Sunday, April 30, 2006

Better Barbecue: Day #11 in the series

The dates of our first bbq contest of the year, the weekend of May 20-21, are approaching quickly. The inaugural Bodacious Blues and Barbecue Festival sponsored by Red Gold was one our favorite contests last year. With several of the first year kinks worked out, I'm sure this year's event will be even better.

To prepare for the event I'm going to spend next weekend cooking a "simulated" contest in my backyard beginning with my arrival home from work next Friday afternoon. I'll simulate site set-up, meat preparation, cooking all four meat categories, turn-in box presentation and adhere to the contest timeline closely.

I think it's important to give it at least one run through before the first contest of the year to make sure all equipment is in working order, the needed supplies are packed, and if there are things missing from our stash of barbecue contest supplies, we'll have plenty of time to get them before the first event.

This week I placed a few orders from by favorite bbq sauce suppliers and picked up some other "secret" items here and there.

Simulating a bbq contest is an absolute must for 1st time competitors. In fact, before my first event I cooked several "events" in my back-yard to figure out the desire timeline I would need at the actual contest.

I take notes during all my practice cooks, but these simulated events are very important to gauge the accuracy of my assumptions and gain confidence as we embark on another exciting summer of competitive bbq cooking. They also help me knock the figurative cob webs out of the way before we travel to the first event.

If you're in Carmel, IN three weekends from now, be sure to stop by and say hello. We'll be set-up in the parking lot behind the City Hall.

To read the previous post in this series, click here

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Better BBQ: Day #10 in the Series

I'd like to share some principles today that have not only helped me improve my bbq competition efforts, but that have affected my life in general the past several years.

I think there is a tendency these days to desire a "quick fix", a "magic potion", or even a "trick" that will allow us to take short cuts to obtain the results we desire. In extreme cases, depending on the root of the desire, there are those that may even consider bending the rules or even out right cheating to gain a competitive advantage.

Several years ago while waiting in the Nashville, Tennessee airport for a plane taking me to Baltimore, Maryland for a new position with my company, I purchased a book authored by Rick Pitino, currently a coach at the University of Louisville and previously a coach for the University of Kentucky and the NBA's Boston Celtics. The book is titled, Success is a Choice -- Ten Steps to Overachieving in Business and in Life and is a real "unsung" hero in the world of motivational business books in my opinion.

If you're looking for insight that will help you prepare for bbq competitions, reading this book would be a good start to get a "leg up" on the competition. This book discusses the principles that Rick Pitino has used to be a winner at virtually every level of basketball competition. I'm convinced these same principles will help you become a better bbq contest competitor.

I've been a competitive person starting at a young age and played baseball, basketball, participated in the cross-country and track field, sang in the school choir, and played in the band. The book is not so much a book about sports as it's a book about life. Although there are parallels drawn to sports relating stories and people that have played basketball for or with Rick Pitino throughout his career, there are other parallels drawn to the general day-to-day things like being a good student, a team player, a good employee, and a good manager.

Principles discussed in Rick Pitino's excellent book that he attributes to his success in business, on the basketball court and in life:

Build Your Self-Esteem

Set Demanding Goals

Always Be Positive

Establish Good Habits

Master the Art of Communication

Learn from Good Role Models

Thrive on Pressure

Be Ferociously Persistent

Learn from Adversity

Survive Your Own Success

I urge you to read this book. I think you'll be surprised at the thought provoking basic message that emanates from its pages.

One of my favorite parts of the book are the pages Pitino devotes to a story about Billy Donovan, a former University of Kentucky player and currently renowned basketball coach at the University of Florida. This average player has become one of the tip-top coaches in NCAA basketball by following the Pitino principles. Donovan wasn't the fastest, the tallest, able to jump the highest, or even score the most points, however, true to Pitino's teachings Donovan learned to make the most of what skills he did have. In a few years an average basketball player became a good player and a good player has become a great coach.

In the words of renowned economist, Milton Friedman, "There is no free lunch," and that goes for basketball, for bbq, for work, for family, and for life in general.

