Thursday, February 23, 2006

Make Friends with your Butcher

Meat quality is one of many factors that will affect the end result of a barbecue.

Whether competing in a World Championship BBQ Cook-off, or cooking for family and friends in the backyard, the meat you start with will greatly affect your final results. You wouldn't take a Volkswagen Beetle to race in the Indy 500, so you certainly don't want to take a cheap piece of meat to a bbq cook-off. Or, to put it more bluntly, "you don't take a knife to a gunfight."

Whether it's chicken thighs, drumsticks or breasts; whether it's pork shoulder, picnic or butts; whether it's a brisket packer or brisket flat; whether it's a loin back, baby back, spare, or St. Louis-style pork rib....your barbecue needs all the help you can give it.

Or, to put it still yet another way..."garbage in, garbage out."

Some general guidelines for meat selection:


For overall tenderness and cooking consistency, it's more desireable to use a dark cut, like thighs or drumsticks versus a white cut, like breast. Avoid the brands that have "up to a 15% sodium solution added". You want "natural" chicken, often called "Amish" by butchers.


Resist the temptation to purchase the $.99 / lb. economy brisket flat that's on sale and instead, ask your butcher to order you a Certified Angus Beef (CAB for short) whole brisket ranging from 11 - 13 lbs. Don't be shocked if it's $3 / lb. or more. For brisket, marbling is key. CAB offers the marbling you need and whatever you do, do not let the butcher trim the brisket for you. You need to trim it yourself.


The most forgiving cut of the four competition categories I've been discussing, but your results will be better with a "shoulder" or a "butt" versus a "picnic".


If you prefer spares, ask the butcher to order you some "3 lb.-and-down" spare ribs and definitely ask them to get you some that haven't been soaking in a "sodium solution". You'll need to learn to trim them St. Louis-style. Anything bigger than 4 lb. per rack and you'll end up with rib bones I refer to as "brontasaurus" bones (big bones from a big hog) that are not very appetizing. Baby backs or loin backs will work well too. It really just comes down to the preference of the cook, but again take special note to avoid the "sodium solution."

Find yourself a local "mom and pop" butcher shop and explain to them what your end goal is and that you are a bbq nut, and they'll probably bend over backwards to help you find just what you're looking for. If they don't. Find another butcher.

If your competing, stop by with pictures of your turn-ins or bring in a trophy or two when you win one and you'll make your butcher happy. Like most everyone, they will be happy to know they helped you succeed.

If you're butcher does right by you, do right by them and tell your friends about them. That way, everyone wins.

Barbecue Books

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

BBQ Pork

All pork is not created equal.

Meat from one of the traditional breeds, sometimes referred to as "heritage" breeds of swine such as Berkshire, Gloucestershire Old Spots, Tamworths, and Large Blacks, is generally more flavorful than pork from the popular commercial breeds. We consumers have resorted to downing our pork in sauce to add some flavor to what would otherwise be bland, white and tasteless.

The more "modernized breeds" have been bred more lean and long for commercial reasons and to maximize return on investment for the "company" farms and as a result the pork purchased in most grocery stores today do not have the same flavor that pork had 50-years ago or more.

The heritage breeds generally have more marbling and frankly more fat and thus, more flavor. The heritage breeds have been called "the other red meat" in direct contrast to the popular "the other white meat" slogan publicized by the commercial pork industry in recent years.

The heritage breeds are not very prevalent in the industry today, but they are making a comeback as an alternative breed for small-scale farmers attempting to fill niche market demand from specialty consumers.

This trend is carrying over into other areas of agriculture too including turkey, chickens and beef cattle.

So, if you have a choice, choose one of the "heritage" breeds for your next barbecue. You'll be in for a treat, and you'll most likely be helping the "little guy" compete in the new agriculture economy where specialty and high-quality can still win out versus mass production.

RV Equipment

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Cool Car Pictures

Auburn Roadster

Hudson Pick-up

I planned to cook some bbq this weekend and celebrate the start of the new NASCAR season, but I'm afraid the weather forecaster have successfully talked me out of it.

