People often assume it is all about the food when I travel for bbq or to judge barbecue competitions. I will stipulate that the food is good, but the people I meet are more interesting than the food.
This past weekend was no exception. I was in Franklin Indiana for the Hoosier BBQ Classis, a KCBS sanction Master Series competition. This two-day competition brought more than 50 teams from across the midwest to a small town in South Central Indiana. I was most excited to see a few of my favorite teams, like Ale Yeah from Columbus Ohio, and the BBQ Bus father-son duo from Chicago.
Then I learned that Dayton Ohio’s own Erica Blaire, team Blue Smoke Blaire, would be in attendance with her mom for the contest. Still relatively unknown to most of Dayton, she has been the subject of lots of talk in Dayton’s online foodie community in recent weeks.
It only took one minute and I was able to find her among the dozens of other teams cleaning up after Saturday’s contest. Every team knew exactly who she was and where she was set up. One knock on her RV door and were sitting by her cooling smoker on Saturday afternoon chatting all things BBQ.
First of all, she is not like the other competitors on the KCBS circuit. Most of the field looks like me. Late 40’s, early 50’s, caucasian, a little overweight, and mostly male. Erica is none of the above. Dark skinned, decidedly prettier than the field, Law School grad, and formally trained as a sommelier. And. And. She’s featured on the current season of Food Network’s BBQ Brawl, Season 2.
Erica is not a caterer, she is not a seasoned competitor, but just like those other teams set up around her, she is passionate about perfecting the art and science of barbecue. And just like those other teams, she is generous with her time, stories, and her hospitality overflows. That is why the other teams have so quickly come to admire her and have welcomed her to the BBQ competition family.
Her journey is not the story I’ve heard from a hundred teams. Like her brand of BBQ, it is uniquely Erica. She holds a Psychology Degree from Wright State and attended Law School at Rutgers, followed that by practicing criminal defense in Miami Florida. Looking for a new challenge, she moved to Napa and pursued additional training as a Sommelier. That training further fueled her love for all things food and drink taking her to San Diego California putting that training to work in the finest SoCal resort hotels.
It was her return back home to Ohio where the bug for BBQ hit. As she told me, it was her dad that encouraged her to pursue BBQ. So she did. She jumped right into the deep end in the midst of the pandemic entering virtual and in-person contests.
While still a practicing attorney and new mom, it was her contribution to The Pitmaster’s Cookbook that put her on the map. This award-winning cookbook was a project that grew from a social media pitmaster group. Soon after, one thing leads to another, and she finds herself in Austin Texas cooking for Bobby Flay, Michael Symon, and Eddie Jackson for the 2nd Season of BBQ Brawl.
My love for BBQ has put me in the pits and kitchens in Austin, KC, and Memphis. I’ve met Tootsie and Clay, Aaron Franklin, Miguel Vidal of Valentina’s, Joe from SLAP’s, and chatted with Flora Payne in Memphis, but they were all BBQ famous before I ever met them. Erica is just getting started and soon you’ll hear her name and you’ll know that means Blue Smoke Blaire BBQ and Dayton Ohio.
Catch Season 2, Episode 2 of BBQ Brawl on Food Network this week. I’ll be watching and rooting for Erica, one of Dayton’s own, telling everyone I know, that I know her.