You must make a choice to succeed by working hard, being honest with yourself and being persistent.

To read the previous article in this series click here

Other books by Rick Pitino

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Ultimate BBQ Tow Vehicle

Every since I first laid eyes on one of these land yachts, I've often daydreamed about owning one.

I can't say that I would enjoy filling this baby us with diesel fuel at today's pump prices, but then again if my budget could afford this American Eagle Coach manufactured by Fleetwood, I doubt that I'd worry about purchasing the fuel to drive it to bbq competitions.

Back to reality.....

8-Passenger Ford Explorer 4 x 4; 21 miles mpg without trailer and about 14 mpg towing our 16 ft tandem axle bbq trailer

Thursday, April 27, 2006

BBQ Price Index

I thought it would be interesting to post a survey today in the spirit of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) which the Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes on a monthly basis.

The survey will derive the monthly "BBQ Price Index" and I will post it on a monthly basis going forward to help indicate whether the overall trend of consuming, preparing and selling bbq is rising or falling each month.

Please replay by e-mail or via the comments button below to participate in the survey. My replies are in red below.

1. What is the price per pound of a an untrimmed CAB brisket in the town where you live?


2. What is the price per pound of a pork butt or shoulder in the town where you live?

$1.05 (pork butt)

3. What did you spend on the last bbq meal you purchased in a restaurant?

$23 including tip (for 2 adults)

4. How many opened bottles of bbq sauce do you currently have in your refrigerator?

9 bottles/jars as of last Saturday before we threw out 4 of them, 5 currently

5. How many bottles of opened bbq spice rub do you currently have in your cupboard?

8 bottles, and in a couple of instances there are 2 of the same kind opened

My own personal BBQ Price Index: 40.35

I look forward to your responses to the survey.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

BBQ: An accurate indication of future beef prices?

Loyal readers of this blog about bbq may remember my previous post on the "bbq commodities market" from last year.

I was poking around on the internet tonight and ran across a futures trading web site that actually substantiates my basic point. BBQ influences the commodities directly and indirectly everyday.

Disclaimer: I don't trade the futures markets and do not profess to be qualified advisor for futures trading, but I thought it interesting that a futures brokerage web site used the "upcoming bbq season" as a justification to potential clients to consider purchasing a futures contract for live cattle.

As a side bar--If you believe futures prices are an accurate prediction of upcoming market trends, it sounds like beef prices will be falling soon, but someone forgot to tell my local butcher. Premium cut Certified Angus Brisket (CAB for short) is being sold locally here in Michigan for upwards of $3.50 per pound.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Three Compartment Sink

The BBQ Guy's mom admiring the new sink.

The BBQ Guy taking a break during the sink installation.

These pictures were taken during the process of installing the new three compartment sink in my bbq trailer this weekend. My parents drove up from Missouri and worked all weekend installing the sink, which is complete with water hook-up from outside the trailer and an outside drainage pipe.

The hot water heater, fresh water and grey water tanks will have to wait until next year.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

After 24-hours in Michigan...

He just couldn't take it anymore! LOL

Actually that's my father exhausted, but not too exhausted to act out for the camera, after spending the day working on my bbq trailer.

BBQ Practice

Practice cook for our first competition this year in Carmel, IN. We spent most of the day installing a new three-compartment sink in our mobile bbq trailer. I'll post some pictures soon.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Watkins Cookbook circa 1948

I acquired a genuine cooking artifact a couple of years ago by way of Ebay--a Watkins Family Cookbook.

I've been flipping through it tonight and getting quite a chuckle. I'm amazed at the amounts of "lard", "grease", "fat" and "drippings" used in the recipes.

I'll share some of my favorites with you soon.

There's a barbecue sauce recipe I plan to try. If it's any good I'll post it here.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

How to Start Cooking in BBQ Contests

I ran across a question today on a discussion board fasking about what types of equipment is needed to begin cooking bbq with intentions of competing. I've listed them before, but since bbq season is upon us, I wanted to share them again.

