TCU Daily Skiff Orientation Issue 2004
Frog Fountain
Gourmet prof. wins with barbercue team

By Crystal Forester
Skiff Staff

Spencer Wertz is like most philosophy . His friend Tom Harris says he is a renaissance man.

“It takes a while to become Spence’s friend, but it’s worth it when you do,” Harris said.

Harris considers his friend to be reflective, deep and very knowledgeable about many things.

“His interests are broad,” Harris said. “Anything he’s interested in he knows a lot about.”

The thing that separates Wertz from other professors at TCU is that he has a competition barbecue team. The team consists of Wertz, his wife Linda and close friends Lynn and Tom Harris.

“He is the only philosophy professor we know that is a sanctioned barbecuer,” Harris said.

For the past 35 years Wertz has been teaching at TCU and at Austin College before that.

“I did my undergraduate work here,” Wertz said. “I liked the school and I liked Fort Worth and came back when I got the chance.”

Wertz has always been interested in cooking and enjoys all kinds of good food, Harris said.

Like Wertz, most people that join competition barbecue teams start out enjoying cooking in their back yard, said Henry Erwin, president of the International Barbecue Cookers Association. Then they start to think they need a bigger pit to cook in and, eventually, starts competing, he said.

“It’s not a circus, just a group of people, bankers, lawyers, sheet metal workers, etc., getting together and enjoying themselves,” Erwin said.

About seven years ago Wertz kept driving by a barbecue rig, because he always wanted a smoker to learn how to barbecue once he bought the rig for just $500.

“He just came home with it one day and has been tinkering with it ever since,” Linda said.

Wertz says he started cooking barbecue because he likes it and couldn’t find anyone else who could cook it.

“Eventually I had a lot of people say since you’ve got this rig you ought to be competing,” Wertz said. “I didn’t really go along with the idea, but they keep needling me and I finally said OK.”

The trailer smoker weighs close to 3,000 pounds, is 13 feet long and has a cooking space of six feet by 28 inches.

“It will cook a lot,” Wertz said. “We’ve catered to over 130 people before.”

Along with Wertz’s love for food, he has an appreciation for wine. He has taken numerous wine appreciation courses and has a wine cellar in his house.

“Whatever my wife and I know about wine we learned from him,” Harris said.

Lynn and Tom Harris met Linda and Spencer Wertz playing doubles tennis in the late ’70s.

Today Wertz is into skeet shooting.

“He has his old cronies from tennis that do that with him,” Harris said.

In his home near Weatherford, Wertz plants many different things and has several animals including a dog and a cat.

Of the animals on the farm one type sticks out - the miniature donkeys. The Wertz’s raise and breed four of the animals.

They said they where looking to invest in some kind of live stock when they saw the miniature animals in the Fort Worth Stock Show, Linda said.

“They are very easy to raise and make wonderful pets,” Linda said.

Buying three donkeys’ to start with has turned into five and they are ultimately considering selling the two foals, Linda said.

“We’re expecting a foal any day,” Wertz said. “She is as wide as she is tall.”
They love animals, Harris said.

“The name of the team came from the animals,” he said.

Smoking Asses, the name of Wertz’s competition barbecuing team, uses donkeys kicking up their heels on either side of the name as the logo. The logo is printed on shirts, caps and aprons as well as the team’s banner. Along with the logo flag the team also flies the American, Texas, Burlington Northern and the TCU flag.

“Their on two 20 foot poles, so you always know where we are,” Harris said.

The Smoking Asses are a part of Lone Star Barbecue Society.

Recently, the team hosted a cooking class at Central Market on Hulen Street.

“It was completely different than what we’ve done before,” Linda said.

Along with the traditional ribs, chicken and brisket, Wertz’s team sometimes makes pinto beans and pork shoulders, Harris said.

Over the years they have developed their own recipes for cooking, Linda said, reluctant to give the secrets away from someone outside the barbecue family.

“Everybody is very encouraging at the competitions,” she said. “Once you get to know them you start sharing your recipes.”

Tendercy, taste and aroma are the key ingredients to making good barbecue, Erwin said.

“Basically, you cook what you, your family and friends like and hope everyone else like it that day,” he said.

Most of the teams have their own recipes and rubs, although store bought rubs are used occasionally, Erwin said.

“The recipes are handed down throughout the years between the barbecuers,” he said.

Barbecuers decided to organize a situation where everyone had a fair chance to win, Erwin said.

“They use the same product, cooked during the same amount of time and judged by the public,” Erwin said.

When the team arrives on Friday, they start the pit to prepare for a day of cooking on Saturday.

Judges don’t know which cookers turned in what barbecue, Erwin said.

The team has won first place for their ribs and chicken and placed in the 10 headed for the final table several times, Linda said.

Just because a team wins in one location doesn’t mean they will win in another, because the taste of the judges varies from place to place, Erwin said.

To join the competitions it cost from $50 to $100. Portions of the money goes to charity and another portion goes to the winners of the competition, Erwin said.

Wertz’s team is not in the competition to make money although the top barbecuers for the day win a cash prize, they enjoy the people they meet while barbecuing, Harris said.

“They’re just some good ol’ boys and good ol’ gals,” he said.

Although the team is made up of fair weather cookers, trying to avoid hot Texas summer and cold winters, they travel as far as 180 miles to attend a competition in Dripping Springs, Texas, outside of Austin, Harris said.

“When you are outdoors 10 to 11 hours a day in 110 degree heat it can get to be very hot,” he said.

On any given weekend there at least seven places somewhere in Texas to participate in a barbecue competition, Erwin said.

“There is a comeroditery that is made,” he said. “We enjoy getting to know everyone all the barbecuers.”

Competing twice in the spring and twice in the fall is enough for the Smoking Asses.
“The idea of standing over a firebox when it is 100 degrees outside is not my idea of fun,” Wertz said.
TCU Daily Skiff ©2004
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