Chow Town

Despite finishing in middle of pack, rabbi shows kosher barbecue can compete

Rabbi Mendel Segal of RaBBi-Q prepares beef brisket for the Liberty4thFest barbecue competition.
Rabbi Mendel Segal of RaBBi-Q prepares beef brisket for the Liberty4thFest barbecue competition.

The RaBBi-Q team came to downtown Liberty’s historic square like all the other competition barbecue teams —with a love of barbecue and a desire to win the Liberty4thFest barbecue competition.

But for Rabbi Mendel Segal and his kosher barbecue team came with a few extra challenges. First, this was just the second Kansas City Barbecue Society-sanctioned contest Segal had competed in, so he’s a total newbie.

Second, and more importantly, he keeps a kosher kitchen, which means he can’t cook or eat pork.

In KCBS barbecue events, pork make up two categories — pork butt and pork ribs. What’s a kosher pit master to do?

Have no fear, Segal was ready to rise to the challenge, brimming with confidence from his last KCBS competition, and armed with Duane Daughtery of Mr. Doggity BBQ, who would handle the ribs and butt in a second, separate, smoker.

I caught up with Segal and Daughtery just as they were getting ready to send in their chicken. The first of four entries on the day looked terrific and tasted pretty darn good too.

I wanted to to ask them about their “cook” and the experiences of running two separate kitchens under the same smallish tent.

“It’s really not bad at all,” Segal said. “We have two smokers, two prep areas, two staging areas. The only thing I miss is the fact that I can’t taste the pork.”

“Things couldn’t have been better,” Daughtery said. “The weather was perfect and the meat turned out great.”

For Segal, the competition is just a part of the overall experience. He says he felt so much more comfortable at this contest having one KCBS event under his belt.

“I really felt like I could just hang out and chat with the other teams,” he said. “I feel more like I belong, like maybe the novelty is wearing off, or at least, will wear off, and I’ll just be a guy who loves to smoke meat and cook outdoors, albeit a guy who also happens to be a rabbi who keeps kosher.”

Segal enjoys the social part of the barbecue scene and sharing a common interest with people of all walks of life.

“The BBQ community is really an incredible group of people who really care about each other, so much so that people refer to their close nit group of competitive BBQers as their ‘BBQ family’ and I can tell you that in pinch you can rely on the BBQ family to pitch in and help and come running with open hands,” Segal said.

Daughtery is one of the BBQers who came to the aid, if not the rescue, of Segal and RaBBi-Q. Daughtery met Segal at the first Kansas City Kosher Barbecue contest, which Daughtery was asked to judge. Daughtery said he was honored to be asked to be a part of the RaBBi-Q team.

“I told him if he was serious about doing a KCBS event, I was his goy,” Daughtery said. “I’m not sure he’s comfortable with me using that Yiddish pejorative, even if directed at myself. He’s a very respectful guy.”

Back to the contest, which I was unable to see to its conclusion. Before my departure, I did have the opportunity to taste Daughtery’s pork ribs and pork butt along with Segal’s chicken and beef brisket.

Having judged many a KCBS-sanctioned contest and having cooked and consumed more than my fair share of barbecue here and elsewhere, I’d say I’m a pretty good judge of good barbecue.

Segal and Daughtery’s offerings, in my opinion, were good, and in the case of Daughter’s pulled pork and Segal’s brisket, to my palate, very good.

So, what did the judge’s think? Well, not as highly as me unfortunately. Daughtery and Segal told me they finished middle of the pack, 17th out of 31 teams, with one team disqualified.

The best showing was an 11th place for Segal’s chicken.

“I’m a little disappointed, but all in all, we beat a bunch of teams.” Segal reflected.

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.