe to buy it.
Does Winning in Europe require a different flavor profile? How much did your barbecue change since you’ve been here?
I really do not know. The only competition I have cooked in the USA was the Jack Daniels in 2014. But if I am one day invited back I will cook there the way I cook here.
The barbecue level in Europe is growing exponentially, but you are a constant presence at the top of the charts since several years. How much must a first level team constantly evolve its barbecue to maintain its status?
The teams who want to be successful are always practicing and learning. The skill level is growing here as fast as the sport itself. For myself, at the Cook-Off last October I earned a Perfect-Perfect in chicken. I can tell you that since then I have practiced chicken more than any other category meat. Even Perfect can be improved on.
Set on 100 the value of the final result, how much of it do you think is given by the knowledge of the pitmaster, how much by the quality of the meat and how much by the quality of the smoker?
This will be subjective, but I would say 80-10-10.
You have probably heard the saying ‘it’s the cook not the cooker that wins the competition’. I started out cooking on 2 small WSM’s and now I cook on a Deep South gravity feed and a Primo XL ceramic. There are so many different types of cookers because there is not just one capable of winning. Quality meat is important, but knowing what to do with it, and understanding how your cooker works are far more critical.
Among the four KCBS categories there is one that you enjoy doing in particular? If exists, can you tell us one that you would avoid if could?
I like them all! I even like cooking chicken.
If I could look back over the last five years of competitions what mistakes you would not do again and what thing would you do like to have done earlier instead?
Great question! I do not have as much experience as some other teams, but I have made lots of mistakes! I just make sure I never make the same one twice. One particularly good learning experience I had last year was not turning in only my best meat. I built a brisket box I thought comprised what the jury wanted to see. It looked great – and tasted really bad! The jury rightfully punished me for it. It sounds simple, but ‘only put your best in the box’.
As for your second question, I would say I should have taken a cooking class sooner. Competitions are so different than cooking at home. The trimming, cooking, timing, tenderness, taste profiles and presentations are hard to figure out on your own. There are several successful European teams teaching classes now and I would recommend that to new teams.
In a panorama of teams formed by couples or groups of people with different experiences, iQ is very much identified with the figure of Richard Wagers. How much being a “one man band” is an advantage?
I have joked I have a bit of OCD when it comes to my cooking, but it is true. For me it is an advantage in the processes. The disadvantage to cooking alone is obviously the amount of work. It means very little time to socialize and it has given me a reputation of being no fun. Josine is working to change that. 🙂
At the end of one of your last season winning competition you publicly reminded one of your participation at the Jack Daniels Invitational at the side of your father. How much of him is in your barbecue?
My Dad passed away last April after a short but brave battle against cancer. We were very close. He was not only special to my BBQ. He was my best friend and special to everything in my life.
It was an exceptional coincidence that I earned my 707 on his birthday – 9/10. And my second 700+ a month later on 10/9. It will be a long time before he is not part of my every day.
Last year, your season has been a chase, with an exciting final crescendo. At what point did you start to think that you’d be able to finish first?
Not until the very end! The Cook-Off was the last European competition and with 47 teams, there were a lot of points to be earned. It had a big influence on the final rankings.
I never set out to win Team of the Year in KCBS and the EBCC. There are many strong teams and so many competitions now it is very hard to win those titles. Also each scores differently. So you may be ranked high in one and low in another.
Last year you reached two of the highest goals for a bbq team: a pin for the perfect score and even two pins for exceeding 700 points. To which are you closest to?
Both pins are special but I think the 700 pins represent a bigger accomplishment because to earn one you have to have a strong cook in all 4 categories.
What goals has set Richard Wagers for his near future?
My goal is to cook better than I did last year. My goal for the year is to continue to improve. It is true I want to win but my goal at any competition is only to have a solid cook in all 4 categories and turn in the best I can.
Many thanks Richard for your usual availability and we hope that this season can be for iQ BBQ even better than the one that preceded it.