I was looking through some bbq pictures from last year and ran across this picture of this Hudson Pick-up and this Auburn Roadster taken at the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Michagan.

It's a car lovers paradise and by far the best automotive museum I've ever visited.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Become a Virtual BBQ Contest Competitor

Do you watch the Food Network’s coverage of barbecue contests and wish you could get involved?

Have you always wanted to form a competitive bbq cooking team, but don’t have the free time to get started?

Are you an accomplished bbq cook, but are short on the funds to start your own bbq team?

Would you like to learn to how bbq contest cooks prepare contest entries and read their recipes, including step-by-step directions? Cooking Team is adding new feature to our competition bbq team this year—virtual bbq contest participation. You too can participate in bbq cook-offs—through the power of the Internet.

Linda and I invite you to become a member of our virtual barbecue team. Compared to forming an actual competitive cooking team, it’s a real bargain.

Our main goal with this virtual BBQ contest program is to teach you more about the life of a professional bbq contest competitor, the good and the bad; and to have a lot of fun in the process.

If you decide to participate in our program here’s what you receive:

  • A custom printed and professionally designed “official” bbq team member t-shirt with our team logo. ($19.95 value)
  • A complimentary bottle of The BBQ Guy’s “Original Spice Rub”. ($7.00 value)
  • A subscription to newsletter. ($19.95 value)
  • Recipes for our specially formulated bbq contest spice rubs for chicken, ribs, pork and brisket.
  • Recipes and information about barbecue sauces we use in competition.
  • Step-by-step instructions that will detail how we prepare our chicken, ribs, pork and brisket for competition.
  • Pictures (via e-mail) of all the actual contest turn-in entries we submit at bbq contests this year.
  • Copies of our actual bbq contest scoring sheets with full results.
  • Other perks of membership too numerous to list here...and some more we haven’t even thought of yet!

If you decide to join the team, reply to this post and I'll send you an electronic subscription notice via PayPal for $49.95 and put your complimentary bottle of bbq rub and team member t-shirt in the mail ASAP.

Click here to become an “virtual” team member of Cooking Team.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

What's a BBQ Contest Worth?

150 gallons of gasoline...$320
New Barbecue Trailer...$7,100
Meat for bbq competition...$190
Miscellaneous supplies for bbq competition...$75

Getting your team name called at a bbq contest...PRICELESS!

Smoked Salmon

Here's a recipe for salmon I received Bruce Bissonette. Bruce smoked a 3.88lb. fillet from Sam's Club on a WSM and it turned out well. he started out by brining it for 90 minutes in the following brining solution:

1 gallon of water

1 cup kosher salt

1 cup brown sugar

½ cup soy sauce

½ cup white wine

1 tbls granulated garlic

1 tbls onion powder

1 tbls dried thyme

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp dill

He then rinsed it and patted it dry and allowed it to dry on a rack for 2 hours. At that point the salmon was brushed with maple syrup and sprinkled with Hi-Mountain Salmon Seasoning (any rub or seasoning you like on fish will do).

The fillets were smoked on a WSM with the top grate temp between 195-205 for three hours. Chunks of Sugar Maple wood provided smoke flavoring.

Here's some pics of the final product.

Click here for picture

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Brothers BBQ - Ypsilanti, Michigan

Linda and I made a trip to Cabela's in Dundee this a.m. and on the way home stopped by Brothers BBQ for lunch. Located at 2925 W. Michigan Ave between Ypsilanti and Canton, the restaurant has reopened in the former location known as Mothers. Besides bbq the restaurant also serves fried chicken, shrimp and hamburgers.

We each had the pulled pork sandwich, which is served on a submarine bun and is available in 8 inch or 16 inch sizes. The sandwich is served on a toasted bun and also comes with fries and coleslaw. The meal cost $15.65 for the two of us. The portion sizes were generous and the service was timely.

The pulled pork did not have any visible smoke ring nor did it have any smoke flavor to provide evidence that it was actually cooked over a fire, but the generous portion size made up for what it lacked in southern-style pulled pork flavor.

