with "Rockin' Ronnie" Shewchuk
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Rockin' Ronnie Shewchuk, Barbecue Evangelist
According to Ron ("Rockin' Ronnie") Shewchuk, "you're not really serious about barbecue until you've slept next to your cooker and used a bag of charcoal as a pillow."
Ron is never far away from a grill or a smoker, whether he's teaching cooking classes, appearing as a guest chef on TV, writing articles for food publications, or barbecuing up a storm on the competitive circuit.
Ron isn't just a barbecue enthusiast - he's Canada's leading proponent of traditional, southern-style barbecue. As chief cook of Rockin' Ronnie's Butt Shredders, he's led his team to more competition victories than any Canadian team in the history of championship barbecue.
The Butt Shredders are two-time Alberta Champions and have competed in the "World Series of Barbecue," the American Royal Invitational in Kansas City, and the most prestigious barbecue contest in the world, the Jack Daniel's Invitational World Barbecue Championship in Lynchburg, Tenessee on the grounds of the famous distillery. Ron and his team made barbecue history in 2001 when they became the only Canadian team to ever win a U.S.-based barbecue competition in a stunning upset at the Oregon State Open Barbecue Championship.
"For me, barbecue is not just a pastime, it's a lifestyle," says Ron. "Barbecue at its best is a spiritual experience, and I like to think of what I do as high ceremonial cooking." In Ron's first cookbook, Barbecue Secrets, to be released by Whitecap Books this summer, he shares recipes, tips and tricks he's picked up in a lifetime of outdoor cooking and documents the history, tools, techniques and culture of championship grilling and barbecue.
Ron Shewchuk was born in Edmonton, Alberta, trained as a journalist at Carleton University in Ottawa and now lives with his wife Kate and children, Zoe and Jake, in North Vancouver, British Columbia. When he isn't in his back yard tending something on the grill, he's a speechwriter and communications consultant.
"I had no idea of what I was getting into in the summer of 1994, when my old friend Rocco Ciancio invited me over to his ranch on the outskirts of Calgary to show me the new water smoker he had bought on a recent trip to Texas . He and his wife Denise had been down to attend a relative’s wedding in San Antonio , and Rocco was amazed and charmed by the topic of most conversations between Texans: the quality of the brisket they had barbecued the weekend before. Before he left, Rocco visited a Costco and for US$20 got himself a cheap Brinkman water smoker. When he got home he bought a couple of books on home smoking and from then on his weekends were spent experimenting with his new toy, smoking sausages, ducks, chicken and testing out exotic recipes for things like smoked Peruvian lamb hearts.
"He invited me to join in the fun, and before long we were calling his house Rocky’s Smokehouse and Commercial Sausage Upgrader. Before long I got another friend, the local restaurant critic Kathy Richardier, interested in smoking food. She and I went halfers on an electric smoker and it just kind of took off from there. But back then we were interested in smoking food and didn’t even really know what true barbecue was.
"In the spring of 1996 our barbecue journey began in earnest, when Kathy and I and a few other foodie friends joined a group of Calgary cooks for an all-day workshop on championship barbecue. Bob Lyon, the granddaddy of barbecue in the Pacific Northwest and president of the Pacific Northwest Barbecue Association, came up to Calgary from his home base in Washington State to show us Canucks a thing or two about how to cook barbecue for competition. Bob came to town at the request of Carol and Sandy Dougall, organizers of Calgary ’s Barbecue on the Bow. The contest was entering its third year and gaining in popularity, but Carol and Sandy were dismayed that the vast majority of the competitors were U.S.-based teams. They loved hosting the out-of-towners, but they didn’t like the fact that the Americans went back with all the shiny hardware every year. By bringing Bob in, they planned to raise the interest and skill level among Calgary barbecue cooks in hopes of increasing the number of Canadian teams -- and improving their chances of winning.
"Bob, a white-haired, erudite seventy-something, was editor of Drippings from the Pit, chief cook of the Beaver Castors (named “Barbecue Road Team of the 90s”), and had been to The Royal and The Jack many times. He spent the day sharing his knowledge with us and coaching us as we cooked ribs and chicken on our cheap charcoal-fuelled covered grills and water smokers. At the end of the day Bob even staged a little contest, showing us how to carve and present our barbecue in competition and giving us a chance to judge each other’s cooking according to the KSBS rules.
"Shortly after, Rockin’ Ronnie’s Butt Shredders was formed, and in September we entered our first competition. We won Best New Cooks at Barbecue on the Bow that year, but more importantly, we were on our way to becoming indoctrinated in the culture, values and mores of Barbecueville.
"I had a great team, which became spread over two cities after my job took me to Vancouver. In Calgary, my hometown, the core team was Kathy, Rocco and Ann-Marie (“Amo”) Jackson, a great cook who had learned to love barbecue while living in Texas in the 1980s. And in Vancouver, I had convinced longtime friends Stephen Robertson and Vince Gogolek and Tom Masterson, the 15-year-old son of my cousin Paula, to be the West Coast contingent of the Butt Shredders."
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