Chow Town

Rabbi out to prove kosher barbecue can beat the competition

Rabbi Mendel Segal
Rabbi Mendel Segal

A local man will put a unique spin on traditional Kansas City Barbecue this weekend.

As RaBBi-Q, a kosher barbecue team will try its luck for just the second time at a Kansas City Barbecue Society-sponsored competition, the Liberty4thFest in Liberty.

Rabbi Mendel Segal will bring his RaBBi-Q team to the competition and he’s got some lofty goals.

“To win and to show that kosher BBQ is just as good as any,” Segal said.

I’m not sure Segal, having only cooked in one other KCBS event in Mound City, Kan., over Memorial Day weekend, is really serious about winning, but he’s clearly serious about barbecue.

“It all started when the rabbi in charge of the organization I work for, the Vaad (The Vaad HaKashruth of Kansas City), urged me to organize a Kansas City Kosher BBQ competition,” he said. “I really ran with the idea, and with the help of one of our board members, Dr. Jason Sokol, and BBQ expert Andy Groneman of Smoke on Wheels BBQ, we launched a very successful first event. Simultaneously, I was bitten by the BBQ bug.”

Segal said he decided to create his own team and compete at other kosher events. So RaBBi-Q was created. The first competition came at the second annual Long Island Kosher BBQ in June 2013.

Segal wanted more, so KCBS events were the natural next step, but there were issues, primarily logistical, all stemming from the kosher side of the equation.

“One of the challenges in competing in many of the event on the KCBS circuit is that most BBQ competitions are on our Sabbath and I cannot cook or even drive or turn on a light,” he said. “The first regular competition I competed in was a bit crazy because I couldn’t get out there and get going until after dark on Saturday night. Needless to say, I was the last team to show up. I then competed in Chicago’s first Kosher BBQ competition a week later.”

Then there’s the matter of pork, which comprises two of the four KCBS categories at Liberty4thFest — pork butt and pork ribs.

As the saying goes, “That’s not kosher.” And I mean that literally. Kosher kitchens can’t cook pork, barbecue or otherwise. So what’s a kosher rabbi pit master to do? Find another barbecue pit master who can cook your pork.

Enter Duane Daughtery of Mr. Doggity Barbecue Fame who met Segal at the Kansas City Kosher Barbecue contest and has now signed on to handle the pork butt and pork ribs categories in Liberty.

“I will do the pork butt and ribs as I would for any other KCBS competition, but I do take very seriously the respect of Mendel’s half of the tent,” Daughtery said. “We may joke between ourselves, but I don’t consider his faith and respect for his equipment a joke. I revere him and admire him as well as his faith and his equipment and I would never consider defiling his side of the operation.”

Like Segal, Daughtery has set his sights high for this weekend’s smokefest, saying he wants to win, or at least show well.

“I don’t want to be seen as a novelty, but rather as a serious BBQ team who just happens to be half kosher and half infidel,” Daughtery joked.

Both Segal and Daughtery are good enough sports to poke fun at their strange bedfellows relationship, but they both take the art of smoking meat and competing, seriously. I asked Segal what he thought his strengths were.

“I do make mean burnt ends and beef ribs,” he said. “I am also really good at over-analyzing things. In fact, some advice I was once given was, ‘Stop thinking and cook.’”

Segal said he thinks that’s the best advice he’s ever gotten.

Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, or nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado, having amassed a personal wine cellar of some 2,000 bottles.