Jim Burg concedes he's "grill poor." Though others might dump discretionary spending into cars or boats, he pines for things that will smoke or simmer, slow cook or quick fire.
Right now the collection is at five, starting with a gleaming gas model on his back porch and ending with the crown jewel, a black behemoth stored under an awning in a quiet corner of his yard. All smokestacks and metal racks, it's a serious piece of equipment capable of cooking 40 barbecued pork butts low and slow.
It's weapon No. 1 in The Killer Bs' arsenal.
"The Killer Bs" is the competitive barbecue team Burg formed with his wife, Jan, nearly five years ago. What started simply has become an obsession.
"We started small," Jan said. "We did local competitions - things at Wildwood or maybe over in Aiken. And what we found was we did pretty well, so we decided to bump it up."
For The Bs, that meant graduating from informal local contests to the tightly regulated world of professional barbecue cook-offs, like this weekend's Banjo-B-Que, a Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctioned event at the Hippodrome in North Augusta. The event also will feature music, including a performance by Ricky Skaggs.
Jim Burg said that smaller events often focus on flavor above all else, but a Kansas City Barbecue Society contest keys on flavor, consistency and a specific style of presentation.
"The judging can be inconsistent, and that's tough," he said. "It really comes down to what judges you get and what they are looking for."
Using ribs as an example, Jim Burg explained that they consider how much meat comes off the bone with each bite, uniformity of rib size and flavor.
Opening the big, black grill, Jim Burg sets free the aromatic ghosts of smoke and previous pork dinners. It's the sort of olfactory patina the equipment gets after countless nights from fire and slow-cooking meat. Still, The Killer Bs' grill doesn't see as much competition as some of the 49 teams gathering for the Banjo-B-Que. Burg said that's part of the reason they sometimes struggle.
"We'll probably do three or four of these a year," he said. "But the people that are regularly in the top 10, they'll probably do 15 or 20. That makes it hard for us."
Jan Burg said many winning teams have discovered successful formulas and rarely stray from them. The rubs are always exactly the same. Cook times and temperatures never vary. It's a science. The Burgs' prefer to approach it as art.
"We're always changing," she said . "We're always asking questions, of others and ourselves. There's a lot of trial and error in what we do."
Taste-testing, Jan said, is difficult. Jim regularly cooks barbecue for her sandwich shop, Janwiches, and she said between serving it up during the day and cooking it at night, she actually eats very little barbecue.
"I just can't do it," she said. "I serve it every day. I smell it every day. I just don't want to eat it. When we go out, it's absolutely the last thing I want."
Entering a competition takes a significant time commitment. Teams entering in all four categories - butts, briskets, ribs and chicken - might stoke the fire for the first time just after midnight and probably won't wrap up until early the next evening.
Although there is money involved - the grand prize winner at the Banjo-B-Que will take home $5,000 - the Burgs often donate winnings to an event's associated charity. "The money is nice, but we prefer the recognition," she said. "We love to cook and we love to cook together."