I recently heard a local grocery chain’s radio advertisement promoting its Labor Day bargains and specifically on the holiday-based discounts on fresh meat and poultry products. The pitchman said this would be the perfect time to stock up on meat and fire up the grill one last time before putting a fork in summer. The conclusion I drew from the promotion was that if I heard the ad correctly, part of celebrating Labor Day means unofficially closing the book on the 2019 grilling season and closing the lid on grills and smokers everywhere? Wait, what?

Don’t get me wrong, there are certain parts of the back-to-school season I welcome, including getting my R&R-minded children off the couch and back in the classroom as well as the transition to cooler weather. The closing of public pools, retailers’ premature retail marketing of Halloween costumes and implications that the season for cooking outdoors is winding down are subliminal signals of autumn that many people begrudgingly accept. But when it comes to ringing the closing bell on outdoor cooking after back-to-school nights ensue, I am one to adamantly resist.

Joel CrewsTo the contrary, I would make the argument that early indications of the onset of fall are synonymous with Mother Nature waving the green flag to signal the start of the smoking, grilling and outdoor cooking season. Retailers should take a page from the books of a growing number of processors, including Smithfield Foods, Seaboard Foods, Creekstone Farms and Agri Beef Co., and realize that as the popularity of barbecue has grown, the lines of seasonality signaling when and how it is cooked and eaten have become…clouded.

Active barbecue-cooking enthusiasts and wannabe pitmasters look to hone their craft every season. For them, and me, there’s really no start or end to that cycle.

Indeed, September kicks off the start of the NFL season, one of the biggest food-focused sports among spectators. At least at my house, Monday and Thursday nights, and of course Sunday afternoons, are three more weekly reasons to light the fire under a flock of chicken wings or a beer cooler full of brats.

And while Major League Baseball’s championship game is held every October and is just another excuse to step outside and light your charcoal, the American Royal’s World Series of Barbecue, held in Kansas City every September for the past 40 years, serves to whet the appetite of barbecue junkies throughout the country and shouldn’t be mistaken as a checkered flag for the outdoor cooking season. Right around the corner is the opportunity for outdoor cooks to really shine for those bold enough to spearhead cooking the hams, turkeys or their family’s favorite center-of-the-table meat for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

During an interview with Chris Lilly several years ago at the American Royal, the world champion pitmaster shared his well-quoted slogan with me: “The greatness of a pitmaster is directly proportional to the size of their ash pile.” Not unlike competitors in any arena, practice makes perfect, even in the world of grilling and smoking, according to Lilly, and there really is no off season.

The slate of Kansas City Barbeque Society-endorsed competitions held year-round, all over the country affirm what is at the core of competitors and aspiring pitmasters. The passion that fuels the fire for most outdoor cooks is the satisfaction of feeding friends and family with something that is the product of many hours of practice, rain or shine, calendars notwithstanding.