NBBQA Conference 2016 Jacksonville, FL Recap
If you’ve never been to an NBBQA Conference, you should make it a point to get to one. I say this after spending a great few days at the event this weekend in Jacksonville, Florida that it was a huge hit. The meetings and break out sessions pertaining to the business of BBQ – sales, vending, the science of meat and smoke, how competitions work from the judging and participant standpoints, the SCA Association events, and NBBQA JAX BBQ Bash, Presented by Sam’s Club, etc. – these were all great. But what I found to be the most rewarding and beneficial were the “hang out” moments over a few beers or liquor drinks. It was in these moments where the magic of congregating with like-minded BBQ industry professionals happened.
In the sections below, I review the events as they unfolded*, and include a few photos from the NBBQA Conference sessions and BBQ Bash below. Just know this, you’ll never spend a better few days among quality BBQ people than you will at an NBBQ Conference event. Stuart Meyer, NBBQA CEO and the rest of the board and staff from the National Barbecue Association did a great job organizing this event, and I absolutely plan to attend the 2017 NBBQA Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.
*Some events “as they unfolded” are NOT relayed here. . . to protect the innocent.
The Ride Up from Imperial Polk County, FL
The trip up to the NBBQA Conference this year was pretty easy, seeing that Jacksonville, FL is only about three and a half hours north of where I am in Winter Haven (Imperial Polk County – home of the now famous IPC BBQ contingent of the Florida Bar-B-Que Association!).
The trip up was made especially enjoyable as I had Chad Ward of Whiskey Bent BBQ Supply fame along for the ride. Man, Chad is one hard charging dude. He’d just wrapped up a week-long cruise where black jack and Crown Royal may have played a major role, and he was ready to get rollin’ from a pick up at his place in Lakeland, FL just hours from arriving in Port.
Food… Bring Us to the FOOD!
We left at about 11 AM on Thursday, and made a B-Line north via I-4 and Interstate 95 to Brad and Corree Kay’s Hog Wash BBQ in Welaka, FL. I’d messaged Brad the day before our trip up and man was he ready for us. The restaurant itself is great, super clean, with a great down home ‘get ready to chow down’ feel.
We had a monster helping of just about all they have to offer – chicken, ribs, pork, and brisket as well as some amazing sides of potato salad, fried okra, sweet potato casserole, and bacon macaroni and cheese. I arrived with one singular goal in mind… to mow down on the famous Hog Wash BBQ Brisket Burger. Yes folks. A burger crafted from brisket trimmings. Man, was that amazing!
We were also served some of the best white chili with chicken I’ve ever had, along with some fries – which Chad promptly topped with the chili, some of the pulled pork, some shredded cheddar cheese, and sour cream. BOOM. Look for a review here on The BBQ Beat soon.
After stuffing ourselves and having a great visit with Brad and Corree, we made our way up to Jacksonville – arriving at about 5 PM. It was clear right off the bat that we’d entered into the realm of BBQ Royalty and a veritable who’s who of ‘cue. Just to the right of the entrance over in the lobby bar area sat Tuffy Stone, Myron Mixon, Junior Urias, and Jim Elser. The good folks from YETI coolers were also on site just hanging and having a few drinks, and we were promptly folded into the conversation. It was awesome to be part of such a chill vibe, where everyone shared funny stories, joked about each other, and forged new relationships, and further solidified existing ones.
We headed up to the room and then went down to the terrace area and prepared for a short Whiskey Bent BBQ Supply Radio Show taping for the OutdoorCookingChannel, followed by a few drinks and more time to mix and hang out with folks attending the conference. I especially enjoyed cutting up with John Gambill and Tony Bunce of HistoricBBQ.com as well as Heath Riles of Victory Lane BBQ.
I should also mention here that I had the chance to meet Jonathan Byrd, Southeast Territory Manager at Traeger Wood Pellet Grills. He’s a great guy, and I learned a great deal about where Traeger is going and the strides they are making in both wood fired grill technology as well as forging strong in-roads with the competition BBQ community.
NBBQA Conference Sessions Overview
So, clearly you can see that I enjoyed the meet and greet sessions at this year’s NBBQA Conference. It’s important, however, to stress the value to be gained across the board from the conference sessions held during the event. Here’s a general break down of what was on the ticket for this weekend:
- “25th Anniversary of NBBQA” Opening Session – Keynote Speaker: Robert Moss, Author of “Barbecue – The History of An American Institution” and Barbecue Editor of Southern Living Magazine
- Catering: From the Art to the Bottom Line – hosted by Brooke O. Lewis, The Shed BBQ
- Butcher Shop – Pork & Beef – From Primal Cuts to Lesser-Known Cuts – hosted by Phil Wingo of Pork Mafia
- Mastering the New Marketing Mix – hosted by Amy Mills of 17th Street BBQ
- Product-to-Market: A Blueprint for Retail Success – hosted by Dave Raymond of Sweet Baby Ray’s
- Steven Raichlen – Recent BBQ Hall of Fame Inductee, James Beard award-winning author of numerous barbecue & grilling books, including “BBQ Bible”
- Where the Money Goes…Review of Accounting and Financial Concepts to Improve Operations and Profitability – hosted by Patrick Murty of Company 7 BBQ
- The BBQ Competition Matrix – Inside the Minds of the BBQ Competition Cooks and Judges – hosted by Mark Lambert of Sweet Swine O’ Mine
- The Science of Meat & Smoke – hosted by Dr. Andrea Garmyn of Raider Red Meats, Meathead of AmazingRibs.com
- Meet the Masters – hosted by Ray Lampe (Dr. BBQ)
- NBBQA JAX BBQ Bash, Presented by Sam’s Club – The Jacksonville Landing/Hogan Street
My Take on The NBBQA Conference Sessions
We arrived too late on Thursday to get in on Robert Moss’s session, which I was sad to have missed. I’m a history buff, so hopefully I’ll be able to catch a recording of that one if the folks at NBBQA make it available. All in all, the sessions at this year’s NBBQA Conference covered a ton of ground. For those of you who don’t know, the NBBQA has a huge focus on servicing the informational and practical needs of those involved in the BBQ restaurant industry. Whether you have a BBQ catering business or Food Truck, or you own or manage one or more restaurant locations, the sessions offered at NBBQA Conferences go a long way towards advancing your understanding of how you can better manage and grow your business.
