22 July 2008

Interview with Ron "Sheepdog" Harwell, Ph.B

Whether it be a county fair, a Broadway show or your favorite rock concert, there is always someone working hard behind the scenes. At a KCBS competition, it is the contest organizer and the KCBS representatives that make the event possible. Since team Ulika has been competing, there has been one contest rep that has stood out among the rest. That person is Ron Harwell.

Our first real introduction to Ron was in 2006 when four of us took his KCBS judging class. His knowledge and enthusiasm were immediately evident and as we continued attending KCBS events, we found that he stood out to many others as well. So BP had the excellent idea of interviewing Ron and came up with a great set of questions to let us all get to know him a little better...

Q: Ron, tell us about how you got started in barbecue. Did you first get into it as a cook, or just a barbecue enthusiast?

A: When that old Char-Broil grill rusted out for the second time, it was beyond repair. So I went down to a local barbecue supply store and purchased an Oklahoma Joe's backyard smoker (even got to meet and know Joe Don Davidson later on). However, I QUICKLY learned that even though I could grill a mean steak, I had a lot to learn about smoking anything. About that time, a meat hook I ordered came wrapped in a BULLSHEET and the rest is history. Although I never have aspirations of being a competition cook, I always wanted to offer family and friends the best product possible.

Q: How did you move from a casual interest in barbecue to such a committed involvement?

A: The more I learned, the more I found out that either I didn't know or that I needed to know. In those early days, most Pit Bosses were glad to have someone stop by their cooksite after midnight on Friday evening to chat with. You could usually pick up several tid-bits from almost everyone you talked with.

Q: Tell us about some of the people within the barbecue community who have been mentors, or have been instrumental in guiding you to where you are today.

A: Over the years, I've been priviliged to know Paul Kirk, Bob Zaban, Gary Wells, David Klose, Ardie Davis, Johnny Trigg and MANY, MANY others. Each of them have contributed to my "backyard" knowledge and skill.

Q: What attracted you to KCBS as opposed to other sanctioning organizations?

A: Getting that BULLSHEET early-on really helped. And every time I called the KCBS office for suggestions or assistance, they were quick to put me in contact with experienced Cooks who could answer my questions on my level.

Q: Do you cook barbecue on a regular basis? What kind of equipment do you use?

A: The following pits are currently in my backyard arsenal: a Sporty Porkers Backyard Smoker, a large Guidry Grill, a Stump's GF-223 (clone) and a large Primo oval smoker. Usually one of these is fired up on a weekly basis.

Q: Do you consider cooking barbecue to be an art or a science?

A: IMHO, barbecue cooking is an art (but then, what came first, the chicken or the egg??? -- opinions vary, you know).

Q: You spend a lot of time at barbecue-related events. Do you ever get sick of barbecue?

A: When I get tired of barbecue, I guess I'll stay home and watch soap operas. However, I DO NOT look for that to happen anytime soon. Besides, I continue to make new friends at almost every contest I attend. One thing though, I usually eat veggies for several days after returning home from each competition.

Q: What do you do in your leisure time besides repping barbecue contests?

A: I usually have at least one of those smokers fired up for family or friends (i.e., always trying to improve).

Q: What is your favorite part of your role within KCBS?

A: Working with new Contest Organizers and/or new or beginning Cooks, then seeing that contest grow or a new team get their name called on Saturday afternoon -- it's a wonderful sense of accomplishment!!!

Q: What is your least favorite part?

A: NO QUESTION -- having to face a Pit Boss to tell them their entry was DQed -- MAJOR BUMMER!!! Also, Contest Reps no longer being able to enjoy an adult beverage with friends on-site after their duties are completed on Friday evening (which is why I choose to rendezvous with friends off-site at most contests).

Q: Do you have a favorite contest? Which contests do you really look forward to each year?

A: EVERY contest I do is one of my favorite contests.

Q: What is the most memorable contest that you've ever been a part of?

A: The 19th Jack Daniel's because I was asked by Carolyn Wells to say a prayer remembering our dear friend Gary Wells as she sprinkled his ashes in the stream next to the J.D. Visitor's Center. Quite an experience!!!

Q: What is your personal favorite meat category?

A: Believe it or not, I had never tasted brisket until I attended the Spring Training event held at Dan Haak's place in Bucyrus, KS back in 1992 -- now brisket my favorite category.

Q: What was the topic of your Ph.B. Dissertation?

A: I think it was "What can I do to leave the barbecue arena a little better than I found it." In addition, my dissertation also included a detailed history of barbecue beginning with the caveman and progressing forward to current times.

Q: Tell us about some of your favorite barbecue restaurants.

A: Locally, B.B Perrins, The Bar-B-Q Smokehouse and Big Bob Gibson's. Also the original Dreamland BBQ in Tuscaloosa, AL and Archibald's in Northport. YUMMY!!!

Q: What is your favorite beverage to accompany barbecue?

A: Ice cold brewski's -- of course.

Q: How many games will Alabama win this year, Ron?

A: In 2008, the Crimson Tide could be undefeated -- but who, cares as long as we beat LSU, Tennessee and Auburn!!! ROLL TIDE!!!

Thanks to Ron for taking the time to answer our questions. We'll see you on the BBQ trail again soon!

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