Columbia- It’s that familiar smell that makes the mouth water and the stomach rumble in anticipation. The smell of meat soaked in thick, sweet sauces filling the air with a smoky aroma while sizzling on a grill.
In front of his own blue Weber grill, 10-year-old Sam Thurman, of Columbia, approaches barbecue as more than just a meal. It’s a delicacy that requires knowledge, good taste and a flare for cooking. He doesn’t just sit back and watch.
Among his usual summer activities like playing baseball, Samuel also has a somewhat different way of spending his time — making barbecue. He has been participating in barbecue cooking competitions for the past three years. He has regularly competed in youth events, but he has made accomplishments this year some would have to take years to do.
After spending two years competing in kids’ barbecues, for competitors 6 to 15-years-old, and being the official taste-tester for his family team, Samuel has made a switch to competing among adults and has done better than anyone expected.
“He came to us and said he wanted to compete with us, and we had a little team meeting,” said Denise Thurman, Samuel’s mother.
The family team goes by the name “Chick’n Pig,” a name invented by Samuel when he was a toddler learning which meat came from which animal.
“He’d say, well I can’t wait until my dad has some chicken pig,” said Skip Thurman, Samuel’s father.
“That’s what he always called our barbecue,” Denise said.
After placing second out of 212 teams at the Great American Barbecue competition in May, and taking home many other prizes this year, Samuel and the rest of his family’s team will be putting his chicken and his cooking talents to the test again Saturday at the Boone County Fair Barbecue Competition.
Team Chick’n Pig will set up for the big event Friday night and begin cooking Saturday morning for the first turn-in, chicken, at noon. The team will compete in the other categories — beef brisket, pork butt and pork ribs — in which Samuel’s father will act as head chef. If team Chick’n Pig wins first place overall, they will qualify for the American Royal Invitational on Oct. 6.
Denise Thurman, who makes all the sauces and rubs for the team, said people are usually surprised to see a 10-year-old turning in chicken for a team.
“I’ll walk along with him to turn in his chicken because they’ll say, oh honey, kid’s Q was earlier, you missed it,” she said.
Skip Thurman said that what started out as a hobby is now a huge part of the family’s life.
“It’s a family thing for us,” he said. “I wouldn’t be doing this if they weren’t doing this. Samuel isn’t just a tag a long. It’s all three of us, not just one person. But he does have his chicken!”
While competing in kids barbecues, Samuel had the option of cooking anything he wanted, but when it came to cooking for the team, Samuel decided he wanted to cook chicken.
“That’s just what I like if I eat barbecue,” Samuel said.
He also said the competitions are a great experience.
“I just like doing it, it’s really fun,” he said. “I like meeting different people and going different places, and I just love to cook.”
His mother agreed that he has always enjoyed cooking.
“He’s been cooking since he was big enough to climb on the counter,” Denise Thurman said.
According to Skip Thurman, Samuel has made huge improvements since he first started cooking barbecue chicken.
“We’ve got the awards to prove that,” he said.
He also said his son makes the best chicken wings anyone’s ever had, and it’s not covered up with too many spices and other flavors.
His mother agreed.
“The chicken is very juicy, smoky and sweet, and the skin is done to perfection,” she said. “So what sets you apart”?
“The taste,” Samuel answered. “I think it has a better taste to it because of our own little ingredients.”
Skip Thurman said his son has a very good palate and is a good judge of taste. The family has been experimenting all winter with a variety of flavors until Samuel found the right one.
“He’s our official taste-tester,” Skip Thurman said. “He’s very honest when it comes to barbecue.”
Samuel expressed enthusiasm for the job.
“Well, all three of us taste it, and then I just finish it off,” Samuel said.