Richard Parker, Lowell's resident BBQ champion
Lowell resident Richard Parker's online shop, the BBQ Super Store, has over over 600 barbecue-related products for sale, including more than 100 different sauces, spice rubs, equipment and lots of other fun, interesting, unique items.
“Our goal is to be one-stop-shopping for barbecue products,” Parker said. “It'll be seven years this October that we've been open. I just added a bunch more products over the past few days.”
Parker's passion is taking part in barbecue competitions all over the Midwest. He has won “grand champion” 21 times out of approximately 150 competitions he has participated in. His most notable victory was in 2014 when his team “iBQ'n@TheBBQSuperStore.com” won the $52,100 grand prize at the Sam's Club National BBQ Tour event.
“I started competing in 2010,” Parker said. “I think I cook pretty good. When I first started, I did about six or eight competitions a year, then it went up to around 20. I would say I do anywhere between 15 and 20 a year. Last year I did 16 and this year I'll do about 18. I've done eight weekends in a row before. I like to pretty much stay in our region, around Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio, but I do venture over to Iowa, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, quite a ways.”
At a barbecue competition, teams prepare beef brisket, pork shoulder, pork ribs and chicken, which, one at a time, they present to a panel of judges who assess the flavor and appearance of the meats.
“The most challenging part is making sure all of your meat is done on time,” Parker said. “You only have a half hour window when they call for them. The equipment you use is not really that important. It doesn't matter how you get there, just that you get there.”
Quite often, barbecue mavens will argue about what style is the best: Carolina, Texas, Kansas City, etc. Parker eschews this attitude, contending that the best result comes when a cook takes bits and pieces from all of them to create their own unique recipe.
“I think really good barbecue is kind of a mix between all of the styles,” Parker said. “For example, my brisket isn't necessarily Texas-style. I've been in Texas and tasted a lot of different brisket. A lot of them are dry with a crusty bark and it's pretty much just salt and pepper. My brisket is more of a Kansas City-style, which is less salty and a little more savory, but mine is sweeter and I use a little paprika to make a better bark. We use a hotter, paprika-based seasoning. For example, our 'Executioner,' available on the site, is what you'd call a sweet heat. It has sugar, paprika and some different peppers for the heat in the back. We reduced the black pepper and replaced it with white pepper to give it a different heat. It fits better into the style that I like to cook with, rather than what everybody else uses. For wood, we use predominantly hickory and white oak. It's a lot easier to find white oak in our area. Hickory is really hard to find in our area. You should never use cedar or pine, and don't focus too much on the temperature of the grill. It doesn't have to be a consistent 200 degrees the whole time. I run 325, sometimes 400 degrees. Focus on tenderness, that's the most important thing. Just make sure you pull the meat off when it's done cooking. 'Fall off the bone' actually means your ribs are overdone. It should have some integrity.”
Parker said he got into barbecuing in 2007 after he watched a program about the competitions on the Food Network. Then he took a barbecue class in Chicago and was hooked.
“I was the only one in the class who had never competed before,” Parker said. “When I left I called my wife and said, 'I'm doing this.' She said, 'You're crazy!' but I said, 'No, I'm doing this!' I spent about $200 on making an ugly, homemade drum smoker. There are definitely more elaborate ones, we sell some on our website, that are very quiet and efficient. They'll run darn near all day. What I use now is called an Outlaw barbecue smoker. It's the best flavor you're going to get.”
Look for the BBQ Super Store online at thebbqsuperstore.com and like the “IBQ'n” page on Facebook to follow Parker's competitive exploits.
“There aren't a lot of opportunities for a big guy like me to go out and win trophies except with something like barbecue,” Parker said. “You can get a little recognition and some cool, unique trophies.”