Keith Pelkey of Boston will compete at the WNY BBQ & Music Festival at the Hamburg Fairgrounds this weekend.
This weekend’s WNY BBQ & Music Festival in Hamburg will play host to a plethora of competitive barbeque teams from across the United States and Canada, including a team from eight in its own backyard, KC and the Smokeshack Band, led by Keith Pelkey.
This year will mark the third time Pelkey has brought his team to this competition. This is a place he remembers fondly as he won one of his first trophy’s here.
“We won our first Kansas City Barbeque Society trophy at the third Boston Hills BBQ Fest, placing 10th in chicken,” Pelkey said. It was a thrill to hear our names called for finishing top ten out of 30-some teams. It really just took off from there.”
Pelkey credited a neighbor for getting him into competitive barbeque, adding that while this started out as a hobby, over the past couple of years it has turned into more of an obsession.
“My next door neighbor Mike Cartechine, who had been a competition cook for a long time, came over for a family reunion with his smoker and cooked up a bunch of food and I just fell in love with it. After sitting and talking to him, I just got hooked on it. I got the big and started cooking at home, which would have been about four years ago now. I eventually bit the bullet and got involved at my first competition, Roc City RibFest in 2011. But without Mike, I would have the knowledge I have now; he passed on a lot of his wisdom to me and I owe all my successes to him, and to be honest, without him I’d still be spinning my wheels trying to figure out which side of the smoker the meat goes in.”
“This is a little bit both an obsession and a hobby for me. I love to cook regardless, whether it’s at these competitions or at home behind a grill. I live, eat, breathe, BBQ. If there’s a BBQ TV show on, I’m watching it because I can’t get enough. I want to learn and adapt as many techniques as I can.”
He admits that he is feeling the added pressure of being the hometown guy at the WNY BBQ & Music Festival since it is right up the road from where he lives. And not only does he want to win in order to represent Boston, he also wants the trophy that comes with winning.
“Being a hometown guy at this competition definitely adds a lot of pressure. The first year I competed was only our second competition, and at the time Boston Hills BBQ Fest was held at Boston Park, it was literally a mile and a half from my house. Everybody knew that I lived right there and it added a lot of pressure for sure.”
“I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself this year because I am a hometown guy and this is my hometown competition. And since we haven’t had the year so far we’ve wanted, I’m treating everything this time around with kids gloves. I want that trophy (a wooden trophy adorned with a white Fireman’s helmet), it’s my Stanley Cup. It’s by far the coolest trophy in New York, it’s the one everyone wants, and who wouldn’t want to add it to their collection.”
Pelkey pulled back the curtain a bit, and explained a little about what KC and the Smokeshack Band’ normal process is while preparing for a competition.
“Usually I’ll do my shopping on Thursday and then do my trimming at home that night. That night well also get the trailer packed with everything we need, all our sauces and rubs, and everything else we might need. On Friday, around noon or 1pm well start injecting our meat and get our rubs applied. I then like to get that meat back in the cooler to rest up so all of those flavors can marry. At about 10 that night Ill fire up the smokers and get them up to temperature. We prep our ribs at this time as well. We cook our pork shoulders and brisket overnight, and once they go on we all try to get a few hours of sleep, because sleep at these competitions is hard to come by, so we grab it when we can. Wake up at about 5:30-6am and check everything. We pull the meat around 7:30-8am and get those wrapped up and put back in the cooler to rest. Ribs and chicken go on at this point and they generally take about three hours to cook. After that meat is done cooking we take some time to relax then start cleaning up.”
If you’ve ever attended one of these competitions and have seen the guys clad in Philadelphia Flyers apparel, then you’ve seen KC and the Smokeshack Band. While Pelkey is an admitted Flyers fan, he also has other reasons for donning the Flyers orange and black every competition.
“We wore the Flyers jerseys at last years’ Boston Hills BBQ Fest and won tenth place for chicken, and we were booed when we went to accept our award. After that it kind of became our thing, and everyone would come up to us saying ‘oh, you’re the guys that wear those Flyers jerseys.’ It became a name recognition thing for us. At Oinktoberfest last year, not only we were booed vociferously, but chants of “Let’s Go Sabres” and “Flyers Suck” broke out. It’s become fun for us – whenever we get a call, we want to be booed, we love it, but it’s all in good fun. It’s brand recognition in a sense.”
The WNY BBQ & Music Festival takes place this weekend at the Hamburg Fairgrounds. Admission is $5 with kids 12 and under admitted free and parking is free.