Todd Jilbert and his team earned a reputation at Frisco's Colorado BBQ Challenge as "the loud and crazy guys on the street." Since 2006, they've served up shrimp bombs, while playing air guitar with 4-foot spatulas (adorned with guitar straps) and drumming on the grill.But in 2010, they decided to prove they were more than just the party boys on the block: They learned how to barbecue like pros and entered the competition. Though they've won some awards since then, a couple weeks ago, their dedication paid off big time, when they took home the grand championship at Sam's Club's National Barbecue Tour in Thornton."We didn't want to become just a big, goofy gimmick," Jilbert said. "We wanted to earn a little respect from the barbecuers because there's a lot of good chefs - true professionals at the Frisco barbecue."Jilbert first set up a tent at Frisco's barbecue festival in 2006 to pump his sauce. He started the Golden Toad in March 2004, selling his Prime Steak Rub and Chipotle Pepper Sauce online and at local grocery stores. (His dream began 20 years prior, as he worked his way through college bartending, managing restaurants, cooking and, in La Jolla, Calif., whipping up sauces.) In 2006, his shrimp bombs - made of sausage, shrimp and his special sauce - were such a hit, he'd gone through 700 on opening night and had to hustle down to Costco to restock. Now, he goes through about 4,000 in a weekend, he said.But he didn't feel like a true pro until he practiced barbecuing - a skill he learned by reading online information and joining the Rocky Mountain BBQ Association. And to this day, he still finds barbecuing challenging, especially because, as he says, "It's done when it's done; a 15-pound brisket doesn't always equal 15 hours. If a piece of brisket doesn't want to finish (in the time allotted in competition), there's nothing you can do about it."
Though Jilbert and his team cause quite a scene at Frisco's barbecue, the big celebrity this year is Jenna Johansen. The Colorado native grew up in Boulder and is now on Bravo television's new hit show, "Around the World in 80 Plates," airing at 8 p.m. Wednesdays. The competition follows 12 chefs around the world, as they learn local customs, cultures and cuisines in various international cities and face a variety of culinary challenges. Though Johansen said filming it wasn't a vacation, particularly due to the ultimate chef showdown, experiencing the sights, smells and tastes of so many different cultures inspired her. For example, Bravo's Morocco stop featured a rooster kill right before eating it - something she calls "getting up close to food and really understanding it." (By the way, the meat turned out "a lot more tender," Johansen said.) But, like any reality show, it had its downside. Since the series is still running, Johansen can't reveal everything, but she did say: "It became much more of a game involving strategy, (and) the best chef may not win."Which makes returning home to the sanity of Colorado all the more sweeter. In September, Johansen sold her Edwards-based restaurant, Dish, to live in Denver with her fianc. In Denver, she's a private chef, consultant and blogger (with her fianc) at thelastthingweate.com.Summit County has been a second home for her all her life; her family had a condo up here, and now spends a lot of time in Silverthorne. On June 16, she will show audiences how to make blackened shrimp with watermelon gazpacho and cilantro avocado crema. "I love the Frisco Barbecue festival - it's a hoot. Coloradans know how to have fun," she said, explaining that she's hitting the barbecue on her way back from presenting at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. "It's so wonderful, I would leave Aspen Food and Wine early if I wasn't coming for the (Frisco) demo (anyway) - and that's no joke."
As a Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctioned event, Frisco's barbecue attracts more than 60 teams nationwide. This year, it offers new events, including the Bacon Burner 5K run and the Breckenridge Distillery whiskey tour.Bacon Burner participants will have a chance to run off some of Friday night's feast, though drinkers over 21 may put a few calories back on using the beer coupon they'll receive as participants. Registration also includes a signature barbecue challenge T-shirt. The 3.8-mile out-and-back run takes place on the paved recreation trail in Frisco. Pre-registration fees (until noon June 15) are $20 for adults and $15 for youth. Latecomers can register at 8:30 a.m. June 16 for an additional $5.The Breckenridge Distillery Whiskey Tour allows guests to sip Straight Rocky Mountain Whiskey and learn how to prepare award-winning meats. Each ticket includes a bottle of whiskey, a Breckenridge Distillery shirt, a commemorative glass and, of course, free whiskey during the tour. Only a few tickets remain for the $100 tour, so buy soon.Seven bands fill Main Street and Madison Avenue with rock, country rock, blues, jazz and zydeco during the festival. Performing bands include The Motet, 101st Army Band and Sons of Bill, Fishbone, Clay McClinton, Buckner Funken Jazz and CJ Chenier & the Red Hot Louisianas. Admission to the event is free, and attendees can purchase hog-backs, Frisco's BBQ currency, to pay for food and drinks.
JUNE 1511 a.m. to 9 p.m.- Barbecue sales open to the public3:30-5:30 p.m.- Sons of Bill at Madison Avenue and Main Street5:30-7 p.m.- Chef demonstrations at Viking Kitchen at 2nd Avenue and Main Street6 p.m.- Breckenridge Distillery Whiskey Tour6-8 p.m.- Fishbone at Madison Avenue and Main StreetJUNE 169:30 a.m.- Bacon Burner, a 5K run10 a.m. to 6 p.m.- Barbecue sales open to the public10 a.m. to 4 p.m. - Swifty Swine Pig Races10-11 a.m. - Clay McClinton1130 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. - Chef demos at the Viking Kitchen12:30-3 p.m. - Buckner Funken Jazz2:30-3:30 p.m. - Celebrity chef Jenna Johansen at the Viking Kitchen3:45 p.m. - Awards at the Viking Kitchen4-6:30 p.m. - CJ Chenier & The Red Hot Louisiana Band