These expenses can be minimized with careful planning, but starting with a limited budget, can be challenging. We spent about $1,400 on the equipment and supplies before we even bought the meat for our first contest. We also helped another cooking team for a few competitions to learn what supplies were absolutely necessary and which ones we could live without. Can it be done for less money? Maybe. It depends on how many "creature" comforts you need from the "nice to have" list.

Some “must have” items you will need:

Ice Chests
Electric cords
Wash Basins
Lawn Chairs
Cutting boards
Paper towels
Dish cloths
Dish towels
Heavy duty oven BBQ mitts/gloves
BBQ Utensils
Dishwashing detergent

Some “nice to have” items:

Two-way radios
Utility Trailer
Hot water heater
Sleeping bag
Sleeping cot
Rain coat
Rain boots
Ash bucket
Team uniforms

You'll also need to decide how much meat to purchase, where to find the meat you'll be using, whether buy whole briskets or flats, whether you will cook breasts, thighs, or drumsticks, whether you prefer shoulders or butts and, lastly, spare ribs or baby back/loin backs.

All of these questions have pro's and con's. That's where your personal preferences, experiences, budget and what type of cooker you'll be using will come into play. And of course, answers to these questions will depend on what you think will win consistently.

Before we decided to begin competing we visited some contests and helped another team to get an idea of the commitment involved. We were able to haul of these items in the back of our Ford F-150 with some careful and creative packing.

Mountain Man Breakfast

(in #10 Dutch Oven)

1. brown a half pound of bacon and cut into small pieces

2. add one half diced onion

3. once bacon is brown and onion cooked remove onion and bacon

4. add 32 ounces of hash browns (I used a frozen package or Ore Ida)

5. once hash browns are browned, return bacon and onion back to oven

6. add 12 eggs scrambled and cook until eggs begin to firm up

7. add one half pound of shredded cheddar cheese

8. just before serving and as cheese melts, add salsa to taste

(This makes enough for 6 to 8 people.)

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Seafood Gumbo

I was hunting around on the internet this a.m. looking for something to cook in my dutch oven today and ran across this recipe for gumbo by Diana Rattray.

The recipe as it stands is a little bland, but I added 2 teaspoons of Old Bay Seasoning to add more depth to the flavors. I also used quick serve rice that comes in the plastic packets and added three packages directly to the gumbo about 15 minutes before adding the seafood. It worked well.

Seafood Gumbo

1 1/2 cups crabmeat
2 pounds shrimp, in shells
3 quarts water
2 small bay leaves
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 small onion, cut in wedges
black pepper
2 pounds okra, sliced
4 tablespoons bacon grease, divided
4 tomatoes, peeled & chopped
2 onions, finely chopped
2 green peppers, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste
4 tablespoons brown roux
reserved shrimp stock
salt, pepper, thyme, parsley, to taste
hot cooked rice
2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning (my addition)

In a large Dutch oven boil the water with bay leaves, lemon juice, onion wedges, salt, pepper, and parsley. Wash shrimp and add to pot; boil for 2 minutes. Peel shrimp and return shells to the stock for later use.

Put shrimp and crab meat in refrigerator until ready to add to the gumbo.

Saute okra in 2 tablespoons bacon grease in large heavy skillet. The okra will turn darker as it cooks. When okra is soft, transfer to a stew pot and add tomatoes. Stir and mix together well. Clean skillet and heat remaining 2 tablespoons bacon grease. Sauté the chopped onion, green pepper, and red pepper. When soft, add to the stew pot.

In a saucepan, warm the roux; strain shrimp stock and stir into the roux. When well-blended, add to the large stew pot with the other ingredients. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, adding more strained stock if needed. Taste and add salt, pepper, thyme, and parsley to taste. Simmer for 1 to 2 hours longer; add the shrimp and crab meat and cook for 15 more minutes.

Serve with fresh boiled rice in soup bowls.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Grandma's BBQ Sauce

My mom gave me a copy of my grandma's recipe for bbq sauce. I thought I'd share it here.

