Derek Robinson stirs a batch of his mahogany red sauce in his Suttons Bay home.

Ahem. It's smoking, not grilling.

Derek Robinson, 38, of Suttons Bay, will be competing in the Sam's Club National BBQ Tour this weekend in Traverse City. He'll be the one with the smoker atop his 22-inch Weber grill, tucked in between other competitors with trailer grills costing around $30,000.

And Robinson's ready to win.

The competition, held Friday and Saturday, June 10-11, in the parking lot at Sam's Club, 2401 U.S. 31 South, is a "four meat" contest, not a "rib burn."

That means Robinson will be preparing pork butt, spare ribs, chicken and his specialty, brisket. (See his tips in the sidebar.)

"On Day 1, I'll start the brisket and pork at midnight or 1 a.m.," said Robinson, who plans to camp out in the parking lot. "The next morning I'll be pulling off the meats, then putting on the chicken and ribs, which only take four to six hours."

And all of this is smoked, not grilled, although grilling's perfectly acceptable in the competition. It's just not Robinson's bag.

He started playing around with smoking after he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and doctors told him to stop eating restaurant barbecue. It's too salty and too full of chemicals, Robinson said. His own creations are chemical free and he uses salt only on his competition rubs. When he's cooking for himself or family ("My immediate family is getting sick and tired of barbecue") he goes salt-free.

The competitions are stressful yet fun, said Robinson, who partners with his mother, Marcia Perosino, as the Pile-O-Pork BBQ team in the contests. While he hasn't won any money yet, he's learned a lot of do's and don'ts and has gone from finishing in the middle of the pack to the upper echelons.

The contestants are judged on appearance, taste and texture, Perosino said, but timing is important too.

"If you turn your meat in too early, it cools. If you turn it in too late, you're disqualified," she said. She's learned how to dress up a plate with the acceptable garnishes and even side dishes, although those won't be needed at this weekend's competition, which is sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society. The event is one of the qualifiers leading up to a national championship in October with a purse of $400,000. Results are judged in blind tastings.

Ready to give it a shot? First off, Robinson said, don't confuse "grilling" with "barbecue." "If you tell everyone you're putting on a steak and call it barbecue, that's grilling," he said. And don't be afraid to try something different. "I even smoke pizza," Robinson said.

Baby Back Pork Ribs (Mrs. Deering's Famous Recipe)

2 slabs (4-5 lbs.) ribs

1 sliced onion

Rib seasoning or rub

Barbecue sauce

Cut ribs into 1-3 rib sections and rub seasoning into them. Place ribs and onion in pot, fill with water, and simmer slowly for 45 minutes. Take out of water, drip dry, then finish on grill.

Preheat grill to medium heat. Place ribs on grill and brush barbecue sauce on one side of ribs. Cook 7 minutes on low heat. Turn ribs over and brush barbecue sauce on the other side. Cook 7 minutes on low heat.

-- Maxbauer's Meat Market

Grilled Tomatoes

2 firm, ripe tomatoes (not overly ripe or they will fall apart when you grill them), cut in half around the middle

Olive oil

Kosher salt (or fleur de sel if you can get it)

Freshly ground black pepper

4 basil leaves, thinly sliced (roll them up like a cigar and then slice them to make nice thin slices)

Standing over a sink, use your fingers to gently dislodge and remove the watery pulp and seeds. (Although the seeds and pulp contain a lot of flavor, when you grill the tomatoes they are going to be lost anyway.)

Preheat your grill on high heat for direct grilling. Use a grill basket or fine grill grate if you can, it will make it much easier to work with the tomatoes (or any other vegetables you grill). Season the tomatoes with salt and pepper. Brush the cut side of the tomatoes with olive oil. Brush the grill grate or grill pan with olive oil. Place the tomatoes, cut side down on the grill surface. Cover the grill and let cook for about 4 minutes. (Check after 2 minutes.) Use a metal spatula to lift tomatoes off of the grill for serving.

Place on a serving dish, cut side up. Drizzle a little more olive oil on the tomatoes. Sprinkle with just a little more salt and pepper. Sprinkle with thinly sliced basil.

Serves 2-4 as a side.

Grilled Bananas

2 bananas

2 T. brown sugar

2 T. ground cinnamon

Caramel sauce for drizzling

Vanilla ice cream (optional)

Preheat your gas grill

Slice the bananas, in their skins, half crosswise and then lengthwise so each banana is 4 pieces

In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar and ground cinnamon.

Sprinkle the brown sugar cinnamon mixture over the cut side of the bananas. Allow to sit 5 minutes for flavors to blend.

Place the bananas, cut side down, on the center of grill. Grill for 2 minutes or until grill marks appear. Using a pair of tongs, turn them over and cook for 5 more minutes, or until the skin pulls away from the bananas.

Remove the bananas from the grill and serve them immediately, on top of vanilla ice cream and drizzled with caramel sauce.

-- Adapted from Food Network

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