When Tim Scheer travels across the country to compete in barbecue contests, he brings with him a group of very special taste-testers — namely, his daughters and wife, Terri. And despite what you might think, they’re not biased one bit. Quite the opposite.
“They’re almost too honest with me now,” said Scheer, with a laugh, of his two older daughters, Tatum, 8, and Taylor, 6. “They know when it’s dry or overcooked, and they’ll tell me. And I think, ‘Well, maybe the judges won’t notice,’ but of course the judges are going to notice. My 6-year-old noticed.”
Looking around the shop of Gateway Drum Smokers in Washington, where Scheer keeps his Shake ’n Bake BBQ team awards, it doesn’t appear that his meats are dry or overcooked often. Trophies in all shapes and sizes line the walls, many from some of the most prestigious contests in the barbecue world, like American Royal and Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS).
Last year, Scheer’s Shake ’n Bake team won six grand championships and was named Rib Team of the Year by the KCBS, meaning he earned the most points for wins in ribs at contests throughout the year. He also was ranked sixth out of more than 5,000 teams in the KCBS overall standings.
“There’s maybe only a couple hundred do it as competitively as we do, but still, we were pretty proud of that,” Scheer remarked.
Not all the Shake ’n Bake trophies and accolades are Scheer’s alone. His daughters got into the competitions last year and brought home their own hardware.
In October at the American Royal BBQ Contest (the largest in the world), 6-year-old Taylor took first place in the Kids Q for her hamburger, beating out 45 others from children around the country. Her older sister Tatum came in fourth with the same burger recipe.
The sisters competed in several contests last year and won quite a few.
“At a Kid’s Q, the parents are allowed to help with the fire and knives, anything dangerous, but that’s it. The kids do the cooking,” said Scheer. “They put the gloves on, mix the hamburger, make the patties, they have a smaller Gateway drum that they use.”
Having his children involved and being able to travel to barbecue contests as a family makes this hobby extra cool, said Scheer.
The family isn’t sure how much longer they will be able to keep competing like they have been. Last year they entered 38 barbecue contests around the country. As the children get older and get involved in sports or other activities, the family will slow down.
“This year we may not do as many, but we may go to some new places where we haven’t been, try some new competitions in different areas,” said Scheer.
Drum Smokers’ Popularity Grows
Growing up on a hog farm in New Haven, Scheer, son of Warren and Jane Scheer, learned to cook barbecue on a Weber grill. A friend and later teammate, Jeff Brinker, introduced him to the “ugly drum smokers” style, which cooks hot and fast, instead of the standard low and slow.
“If you look online, it’s just taking a 55-gallon barrel and turning it into a smoker,” said Scheer. “We came up with our design for it and made it functional, attractive and durable so we could use at competitions.”
Cooking hot and fast is the way to go in barbecue competitions, as far as Scheer is concerned.
“Instead of staying up all night, running our fire, relying on power to blow a fan, we don’t worry about it. We get up at 6 or 7 a.m. and start cooking, and we’ve had good results,” he said.
Other teams on the competition circuit took notice of Scheer’s drum smoker and then asked him to make ones for them.
“It was honestly a hassle to start with,” he said. “It was one of those things where I was like, ‘Well, I guess I should start taking this seriously. There’s a market for it.’ ”
In the last few years, sales of Gateway Drum Smokers, which are made in Washington, have skyrocketed, said Terri Scheer. The company has distributors all over the country, and they have shipped smokers all over the world — as far away as Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Australia.
“A few years ago we were building the smokers downstairs in the shop, and we had a full-time welder,” said Terri Scheer.
Now Sahm’s Welding and Fabrication in Washington does all of the welding, and Scheers have a full-time painter who finishes them.
“We do custom painting too. That’s a big thing for the teams. We will do team names on the logo plate,” said Terri Scheer.
A wall in the shop includes the names of the barbecue competition teams from around the country that were the first to use the Gateway Drum Smokers. They dubbed them the Insane Can Posse. There’s not enough room left on the wall to add the names of all the teams that have purchased the Gateway Drum Smokers.
Last year teams cooking on Gateway Drum Smokers won three of the largest barbecue contests in the country, Terri Scheer noted.
A team out of Kansas City won the American Royal Invitational cooking exclusively on Gateway Drum Smokers and then went on to win $100,000 in the World Food Championships. And a team from O’Fallon won $50,000 in the Sam’s Club national tournament cooking only on Gateway Drums.
It’s a good feeling, the Scheers said, when even if they don’t win at a competition, another team cooking on their smokers does.
“We started doing the competitions because we love doing them,” said Scheer. “We love the people. They are a blast to hang out with.
“Then you get competitive; once you experience a little bit of success, you want more. It’s somewhat addicting, to be honest with you.
“We’ve turned a perfectly good hobby into a good job now,” he remarked.
Purchased Blues Hog Sauce, Seasoning
Around this time last year the Scheers bought the company that makes the barbecue sauce they have long used on their meats, Blues Hog. The owner was a good friend of theirs from the competition world and had been one of the first to purchase a Gateway Drum Smoker from them.
He was sick and was not able to keep up with and promote his growing business, said Terri Scheer.
“It’s the No. 1 competition sauce, if you ask most guys around, that’s what they’re using. Some might mix it to cut it down, but most of the time you’ll see Blues Hog sitting around,” she commented.
Blues Hog was being made at a factory in Tennessee, but the Scheers brought production to a new factory in Montgomery City.
Season Is Heating Up
Competition season is just starting up for the year. The Scheers were in Palm Springs last weekend for a contest and next they’ll be in Georgia.
Barbecue competitions start the end of February, pick up in March and April and then continue through October. Competitions are mostly weekend events, so the whole family is able to go.
“Barbecue is a family event. You can do it at home, camping, tailgating. It’s something we’ve always enjoyed,” said Scheer.
Although with as much as the family cooks barbecue for these competitions, they rarely eat it at home.
“By the time we are finished cooking barbecue every weekend, the last thing we want to see is barbecue,” Scheer said, smiling.
The trophies won in barbecue contests that are displayed around Gateway Drum Smokers store are fun to see. One is a guitar from the Roots and Blues Festival in Columbia. Another is a football, won at the Gridiron Challenge in Las Vegas.
The American Royal contests, where Scheer’s Shake ’n Bake team won first in ribs and first in brisket, are crown-shaped trophies.
Perhaps the funniest “trophy” is a powder blue sport jacket with lace cuffs that Scheer was given for being named Rib King by the KCBS.
“The deal is the previous year’s winner has to make a jacket for the new winner,” Terri Scheer said.
Learn to Cook Hot and Fast
Gateway Drum Smokers holds competition classes for people wanting to learn their winning technique for cooking barbecue hot and fast. They have had as many as 30 to 40 pit masters at their store in Washington learning hands-on.
They plan to do the same for homeowners. They have a couple of backyard cooking classes planned for April. People can call the store for more details.