Smokin’ the competition

May 28, 2013

By David Hayes

Competitive barbecuer Tom Wallin is fired up to win grilling’s top prizes

In the world of competitive cooking, entrants look for any advantage they can get to get a leg up on their competition.

The edge for local resident Tom Wallin, the road to championship barbecuing, including his latest win in April at the Washington State Spring BBQ Championship, came from the year he spent as a certified judge before joining the ranks of competitors.

In 2004, Wallin, a lifelong backyard barbecuer, was intrigued by the growing number of grilling competitions on the Food Network, when an opportunity presented itself that Memorial Day weekend.

By David Hayes Tom Wallin describes how the flames travel throughout his competition smoker he hauls to contests throughout the United States.

By David Hayes
Tom Wallin describes how the flames travel throughout his competition smoker he hauls to contests throughout the United States.

“My wife Kay and I thought, ‘Certified judging. What a great gig that would be,’” Wallin said.

So, they enrolled in a 2 ½-day course and soon were tasting the best of what teams were turning in. Just a year later, he caught the competitive bug himself and was invited to enter Washington’s Best Chicken and Ribs competition.

“I didn’t do that well that year,” he said. “I took fourth, but I had a great time.”

As a commercial real estate agent, Wallin said barbecuing is his “hobby.” These days, however, rarely a weekend goes by where he’s not entered in a barbecuing competition or teaching a class somewhere about barbecuing.

Wallin said he figures he logs in about 20,000 miles a year on his big rig SUV, with more than half of that hauling his custom built smoker to competitions around the United States.

Since he entered the competitive circuit full time, Wallin has been grand champion at 10 competitions, including the 2008 Canadian National BBQ Championship. He’s also been grand champion at state championships in Washington and Oregon.

Wallin said his wife Kay began as his only team member. These days, she only assists at the big competitions with the largest prizes.

“The Canadian championship also came with a trip to Jamaica,” Wallin said. “When we took second in 2009, she was more disappointed in missing out on that trip than another win.”

Wallin’s calendar remains packed through the rest of the year. His latest win qualifies him for the World Food Championships in November, taking place in Las Vegas, with a potential grand prize of $300,000.

While his backyard in Renton may boast enough smokers and grills to feed an army of barbecue-loving friends and family, Wallin is gaining notoriety for his business with his website —

“People were always asking me for the recipe to my rubs,” he said.

So, in 2010, Wallin launched a line of his rubs, beginning with his steak rub and lemon rub. The line has since expanded to five offerings.

With the wealth of knowledge Wallin has developed to make him one of the top in his field, he passes on some simple tips to amateur grillers.

“On gas grills, the dials have settings other than high,” he said. “You have no idea how many burned steaks I’ve seen because of this.”

His second piece of advice is to make an affordable investment for home grilling.

“Get an instant-read thermometer,” he said. “I don’t know about you, but my finger isn’t calibrated.”

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