To celebrate the Fourth of July this year, the U.S. ambassador to Canada invited three U.S. barbecue teams to trounce three Canadian barbecue teams in a smoke-out at the American embassy in Ottawa. Trouble was, the Canadians won.
Canada is getting better and better at Southern-style barbecue, a cuisine which was largely unknown north of the U.S. border as recently as 20 years ago. Danielle Dimovski, whose Diva Q team helped secure an Independence Day win for Canada, attributes the improvements to technology.
"You don't need to rely on a fourth-generation butcher for knowledge," Dimovski says. "With the Internet, the learning curve has become very much shortened."
Dimovski this weekend is returning to Whistler for the Canadian National BBQ Championships; her team took the reserve grand champion prize in 2010. "I predominantly compete in the U.S., but the competition here is so cool," says Dimovski, who lives in Barrie, Ontario. "Where else in the world do you barbecue at the base of a mountain?"
Barbecue scholars like to fight about barbecue's origins, but few have traced a lineage that crosses through Canada. Most accepted barbecue histories fixate on the Caribbean, where indigenous eaters developed a roasting style the Spanish called barbacoa, and the mid-Atlantic coast, where 18th-century explorers encountered similar contraptions for smoking whole hogs.
Dimovski points out Inuits and other native Canadians also used wooden frames for grilling and cooking over indirect heat, the practice which defines barbecue. "They had different types of barbecue," Dimovski says. "They were hunting seal and moose and beaver and making massive fires."
Competitors this weekend won't use any game: Teams hoping to qualify for the prestigious American Royal World Championships in Kansas City and Jack Daniel's World Championship BBQ contest in Lynchburg, Tenn., are restricted to chicken, pork, and beef. But Dimovski expresses her barbecue patriotism with Canadian maple wood and a bit of trash talk.
"I gotta say, Canadians are much tougher than Americans when it comes to barbecuing," Dimovski told the Washington Post after the upset at the Embassy. "We're not as soft as them, maybe, down South."