1 1/2 cups of ketchup
2 tblsp of flour
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tblsp brown sugar
1 tblsp yellow mustard
1/2 cup vinegar
3/4 cup water

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Competition BBQ Trailer

I ran across a posting tonight on e-Bay that caught my eye.

For a competition bbq cook that's looking to upgrade their operation, this is a nice looking trailer at a reasonable price.

The trailer is a 21 ft bumper pull trailer with smoker capacity to cook up to 60 briskets at one time or up to 50 slabs of ribs! The trailer has a french fry slicer, turkey fryer and propane.

It sounds like a nice opportunity.

Here's some pictures:

Side view
Front view
Front view

Bidding starts out at about $7,000. I don't think you could build a trailer like this for less money.

Here's an enclosed concession trailer from the same folks.

Gas Prices Got You Down?

Like most folks, I am getting pretty disgusted with the price of gasoline. It just keeps going up, up, up with no end in sight. It is beginning to be a serious problem that has been influencing my bbq budget directly. Last year I had to forgo a few contests at the end of the year becasue the cost to transport the equipment there was just too great. Before too long it is going to hit $3 a gallon and when that happens, I am going to have to cut bbq contests out of the budget for a while.

At the start of the last bbq season in 2004 I recall paying about $1.50 for gasoline. As I write this gasoline here in Michigan is selling for $2.85 in the community where I live. That increase in gas prices hits bbq competitors pretty hard.

The potential prize money isn't going up fast enough on average to offset the rising costs of competing. Competitors and judges are having to decide based on market forces whether or not the cost of competing and judging is offset by the benefits, including the potential for recouping the costs and the intangible value included in the mere challenge and enjoyment of it. I am sure contest organizers are affected also in the form of fewer vendors, fewer competitors and fewer potential judges for their events.

BBQ restaurants aren't faring well either. Folks are staying at home more and spending less on luxury and convenience items and one of the first expenses that gets slashed is eating out at restaurants.

I read an article last week announcing that one of the large oil companies earned a profit of $31 billion last year. That astronomical profit was earned at the expense of the ordinary average guys and gals like you and me. Kind of discouraging isn't it?

Unfortunately it kind of looks like high gas prices are here to stay.

Some potential solutions for reducing the cost of competing:

1. Downsize what you take to contests. Less weight equals better gas mileage.

2. Trade your motor home for a pick-up truck or van and small utility trailer.

3. Plan your route to save driving miles. Take a direct route and reduce traveling speed. A 5 mph reduction will improve gas mileage on long trips.

4. Make sure your tires are properly inflated. Low tire pressure cause reduced gas mileage.

5. Swap out your big offset cookers for smaller, portable cookers such as Backwoods, WSM, Ranch Kettle or the new knockdown cookers being offered by the BBQ Guru folks such as the Caldera.

6. Prioritize your expenses to make room for bbq. Take a sack lunch to work instead of eating out and skip the $3 and $4 cups of gourmet coffee for breakfast.

There are a myriad of things that you can do to help make room for bbq contests in your budget, but this short list should help get you started.

If I've missed anything obvious, feel free to post it by clicking the "comments" link below.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Bite Through BBQ Chicken Skin

The 10th Installment of the 31-days to Better Barbecue Series

Chicken experiment update:

I just finished up a taste test on some more chicken tests this weekend. I cooked the chicken using my low and slow method and basted with some beer and some lemon juice to continue my experiment from last weekend. Both the beer and the lemon juice gave the skin a nice color and both defintely affected the texture of the skin.

I've heard tell of some folks using corn starch, lemon juice, butter, apple cider vinegar, and beer among others. I've even heard rumblings that plain old table salt will add to chicken's ability to "crispening" characteristics.

I chose the beer at random and went with ReaLemon juice from concentrate for the test. I preferred the results using the lemon juice to the beer, but the color was definitely better on the chicken spritzed with beer.

