Keystone Barbecue Cook-Off Fires Up Competitors
HARRISBURG, Pa. — The key to making good barbecue is the right meat tenderness cooked in a balanced flavor that’s not too hot or sweet, said Terrie D’Amato.
“For me ... it’s not a sauce contest. It’s a meat contest,” she said.
Apparently, she would know.
D’Amato, self-described “pig mistress” of Lips & Hoovz BBQ Emporium in West Manchester Township, York County, Pa., is a competition barbeque pit master and certified barbecue judge in the Kansas City Barbeque Society and Memphis Barbecue Network.
Recently, she was a contestant in the fifth annual Keystone Classic Barbeque State Championship, held in a parking lot at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, Pa.
D’Amato also was on the planning committee for the event.
About 60 teams competed in the championship, which featured categories including chicken, brisket, pork ribs and pork shoulder or Boston Butt.
D’Amato’s team, which included her father, Frank D’Amato, 73, of Somerset County, N.J., won a trophy and a $50 award for placing third in the Hoss’ & Pennsylvania Beef Council Great Ground Beef ancillary category.
“I love this contest,” Terry D’Amato said as she described the friendship and support the barbecue participants provide each other every year. “It’s just one big community. We have fun and that’s what it’s all about.”
Many teams at the event were unwilling to share their competition recipes, however.
“I cater a lot and this is what I serve,” D’Amato said of her own secret recipes. “No cook here is gonna tell you about their rubs or their sauces.”
Frank D’Amato said apple juice is a main ingredient in many barbecue sauce recipes that also typically include sugar, salt, vinegar and hot sauce. His daughter uses her Pretentious Pig Paint, a sauce she sells, in her competition dishes, he said.
Morgan Firestine of Womelsdorf, Berks County, Pa., was on this year’s KILE committee and chaired the barbecue event, which included 76 judges that sampled the 360 pieces of food entered in the main categories, she said.
“We were looking to make this a ... pasture to plate event,” she said of wanting to teach consumers where their food comes from.
Tim Brandt of Landisville, Lancaster County, Pa., competed with a team from the Pennsylvania School of Culinary Arts — a division of the YTI Career Institute where he is a student. He’s also a certified judge for KCBS.
“The whole genre of the barbecue industry ... kind of expands our potential as chefs,” he said of the institute’s students who want to beef up their cooking resume. Brandt sold his swimming pool company to pursue a new career, possibly in the culinary world, he said.
“Cooking has always been a passion of mine,” he said.
Nearby, inside the complex, folks waited in line to sample barbecued chicken legs for the Bell & Evans Best Legs in Town category — a people’s choice judging of the competition. The winner of that contest took home a lamp shaped like a woman’s leg.
“There are some good (entries) and some average ones,” said Harrisburg resident Jim Janderchick while he ate a chicken leg. He said he likes to cook at home. “Chicken is really hard to do. It’s easy to dry it out.”
After the people’s choice and official judging were complete, the teams gathered in the Farm Show Complex Cameron Street lobby for an awards ceremony.
The Keystone barbecue event grows every year, said Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Secretary George D. Greig.
“It’s been fun for me this last couple days,” Greig told the crowd of cooking teams. “You do a great service for agriculture ... by demonstrating your craft here.”