We didn't go away hungry.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Competition BBQ: It's Harder Than It Looks

Most competition bbq cooks pursing their first category win, top five overall finish, grand championship, or even team of the year award usually reach the conclusion after their first couple of contests that achieving bar-be-que nirvana is harder than it looks.

It seems easy enough as a spectator (and some judges probably fall into the same trap)...

1) send in your contest entry fee
2) buy an inexpensive (substitute "cheap") offset or water smoker at a local hardware store
3) practice cooking on it a few times
4) after two or three attempts, invite the neighbors and relatives over for a "taste test"
5) receive rave reviews and start day dreaming about how you'll spend the prize money

Of course all novices learning the ropes in almost any sport whether it's golf, bowling, baseball, basketball, or whatever else come to the realization that it takes dedication, persistence and lots of practice to achieve any respectable level of proficiency.

Some get lucky and achieve success early on, only to finish in mid-pack or worse in the next few contests. A certain percentage throw in the towel and don't continue the quest, while others see it as a nobel pursuit and welcome the challenge.

There's a growing number of people that have somehow reached the conclusion that the secret to good bbq is having the latest electronic gadget, marinade, spice rub, bbq sauce, bbq classes, newest style of cooker, "secret tips", and an elegant motorhome to transport them with. While some of these things might make contests more enjoyable, throwing lots of money at bbq without first building a base of experience is not adviseable, in my opinion.

Brand new competitors should first take the time to develop an understanding that even the best competitors sometimes go through droughts where they don't win any substantial prize money for months. "Buying your way in" hoping to hit it big doesn't really work any better in the sport of bbq than it does in horse racing, golf, auto racing, boat racing, or even lawn mower racing.

Sometimes you've got to go through alot of disappointments before the thrill of success arrives. And that my friends, is what makes it all worthwhile.

Ranch Kettle

BBQ Team Names

What does the choice of a team name say about the personality of a competition bbq team?

I've spent some time thinking about this lately and without even trying hard I've come up with 40+ team names that start with the name "Big" and another 18 that start with the word "Beer" or have "beer" in their name.

Do teams that choose to promote their preference for beer in their team name drink a lot of beer when competing? Do they barbecue for the fun of it, or are they serious about winning? Do they all own liquor stores, or do some work for beer distributors?

Are teams named "big" comprised of "big" people? Are their egos bigger than the average team, or do they just have "big" BBQ ambitions?

There are at least 100 teams that have the word "smokin" in their team name and at least another 150 bbq teams with the word "smoke" or some other variation of the word "smoke" in their team name. Close to 450 teams have the abbreviation "BBQ" in their name.

The BBQ process creates a lot of "smoke", so I guess that is an obvious connection and I'll bet most of them actually use a "smoker" to cook with whether it's a log burner, water smoker, pellet smoker, cooker, oven, rotisserie, upright, or any of the other popular marketing terms used to describe the tools used for creating the samples for turn-in. The prevalence of "BBQ" makes sense because it certainly fits better on a team banner or sign than "Barbecue", "Barbeque", or "Bar-B-Que"; and there's never a question of how to spell it.

There are at least 6 with a "dot com" (.com) in their team name that most likely have their own web sites about their cooking business or hobby; and 16 more have the word "guy" in their name. Do the teams with "guys" allow females to cook with them? Are they at the bbq contest to get away from their wives? Did their wives kick them out of the house for the weekend? Or, are they just being humble and are partial to generic descriptions?

There's about 80 with the word "grill" in their name.

Do these teams "grill" their briskets, ribs, and pork butts during contests, or just their chicken? Do they really use a "grill" for competition? Do they all even own a "grill", and by the way is it gas, electric, or charcoal fired?

These are just some of things I think about when "I'm wishin' I were cookin" and it's snowing and raining outside just enough to make firing up the cookers a miserable proposition on a Saturday afternoon.