Many bbq cooks prefer instead to cook chicken using higher heat, say 275-300 degrees. That's just not my cup of tea. I love the results I get from an overnight maridade and 225 degrees. I'm convinced it's a more consistent approach. I cooke the chicken to 165 degrees internal and it's always very tender and juicy.

The both spritzing agents did crispen the skin, but the lemon juice produced a better result this time.

I also picked up some of the K.C. Masterpiece Hickory Brown Sugar bbq sauce and Cattlemen's Honey flavored bbq sauce while at the store on Friday. I added honey to both and added the sauce as a finishing sauce near the end of the cooking process. For chicken, I preferred the K.C. Masterpiece to the Cattlemen's. The Cattlemen's did not produce the color I was looking for.

If you'd like to share your theory for "bite" through chicken skin, feel free to post a comment.

Read the previous article in this series

Use of Garnish at BBQ Contests

It seems to me that as long as lettuce is allowed in the contest rules, you almost have to use it. I think KCBS could save competitors some money and headaches if they adjusted the rules to disallow the use of lettuce for everyone. Besides the money and inconvenience, I believe it's a potential health issue for the contest judges.

For one contest last year we had to go to 4 different stores to find enough high quality lettuce for a contest. At the Carmel contest, my wife gave one of the contest reps, who I believe was also on the board of directors, an ear full about it. She might not have been so vocal if she'd realize he was on the board, but as I told her at the time, the board members are elected to represent the membership/competitors, so she had a right to voice an opinion. This board member did not agree with her view that lettuce is unnecessary.

I seem to do well in lettuce contests, so I don't mind using it. I just think it's unnecessary. If enough people voice these opinions consistently, I think it will change over a period of time.

I'd like to see the issue put to rest once and for all by allowing the entire KCBS membership to vote on it.

What do you think?

Comments are welcome, both "pro" and "con". I look forward to hearing your views on the subject. Click the link below to post a comment.

Smoke and Spice Win Again--Viera FL

Smoke and Spice of Homestead, FL walked away with the victory in the KCBS event held Saturday in Viera, FL. Congratulations Mark Rogers!

To my knowledge, Mark is probably one of the very few bbq competitors who actually earns his living almost exclusively from bbq catering. I've had the pleasure of competing against Smoke and Spice many times at Florida Barbecue Association events and wish Mark and his team continued success.

Currently the team sits in 4th place in the FBA Team of the Year standings and have earned many victories this year.

Mark is a great guy and proof that perseverance pays off when it comes to bbq. Tweaking the process a little bit here and a little bit there has paid huge dividends for the team for the 2006 season. Based on pictures posted on the, it looks like those competition bbq classes from Dr. BBQ and Paul Kirk are beginning to pay big dividends.

Smoke and Spice is a team to reckon with on the Florida circuit this year.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Dollywood's Bluegrass and BBQ

Dolly Pardon is a bbq fan. I just read an article on Cybergrass that Dollywood has added a bbq and bluegrass event to it's list of attractions for 2006.

I didn't see the contest listed on the KCBS web site of events yet this a.m., but I'm guessing the bbq contest will be KCBS sanctioned.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Michigan BBQ Restaurants

I'm going to be introducing a new series of articles to the bbq blog over the course of the next two or three weeks.

Since the weather is getting nice for motorcyle riding, I'm going to be firing up the V-Twin and hitting the highway in search of some Michigan barbecue restaurants. I might venture into Ohio too, if I get a bead on some good bbq in northern Ohio. This way I can partake in three of my favorites hobbies at the same time--motorcycles, eating bbq and sharing my passion for bbq with others.

If you've recently visited any good bbq restaurants in the Southeastern Michigan area, shoot me an e-mail. I'll check it out and post my experiences here.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

BBQ Linked to Cancer?

I've read a few online articles today regarding a John's Hopkins study regarding the link between meat cooked at high temperatures and cancer. I tried to locate a copy of the study directly from John's Hopkins via their web site, but so far have not been successful. Apparently the study was presented recently at a gathering of the American Cancer Society.

