The first time I can recall seeing Jim Elser & and Team Sweet Smoke Q, was at a Florida Barbecue Association (FBA) competition in Zephyrhills, FL. I did not get the chance to meet Jim at that competition, I was having some serious pit issues, (that’s another story). Our sites were not that far from one another, and I could see Jim and his son, Garrett, just working their tails off. My first impression was with Garrett, I was thinking to myself, “man, that kid knows his way around the pit!!!” I even brought it to the attention of my wife & team mate. I believe the next time we saw Jim and Garrett was at the FBA competition in Sebring, FL. same deal there, Jim & Garrett working really hard, and putting out some great BBQ. Pleasing not only the crowds, but the judges as well.
I began to notice Jim scoring very well in ribs and especially pork, these are two of my favorite category to cook in competitions, so seeing a young team scoring so well, peeks my interest. We have been back and forth in these two category, one time I will edge him out, next contest Jim gets the higher scores. We always have a short discussion about how our cook went, just before the awards, and wish each other luck. Jim is a real stand-up guy, and brings class and honor to the sport of BBQ. I truly enjoy competing against Jim and team Sweet Smoke Q, because I know they will be bringing there “A” game every time out, and that helps me be a better competitor.
One thing I went away from this interview with is that, Jim is into BBQ for the long haul. Some teams just go out a few times, get lucky and win a trophy or two, then disappear as soon as they realize, this is work!!! That is not the impression I get from Jim, he and Garrett are not ones to shy away from work, that is what will insure them being a success in the world of BBQ.
Without further ado, I give you Sweet Smoke Q, and interview with Jim Esler.
First of all I would like to say thank you to Jim and team Sweet Smoke Q for granting Let’s Talk Hog!!! this interview.
LTH: What is your team name, where are you located & who makes up your team?
Jim: We are “Sweet Smoke Q”, and we are located in Winter Haven, FL. The team is made up of myself and my 15 year old son, Garrett. My girlfriend Deanna and her son Ryan helps us when we vend larger contest, also we get help from friends when needed. Basically, it’s a two man show, I am in charge of the competition side, and Garrett takes care of the vending side. (Deanna supports my BBQ addiction 100%, but she doesn’t understand why I spend all the time, effort and $$$ on this so called “hobby”).
LTH: How did you get started in BBQ?
Jim: I started bbqing in the backyard, in Ohio, cooking ribs and pork butts using a Brinkmann-Smoke N’ Grill. I cooked for family and friends and eventually every time we had a get together they always requested I cook ribs. Also, growing up in Ohio, we seemed to have a lot of whole hog roasts. I was given a whole hog roaster. A friend and I started doing a few catering jobs cooking pigs. Every year we attended the Northwest Ohio Rib-Off. I always wanted to enter the Rib-Off, to see how I fared against the local restaurants and rib teams, from across the country. That didn’t happen, because I moved to Florida in 2005 for a job.
LTH: What made you decide to go into competition BBQ?
Jim: One day at work I searched the internet for competition BBQ, and came across the FBA website. I started doing research and attended the Lakeland Pig Fest and Smoke on the Water in Winter Haven, FL. I walked around and sampled some bbq and thought to myself, “I can do this”. A year went by and I decided to do some more research on how and what I needed to compete. I researched different types of smokers and designed and built a vertical cabinet stick burner, (I’m a mechanical engineer). I borrowed my buddies welder and in just 2 weekends, I had a smoker. I fired her up on New Year’s Day 2010, cooked some ribs. After a few modifications, we headed to out first contest in Lakeland. We pulled into the 2010 Pig Fest on Friday morning with a 4 x 8 open trailer with the smoker mounted to it. We looked like the Beverly Hillbillies pulling into the contest. After the contest, the biggest thing I learned was how much work it was (we vended too), not the best place to change a starter in my truck in the parking lot (a big thanks to my buddy who worked all day locating and installing it), not wanting to pack up and go home right before the cooks meeting on Friday (I was really thinking about it), and being prepared before you show up to a contest (we were not even remotely prepared). We didn’t get a call that day (not a big shock) but we didn’t get that DAL (Dead Ass Last) in a category, that is a victory in my book. Our next competition the following week in Winter Haven, FL., we were much more prepared.
