Meet Diva Q
"Ask me anything about meat. Anything. Grilled, smoked, stewed, roasted, broiled, baked, braised, stir-fried, smothered, stuffed, dry aged, wet aged… should I go on? Because I can. Let me tell it to you, as straight as I take my bourbon: I’ve been living the barbecue lifestyle for a long time now. Ever since the week I judged my first competition in 2006. And I’ll tell you, just like I tell everyone I talk to, “Life is too short for bad BBQ!®”
Born to Grill With Diva Q
Well, what do you want to know?
I’ve won over 400 BBQ awards, 20 grand championship victories, 29 perfect “180” scores from BBQ judges, and a whole lot more. I’ve competed in BBQ all over the world. I’ve even taught all over the world — and I still do. I teach dozens of classes a year. The Travel Channel even gave me a film crew and 3 seasons to show off the best barbecue joints I could find to 156 countries. When I wasn’t hosting my own unscripted show, I worked with awesome folks on the Food Network, TLC, A&E, BBQ Pitmasters, Chopped Grill Masters, American Grilled, and more. People call me the hardest-working woman in BBQ, and they’re not wrong. I’ve got the trophy case, the chock-full recipe book, the media appearances, the tireless Instagram feed, and the long list of grill school graduates to prove it.
Great barbecue is about the process, the spirit, the sharing. I’ve been in more countries than I can count, talking to folks from all kinds of cultures, seeing how awesome meat cooked right brings a community together. Because that’s the whole damn point. If you’re gonna grill or smoke something… for the love of God, share it with someone. Put a smile on some faces.
Q & A With Diva Q
How did you get your start in the industry?
Well, I judged that contest. But the real start was a lot earlier than that. When I was young, my parents and I spent a lot of time on Highway 75 between Ontario and Florida. Southern-style barbecue became part of the deal. We’d always stop and grab some grub on the trips, and that’s where I first encountered this wild, wild world of sauce and smoke. Then, after the contest, I bought my first smoker, headed down to Texas to hear it from some of the best, wrote every single legendary pit master who might let me come scrub their grills to learn a few things… and there you have it.
You count Texan and Asian cuisines among your influences. What about them really sing to your heart?
One of the best things about where I’m from (Toronto) is literally eating around the world. And everyone’s got their own special spin on barbecue. Take wood-fired smoke and Asian ingredients. I don’t care what day of the week it is — those make an incredible combination anytime. Lemongrass to pea shoots, crispy chili pastes, whatever you can make. That’s why my cupboards back home are jam-packed. Not with the usual 24 spices, mind you, but closer to 5 rolling racks! And every type of flour known to man. There are so many other spices and flavor profiles out there that many barbecue folks just aren’t aware of.
You mentioned your first serious brush with BBQ was in Texas on a family vacation. Years later, you judged a BBQ cookoff in 2006… and bought your first smoker 3 days later. What about that snapshot in time made it so life-changing?
Culinary memories in general can be spectacular. The taste just stays with you. And I always say this: BBQ isn’t just about nourishing your body. It’s nourishing your soul. The old-school way, you do it over many hours, real nice and slow, and it takes a lot of love and patience to really understand the meat. I remember being a kid and seeing people line up for barbecue at church… Well, fast forward to judging my first contest in 2006. That’s when I thought, “Pretty sure I can do this… and I want to.” All these food memories line up, one after another. There’s really only one right way to make a croissant, but a million ways to make barbecue.
You’ve won over 400 BBQ awards. What’s your proudest win, and why?
Funny you ask. One moment in my career that stands out is when I won a grand championship in Pennsylvania, my very first one. Borrowed my Dad’s landscaping trailer and drove 9 hours, arrived with a tarp over my grills. Think “Beverly Hillbillies,” and you get the picture. Well, I was a woman, and a woman from Canada. That’s two knocks. So, this one main guy and his merry band of idiots were following me around, talking trash about me, wondering why I’d come. When I took first in 3 of 4 categories and won the whole thing, it was so rewarding to shove that in his face afterwards. Even to this day, everyone thinks my husband’s the one who knows barbecue. It’s just insane, the amount of obstacles for a non-American woman in the industry like me.
They say the best way to learn is to teach — and you’ve taught dozens of BBQ classes a year around the world. What are the most interesting things that’s taught you?
Patience, more than anything. Be proud of who you are. Be proud of what you do. Now, I fly all over the world, doing dozens of these things a year. Everyone from backyard BBQers to corporate clients. One my most rewarding experiences was this all-female class in San Antonio. Now, I fly on my own dime to these things. And this one, a bunch of male pit masters had turned down the opportunity. And I made real grill masters out of these women. Hell, one of my students the other day taught me something new about how to clean my grill that had never occurred to me — and I’ve cleaned thousands of grills! There are so many good BBQ lessons to pick up from teaching it.
Let’s talk about that, then. Can you tell us more about the best lessons BBQ has taught you?
One of the greatest things you can do is be open to learning. That’s one of the best BBQ lessons right there. There’s no right way to do it. You know, there’s a lot of different ideas out there… probably 50 million ways to cook a pork butt. Do you want it pullable, choppable, Thai-style, Greek-style, crispy…? I can go on. My life philosophy, and I’ll tell anyone that’ll listen, is “Life’s too short for bad BBQ.”
Teaching and hosting BBQ events has repeatedly taken you around the world. Can you tell us something about the experience?
I love traveling around the world, bringing people together in food. All everyone else wants to know about is American BBQ, whether I’m in Finland or Japan. Even in New Zealand, where there’s incredible culture around barbecue, it never fails: everyone asks me a bunch of questions about how the Americans do it. But I’m a part of international BBQ, and bringing that always to the forefront is just an incredible life.
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