In Utah, we use the terms, "barbecue" and "grilling" interchangeably. But don't tell that to anyone from the "barbecue belt," which is just about anywhere in the South.
Or the Utah BBQ Association, for that matter.
"Grilling" is quickly cooking something over high heat, like a steak. True barbecue involves slow cooking and low heat — around 200-250 degrees — with wood or charcoal to give the meat a smoky flavor. This can take anywhere from 8 to 18 hours, depending on the cut of meat and other variables.
Up until the past few years, barbecue remained on Utah's back burner. But more barbecue joints opened in Utah, and the Utah BBQ Association was founded. One the Web site, utahbbq.org, enthusiasts can talk technique.
The Wild West Showdown June 5-6 at the Utah State Fairpark is a good chance to watch some of these barbecue masters in action, as they compete for a $1,000 grand prize.
It's part of the Utah Outdoor Adventure Expo. Organizing the competition is "T," owner of Q4U Barbecue in Kearns. Yes, he's so well known in the barbecue circuit that he needs no last name.
Around 20-30 teams start cooking Friday and go through the night, with the finished dishes turned in to judges between 12:30-1:30 p.m. Saturday.
The chefs cook ribs, pulled pork and brisket. Unfortunately, there won't be any spectator tasting.
The quality of barbecue is influenced by the type of fuel, quality of the meat, the seasoning, the cooking unit and, of course, the chef's expertise.
Visitors might have a chance to talk to Ed Roith (also known as "Dr. Death") with the Kansas City Barbeque Society, who will be at the event. He has won more than 375 awards and 11 state championships.
In 2000, I learned about barbecue while in Kansas City. I even attended a barbecue-judging seminar conducted by the Kansas City Barbeque Society.
I can attest that these folks have a passion for barbecue that makes Utah's Dutch-oven enthusiasts pale in comparison.
Their slogan is "Barbecue: it's not just for breakfast anymore."
Members haul trailers full of equipment to cook-offs around the country and stay up all night to keep an eye on the cooking process. Competitors vary anywhere from restaurant chefs to backyard amateurs. In fact, many barbecue restaurateurs got their start by competing on the contest circuit, including Dave Anderson, founder of the Famous Dave's chain.
Also, I found out there are different styles for regions of the country. In North Carolina, the eastern part of the state favors whole-hog cooking and peppery vinegar sauce. The western part uses a little tomato in its sauce and favors pork shoulder. They're both more vinegary and peppery than the sweet tomato-based sauces popular in Kansas City.
South Carolina has a mustard-heavy sauce. Memphis barbecuers use a basting sauce of vinegar and spices. Texans are known for brisket cooked over mesquite and bold tomato-based sauce. In Kentucky, mutton is often the meat of choice.
So if you want to see what all the smoke is about, adult tickets to the Expo are $10 for adults, and children under age 12 are free.