Jim: I cook on 2 UDS with a homemade BBQ Guru system, and my original vertical smoker. I am also in the process of desiging a combo, gravity feed charcoal, and stick burner. I should have it done by the end of the summer.
LTH: Do you compete In the Backyard Division, or the Pro Division?
Jim: The only Backyard Competition we have done was a 3rd competition in Haines City, FL. 2010 (the only reason I cooked in the Backyard, was the entry fee was a lot cheaper, I had a lot of money wrapped up into this “hobby”). The rest of our competitions, we have competed in the Pro Division.
LTH: How many competitions has Sweet Smoke Q competed in?
Jim: We had 6 competitions in our first year (2010), 10 in our second year (2011) and we are looking to compete in a total of 15 competitions this year (2012).
LTH: In you opinion, what has been your biggest award in a BBQ competition?
Jim: I’m still waiting for it, but if I had to pick it, it would be our first call at our 4th contest, in Venice, FL. in the pork category. We have had several 2nd place calls since, but can’t seem to get that 1st place. I feel it’s coming soon, and I’d bet it will be in pork.
LTH: What is your favorite category to cook at a contest?
LTH: What is your least favorite category?
Jim: That damn bird!!! The chicken category has cost me a top 5, and a top 3 at a few contest this year for sure!!!
LTH: What competition, above all others, would you like to compete in?
Jim: The Jack
LTH: What is one piece of advice you could give to a BBQ team just starting out?
Jim: I would say to a new BBQ team, to do plenty of homework, there are several BBQ forums out there, and to practice, practice and practice, especially their timing.
LTH: What is on your BBQ bucket list?
Jim: To win a Grand Champion, of course. Also, I would like to be featured on The Food Network someday, (my sister-in-law told me she has no doubt that I’ll be on there some day).
LTH: What are some long term BBQ goals for you and your team?
Jim: Just to stay consistent, have fun, and continue to meet great people out there. I want to teach my son, not just how to cook good BBQ, but that if you work hard and don’t give up, you can accomplish anything. Garrett can defiantly cook, he took Grand at his first backyard competition in Eagle Lake, (and no I didn’t help him at all on Friday night or Saturday of the competition). He surprised the hell out of me when I found out that he did that good. I guess he has a good teacher, and he hasn’t let me forget that he got his Grand before I ever had one. He’s a good kid and a very hard worker. I get asked all the time at a contest if he is my son,they all tell me that they can’t believe he works so hard and is compassionate about what we do. I am so proud of him. You’ll probably see Sweet Smoke JR compete in a few more backyard events in the near future.
LTH: I understand that, not only are you a BBQ competitor, but that you are also a competition organizer. You had your first event, Eagle Lake BBQ Festival on April 28,2012, can you tell me a bit about this event?
Jim: Yes, I was asked by a friend of mine if I’d thought we could put on a contest, I said I don’t see why not. Mark Stallings took care of the non-competition side (sponsors, advertising, the city of Eagle Lake and everything else that you have to do). We were pretty amazed on the response that we got from cook teams, since this was a non-sanctioned event, (12 backyard teams and 16, pretty damn good pro teams). We thought the event was a big success for a first year contest. It was a lot of work on everyone’s part, but I enjoyed seeing that side of our sport. I think I’d rather be cooking. Planning will begin in June 2012, for a FBA sanctioned contest in the near future.
This being a non-sanctioned event, the results were not published on the FBA web-site, Jim has shared the results with Let’s Talk Hog!!!
