Grilling the man in charge of the popular Wilson barbecue - The Buffalo News
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Grilling the man in charge of the popular Wilson barbecue

WILSON – Is there a finer combination than barbecue, beer and blues on the brink of summertime?

The Wilson Business and Professional Association knows it has a winner with the Crossborder Blues, Brews and Ques, slated from noon to 9 p.m. Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. next Sunday at Woodcock Brothers Brewing Co., 638 Lake St.

They know it’s a winner because 40 teams will compete this year, a number that has doubled in the four short years since the event began, according to Frank Tutzauer.

Tutzauer heads the BBQ portion of the event, which is sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society.

“We’ll have seasoned teams who own restaurants and catering businesses, we’ll have mid-level teams who aren’t professionals but do enter competitions, and we’ll have some who are just trying it out for the first time,” he said.

A $5 cover charge (free for kids 12 and under) gains entry to the “festival grounds.” The event also features 40 microbrews (fresh-brewed root beer for the kids) and eight blues bands, including Juno Award nominee Monkey Junk. A number of food vendors also will be available, including barbecue, naturally, over the course of the weekend.

Kathy O’Keefe is the overall chairwoman of the event, which always benefits groups that support Wilson youth and recreation programs. The event has raised more than $10,000 to date.

“What’s great about this is the chance to do so many things – where else can you taste 40 microbrews and have a nice barbecue on Father’s Day Weekend, while listening to the blues?” O’Keefe asked. “And people can talk to the pros and get tips.”

Working in concert with the Western New York Blues Society, the event also features a Junior Blues Showcase on Sunday for musicians ages 8-16, O’Keefe said.

“It’s absolutely extraordinary,” she said.

Remarking on Tutzauer’s skilled chairmanship of the barbecue portion of the event, O’Keefe pointed out that Tutzauer and his wife, Carol – who is also his sole barbecue team partner – recently took first place in ribs in the Roc City Rib Fest in Rochester. They beat out 85 other teams.

“Having the KCBS sanctioning gives the Wilson event regional and national visibility,” she said. “This is such a great thing for the community.”

Tutzauer is a communications professor at the University at Buffalo. He said he largely grew up in New Orleans, although his father was from North Carolina, where barbecue is an integral part of the culture. This fueled his love for the home-smoked delicacy.

Moving to Chicago while attending graduate school at Northwestern University, Tutzauer said, he “rediscovered” his love of barbecue and promptly bought a small smoker.

The Tutzauers relocated to the Buffalo area in 1987 and bought their Wilson home in 2006.

“My wife is the one who got me involved with the contests,” he said.

The Tutzauers have won first place for ribs at three Kansas City Barbecue Society events, and they were named grand champions in 2011 at the Taste of Country BBQ Nationals in Clarence. He said he prefers cooking on a Weber Smokey Mountain cooker or Oklahoma Joe’s vertical offset smoker.

“Ribs are my first passion, and I discovered brisket later,” he said.

Tutzauer recently took time to talk about the upcoming Wilson event and the rising popularity of barbecue.

Tell us a little about the barbecue teams that will compete next weekend by preparing chicken, pork ribs, pork shoulder and/or beef brisket.

Ninety percent of the teams compete regularly on the circuit, and maybe one or two teams are new. They’re primarily from Western New York, but we have some from Canada, mostly Ontario, and from Pennsylvania and one from Ohio.

Tell us about the competition.

The teams check in Friday, and the KCBS inspects to make sure the meat is uncooked and unseasoned. When they start cooking depends on their style and how hot they run their cookers. They start their brisket and pork butts overnight, put their ribs on early Saturday morning and their chicken on later in the morning.

Some sit up all night and baby their fires; some catnap and some take shifts.

What kind of cookers will we see?

Some will have horizontal, offset cookers, what we call “stick-burners.” Some will use the Weber Smoky Mountain water cooker, where a pan of water separates the food from the heat. Some use pellet cookers, which have a thermostat and automatically feed more wood pellets when needed. And you’ll see some grills, especially for chicken.

How does the competition work?

There are turn-in times for judging, and the teams have a time limit, and if they are just one second late, they are disqualified. The judging times are on the hour and half-hour, with a five-minute window before and after.

We have trophies, ribbons and prize money, and we award first through eighth place. We also have a grand champion and a reserve grand champion.

What becomes of the entries?

Some will share with their families and friends. Some donate the food. It preserves well. And some vacuum-seal it and throw it in the freezer.

Can the public talk to the competitors?

We’ll have an educational area set aside from the competition area where we’ll have people talking about things like how to butcher, for example, but the competing teams are too busy for demonstrations. But the teams do like to talk about barbecue, provided they’re not too busy.

Has holding it Father’s Day weekend proved popular?

What else do fathers like to do besides drink beer and eat barbecue? We hold a juniors contest (for those 16 and under, supervised by an adult) on Sunday. It’s what we used to call a father/son event, but now it could be mother/daughter event or anything.

You’ve been with the event since it started. Anything new this year?

We’re having a Firemen’s BBQ Throwdown on Sunday. Teams pay $20 to enter, and we provide two slabs of ribs. They bring their cooker, seasonings and sauces. We’re still looking for teams, and people can contact me at or 258-0288.

Is barbecue gaining popularity here?

Yes. People have always loved barbecue; they like to be outdoors and cooking and enjoying summer – especially with the winters we have here. And there are more television shows about it, like “BBQ Pitmasters.” There’s really a lot of interest in food in general, with all of the food shows on television now. It’s been a happy set of circumstances.


For more information about the event, go to: Know a Niagara County resident who’d make an interesting question-and-answer column? Write to: Niagara Weekend Q&A, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or email

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