For Greg Anderson, the executive chef and pit master at the West End Tavern in Boulder, good food is synonymous with simplicity. And while there’s a time and place for fancy garnishes, trendy techniques, and elegant plating, he prefers to stick to his roots. A native of Tyler, Texas, Anderson began his affair with food the old-fashioned way: as a wide-eyed 16-year-old washing dishes. After completing culinary school at what is now Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Austin, Anderson traded Texas for the Rocky Mountains, working as a sous chef in Vail before relocating to Boulder.
When asked what he misses most about the south, Anderson’s reply is simple: the food. Colorado’s general lack of ‘cue culture was a bit of a change. In order to prove that good barbecue does exist on the Front Range, Anderson began entering competitions (bringing home the “Best Taste and Texture” and People’s Choice awards at the Top Chef of Northern Colorado Competition in Greeley in April).
On June 24, Anderson will take on his biggest challenge yet at the Leadville BBQ & Brew Festival, a competition by the Kansas City Barbeque Society (an organization that hosts more than 500 barbecue competitions worldwide). In honor of the upcoming competition, we sat down with Anderson to discuss true Texan techniques, competition prep, and Colorado’s barbecue rep.
5280: You first moved to Colorado from Texas when you accepted a job in Vail. What was that transition like?
GA: I moved up there with a two-wheel drive Ford Ranger, and during the winter months I couldn’t drive it at all. It was all kind of a learning curve. Then I just fell in love with the mountains and the whole lifestyle here in Colorado. The food transition was a little bit different. Back home, barbecue and Tex Mex are king, and barbecue means beef. Here in Colorado, pork is a much bigger barbecue item.
What is your favorite meat for barbecue?
Brisket, definitely. It’s just that really good combination of beef flavor with the right smoke and salt, and the fat content in it is so that it melts in your mouth. That texture, and everything about it reminds me home, of summers growing up.
You recently took home the titles of “Best Taste and Texture” and People’s Choice at the Top Chef of Northern Colorado in Greeley Competition. How are you preparing for your next competition?
I tend to do some research. I’ve got a couple different books that I go to. One is called “The Flavor Bible.” It’s a cookbook in that it has absolutely no recipes in it. All it’s going to tell you is this ingredient goes good with that ingredient, so it’s a useful tool to play off of and kinda come up with ideas. Also, I have been to a few competitions to see what they’re doing. There are things pit masters do at competitions that no restaurant would ever do on a daily basis just because it’s not cost effective and it’s too much labor. In a competition, all you’re thinking about is winning. When I get done trimming a piece of brisket for a competition, it’s going to be about a third of the size it was to begin with because I need six perfect slices from the very middle. It’s about making sure that the one little piece of meat that gets in front of the six judges is the best it can possibly be.
The Leadville BBQ & Brew Festival is your first Kansas City Barbeque Society competition. What will it be like going up against pit masters who compete year-round?
I’ve been around barbecue my whole life and I’ve cooked it for half my life now. I feel pretty confident. I know there will be a learning curve as far as the tricks of the trade of these guys that are on the year-round circuit. I definitely want to win, and I will be trying to put my best food forward. But it’s also going to be a big intelligence-gathering trip. I’m looking for how these guys put sauce on—are they using a spray bottle, a squirt bottle, a brush, or did they bring some piece of equipment that makes it easier? Do they use welding gloves to move the meat around when it’s hot, or do they use tongs? It’s the little things that I might not think about.
What impact do you hope competing in these competitions will have on the restaurant and the community?
My desire to do these competitions came from a desire to get [Colorado’s] name out there and change popular opinion that there isn’t good barbecue here. I wonder sometimes if people that go to these competitions might not really understand that some of the restaurants competing are actually from their hometown or the town they live in. We do good stuff here. I know a place up in Idaho Springs that’s really good, a place in Longmont that’s really good. There are a couple good places up in the mountains. I’d like to change the general population’s opinion, because you really can get some good barbecue around here. It might be a little bit of a drive, but it’s out there.
For a taste of Anderson’s barbecue, head up to the Leadville BBQ & Brew Festival on June 24 and 25. Find more info here.