|2||Matt Daddy’s BBQ||730.03333||182.21666||187.38333||179.61666||180.81666|
|3||All Racked Up BBQ||727.74999||181.41666||171.93333||190.48333||183.91666|
|5||United Pork Smokers||724.01666||188.46666||174.41666||187.41666||173.71666|
|7||Kick Yo Butt||705.86666||175.86666||176.73333||180.50000||172.76666|
|8||Two Crackers Cooking||705.49999||176.66666||169.96666||176.45000||182.41666|
|9||Lazy J BBQ||702.76666||169.98333||183.80000||178.06666||170.91666|
|11||Great Lakes BBQ & Feed||697.83333||177.83333||171.53333||181.70000||166.76666|
|12||Palm Beach Porkers||693.29999||172.85000||160.68333||175.06666||184.70000|
|13||Mean Green Cooking Machine||684.71666||176.41666||163.78333||166.71666||177.80000|
|1||United Pork Smokers||188.4666648|
|4||Matt Daddy BBQ||182.2166648|
|5||All Racked Up BBQ||181.4166649|
|6||Great Lakes BBQ & Feed||177.8333316|
|7||Two Crackers Cooking||176.6666649|
|8||Mean Green Cooking Machine||176.4166649|
|9||Kick Yo Butt||175.8666649|
|1||Matt Daddy BBQ||187.3833315|
|2||Lazy J BBQ||183.7999982|
|7||Kick Yo Butt||176.7333316|
|8||United Pork Smokers||174.4166649|
|9||All Racked Up BBQ||171.9333316|
|10||Great Lakes BBQ & Feed||171.5333316|
|2||All Racked Up BBQ||190.4833314|
|4||United Pork Smokers||187.4166648|
|6||Great Lakes BBQ & Feed||181.6999982|
|7||Kick Yo Butt||180.4999982|
|9||Matt Daddy BBQ||179.6166649|
|10||Lazy J BBQ||178.0666649|
|3||Palm Beach Porkers||184.6999982|
|4||All Racked Up BBQ||183.9166648|
|5||Two Crackers Cooking||182.4166648|
|8||Matt Daddy BBQ||180.8166649|
|9||Mean Green Cooking Machine||177.7999982|
|10||United Pork Smokers||173.7166649|
|Eagle Lake BBQ Festival||4/28/2012||Backyard|
|1||sweet smoke JR||765.13333||183.16666||191.95000||197.61666||192.40000|
|2||Pete’s Pork Pit||752.64999||186.68333||188.61666||188.76666||188.58333|
|3||Fired and Wired||731.03333||186.18333||180.50000||182.23333||182.11666|
|4||Five Foot Twenty Que||730.13333||186.28333||176.21666||178.08333||189.55000|
|5||Ja Makin Me Hungry||729.86666||190.30000||178.18333||191.70000||169.68333|
|8||Bettern Store Bot||721.09999||178.38333||184.10000||184.28333||174.33333|
|10||TRIPLE R BAR B Q||654.51666||158.16667||169.06666||158.81667||168.46666|
|12||Taste Bud Bandits||327.23333||158.46667||0.00000||168.76666||0.00000|
|1||Ja Makin Me Hungry||190.2999981|
|2||Pete’s Pork Pit||186.6833315|
|3||Five Foot Twenty Que||186.2833315|
|4||Fired and Wired||186.1833315|
|5||sweet smoke JR||183.1666648|
|1||sweet smoke JR||191.9499981|
|2||Pete’s Pork Pit||188.6166648|
|5||Bettern Store Bot||184.0999982|
|1||sweet smoke JR||197.6166647|
|2||Ja Makin Me Hungry||191.6999981|
|3||Pete’s Pork Pit||188.7666648|
|5||Bettern Store Bot||184.2833315|
|1||sweet smoke JR||192.3999981|
|2||Five Foot Twenty Que||189.5499981|
|3||Pete’s Pork Pit||188.5833314|
LTH: Does your team have any sponsors, are you looking for sponsors?
Jim: Right now we do not have any sponsors, I will be approaching some potential sponsors this summer when things slow down. We also have been approached by a, well-known restaurant, in the area, about a partnership in opening a BBQ restaurant.
LTH: Do you have any products available and if so, where can folks find them?
Jim: I do sell my BBQ sauce and rub, I also make an injector that works incredibly well, it saves time injecting a small amount, up to one gallon. Working on bottling my competition pork injection soon (looking for some teams to test it out, it is what I use at competitions). Thinking about releasing my brisket rub, that has been doing well. Please check out my web-site at: www.sweetsmokeQ.com
Thanks to Jim for this great interview, so much information here!!! Jim and Sweet Smoke Q will be competing again at the FBA event in Cocoa, FL. We will see you there Jim!!!