Colorado’s best barbecue cooks compete at the Colorado BBQ Challenge

Del Anderson has spent many nights sleeping out under the stars in Summit County.

But instead of hiking through the backcountry and pitching a tent, Anderson is typically sitting in a lawn chair on Main Street in Frisco, making sure his smoker stays hot all night long.

Welcome to the world of competition barbecue, where cooks go to great lengths — including getting just a few hours of sleep — to ensure that their ribs, brisket, chicken and pork are the most tender and flavorful meats on the block. There are dozens of complex rules to follow and the clock is always ticking, which makes for a high-intensity, no-holds-barred atmosphere filled with sweat, fire and smoke.

Want to see the action for yourself? You’ll find more than 70 cooks stationed along Main Street in downtown Frisco over Father’s Day weekend for the Colorado BBQ Challenge, which organizers say is Colorado’s longest-running barbecue competition. This marks the 26th year of the challenge, which also includes live music, a “Bacon Burner” 6K running and walking race, chef demos, a distillery tour and even pig races. (Can’t make it to Frisco? The Denver BBQ Festival is happening the same weekend at Broncos Stadium.)

“What else could I do where the town lets me sleep on Main Street?” said Anderson, 54, with a laugh.

Though the competition at this Kansas City Barbecue Society-sanctioned event is fierce, the friendships forged within this community are even stronger.

“It’s like a big extended family,” said Anderson, who has been competing in the Colorado BBQ Challenge since 1996 under the moniker 1-2-BBQ. “Everybody wants to win, but we’re all there to help each other.”

Competitive Barbecue 101

Tom Fricke Photography

Del Anderson of 1-2-BBQ shows off some desserts at the Colorado BBQ Challenge in Frisco in 2017.

When he’s not cooking, Anderson works as an event representative for the Kansas City Barbecue Society, which means he travels around the country acting as a liaison between the cooks, judges and local competition organizers. He also helps enforce the organization’s extensive list of rules and regulations.

“We’re the ‘no-shenanigans’ guys,” Anderson said.

At the beginning of the competition in Frisco, everyone starts on an even playing field with raw, unmarinated and unseasoned meat. In the Kansas City Barbecue Society world, teams typically prepare four meats at each competition: chicken, pork ribs, pork (Boston butt, Boston roast, picnic or whole shoulder) and beef brisket.