The talent around the table
Norm Waters and Chris Bolan, members of the Rotary Club of Kansas City, Missouri, USA.
After making a habit of it for 24 years, Chris Boland and Norm Waters have no intention of giving up smoking. On weekdays, the business partners stay on top of things at the Quality Roofing Company, which, at 90, has been around nearly as long as their 101-year-old Rotary Club of Kansas City, Mo., USA. On weekends, the duo don aprons and slow-cook their way into the hearts of professional barbecue judges. In September, at the Shawnee Great Grillers State Championship Barbeque, they smoked the competition to earn the Kansas Grand Champion title.
That victory guaranteed them a spot in this year’s World Series of Barbecue, the opening event at an annual celebration of the region’s agricultural heritage called the American Royal. They’re also entered into a lottery to compete in Lynchburg, Tenn., at the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue, widely considered the most prestigious barbecue competition in the world.
THE ROTARIAN: How did you get started in the barbecue game?
BOLAND: I did some grilling in college. When I moved to Kansas City, a guy showed me how to smoke using indirect heat. I took my daughter Heather, who was five at the time, to see the American Royal. The next day, I came into work and told Norm about it.
WATERS: He said, “I think we could do that,” and I said, “Sure we could.”
TR: Did you buy a big smoker?
BOLAND: Not right away. Our first smoker was an old roofing kettle.
WATERS: We had no idea how to build one. We had a friend who manufactures kettles, and we forced him to give us a hand. The first version was workable, but it was more like a grill. Then we devised water pans to put over the fireboxes, which gave us controllable heat.
TR: What’s the secret to good barbecue?
BOLAND: The secret is in the rubs and seasonings – it’s the blending of spices that provides the flavor. And timing. It’s important to know when to start and when to stop.
WATERS: You need good rubs and a good plan, and you’ve got to pay attention to what you’re doing. When you’re working with food for 18 to 20 hours, you can really get off track.
TR: How do you get to be Kansas Grand Champion?
BOLAND: Barbecue competitions have come a long way. It all started with people drinking beer and saying, “I can cook ribs better than you.” We’ve cooked good food over the years – we’ve been in the top 10 two or three times. This time, everything went right. We were first in brisket, second in ribs, fifth in chicken, seventh in pork.
TR: Do your fellow Rotarians ever get a chance to share in your success?
BOLAND: We cook at the annual club picnic and also at the youth camp.
WATERS: Some Rotarians come out when there’s a competition, and we usually have a party on Friday night before a contest. Offer them free food, and they’re there.