"The BBQ Guy"
(just a humble-run of the mill- ordinary- average-middle-aged-mid-western redneck)

Barbecue Restaurants in Orlando

Here's a list of some popular barbecue restaurants in the Orlando area.

(See my review of Bubbalou's below.)

Blackwater BBQ - Orange Ave (my favorite)
O'Boys - Hwy 50 (had takeout from here and it was good)
Uncle Jones - 436 in Casselberry (a down home place)
Cecil's Texas Style Barbecue - Winter Park (never eaten here)
Cecil's Texas Style Barbecue - Orange Ave (ate there once)

Blackwater BBQ (407-888-2033) on Orange Ave has the best barbecue in Orlando and their results in bbq contests on the Memphis in May circuit speak for themselves. You may have seen them on various Food Network shows the past few years. There's one featuring the Big Pig Jig event in Vienna, Georgia that show's the Blackwater crew quite a bit.

The interior of the restaurant has a rustic design, but it was spotlessly clean on the day we visited. It sets back off the road a little bit and we drove by it the first time without seeing it, but nothing a quick U-turn didn't fix. Here's a map.

Here's a review from Orlando City Beat.

Bubbalou's Barbecue Winter Park, FL

When we lived in Casselberry, FL, Linda and I were frequent visitors of Bubbalou's Barbecue located in Winter Park just off of 17-92 south of Maitland on Lee Road, a real bbq "shack".

We tried two other locations, one in Altamonte Springs on 436 and another on Alafaya Trail near the UCF campus, and although those restaurants are more modern and had more inside seating, they just don't measure up to the Winter Park location.

While waiting for your meal at the Lee Road location, diners are treated with a who's who's montage of head shots from some of the most popular musicians around including--Charley Daniels and Molly Hatchet among many others.

On a busy day most folks have to eat outside on picnic tables or in their cars because inside seating is limited, but we didn't mind it. During the lunch rush, the parking lot fills up and for me that only added to the overall ambience of the place.

We always enjoyed the sliced barbecue pork, potato salad and baked beans and the barbecue sauce was pretty good too.

Sliced pork is not my personal favorite, but it worked when I had the craving for 'que and didn't have the time to cook it myself.

If you're ever in Orlando, stop by Bubbalou's in Winter Park. You'll be glad you did.

Pick-up a t-shirt to commemorate your visit. They're pretty cool.

Winter Park / 17-92 and Lee Road
1471 Lee Road
Winter Park, FL 32892

Thursday, February 09, 2006


This very popular bbq web site features film footage of bbq events throughout Florida.

There is a "highlights" section and a "shows" section.

The shows section features Wachula, Sebring and Winter Haven contests sanctioned by the Florida Barbecue Association.

There are highlights of Clermont, Okeechobee, Lake City, Mulberry and several others.

When I am missing the sun and fun of Florida and my friends and competitors in the FBA, I visit this web site to get a taste of my former home.

BBQ Judging

The Delta Sky magazine features an article about bbq judging in a recent issue.

It's got some nice pictures of a bbq pork turn-in box, a picture of the KCBS judging placemat and other pictures from the Jack Daniels' barbecue cook-off held annually in Lynchburg, TN home of Jack Daniels distillery.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Whole Hog Cooking

Barbecue is becoming more and more popular for entertaining. This article in the Akron Beacon Journal discusses the trend and has some interesting recipes for bbq rub, bbq sauce and an interesting mixed beans side dish.

Here is another article and web site that provides interesting tidbits about using a Chinese Cooking Box , or a Cajun Microwave to cook a whole hog.'s another box alternative from the "La Caja China" web site.

One of the most popular destinations on the Internet regarding whole hog cooking is the Three Men web site.

I also came across another idea for making a portable hog cooker designed by Hubert Scallan from Louisiana.

So you see....there really is more than one way to skin a pig, ooops...I mean "skin a cat".

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

BBQ Contributed $52.1 Million into City Economy

Published research completed recently by the University of Arkansas quantified just how much economic impact the annual Bikes, Blues and Barbecue festival held in Fayetteville has for the city and it's businesses.

