BBQ offerings at Montclair’s Pineapple Express.

Lauren Hirschberg, Montclair chef, owner of Turtle + The Wolf, and partner at Pineapple Express Barbecue, is putting Montclair barbecue on the map. Hirschberg was part of a winning team that scored grand champion honors at the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.

The contest, an annual, four day competition held in Memphis, Tennessee, has three categories: Ribs, Shoulder, and Whole Hog, as well as ancillary competitions of Hot Wings, Sauce, and “Anything But Pork”. Hirschberg’s team, Ribdiculous Bar-B-Krewe, comprised of other accomplished chefs and restaurateurs, traditionally competes in the Ribs category every year.

“We have competed in ribs for our tenure as a team down there. Our best finish, I don’t remember the exact year, was 11th place in Ribs – so essentially putting us in the top 33 teams in the competition,” said Hirschberg.

This year, Ribdiculous Bar-B-Krewe first made the finals in the Rib category, putting them in the top nine of the entire competition. Then, from the three main categories, the judges name a grand champion based on scores and the Ribdiculous Bar-B-Krewe learned they were Grand Champions. It was also the first time in 22 years that the rib category winner got the top prize.

Hirschberg has been competing in the Memphis contest 14 years after being introduced to the competition by colleagues from his former days working for Tom Colicchio’s restaurant group in Manhattan, Crafted Hospitality. Colicchio encouraged Hirschberg and his colleagues to enter the competition after attending a food and wine festival where they cooked barbecue together.

“Tom was like, ‘You guys should go down to this Memphis in May.’ So we went down, not really knowing what it was we were getting ourselves into, and just started competing. It was mainly a bunch of chefs from the company,” said Hirschberg, who adds that it now has become a family reunion of sorts for chefs who once worked together in and around New York City.

Hirschberg’s partner at Pineapple Express, Damon Wise, is also part of Ribdiculous Bar-B-Krewe. The two met through the barbecue competition; the experience sparked the flame to create a restaurant reflecting their mutual love for barbecue.

“Pineapple Express is essentially a love child of going down [to Memphis], competing and learning more about the barbecue world and barbecue restaurants and that type of cookery, vibe and service. After a decade or so, it pops into our heads that this would be a fun kind of restaurant to operate. And that’s kind of where Pineapple Express was born out of,” says Hirshberg.

What Hirschberg enjoys most is time spent cooking barbecue with old friends. Trophy or not, Ribdiculous Bar-B-Krewe will continue to compete for years to come.