Outside of the bull riding, one of the best things about the PBR World Finals in Las Vegas is all the bonus fan events one can cram into one’s schedule.
This year, due to the increase in host hotels and the division of events among them, it was even more difficult to choose, but the Big Green Egg Cookoff caught my eye. (B.G.E. is ostensibly the world’s best smoker and grill.)
The setup was: three chefs, three cowboys, six Big Green Eggs, secret ingredients, two MCs, and four judges.
Each chef was paired with a cowboy: Colby Yates, Tater Porter, or Cord McCoy. The event was hosted by Ray Lampe (“Dr. BBQ”) and PBR in-arena announcer Clint Adkins, and featured Adriano Moraes, Ty Murray, Michael Gaffney and J.W. Hart as judges.
The structure was like “Iron Chef,” with a basket of secret ingredients and the directive to impress the judges by cooking a meal that includes those ingredients. The ingredients were easy on the cowboy palette, and unsurprisingly got a plug in for a sponsor or two, including Jack Daniels. Also available were additional items contestants could use, including Spam, which somehow ended up in the audience, thanks to Clint.
Colby Yates and Cord McCoy quickly demonstrated that the best thing they do in the kitchen is stay out of the way, which was confirmed by the wife and fiancée, respectively. Mostly they opened things or stood around awkwardly, sometimes making cute sound bytes for Clint while their chef partners whirled around them like Tasmanian devils. Tater Porter, though, seemed to know his way around a kitchen knife and was a pretty dab hand at the BBQ.
Watching people cook for an hour is not that exciting, no matter how expensive their BBQs are or how much one admires their bull riding skills. Clint and Dr. BBQ did their best with some good-humored smack talk, and got some ribbing going between Cord and Colby. Tater seemed focused and disinterested in talking himself up or the others down, which may be why he was the only cowboy who was much help to his partner–he had other things on which to concentrate.
At one point, Cord was very, very focused on pouring beans into a pan, which apparently required great precision; and Colby did a good job selling his partner’s “secret sauce.” After hearing Colby’s raves, Clint came over to ask, “What is it?” The reply: “It’s good!” The tone of pleased astonishment convinced Clint; he would not be denied a taste of this amazing sauce– after which he pronounced that Colby’s might be the team to beat. Of course, Clint and Colby joking about bribing the judges might have had something to do with that.
Soon the judges trickled in; Michael Gaffney and J.W. Hart arrived. Ty Murray, Jewel in tow, arrived to some apparently unwanted fanfare, judging by his awkward wave to the applauding crowd. He appeared more interested in the proceedings as he, Clint, and Dr. BBQ went to each station to see how things were coming along.
He also commented with a cheeky grin that, based on his size and shape since retirement, Adriano Moraes ought to be an experienced food critic. The crowd ate that up with a reaction worthy of “Wheel of Fortune.” Moraes, who was in the back reacting with mock outrage, hasn’t lost his gift for gab, and toured the stations with great interest.
As time was winding down, the contestants began plating their dishes. As his partner frantically plated four dishes, Cord revealed that they were presenting a Mexican cowboy meal of steak and beans.
Tater and his partner made a classic cowboy meal, though orange sauce was artistically piped on the steak, and I don’t think a lot of cowboys do that.
Colby Yates, who got into the spirit of the plating and was carefully, with great concentration, arranging decorative elements on the food, announced that he and his partner had made an Asian twist on the cowboy meal. The small dishes included corn and salad; a unique approach that provided a moment of hilarity when the judges were served. Their extreme confusion as they eyed the tiny bowls of greens and embellishments was one of the funniest things I saw all day. At last J.W. Hart proclaimed that if they were getting just salad, at least it was a “cowboy salad;” everyone brightened as the remainder of the meal appeared.
I did wonder what credentials J.W. Hart, et al., have to judge the presentation of a meal, but they were more than happy to dig in and evaluate the taste. Adriano, apparently not worried by Ty’s comments on his current shape, declared that he hadn’t had lunch and was more than ready to start the judging.
The judges were favorably impressed by the Mexican-themed steak meal created by the chef and (or perhaps in spite of) Cord. The classic cowboy meal by Tater and his partner also went over well. I wondered how Colby and his partner’s Asian-esque steak would go over, but Adriano was clearly quite impressed with their corn dish. A self-declared corn fan, he stated this was the best corn he’d ever eaten.
As the judges deliberated, Tater set aside some steak for Clint, who’d been angling for it, and suggested he would share the rest with the crowd. Judging by the terrified looks on the faces of the staff, I suspect the judges had signed a liability form, and there was no way we’d get a taste of anything. Meanwhile, Colby was industriously putting together another plate, which he proudly took to his very pregnant wife. He neglected to bring her silverware, but she seemed to appreciate the novelty of him bringing her something he had cooked; it was a sweet little moment.
Throughout the event, a man I only can assume was a PBR photographer took pictures of the cooks and cowboys in action, even climbing on top of a truck to get crowd shots. Apparently the PBR had decided that before each evening’s event, they would project pictures of fans onto the kabuki screens unveiled this year, so they seized this opportunity to take some. Clint posed while we were all directed to wave.
While all the dishes got compliments from the judges, Team Yates’s bold decision to make an Asian twist on a cowboy meal won them each a Big Green Egg. The others were not left without consolation; they took home cookbooks and some publicity.
It was nice to see the guys getting in some ribbing and being themselves. McCoy’s natural self is so very goofy, which is part of his charm. Porter’s laconic hard work mirrored his cowboy ethic. Yates didn’t seem to have any idea what he was doing, but he tried, and showed a sweeter side of himself than we’d ever see through bull riding.
I’m sure the situation was much more stressful for the chefs, who have reputations to uphold. The fans were there for the cowboys, and we got plenty of cowboy time with the contestants and judges. I can’t say I’ll be running out to purchase a Big Green Egg, but it was a nice way to spend an afternoon. If they’re holding a BGE Cookoff in your neck of the woods, I’d say it’s worth checking out.