FORT RIPLEY-Barbecuing is in their blood.
For the Dobosenski family, barbecuing is not just a way of cooking but a way of life according to patriarch Stan Dobosenski, co-owner of Ironfire Ironworks Inc. in Brainerd.
"We have a family barbecue team called 'Rub My Rack BBQ.' We go and do pro barbecue on the circuit-the Kansas City Barbeque Society circuit-around the country," Dobosenski said.
The Fort Ripley Township team are among 50 finalists in the Sam's Club National BBQ Tour, competing Saturday for a $150,000 purse at the Sam's Club headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.
"We're not a restaurant; this is our hobby," Dobosenski who works at the Brainerd metal fabrication shop where his wife is the bookkeeper.
Smoke, sauces and spices
Stan, 41, and his 39-year-old wife, Tonia, include their children-9-year-old Zoe, 5-year-old Gemma and 4-year-old Maizie-in their adventures with smoke, sauces and spices.
"Their jobs vary according to their age. Zoe vac-seals leftovers, and the little ones clean. They go everywhere with us," he said.
The couple judged its first pro barbecue in 2000 "at the insistence of Tonia's boss, who was a brand new barbecue competition organizer short on judges," according to their website.
"The sanctioning body for our circuit of barbecue competitions is KCBS, or Kansas City Barbeque Society," Stan Dobosenski said. "They have their own trained CBJs, which stands for certified barbecue judges. ... It's a standardized thing when it's sanctioned like that."
The Rub My Rack BBQ team's first KCBS-sanctioned event was the professional Great Northern BBQ competition in Brainerd in 2013; it placed seventh in chicken and 11th overall.
"We were hooked," he said, describing how they felt after being called up to the stage during the awards ceremony for the Brainerd competition.
KCBS is a nonprofit "dedicated to promoting and enjoying barbeque" and is "the world's largest organization of barbeque and grilling enthusiasts with over 20,000 members worldwide."
"You have the judges looking for appearance, taste and tenderness of the four meats, which are chicken, pork ribs, pork shoulder and beef brisket," he said. "To qualify to win the contest overall, you need to enter all four categories."
KCBS sanctions more than 500 barbecue contests worldwide, and its members also offer assistance to civic and charitable organizations who organize events, according to its website.
"If you're just starting, it's not uncommon for a team to take perhaps maybe chicken or pork and just enter those to dip their feet into the pool," Stan Dobosenski said.
'Way of life'
The family of five entered a Watertown, S.D., competition three years ago called "Cookin' on Kampeska" and took fifth place in the ribs portion, but were undaunted and kept with it.
"When we started, we hadn't done any backyard competitions. We just jumped in head first ... having no clue what competitive barbecue was all about," Stan Dobosenski said of what he calls a "way of life."
Tonia Dobosenski is the Fort Ripley Township clerk and she said with the team's winnings, the couple has been able to mostly afford the private education their three children are receiving.
"At first when we started barbecuing competitively, we thought, 'Maybe we are good enough to go somewhere with this,' and then it became 'There is really cool people in barbecue, and it's really fun, it's super family-oriented, and everyone is just really caring and sweet,'" she said.
"I always say my kids are lucky enough to have uncles that are real relatives, but they also have upwards of 50 barbecue uncles and aunts out there. They really, truly are like family once you are more the circuit. ... It's like you all have the same passion."
Stan Dobosenski is on the Fort Ripley Township board and the question he receives most from the general public while competing on the barbecue circuit is usually related to "flavor profiles."
"My answer to that is barbecue is more of a tenderness battle than a flavor battle," he said. "You can have a piece of meat seasoned with the grace of God, but if it's not the proper tenderness, you are not going to score well. ... You have to cook it perfectly or else the judges will nail you."
He is the vice president of the Minnesota Barbeque Society, a nonprofit, charitable organization that is dedicated to "the promotion and enhancement of the art of outdoor cooking" by sponsoring and promoting various events and contests throughout communities.
"Our kids love barbecue," Tonia Dobosenski said. "They'll eat it all day long. ... But you know what's funny? I don't like brisket at all, I never have. I would rather have Chinese food, I would rather have Mexican food. But I think if I went without barbecue for a long time, then I'd want it."
Rub My Rack
Stan Dobosenski said when his team first started, it used homemade blends for seasoning but now use commercially available products in the last three years, tweaking them a bit.
"They've got thousands of dollars in recipe development, so why fix something that isn't broken?" he said. "But we certainly make it work for what we are trying to achieve for the flavor profile, the timing of it and so on."
Rub My Rack BBQ team entered the Sam's Club barbecue competition last year and received its first grand championship at a local Sam's Club qualifying heat in Woodbury.
"We are certainly having a better year this year than last year, but I take nothing for granted because it's absolutely cut-throat competition out there," he said.
With team names in Saturday's finals like Burnt at Both Endz, Pork Butt Paradise and Swine Dining to name a few, the tongue-in-cheek Rub My Rack fits right in. Rub My Rack's sponsors include Ironfire Ironworks Inc., Compart Duroc, Royal Oak charcoal and Grizzly coolers.
"It's a competitive sport where it doesn't matter if you are a multimillionaire or if you are making $20,000 a year. You can show up with the best pit in the world or you can show up with a 55-gallon drum converted into a smoker and y'all have a shot at winning," Stan Dobosenski said.
The country is divided into five regions in the Sam's Club national competition. To qualify for nationals, a team must finish in the top 10 overall in a regional event. To qualify for a regional event, a team must finish in the top six overall at a local qualifying event.
"It really boils down to your own personal skill set, discipline ... and there's always a little bit of luck involved but how well you can execute," he said.
For more information about Rub My Rack BBQ of Fort Ripley Township, visit www.rubmyrackbbq.com.