Though all of the sessions proved informative, I found the following sessions to be of most value based on my own observations and discussions with attendees:
Catering: From the Art to the Bottom Line – hosted by Brooke O. Lewis, The Shed BBQ
Pricing and executing a good BBQ catering effort is a real science. Those I spoke with you enjoyed this session the most said they either received confirmation existing challenges faced along with solutions, or they were made aware of challenges they haven’t yet faced but are now thankfully knowledgeable about.
Knowing exactly how to break down costs, plan for the correct number of event attendees, and take cook time and serving window time frames into account are a must to master. Chad and I had a great talk with Bryan “BigFish” McLarty of BigFish BBQ & Steak Co. about a catering he did for a church in his area for 7,000 people. Listening to Bryan map out the planning and execution elements of that event, along with the financial calculations required to successfully bid it out was a real lesson in and of itself!
Again, a major benefit of attending the NBBQA Conference is the down time conversations you have with professionals who have been there and done that. Both Chad and Bryan fit this mold, and together we had a great talk.
Product-to-Market: A Blueprint for Retail Success
I talked with a great number of attendees who found massive value in the Product to Market session on getting products into retail locations. Many eyes were opened to just how challenging it is to take on this effort the right way. Overall, the presenters seem to have done a great job of relaying some key facts and imparting how-to information that was both informative and actionable.
Meet the Masters
Chris Grove of NibbleMeThis.com said this was one of his favorite sessions from last year’s NBBQA Conference, and I agree that it was one of my favorites from this year’s as well. There were a few great stories shared by a panel of seasoned and well-respected BBQ icons.
What I liked most about this panel it offered a chance for each member to share stories and experiences with us in a way that we most likely wouldn’t experience otherwise. One thing that really put things into perspective was when Tuffy Stone relayed what I would call a near religious experience after first tasting one of Johnny Trigg’s ribs. The story he told was that turn-ins were done for the day, and Johnny had a few of his ‘cast offs’ on a table.
This was real early on in Tuffy’s competitive BBQ life, and the way he put it to us regarding the taste and tenderness of that rib was very cool. Per his words: “I knew I’d never cooked a rib that good in my life.” That’s a pretty cool statement from a guy many would number among the world’s best competitive BBQ champions… EVER – about one of his influences, Mr. Johnny Trigg.
2016 NBBQA Awards of Excellence
Each year, entrants in categories like sauces, rubs, marinades as well as products and people’s choice awards are given at NBBQA. You can find a complete list of the 2016 awards here.
Images from the 2016 NBBQA Conference
Below are a few photos I took from the conference. Click on each to see the larger version.
SCA Steak Cook Off and NBBQA JAX BBQ Bash
Along with the NBBQA Conference, the SCA (Steak Cookoff Association) was on hand to host a Celebrity Steak Cook Off and Dinner as well as the NBBQA CLassic Steak Cookoff at the Jacksonville Landing. Finishers for this event were:
- 1st Place – Johnny Joseph
- 2nd Place – Bobby Stewart
- 3rd Place – Junior Urias
The cookoff was held in the same location as the general public admission JAX BBQ Bash, with the latter involving a Dream Team people’s choice event. This latter event was a blast, as teams of top ranked pitmasters were brought together to compete as groups. Heath Riles of Victory Lane BBQ teamed up with Chris Lilly of Big Bob Gibson BBQ to win the people’s choice event. No surprise there, as that was one stacked pairing!
2016 NBBQA Conference Final Thoughts
I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at this year’s NBBQA Conference. Attendance wise, it was a bit smaller than I expected, and the vendor area was a little on the small side. That said, the attendees that were on hand were among the best of the best in BBQ. As such, anyone involved with the business of BBQ from a catering, vending, food truck, or product standpoint should absolutely make it a point to be involved next year when the conference kicks off in Fort Worth, Texas.
The breakout sessions were all very informative, and of course – the time one on one with other BBQ professionals having drinks and talking about each others’ experiences, failures, and breakthroughs was invaluable. Of the BBQ related events held throughout the year, I’d put the NBBQA Conference near the top of the heap for sure. I can’t wait for next year!