New Jersey upstarts Steve ’01 and Loren Berkheimer Raab ’00 traveled to Missouri and took first prize among 500 teams
by Kevin Gray
Kansas City, Mo., is to barbecue what Chicago is to deep-dish pizza. So imagine the reaction when an upstart team from Red Bank, N.J., crossed over the Mississippi River, slathered pork ribs with its signature sauce, and walked off with first-place honors at the 30th annual American Royal BBQ Competition.
The team — Fat Angel BBQ, two-thirds of which is made up of Steve ’01 and Loren Berkheimer Raab ’00 — was coming off a first-place finish in ribs at the ‘Que by the Sea competition in Seaside Heights, N.J., the week before the Royal, also known as the World Series of BBQ.
“We were confident going into the World Series,” Loren recalls, “but there is always a feeling of uncertainty going to a new contest, especially one with 500 competitors. You never know what to expect.”
Fat Angel (www.lostnationvt.com/fatangel/) had never entered a contest that big, nor had it ever competed in the Midwest.
“You never know if a specific region of the country will have a different reaction to your flavor profiles,” says Loren, an economics and business graduate. “We finish our ribs with a sweet sauce, and we had no problem winning over the judges. Our ribs were selected as the best in the country — the feeling is indescribable.”
The accomplishment is underscored by the team’s relative inexperience; friends of the Raabs who are very good cooks have competed in the World Series of BBQ for more than a decade without winning a category.
Earning first place for ribs made the two-day, 1,235-mile drive home more enjoyable. It also solidified Fat Angel as one of the best BBQ teams in the country. In October 2008, Fat Angel traveled to the Best of the Best Invitational in Douglas, Ga., where it was one of just three teams from the north.
“Competitors and spectators were surprised to see a team from New Jersey competing,” Loren says. “We ended up finishing first place in brisket, beating ten of the best brisket cooks from Texas. Immediately after the awards ceremony, we overhead people saying, ‘Did y’all hear that Texas didn’t win brisket this year? I heard Jersey won.’ It was a great feeling. Apparently, Texas had won first place in brisket in the five previous years. That win immediately gave us credibility with the southern teams.”
Fat Angel developed a Carolina-style pork sauce, sweet barbecue sauce, and dry rub that took the team about a year to formulate. It looks for a high marble count in the cuts of brisket that it uses during competitions. And the team’s pork is a certified Berkshire heirloom variety that a sponsor ships from Iowa before each competition.
The team typically participates in eight to ten competitions each year. Loren handles the logistics, organizing all of the products and equipment the team needs to bring to each of the two-day competitions. The third member, Eric Keating, preps the meat by applying the rubs and injecting it with spices. Steve is the pitmaster responsible for cooking.
“I fire up the smoker and then I’m in ‘go mode’ for almost 16 hours,” he says.
A full-time sales representative for Hale Insurance Brokerage, Steve also sells the benefits of sponsoring the barbecue team. Loren left her job as a web designer in New York City to help run the team members’ full-time catering business, Local Smoke BBQ (www.localsmokebbq.com/), with Keating.
Loren and Steve met at Lafayette, where they shared a common pursuit: lacrosse. Steve played for one year, while Loren was an All-American and captain in lacrosse as well as a standout in field hockey.
“She has a few more accolades than I do,” Steve laughs.
He credits Lafayette with giving him a foundation upon which to build his and Loren’s businesses.
“Certainly, my economics and business courses at Lafayette helped give me the knowledge to start the catering company and run the competition team,” he says.
He also gained a more global perspective, having traveled to Kenya and Tanzania during the school’s January interim session.
“The overall course of study was African economics, but while I was there, I had the opportunity to study various tribes and their struggles,” he says. “It’s something I’ll never forget.”