Some Thoughts on Creating REAL Barbeque

in Cooking and Barbeque

One of my passions/hobbies is cooking. I don’t have as many cookbooks as I do sales books, but it’s close. Some people think it’s crazy, but spending hours in the kitchen chopping, sauteing, braising, frying, stirring and sipping a good red is relaxing.

I’m pretty good at many dishes and cuisines, but I’ve actually won money and awards at barbeque. No, not slapping some animal flesh on the outdoor gas cooker. That is GRILLING (which most guys pride themselves on being good at, but actually ruin the meat when they continue to fuss with it, and God forbid, stick prongs in it to test for doneness), not barbeque.

I’m talking about real barbeque…which is defined as slow cooking, over indirect heat, fueled by wood and/or charcoal, usually flavored by smoke.

I had a competitive barbeque cooking team for a few years, traveling to competitions in the Midwest. We won several category championships and a number of ribbons, including the Nebraska State Championship in ribs and pork a couple of years ago.

Competing is a LOT of fun, with plenty of adult beverages and many laughs involved over a two-three day period. But it’s also a tremendous amount of work. Buying supplies before, loading up the trailer and trucks, driving to the venue, setting up the 10’x20′ tent, setting up the cookers, prepping the meat, cooking all night, cleaning up…very grueling. There are teams that do it every week. We did about 6-7 per summer and that was exhausting.

What prompted this post is somewhat of melancholy feeling about missing the World Series of Barbeque, The American Royal in Kansas City, taking place this weekend. This truly is the grandaddy of all competitions, with about 500 teams competing. If you ever have a chance to go in the future, it is one of the biggest parties, and best-smelling parties you will ever attend.

By the way, people always ask where to get the best barbeque; I rarely go to bbq restaurants…regardless of how good their reputations are. I’m somewhat of a discriminating barbeque snob, and know it is tough to mass produce the best of the best, and keep it fresh and moist in a restaurant setting.

You will get the best barbeque at a contest right as the teams are turning in their entries, usually from 12-2pm on a Saturday. Unless structured otherwise, teams do not sell their food, but always cook much more than they need to turn into the judges, and usually put out samples after creating their turn-in boxes. For more info on contests, competition barbeque, and more, go to the Kansas City Barbeque Society, http://www.kcbs.us/

I’ll post more on barbeque and cooking in the future, but for now, let me share a recommendation on cookers. Good cooks can make passable barbeque on a gas grill by putting meat on one side without the burners turned on there, and using wood chips wrapped in tinfoil over low heat on the other side, with a barrier in between. But the best product involves cookers built for the purpose.

A great multi-purpose cooker is The Big Green Egg. http://www.biggreenegg.com/ This ceramic cooker can be used as a smoker, a grill (capable of steakhouse-temperature searing at 800 degrees!), and a regular oven (I do prime ribs, turkeys, and whole chickens). Because of its design and ability to retain moisture, food comes out amazing. It is fueled by hardwood lump charcoal which you can get at many grocery stores and most places that sell grills and smokers.

I actually have two of these, both Extra-Large versions, with my Arizona unit pictured here. Did some amazing pulled pork, brisket, and smoked beans Saturday for a viewing party for the Nebraska-Missouri football game (in which my Huskers got smoked themselves.)

The Egg is a competition smoker as well as a backyard cooker, and is on the high end of the price scale (the extra-large is in the $900 range I believe), although you can get smaller sizes. But trust me, I know lots of people who realized they wanted and needed a bigger one after starting with a smaller unit.

If you want to invest a bit less, and still have a competition-quality cooker, I recommend starting out with the Weber Smokey Mountain, pictured to the right.

You can get these for around $200. I have a couple of these as well. Here is a site that also is a discussion forum containing everything you want to know about the cooker. http://virtualweberbullet.com/

By the way, do not confuse this cooker with a somewhat similar-looking Brinkman water cooker. There’s a reason these are known in barbeque circles as the ECB–El Cheapo Brinkman. The comparison is not even close.

I also have a couple of commercial-sized cookers we used in competitions. I’ll share more about those in the future, as well as some secrets to turning out great product and how to avoid mistakes. I’ve transformed enough meat into shoe leather over the years, so I’m qualified to give tips in this area.

That’s all for now…going to have some yummy leftovers from Saturday, and then to the airport and back to the Midwest. Have your best sales week ever!

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Gerri Copeland October 7, 2008 at 3:58 pm

Loved this piece but you must share some recipes! I live in California where they don’t know what Barbeque is at all. You’re right, they think grilling is bbq. I was one of them until I started going to the south for work and sampled real barbeque. I would love to be able to make it myself. Thanks for this unexpected article.

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Art October 8, 2008 at 9:11 am

I’ll share some recipes and other tips in the future. As for California, they are coming along. There are actually a few competitions that are held out there. By the way, tri-tip roast is something that is common to California, but spottily available in the rest of the country. It can be an amazing piece of meat.

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Russ Salo October 7, 2008 at 4:29 pm

WOWWIE!! I always knew that Art & I were kindred spirits BUTT – never knew just how close – I a a long time Egger & even longer time reader of Arts web articles -e-zines!!

I’ve been Egging for a long time & was just about to go out & light mine after reading some of the wisdoms posted here !!

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Art October 8, 2008 at 9:14 am

Russ, I did too. Beautiful crisp, fall weather in Nebraska last night…leaves changing. Perfect for doing some salmon, finished with a nice crust and an apricot asian garlic glaze. (drooling on my keyboard…need to get back to work and create some revenue!)

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