Barbecue is serious business. Around these parts, barbecue is a noun, not a verb. We eat barbecue, and it’s not necessary to say the word “pork” before you say the word “barbecue.” Because, well, isn’t ALL barbecue pork barbecue?
These opinions and others may be topics to discuss with members of the North Carolina Barbecue Society.
Pit master Alan Nichols is an instructor at the NCBS Boot Camps, two-day sessions during which participants learn all about grilling. And not just pork, but chicken, beef and seafood as well.
Nichols discussed grilling tips and more with Bill Harris on Tuesday’s Town Talk.
The NCBS is a non-profit organization created in 2006 by Jim Early, who was born right here in Henderson. He wanted to preserve barbecue the way it was originally made — pit-cooked using wood, pellets or charcoal, Nichols said. Early even wrote a book, The Best Tar Heel Barbecue: Manteo to Murphy. There’s even a Barbecue Trail, which takes folks on a culinary trail across the state, sampling barbecue all the way.
Early died a couple of months ago, Nichols said. “We’re trying to keep this thing going for him.”
The group of folks that compete in barbecue contests form a family of sorts, Nichols said. And it was back in 2011 that the Operation Barbecue Relief Disaster Team was formed to provide meals in Joplin, Missouri after a tornado hit.
Two of the guys decided they were going to cook for Joplin’s residents. They planned to provide, from their own pockets, what they thought would be a couple of thousand meals. They underestimated. Nichols said they served up 120,000 meals in the tornado’s aftermath.
“This past summer, I was part of the nine millionth meal that we’ve cooked,” Nichols said.
With only a handful of paid employees and continued support from sponsors like Blue Rhino and Prairie Fresh, Nichols said the Barbecue Relief Disaster team has fired up grills after tornadoes ripped through Tennessee, Iowa, Texas, Louisiana and Alabama.
Nichols was named the 2019 Volunteer of the Year, an honor he feels a little uncomfortable with. “So many people do so much for the organization,” he said, adding that 70-75 local volunteers routinely come out to help when they are on site after a hurricane or tornado.
Last year – 2020 – the team was called into action a couple of times, but because of COVID-19, no volunteers were able to assist. That meant extra-long hours for the grill teams.
When he’s not competing or teaching at boot camps or responding to a disaster with his grilling gear in tow, Nichols judges competitions.
He reckons he’s judged more than 100 competitions, which means that he is sitting at a table with six other judges, sampling ribs before deciding upon a winner.
“I’m not one to sit around,” Nichols confessed. When he’s at home, he’s usually reading or watching videos about how to cook barbecue.
There are barbecue events everywhere, he said. “They will all talk to you about how to cook things,” Nichols said of the grill masters. But they’re not going to tell you all their secrets.”
Learn more, including how to be an NCBS volunteer, at www.ncbbqsociety.com.
For complete details and audio click play.