A Tribute to John Raven, a Barbecue Original

By Bob Lyon

One of the Barbecue Originals, John Raven, died recently.  In 2012 I received an email from him congratulating us both for still being around. Fitting tributes are his commentary and a republication of the January 2007 article about John unearthed by our find-everything recorder, Melissa Lott.

John’s email commentary
December 9, 2012

Bob Lyon:
I was wondering the other day if you was still around.. Apparently you are. Tween the two of us, we have been photoed with most of the BBQ elite.

My last outing was Labor Day when I went down to Uvalde, Texas for 40th anniversary of first BBQ cook-off. There were four briskets on the table that made the trip worthwhile.  

Barbecue competition is now like all the rest of our “hobbies.” It is an exercise on seeing how much money you can spend.  

You done good to get 25 years in with the National Barbecue News. I got 24-1/2 in with Goat Gap Gazette before I got fired.

I’ve got near 13 years in over at http://www.texascooking.com/. I dunno what has happened over there. They won’t communicate with me and other than putting up more advertising they have done nothing with the site in over six months.

I still turn out a page for the “Luckenbach Moon” every month.  

In my dotage I have took up video making.  Last year at the Austin Film Festival I was first runner up in the Texas Monthly short film contest. I have a new video that will be on the market shortly.

I hang pretty close to the ranch. Got about everything I want within 30-mile radius of me.

Keep up whatever you can keep up. Glad to know you.

Commissioner of Barbecue

Helping Remus Powers with John Raven
Reprint of the January 2007 article

In the May issue of the Bull Sheet, Ardie Davis recounted his meeting with John Raven, a Texas Chili and BBQ legend, at Louis Mueller’s barbecue house in Taylor, TX.  I first met John in Taylor in 1988 at Bob Roberts’ Taylor International BBQ Competition.  Bob had taken me to the same barbecue houses Ardie mentioned in his article plus a few more.  One of the great photos I have is of John and me with Bill Bridges, author of the Great American Chili Book, a compendium of eating chili recipes rather than competition types.  John and I visited, judged, exchanged letters, even traded insults in the Goat Gap Gazette.

John’s original judging system copyrighted in 1983 preceded KCBS’s by two years.  It’s like chili scoring, based on a 10 point holistic system taking in five criteria including smoky smell, something cooks baking meat in foil at competitions nowadays would have a hard time getting any credit for.  It called for enough meat in a container for a preliminary and a final judging.  Turn-ins were two meats every half hour: brisket, pork (any kind including ribs) cabrito, lamb, wild game, seafood and chicken.  Judges were warned to take only one shrimp, since the most popular seafood item was gulf shrimp.  His 10-5-3 scoring system for 100 cooks or so made it a bit tough for anybody to win without at least one first place.  Taylor had no cash awards but marvelous trophies for the top three places.  There were a dozen or more judging tables for each category for preliminaries, with the top two at each making finals.  Most teams didn’t enter all categories. During the time when a barbecue committee of the Puget Pod offered competition at some chili cookoffs, Jack Perrault went to John’s last Tournament of Champions in Temple, TX, and took first-place sauce.  Dave and Pat Veljacic and Fred and Betty Roycroft competed twice as well at Taylor in the early 90’s.  By then they were giving ribbons but not points for places 4-10.      

My ambition was actually to get John to cook barbecue in competition.  I couldn’t pin him down until I checked back issues of the GGG to find events in which he had competed and placed so I could shame him into it.  We finally settled on a brisket contest at Welfare, TX just out of San Antonio on I-10 in July of 1992.  They were offering a $5000 grand prize, won by Paul Kirk the previous year.  Besides entering the overall contest, John and I would do a head-to-head using his International Barbecue Society system, the same one used at Taylor.  This was because in the main contest, there would be so many entries and judging tables using the KCBS system.  There would be four entries, two of which would be from other cooks.  It would be run by Bob Roberts.  It took two tries to reach a verdict.  John prevailed on the second set of judges, although we were both beaten by Dawn Keller, who also placed third overall in the main contest.  John liked to brag that he had beaten both Paul and me on the same day, since his overall result was ahead of Paul’s.  I reminded him that I finished way ahead of him in the overall contest.

John was the head judge for the first-ever Head-to-Head contest in Terlingua in 2001.  Bob Roberts, Jerry Fugate, Eddie Lankford and a large group of the Taylor BBQ gang started the contest and continued it for 10 years.  It’s still going with a slightly different format, featuring the some of the earlier Head to Head folks a second time around as individual stars.  John even sent me a hand-carved wooden spoon in honor of my three retirements right after he qualified for social security and a guaranteed monthly income.  I have a copy of his Dare Devil Bad McFad book, and he once favored me with his immortal, “I live for danger!,” in the presence of chili immortal Tex Scofield.  I sent him a cartoon of himself in bed with his twin barreled cooker, feeding it copies of the Goat Gap Gazette to keep warm in the winter.  Paul Kirk added a comment that John’s brisket was flavored by printer’s ink from the same source.

John Raven and I really enjoyed the friendly competition
at Welfare. One wouldn’t think so from the insults we exchanged in the Goat Gap Gazette.

Paul Kirk, Bad McFad, and Mike Wells at
the awards ceremony in Terlingua

An illustration from one of DareDevil
Bad McFad’s many adventures.

Illustrator Jordan Millay put this cartoon together
in honor of the Raven/Lyon Head to Head.

Bill Bridges, John Raven, and Bob Lyon judge
at Taylor in 1988.

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