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The Norwegians Prove Themselves in Memphis

Craig Whitson, captain of 100 Degrees Celsius, in Memphis. (Jonathan Postal -- World Picture Network)

Last year at about this time, I had a belly full of brisket, still smelled of smoke and was rushing back to the District to put the finishing touches on my story about three international teams competing in the Memphis in May barbecue contest, the so-called Super Bowl of Swine. The weekend was a blast: Besides the heavenly aromas and flavors, imagine men dressed in pig drag, ice coolers turned into motorized transport, and more punny team names than you can shake a pork rib at. Despite the frivolity, it's a lot of work, and the global teams' hopes for 'que glory were dashed when the none of their names were called out from the stage come awards time.

Only one of the three returned this year: 100 Degrees Celsius, under the leadership of Okie-turned-Norwegian Craig Whitson, known in his country as Grillkongen (Grill King) Craig. What a difference a year makes. In its third appearance in Memphis this past weekend, the team took home two second-place trophies, both in "anything but" (i.e., anything but pork) categories. That's after a single third-place trophy in 2007 and squat in 2008.

100 Degrees Celsius, named for the team's preferred sweet-spot temperature of low-and-slow barbecue (212 degrees Fahrenheit), again worked on a tricked-out smoker dubbed Bling-Bling by its acclaimed maker, David Klose of Houston. In an e-mail from his home in Norway, where he is a restaurateur, Whitson said the team was happy with its higher point totals in the hyper-competitive ribs category (it went from 76th place last year to 45th in 2009) but was ecstatic about the two second-place wins, which bring them $1,000 in addition to trophies so big "we had to dismount them to pack them in the largest suitcases" for the trip home.

Last year's Rack of Lamb With Dried-Apricot Sauce. (Jonathan Postal -- World Picture Network)

The winning dishes were beef tenderloin (a change-up from last year's brisket), with a glaze made of black pepper, caramel, cider vinegar and soy sauce; and rack of lamb grilled the same way as last year, "but the apricot sauce was replaced by a pear and apple compote with a bit of fresh jalapeño and a dash of chipotle en adobo," Whitson said. "The combination worked perfectly."

100 Degrees Celsius was one of just two international teams this year. "I think the economy had something to do with it," Whitson said. The other, the Danish National BBQ Team (which Whitson coached), took home a trophy, too, for third place in the beef category. The team, sponsored by Weber, cooked everything on Weber equipment available at any Home Depot, said Jim Boland of Memphis, who worked with both teams. "They had such style and technique," Boland said in a phone interview. "They even baked bread on the grill."

The international teams don't have quite as much to prove anymore, but Whitson is already thinking about 2010. "Will we be back? You bet."

Spoken like a true competitor.

-- Joe Yonan

By Joe Yonan  |  May 19, 2009; 12:45 PM ET
 | Tags: Joe Yonan, barbecue  
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Did you BBQ fans know that if meat is cooked until it is “falling off the bone” then it is over-cooked? Yes it is, despite the common misconception that says otherwise.

Now, go cook something!

Posted by: unitcaptain11 | May 19, 2009 5:45 PM | Report abuse

Yes, I understand you want the meat to be very close to falling off but not quite- is that right?

Posted by: billtara | May 19, 2009 7:18 PM | Report abuse

When I interviewed barbecue legend Mike Mills a few years ago, I put this question to him, about ribs: The meat should not fall off the bone, right? And here's what he said:

"No, it should not. I'm going to tell you about the perfect rib. It's very, very difficult to achieve. You can bite it off the bone, and however large a bite you take is what will be removed, and the bone will come clean, but there might be just a little tidbit here and there on it. It's a tricky situation. If they fall off the bone, they've either been steamed, cooked to a certain point and probably wrapped in foil, or they've been parboiled."

Posted by: Joe Yonan | May 20, 2009 7:25 AM | Report abuse

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