Off the Press

June 5, 2012

By David Hayes

Subject matter expert turns up unexpectedly

David Hayes Press reporter

In my decade-plus of working here at The Issaquah Press, we’ve had many readers who’ve offered unsolicited advice after reading something. We especially enjoy receiving the hand-written notes of grammar corrections that one old-timer saves up and periodically mails in.

So, a couple months ago, after writing in this space about the perils of being the go-to guy at family barbecues, a new voice emerged offering sage advice.

Thinking this was an old codger with too much time on his hands, I took my time getting back to him. Shame on me for not remembering it’s usually the codgers who have the most character. Do you know anyone who’s co-authored a book with someone as renowned as the Baron of Barbecue? But I get ahead of myself.

A retired English teacher, Bob Lyon, 86, lives at Timber Ridge at Talus with his wife, Sandra, also a retired English teacher.

It seems I had something to learn from this teacher, other than my three Rs. I was looking for a recipe or two to include in an upcoming Summer Living magazine, but Lyon possessed a wealth of barbecue knowledge. He and his barbecuing team, the Beaver Castors, had won so many competitions across the fruited plains, that they are known as the road team of the 1990s, including wins at the American Royal Invitational and the Jack Daniels Invitational.

“People were very surprised everywhere we went,” Lyon said. “Especially with a team from Seattle.”

Lyon’s journey to one of the country’s top barbecue pit bosses started with humble beginnings. In the 1980s, during the town of Winthop’s festival 49er Days, the schedule was a little thin. So in the afternoon, Lyon offered to barbecue to fill the time between events and trophy presentations.

After enjoying the experience, he gathered some friends, formed a team and entered a barbecue competition at the Puyallup Fair. A win there garnered his team an invite to the American Royal Invitational. They were winning in the four main competition meats — brisket, pork butt, chicken and pork ribs.

It was at one of these competitions that Lyon was introduced to the Baron of Barbecue himself, Paul Kirk, who’d won six of the first 10 grand championships he’d entered.

Lyon said they hit it off, and have remained friends for more than 20 years. Open Paul Kirk’s book — “Paul Kirk’s Championship Barbecue” — and you’ll see the co-author is none other than Bob Lyon. The book has been endorsed by such luminaries as Seattle chef Tom Douglas and the host of “No Reservations,” Anthony Bourdain.

“Most of the photos in there are mine,” Lyon said of the various images of Kirk over a hot grill.

You might also recall seeing Kirk’s signature barbecue sauce or spice rub sold at a local mart near you.

Lyon and his team even took some time to enroll in Kirk’s classes to hone their own barbecuing skills.

“We heard at Kansas City competitions that people would complain to Paul, ‘Why’d you have to teach them so well?’” Lyon said.

When I’d learned of Lyon’s pedigree, I told some co-workers I’d just found someone who learned to barbecue from the equivalent of Julia Child. Then, when I went to Paul Kirk’s website, darned if there wasn’t a picture of him standing right next to the grand dame of French cuisine herself.

“That was from a competition in Portland, Ore.,” Lyon recalled. “While everyone there was trying to get their picture taken with her, she’d discovered the big bold barbecue flavors of Paul Kirk. She hadn’t been aware that was possible before that.”

Now here I was, getting tips from the disciple of one of the best in the biz. And I’m not the only beneficiary. The residents of Timber Ridge were recently treated to Lyon’s signature smoked brisket — served Kansas City style, with a slice of white bread and a slather of Kirk’s barbecue sauce — and his other crowd pleaser, the Almost Competition Chile.

A word of advice — when trying to get barbecuing tips, do so away from the food line. We couldn’t go five minutes without another grateful resident coming by to compliment the chef and his wife for a meal well done.

A second word of warning — know your subject matter expert before starting the conversation, he might not stop once started up.

“You get him started, and Bob can talk barbecue for two hours,” Sandra said.

Hopefully, I’ll be the beneficiary of his expertise at my next barbecue.

David Hayes: dhayes@isspress.com, 392-6434, ext. 237. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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