By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN Calling something among the “best in the world” is typically an exaggeration, but with Delano’s competition barbecue team, it’s simply the truth.
“We went to the Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational Barbecue, and placed fourth out of 90 teams from 20 countries,” Jeff Vanderlinde said.
Vanderlinde and his teammates, Ted Moonen and Derek Schansberg, started barbecuing competitively a few years ago.
Back then, the thought of participating in the Jack Daniels invitational seemed like a far off dream.
“Even to qualify to get in, you have to win a grand championship,” Vanderlinde said.
The team (known as Shiggin & Grinnin) had its first Jack Daniels experience in 2010.
“We were awestruck,” Schansberg said.
This year, they won two grand championships one in Sauk Rapids and one in Marshall that got them into the drawing for the Jack Daniels.
Worldwide success for a hobby team is rare.
“Most professional teams, that’s all they do,” Vanderlinde said. “Barbecuing is their full-time job.”
Being from Minnesota also makes Shiggin & Grinnin an anomaly.
“A team from Minnesota is not supposed to compete with teams from Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma,” Vanderlinde said.
According to Schansberg, Minnesota isn’t in the “barbecue belt,” and doesn’t have nearly as many competitions as some states.
“We’ve got friends in almost every state,” Vanderlinde said. “The first thing they always want to know is how a Minnesota team got there. Then, they want to know how we beat them.”
Of course, a good barbecue team never reveals its secrets.
Taste, texture, and appearance
Teams are judged in four categories, including chicken, brisket, pork shoulder, and ribs.
Brisket is typically one of Shiggin & Grinnin’s strongest categories, but they’ve earned plenty of recognition for all four.
“You want to be consistent in all categories,” Vanderlinde said. “That’s what we’re really good at.”
“It’s easy to nail one of the categories, but getting all of them is a lot of work,” Moonen added.
This year, Shiggin & Grinnin participated in 13 competitions, including one in Marshall, where they earned a perfect score in the chicken category.
“It only happens once out of every 50 contests that someone will get a perfect score,” Schansberg said.
The team also performed well in the American Royal in Kansas City, MO, the first week in October.
“There were nearly 500 teams, and we placed 31st,” Vanderlinde said. “We had a film crew from the Food Channel following us around at the American Royal.”
For the inaugural Sam’s Club National BBQ tour, Shiggin & Grinnin was the only team in Minnesota to advance.
The next level of competition was in Indianapolis, IN, in which the top 10 advanced to Bentonville, AR.
Shiggin & Grinnin placed fourth overall in Indianapolis. In Arkansas, they were 15th overall, and third in chicken.
“By then, it was whittled down to 50 teams,” Schansberg said.
A savory pastime
Schansberg, Vanderlinde, and Moonen all went to Delano High School together, and have been friends for more than 30 years.
Professional barbecuing combines some of their favorite activities spending time outdoors, socializing, camping, and, of course, sampling delicious food.
“It started out as a hobby, turned into a passion, and now, we’re one of the top teams in the country,” Vanderlinde said.
Traveling to competitions often becomes an opportunity for a family camping trip.
“We really made an effort this year to include our wives and kids and make it a family hobby,” Vanderlinde said.
Moonen’s 15-year-old son, Kyle, won third place for steak in a youth competition in Owatonna this year.
The team affectionately calls Kyle “Phil Worthington.”
“Phil is short for a really long word in the dictionary meaning worthless, and Worthington is after some guys we met from Worthington, MN who were pretty worthless,” Vanderlinde said.
Schansberg’s 12-year-old son, Cole, is known as “Spicoli,” after a “worthless” movie character.
“We’re hard on our kids,” Vanderlinde laughed.
Vanderlinde’s 8-year-old son, Leo (nicknamed Louie), also participates in children’s barbecue contests.
“It’s our version of slave labor,” joked Moonen, who is known as “Papa Moonen.”
Vanderlinde’s nickname had been “Big Wheel,” but it has since morphed into “Den Mother.”
“I run a very tight ship,” Vanderlinde said.
Schansberg goes by “Pretty Boy.”
“One of the other teams named him that because he’s in good shape,” Vanderlinde explained. “Most BBQ guys are not in the best shape.”
If a competition is on a Saturday, the team will typically spend a few hours on Friday afternoon prepping the meat.
Cooking, which takes 12 to 14 hours, starts Friday night.
“We’re a low and slow team,” Vanderlinde said.
While watching the meat throughout the night, they enjoy relaxing, playing games, and getting to know other teams.
“You meet different types, sizes, and accents,” Vanderlinde said.
At one competition, they met two spectators from St. Paul.
“They were pretty into it,” Moonen said.
“We made them do dishes,” Vanderlinde added.
The spectators seemed grateful for the opportunity to learn, and even sent a thank you card.
One line on the card reads, “From New York to Paris to Shanghai, I’ve eaten some fantastic meals in my life, but never have I tasted BBQ like yours. It was amazing.”
Vanderlinde said it’s neat to see the sport of competition barbecue rising in popularity.
“We don’t know if we are athletes, though,” he laughed.