MIAMI, Okla. — As barbecue smoke fills the air later this month at Smokin’ on the Route, the first competition sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society, one nationally known team that previously brought its meats to Northeast Oklahoma will be in the mix.

Butcher BBQ, a two-time world championship barbecue team from Wellston, Oklahoma, is one of 18 teams signed up for the inaugural competition taking place Friday and Saturday, July 29-30, in downtown Miami. It’s part of the second Route 66 Heritage Festival, a two-day event filled with free concerts, vendors, and a car and bike show.

The barbecue competition even carries the “Oklahoma state BBQ championship” moniker, thanks to a proclamation in June by Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt.

Butcher BBQ includes David Bouska, son Levi and brother Martin. For Bouska, the event is not only a place to show off his meat prowess but also a chance to be part of the barbecue community.

“I love meeting people and trying to perfect every piece of meat,” Bouska said. “We go in, set up tents, cook, and then go to the next town on the next weekend and do it all over again.”

This is a return engagement to Northeast Oklahoma for Butcher BBQ. Bouska said the team has competed at area casinos as well as the Grand Lake BBQ Festival, hosted by the South Grand Lake Lions Club.

different outlet

Bouska owned and operated a meat processing plant for 34 years. Before jumping into the barbecue world, he would compete in archery competitions. However, a back injury left Bouska looking for a different competitive outlet.

After a 2006 trip to a contest in central Oklahoma, Bouska decided to explore the world of barbecue.

“I never thought I would come out ahead, but I was hoping with my meat knowledge, we would come in equal to some of the folks,” he said.

For the past 16 years, Bouska has worked to perfect his rubs, injections, sauces and cooking times. Since 2007, many of those concoctions have become staples in the Butcher BBQ commercial spice lineup.

Six years ago, Bouska closed his commercial meat operation to focus on the spice company, while his son opened the Butcher BBQ Stand at the same time.

Now Bouska primarily represents the team on the road, with help from his brother, the chief sample taster and box hauler.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the team competed in 30 to 35 competitions a year. While some competitions have resumed, Bouska said it will be a while before the circuit is back to pre-pandemic levels. He anticipates competing in at least 10 events this year.

Looking ahead

The rhythm of the competition is simple, Bouska said. On Friday, the team arrives at the competition, checks in with staff and begins to set up their equipment and prep for the next day’s events.

Come Saturday morning, Bouska said, teams “get their game faces on” as they dive into the competition. With rigs that cost upward of $30,000 and up to $1,500 in meat, entry fees and travel expenses for the weekend, teams focus on earning some of their expenses back in prize money.

While teams can cook with charcoal, wood or pellets or any combination of them, Bouska said he’s a “pellet head.” In fact, the team won two world championships — in 2012 and 2018 — using pellets. In 2014 and 2016, they competed on seasons 4 and 5 of “BBQ Pitmasters” and “BBQ Pitmasters All Stars.”

Bouska said that although he loves cooking all meats, chicken and brisket are his favorite because “they are always good to me.” He said the key to a good smoked meat starts with quality cuts of meat.

“You can’t start with a hamburger and end up making a filet,” Bouska said. “For pitmasters, it’s important to be able to pick out the right meat at the stores — meat that’s consistent, well marbled, aged and trimmed.”

Once the right meat is selected, cooks can focus on the spices, rubs and injections for the next step.

He recommends people, regardless of their experience, take notes as they cook. He has volumes of notes, dating back to 2006, of everything he’s tried, the spices he used, how the smokers reacted to heat and humidity, and more.

Instead of purchasing the most expensive smoker, Bouska recommends cooks learn on their own smoker and refine their practices with it first. He also recommends not purchasing the most expensive cuts of meat at the start but instead perfecting basic cuts of beef first. He also recommends purchasing meat locally.

Over the years, Bouska has perfected multiple spices and rubs. His favorites in his spice line include Honey Rub, a mixture of dried honey and black pepper, and Grilling Addiction, a variety of salts, along with lemon pepper zest.

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