Thursday, May 20, 2010

She's Smokin': Crystal Johnson of Bare Bones BBQ

Meet Crystal Johnson.

I met her at Memphis in May, the World Championship of Barbecue. I'd been searching for female pit masters, and was led by someone who said, "You HAVE to meet Crystal of Bare Bones BBQ. She's the boss and an awesome pit master. She runs a tight ship."

If you hail from the Southern states, you might want to set your ears to "speed" when you meet her, because Crystal is a fast talkin' Vermonter. I think they named the wind "Nor'easter" after her. Lucky for me, I'm from the opposite coast, where we talk just as fast, in part fueled by the copious cups of coffee we drink.

Crystal's fuel comes from within. It comes from her passion for creating pure barbecue goodness on a plate. Crystal and her husband Mark live in a small town in Vermont, they've been in the restaurant business for 20 years, and competing on the barbecue circuit for 10 years.

They run a small restaurant that features a few barbecue items on the menu, but once a month they pull out all the stops.

"We hold a monthly barbecue event next to our restaurant. You can't produce competition level barbecue in a restaurant 24/7, so we decided to just do it once a month and give people the closest thing to it."

As a barbecue restaurant owner, I nod in understanding. A team can highly manage a brisket or pork butt to perfection. Because they only need to turn in six samples to the judges, they can cook easily hundreds of pounds of meat to get the perfect 1 pound or so on a plate. A restaurant wouldn't last three months with that kind of food cost.

Those monthly barbecues double as fine-tuning for competition season. Crystal said it's helped, "This is the best we've felt coming into a competition. We've been practicing so much."

I asked her what her "secret" or best advice is for folks out there.

"Don't use crap!"

She may say this with a twinkle in her eye, but to the core, she's serious. "It's all about the ingredients you use. Buy local, fresh pork. Research the ingredients you use and source those that are truly without crap."

This includes using an organic beef stock, and bringing her pork from a local Vermont farm with her to the competition. Her shoulders were amazing. This one is 40 pounds!

Keep an eye on Crystal. She isn't on twitter, facebook, she doesn't write a blog or even have a website that I could find. She's all about putting her energy into her food. We'll be seeing more of her and Bare Bones BBQ in the future.

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