Chilliwack MLA and BBQ competitor talks meat

Making perfect ribs is an art form. - Darren McDonald
Making perfect ribs is an art form.
— image credit: Darren McDonald

There is no older form of cooking than barbecue, yet its resurgence in popularity and even trendiness is remarkable.

Putting a piece of meat over an open flame or hot coals has been part of human culture in every corner of the planet since loin cloths were in fashion.

Of course, barbecue has evolved from a form of cooking out of necessity, to a niche culture unto itself, with backyard enthusiasts spending entire days smoking briskets and ribs on hardware- store-purchased rigs.

“It used to be one of those cultural activities that was very specific to a handful of jurisdictions—Kansas City, Tennessee—there was a kind of restricted competition circuit but not too many people knew about it,” says John Martin, a backyard barbecue enthusiast turned competitor. “In the last decade, in particular the last five years, with the explosion around barbecue shows on TV, it’s really taken off.”

This Sunday, Martin, who is also the BC Liberal MLA for Chilliwack, will compete in the third annual Big Red Barn Burner BBQ Competition during the Yard, Garden & Renovation Show at Heritage Park.

Martin enters barbecue competitions as Big Ass BBQ, and this Sunday he’ll be one of at least two dozen teams from B.C., Alberta and the Pacific Northwest as barbecue season kicks off.

Teams will compete in the traditional four categories: beef brisket, pulled pork, chicken and ribs. Martin has been entering competitive barbecue competitions for four years. He got hooked when he finished fourth in ribs in his first competition ever. “Everybody their best is their ribs,” he said. “That really got me stoked.”

Martin compares barbecue competitions to classic car events, where weekend warriors compete with the more experienced, full-timers. And, like with classic car owners, many people invest small fortunes in their barbecue rigs.

Fortunately, with the surging popularity of backyard smoking, anyone with about $250 can buy a Weber bullet-shaped smoker for the backyard capable of producing competition-quality product.

Darren McDonald is one local barbecue enthusiast producing pulled pork and ribs on his Weber in his backyard. He got into it after first tasting Martin’s chicken wings years ago, and he says he has now smoked ribs, brisket, pulled pork, bacon, salmon, chicken and a whole turkey, the latter using cherry wood plucked from a Creston orchard.

He’s not shy about the quality of what comes out of his smoker.

“No doubt when I smoke it’s the best meal served in town that night, hands down,” he says. “I love that it’s no electricity, no chemical starters, just man, fire and meat.”

Martin says it is possible to replicate the long, slow process of smoking on a propane barbecue, but it will never be quite the same.

As for meat, Martin takes great care and pride in the local supply available in Chilliwack. But who exactly supplies Big Ass BBQ with its beef, chicken and pork is a well-guarded secret, he says.

“There is just an abundance of good stuff to work with,” he says. “At the end of the day, the difference between first and fourth is minuscule, so you are always looking for an edge. One of the edges is to start with great product.”

To get you started, barbecue expert John Martin provided a basic baby back rib recipe:

First, peel the membrane off your ribs, then rub them with regular ballpark mustard. The mustard is not for flavour, it’s a binder and adds a little moisture.

Now apply your rub. There are all kinds of commercial rubs available but here is where you can make your own and get creative. The basics are: brown sugar, salt and pepper, but then you can add garlic powder, cayenne and any other spices you like.

Then start smoking at about 250 F for about 2.5 hours. This is low heat. Every now and then spray apple juice or beer or cider vinegar to give a bit of moisture.

After this, take the ribs out and wrap them individually in foil and add some honey and/or apple juice for moisture and sweetness. Put that back on the smoker for another hour or so. When the meat starts pulling back from the bones, you’re getting close to done.

Now it’s time to slather the ribs with your favourite barbecue sauce and finish for 20 to 30 minutes more. NOTE: Do not put the sauce on too early or the sugars in it will burn.

Once you master these basics, then you can tweak and add your personal touch.

While Martin won’t say where he gets his pork, two great examples of Chilliwack pork producers are the Goertzens at Sundance Farms ( or the Hoogeveens at Verard Farms (

And if you’re looking for a smoker, Weber’s find-a-dealer page on its website says their products can be found, in Chilliwack, at Fortin’s, Home Hardware and Rona.

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