The articles referencing the study published by New York Post and ABC News (and many others) via the web, refer to "cooking meat at high temperatures" and refer to "meat that is charred" as "bbq".

I've read similar articles in the past referencing similar health issues associated with eating overcooked meat, but most of them reference "eating meat that is charred" and methods of cooking that I associate more closely with grilling than with slow-cooked barbecue.

As with most things, if done in excess or taken to extremes, there are risks associated with them. Drinking too much alcohol, smoking cigarettes, not eating a balance diet, listening to loud music with head phones, staring at a computer for hours and hours at work every day, and on and on and on...are associated with negative health risks. In my own experience, there aren't very many things that don't have harmful side effects.

Given enough time, I suspect that I could locate research on just about anything that associates it with cancer.

But, a word to the wise for those that haven't yet experienced the joys of slow-cooked bbq...don't eat burnt meat that is cooked at high temperatures with a lot of charred fat on it. It's probably not good for you.

I know one thing for won't catch me eating stuff like that. It probably doesn't taste good either.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Contest Chicken; Better BBQ Series - #9

My post yesterday about brining gave me an idea for a competition chicken test tomorrow. I'm going to prepare chicken two ways as a test for the upcoming season.

Here's how I normally cook chicken in contests:

1. Start with Amish chicken thighs

2. Trim excess skin and fat

3. Sprinkle with rub

4. Refrigerate and marinade for 6 - 8 hours in Ziploc bag with Italian Salad Dressing

5. Remove from Ziploc bag and place directly on smoker

6. Cook at 225-235 degrees for 2 hours

7. Check temperature, should be about 150 degrees

8. Sauce with "secret" sauce

9. Continue cooking for another 30-40 minutes

10. Check temperature, should be between 165-175 degrees

11. Remove from smoker

Chicken cooked according to this time-tested and reliable recipe have allowed to win the chicken category at many FBA sanctioned bbq cook-offs, a KCBS event last year, and consistently places near the top of the field in almost every event we've entered.

The drawback to this recipe, however, is that although the chicken is tender, juicy and as near perfect as I can make it; the skin is sometimes "rubbery" and hard to bite through.

Tommorrow I'm going to experiment with a version of Jim Minion's honey chicken brine recipe that includes water, salt, tender quick, honey, bay leaves, ground cloves and pickle spice and complete a direct comparison to our normal contest recipe. During the cooking process I'm going to spritz with a mixture of lemon juice and lime juice in an attempt to "crispen" the skin a little.

I've tried the lemon juice thing a few times and although it did not competely solve the skin issue, it did seem to firm up the skin a lot.

I am not a fan of "hot and fast" chicken cooking because it leaves too much room for error, but I'm going to continue to experiment with alternative ways to achieve a "bite-through" skin on my contest chicken thighs.

Read the previous article in the series.

Peace, Love and Barbecue

I purchased a new bbq book a few weeks ago: Peace, Love and Barbecue

Now that I've had a chance to read through most of it, I felt it was time to update this previous article about the book.

The authors, Mike Mills and daughter Amy, take readers through a history of barbecue, share recipes, discuss the bbq circuit, and the bbq restaurant business. The book begins with a family history about how the Mill's moved from Missouri to Illinois and details some of the Mills' family influences that held bbq in such high regard.

The book starts out more like a novel than a cookbook, which personalizes the bbq experience for readers. There are a lot of personal family memories, anecdotes and details about some of the "whys" behind the Mills' family bbq obsession.

It's got a lot of cool black and white photographs and "secret" recipes from the family cookbook. The book also details how Mr. Mills got his start in the bbq business, his early influences, and recent successes as he expands his bbq reach to Las Vegas and New York with the Memphis Championship BBQ restaurants.

I've tried the recipe for the Apple City bbq sauce and it's pretty good. I look forward to trying the rubs and numerous side-dishes.

This 3-time Memphis in May champion and winners of countless bbq awards, has written a book that the bbq community should be proud of.

Previous article about my favorite bbq books