An article in the The Morning News, a Fayetteville newspaper, says 300,000 people attended the 2005 event. Next year's event is scheduled for September.

Here's another article about the contest published in the Northwest Arkansas Times

BBQ Commodities Market

I don't know a lot about investing in commodities, but I have always read and heard that commodities are high risk and that only the most sophisticated investors invest money in them due to their volatility and unpedictability.

It occured to me recently that as a barbecue fanatic, I am affected by the commodities markets directly, but I really had not put much thought into it. The values of lumber, pork, beef, steel, and oil have a direct affect on my barbecue. As the supply of those commodities decrease or the commoditites increase in price, the price of barbecue goes up for everyone.

The Barbecue Commodities Equation can be defined simply as the Inputs + BBQ Process = BBQ Product. As the price of the Inputs increases, barbecuers everywhere whether contest competitor, restauranter, or backyard enthusiast are forced to make a conscious decision about whether to risk sacrificing the Product or the Process for the sake of saving money on the Inputs. You see the quality of the meat directly affects the quality of the barbecue. Good meat usually equates to better barbecue, and likewise cheap meat and short cuts to the process of barbecue usually results in below average barbecue.

To illustrate this point, the next time you purchase a brisket at the local butcher or warehouse club store, buy a cheap brisket flat and purchase a CAB or prime grade brisket and cook them both and compare the results. I would be willing to bet that all things being equal in the cooking method that the better grade of brisket (CAB or Prime) will produce a better tasting end result. Since the better grades of brisket are in relatively shorter supply, the price is higher.

There are several intangibles to barbecue that might warrant the extra investment or higher commodity prices such as: entertainment factor, fun factor, and the opportunity to learn or experience something new.

Everytime we write a check for a barbecue contest entry fee or pull out the debit card to make a meat purchase, we make the conscious decision that the intangibles outweigh the tangibles.

Just some food for thought.

Monday, February 06, 2006

BBQ Fundraiser

The Madison Ribberfest in Madison, IN, home of the Indiana State Championship Barbecue Contest, implemented a unique and very effective fund raising concept--selling pig statue sponsorships to local businesses. In return the pigs are decorated by the businesses and displayed at the event. The public "votes" for their favorite by making a monetary donation to their favorite pig. The money raised is used to fund a scholarship for local students. What a great idea!

John Deere Pig

Pigmania Fund Raiser

Lance Armstrong Pig

Sunday, February 05, 2006

BBQ Discussion Boards

Like most avid competition enthusiasts, I enjoy reading and participating in bbq discussion boards. Discussion boards offer bbqers a chance to learn, discuss, express and share thoughts, ideas, successes, failures, hopes and dreams with other enthusiasts.

Here's a list of some of my favorites:
The Smoke Ring
Austin National Smokers
BBQ Source
The BBQ Forum
Barbecue News
BBQ Chat
Virtual Weber Bullet

If your favorite isn't listed, please drop me an e-mail so I can check it out and add it to the list.

Bill and the Dixie Chicks

I noticed today that Bill and Nina from "Bill and the Dixie Chicks" competition barbecue team are publishing a web site. It's got some nice pictures of their pellet cooker, some turn-in boxes, bbq recipes, their cook-off trophies and awards, and a variety of other candids.

Linda and I used to cook with Bill and Nina in the Kansas City Barbeque Society and Florida Barbecue Association events in Florida. They're good people. If you see them at a barbecue contest, stop by and say hello.

I recall one time at a contest in Ockochobee, FL (our second bbq contest ever), Bill was set-up in the site next to ours and noticed that I was struggling with spare ribs preparation and offered some advice that I use to this day. He showed me how to trim the spares "St. Louis-style" and demonstrated the value of a very sharp knife for this process.

Bill and Nina also offer a bbq contest "experience" that you might find valuable.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

BBQ Joints in the News

I was out surfing the web tonight and ran across these articles on barbecue restaurants:

Spiced Right Barbecue Smokehouse
Hank's Smokehouse
Lacy's Smo'kin Rib House
Bobby Q

And just in time for the Superbowl....all the way from Seattle.....Roy's BBQ

I'm getting hungry!

