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Getting to Know Me

Watch & Vote
John Raven's entry in Texas Monthly's
Where I'm From Short Film Contest
"Where I'm From" by John Raven
(Watch and Vote Here)
by John Raven, Ph.B.

I've been working here at Texas Cooking for nearly five years now. It's still a lot of fun and a great learning experience.

Occasionally someone will ask what the "Ph.B." after my name stands for or what my credentials are for doing what I do. The Ph.B. is for Doctor of Barbecue Philosophy. I was awarded the degree by Grease House University (Kansas City Barbecue Society) for my work in organizing barbecue cooking contests.

I also hold a "Ch.D." which is Doctor of Chili Philosophy awarded by the Houston Pod, Chili Appreciation Society International, for my contributions to the chili cooking competitions.

As for my journalistic license, I have a faded diploma from Taylor High School, Taylor, Texas, that proves I successfully completed English I and English II. I can diagram a sentence with the best of them.

I learned the basics of cooking and recipes from my Mama. My Daddy was a cook of note, but his job running a dairy farm didn't leave him much time to spend in the kitchen. I learned to cook chili the hard way, by trial and error. I entered my first chili cook-off in 1972 with a pack of Chili-Quick and a couple of pounds of hamburger. Needless to say, I didn't win anything that day. I won third place in a cook-off the next year because only three cooks were entered.

The Chili Years

I hooked up with the people who started the chili-cooking craze. They were very good about giving advice and critiquing my efforts. By 1974, I was winning. As a matter of fact, I was Texas Hill Country Champion chili cook that year. In addition to getting a little advice from my friends, I started reading everything I could find about the fine art of chili making.

I stayed active in the chili wars for fourteen years. I leaned more toward the showmanship side of the competition than the cooking side. I did do will enough with the pot to get three trophies from Chilympiad, the world's biggest chili competition. I got as high as sixth place out of over three hundred chili chefs entered.

I also hold a "Ch.D." which is Doctor of Chili Philosophy My chili-cooking activities earned me several awards. Among these, Chilihead of the Year, 1983, awarded by Chili Appreciation Society International, Showman of the Decade 1970-1980 from the same organization, Showman of the Year, Chili Bowl Award 1974, and the Don Russell Award from Chilympiad for promoting their event. I was inducted into the Hall of Flames by the Cowtown Pod, Chili Appreciation Society International.

In my chili years I was called upon to do a lot of chili judging. Before the judging rules got refined it was not a pretty job, but someone had to do it. I once sampled 44 chilis at one sitting. Twice I was "poisoned" by bad chili. Now if I'm called on to judge chili I will only sit in on the final round of judging after the bad stuff has been culled out. Several times I have served as a finals judge at the world championship chili cook-off in Terlingua.

My Barbecue Days

My barbecue education started, as many do, in the backyard with a little tin grill. For several years it was a Sunday ritual for me and a couple of my cousins to cook up something on the grill Sunday morning to be consumed while watching the Dallas Cowboys in their glory years.

I got into serious barbecuing when I was asked to judge at the first Taylor International Barbecue Cook-Off. Judging there in the opening years was not pretty either. I sat through 88 samples of brisket and 44 samples of chicken without getting up from the table. Needless to say, you can get too much of a good thing.

I started working with several barbecue cook-offs to bring to them what I had learned about judging from the chili world. The reception was good, leading me to found the Texas Barbecue Appreciation Society, which soon became the International Barbecue Society. As president of the International Barbecue Society (IBS), I started publishing the "Barbecue Times," which was probably the first barbecue cook-off newsletter. Some of the other things I accomplished with IBS included

  • Writing most of the rules for barbecue cook-offs.
  • Conceiving and producing the Tournament of Champions, the first legitimate world championship barbecue cook-off
  • Producing the first Ladies Only barbecue cook-off.
  • Producing the first Manufacturers Championship barbecue cook-off
  • Conceiving the "Backyard" barbecue competitions
  • Assisting in founding over 50 barbecue cook-offs nationwide, some of which are still in operation 25 years later
  • Serving as head judge for the first Head-to-Head barbecue competition at Terlingua, Texas
As "honcho" of the barbecue world, I had to put up or shut up a couple of times. I entered a barbecue cook-off at Navasota and won the brisket division over several of the big traveling barbecue teams. That same weekend I won the Margarita mixing contest there, too.

My proudest barbecue cooking accomplishment was winning a mano a mano (man to man) contest over Bob Lyons, the Washington State barbecue guru, at Welfare, Texas, several years ago.

Just so you don't think I'm a Johnny Come Lately to the writing game, the first article I wrote, The Great Brisket Ritual, was published in Southwest Airlines magazine in 1983.

In 1974 I founded the Goat-Gap Gazette, a newsletter for the chili cooking crowd. I sold the operation after about a year, but continued as a featured columnist for nearly 25 years. The GGG is still coming out monthly.

I wrote a few columns for a publication out of Boston called "Tips from the Pit". Another of my publication, Barbecue Times, only lasted about three issues due to personal problems. And I published and edited 13 issues of the Luckenbach Moon, the newspaper from the most famous little town in the world. This would have been 1995.

I found time to serve as Emcee for many chili cook-offs around Texas, most notably, Chilympiad and the Ladies Only at Luckenbach.

In my chili showmanship persona of Bad McFad, Daredevil, I was a featured act at the Texas Folklife Festival, Chilympiad, Luckenbach, Texas, and several Great Luckenbach World's Fairs. I've been written up in every major newspaper in Texas at one time or another. The daredevil act made it as far as Little Rock, Arkansas.

Some Good Books

I've been given favorable mention in such books as Texas on the Halfshell, The Great American Chili Book, and The Great American Barbecue and Grilling Manual.

So there you have it. As we say down here in Texas, "It ain't bragging if you can do it."

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