Originally written September 2008:
Dear BBQ Friend:
We had a great time at beautiful Boone Hall, SC last weekend. Some of the best BBQ teams in the country were there including Lotta Bull, ButtRub.com,
Jack's Old South, and the grand champion this year - Smokey Mountain Smokers. I had some problems again and placed 24th overall out of 31 teams. Oh well... we learn by our mistakes - right? For the new readers out there... even
though I sell a BBQ book entitled "Competition BBQ Secrets", I am fairly new at running my own team as pit boss. I was just the helper on the team for many years with my main jobs being
throwing more wood on the fire at 3:00 in the morning and internet sales. I guess I should have paid more attention to what Lee was doing. There's a whole lot more to participating in a BBQ contest than keeping the fire going.
There's meat selection, sauces, rubs, marinades, injections, meat preparation, smoker preparation, actual smoking, mopping, checking for doneness, pulling and cutting meats, turn-in box preparation, and a whole lot more than I
have room to mention here.
Anyways... this was my 4th KCBS competition as head pitmaster and my goal is to learn every aspect of the game and report it all back to you guys!
I think it's an exciting and worth while "experiment". You and I should learn a lot from this. From my last newsletter, you know I purchased a Cookshack FEC100 to get more consistent temperatures and more space.
For some reason, my butts took forever to get done. Turn in time was approaching quickly and they were only at 170 deg F. I had to crank up the temperature to 350 deg for about an hour which resulted in some really burnt bark on one
of them. The other was OK, but very average tasting. My pork scores showed it too. I placed 12th in chicken. I cooked the chicken on the Traeger Texas. It got done a little early, so I just turned the Traeger off and let it sit
on the smoker for about an hour. It was good, but ever so slightly on the dry side. My ribs were pretty good, but one judge didn't think so giving me a score of 6/6/6. Another judge scored them 8/9/9. Go figure! I though the brisket
was good too. Like the butts, they took their time getting done and I probably could have let them cook a little longer. Scores ranged from 7/7/7 to 9/9/9. You can't please them all!
So, here's a little list of the problems and solutions I have run into on my first 4 tries as pit boss at KCBS events...
Problem: Not enough room on smokers.
Solution: Purchased a Cookshack FEC100. At Boone Hall, I did the butts, brisket, and ribs on the FEC100. I probably would have been better off cooking the ribs on a different smoker because the ribs require a lot of attention. And attention means opening the smoker door numerous times. At least 5 times for inserting, foiling, unfoiling, glazing check, and removing. You know what they say... If you're lookin', you ain't cookin'. That may be the main reason my butts and brisket took so long to get done.
Problem: Temperature control.
Solution: Stopped using the Char-Broil Silver and Weber kettle grill. They are great for back yard use when you are only smoking one meat, but in a competition when you are doing three things at once, it's almost impossible to keep the right temperature going constantly. So I switched to only using the Cookshack FEC100 and the Traeger Texas pellet smokers. I may take the ribs out of the FEC100 next time and put them on the Char-Broil Silver with the BBQ Guru. Either that or buy a Traeger Lil' Tex for the ribs. My wife is gonna kill me! Maybe I'll try to do the ribs on the Traeger Texas, get them done and off into a warming cooler and then do the chicken. I can't do them at the same time because of the different temperatures needed.
Problem: Finding good meat.
Solution: This has been hard in my area - Savannah, GA. We don't have any good butcher shops here so I have to rely on the grocery stores and Sam's Club. I have a sneaking suspicion that some of the other teams have much, much better sources for good meat than I do. If they own their own restaurant or catering business, I know they have access to wholesale sources for prime beef and better pork and chicken than we can get down at Piggly Wiggly or Kroger. I did experiment with some mail order Wagyu brisket and Berkshire pork at the Kennesaw contest, but everybody I asked said to not overcook it, so I didn't. And it was not done enough. I could hardly pull the pork. Lesson learned... contests are not the place for "experimenting". All your test runs should be done beforehand and you should only be doing what is tried and true at contests.
Problem: Average turn in boxes.
Solution: Try and get your turn in boxes as appetizing as possible. Appearance is part of your overall score and in these tight contests, it could be the difference between winning and losing. And... people eat with their eyes. And judges are people too! At Boone Hall, I tried a "putting green" of parsley instead of green leaf lettuce, but I think that backfired on me. First of all, it's not that unique and second, some of the parsley probably stuck to the meat when the judges picked up the meat. That's not good. Some judges will not even bother to remove the parsley before tasting.
Solution: Imagine yourself as a BBQ judge... tasting the same old BBQ with the same old sauces week after week after week. Then an entry comes along that looks absolutely delicious and when you put it in your mouth, it bursts with flavor, the smoke subtly touches your tongue, and it practically melts in your mouth it is so tender. That's the "wow!" effect. And, trust me, the winning teams every week are turning in BBQ that says Wow! So... instead of turning in ribs with KC Masterpiece sauce, try something different and unique. Try it out on your friends and family first and then take it to a contest.
The more I learn, the more you learn!