Friday, February 03, 2006

Barbecue, Blues and Music You Can Use

Barbecue and Blues Music go hand in hand with me. They are two of my favorites things to do in Nashville-- eat bbq and listen to blues music.

Stacy Mitchhart is a rising star in the blues community and has been featured in magazines and on television not to mention at blue festivals across America.

I first discovered his music at Bourbon Street Blue and Boogie Bar in Nashville about 7 or 8 years ago. For those recognize the name, Gretchen Wilson used to be a bar tender there. They have live blues music, 7 nights a week.

Stacy was working with the house band there and played pretty much every Friday and Saturday for three or four years straight. He's had several CD's out with a new one scheduled for release very soon.

I think there is an article coming out in one of the industry's guitar magazines very soon that will feature Stacy on the cover.

He just returned from doing 3 shows in NYC with the legend himself, B.B King.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Competition Barbecue

If you've ever considered competing in a bbq contest I would encourage you to jump in and try it out. You'll have fun, you'll meet a lot of people, and you'll challenge yourself to improve you bbq cooking abilities. Best of'll give an excuse to cook more often, because you're going to need to practice a lot. The neighbors will love you for it because there will be lots and lots of leftovers from the practice cooks and from the contests.

During a typical bbq contest you will cook a variety of meats for the judges including chicken, pork ribs, pork butt and beef brisket. At a contest I cook 24 chicken thighs, 6 rack of ribs, 2 pork butts and 2 briskets. I cook a lot of chicken because it's cheap and because it allows more selection when picking out the best pieces for the judges samples.

You don't have to spend a lot of money on fancy equipment to start competing. A Weber Smokey Mountain and a kettle grill or two will get you started. A low budget set-up would be to purchase 2 WSM's and use your kettle grill for chicken, or if you're already an avid qu'er, you could purchase a Backwoods Party or Competitor Model.

We hauled everything in the back of our short bed Ford F-150 and still had room in the front for two passengers. Don't get me was a tight fit sometimes, but with a little creative packing, we made it work.

I use a Backwoods Party and a WSM, with pretty good results. I've placed well in some contests and can honestly say that I doubt if the cooker has very much to do with the quality of my contest results. I need to better utilize those cookers to their fullest potential.

My wife and I got started with a total cash outlay of about $1,500 and then budgeted about $500 per contest for entry fees, gas, meals, and contest meat.I know it sounds like a lot of money....because it is. You're competing against 20-50 other teams and the odds of winning grand champion are not very good unless you're on top of your game, should have some fun and learn alot.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Gas Grill Causes Injury

I don't own a gas grill.

I've always been partial to cooking with charcoal and definitely like the flavor.

This article from Australia details the hazards that gas grills can sometimes present. With a gas grill, things can get out of hand pretty quickly.

For those using gas grills for cooking, exercise caution. Before firing up the grill, or any gas powered appliance whether it be a camp stove, turkey fryer, etc., it's wise to check for gas leaks. A little soapy water doused on the connections will help diagnose leaks quickly. If there is a leak, the soap will blow into bubbles and you should be able to detect the leak and repair the leak before attempting to cook with the grill.

Weber Smokey Mountain

I love my Weber Smokey Mountain water smoker. For affordability, ease of use, and portability you won't find a better cooker.

The WSM was my first cooker and I still use it regularly. I use it to cook brisket in competition and we've done pretty well with many top-five finishes. The WSM help you impress the in-laws with your new bbq skills. Pork ribs, pork butts, beef ribs, brisket....the WSM cooks them all equally well.

With the WSM you don't have to worry about adding wood or charcoal like you do with an offset smoker. The efficiency of it's upright cooking structure help the WSM maintain steady cooking temperatures for 10+ hours with ease.

I've put meat on to cook at midnight, went to bed and woke up in the morning with the meat nearly cooked.