Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Martin's BBQ Joint -- BBQ Restaurant

Want to start your own bbq restaurant? Well there's a guy in Nolensville, TN that did it and from the posts on his blog, things are going pretty well.

Martin's BBQ is located at 7215 Nolensville Road Nolensville, TN 37135. My sister-in-law lives just down the road. The next time I'm visiting I simply must stop by and check this place out.

Visit their blog and get the low down on how you can do it too. He doesn't pull any punches about the experience. Check it out!

He pretty much details the entire thought process of opening his new restaurant. From finding a place, buying a cooker, to hiring staff. There's posts about negotiating withe banker, discussion about break even analysis and details about opening day. Interesting reading if you're thinking about opening a bbq joint.

Competition BBQ Secrets

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Cooking Pulled Pork

I cooked two pork butts yesterday and documented the cooking times and cooking temperatures. From studying the graph I found it interesting how long it took the pork butts to start heating up.

Some contest cooks prefer to allow the meat to set out at room temperature for a period of time to allow the meat to warm up. The theory is that allowing the meat to reach room temperature before cooking allows the spice rub to penetrate deeper into the meat. Although it might be true, I do not subscribe to that process and caution you against using that technique. Allowing meat to "set out" like that opens up the possibility for contamination and spoilage. Remember: Meat should spend no more than 4 hours in the "danger zone" (above 40 degrees and under 140 degrees).

I removed the butts directly from the refrigerator at a temperature just above freezing and placed them on the cooker immediately . The cooker did not start to pull the cold out of the meat until the cooker temperature began to reach 200 degrees.

I've concluded that cold meat actually helps aid in the formation of a smoke ring. I believe that the slower you warm up the meat in the cooker once the "smoking process" starts, the better the resulting smoke ring. I think the smoke ring is more pronouced and more visible when using this technique versus the "room temperature" strategy.

Competition BBQ Secrets

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Bobby Flay Roast Pork Throwdown

I received an e-mail yesterday from Roberto Guerra of La Caja China about an upcoming Food Network program featuring Bobby Flay "throwing down" against Roberto in a pork cooking contest. It sounds like fun. I'll be sure to tune in. As regulars of the bbq blog know, I'm kind of partial to the wooden-box style pig roasters!

Watch the video

When Roberto moved to Miami from Cuba, he found a city passionate about all things Cuban, especially the food. He helped his father start a successful catering company and together they developed an ingenious roasting vessel called La Caja China. Roberto has invited Food Network to participate in a big outdoor Cuban BBQ, where he'll use La Caja China to cook his renowned Cuban Roast Pork. It's marinated in a tangy mojo, and cooked till crispy on the outside and succulent on the inside. But Roberto has no idea that an uninvited guest - Bobby Flay -- is rolling into town with his own Caja China and a challenge to a Roast Pork Throwdown! At this party, the warm flavors of Cuba are spiced with heated competition. Whose pork will pack the biggest punch?

Air Time; April 12, 2007 10:00 PM ET April 13, 2007 1:00 AM ET April 17, 2007 9:30 PM ET

Competition BBQ Secrets

Orion Stainless Steel BBQ Cooker

I've not cooked on an Orion Stainless Steel Cooker or seen one up close yet at this point, but the Home Depot mailer we received today had an advertisement for one. They sell them on Amazon for around $150.00 and Home Depot has them priced at $129.00.
The description says that you can smoke a 20-lb turkey in 2 hours or up to 6 racks of ribs in an hour and 15 minutes.
I'll reserve my judgement about the accuracy of the advertisement because I do not have first hand experience to validate cooking times, but the skeptic in me doubts that a turkey will cook that fast and I also doubt that 6 racks of ribs would be cooked tender.

Competition BBQ Secrets

National Capital Barbecue Battle

I received a press release today announcing Safeway’s 15th Annual National Capital Barbecue Battle On Historic Pennsylvania Avenue, Between 9th and 14th Streets, NW, Washington, D.C.
Saturday, June 23rd, 2007 and Sunday, June 24th, 2007.

Once a year, politics takes a back seat to food, music and family fun when everyone votes “Yea” to Washington’s biggest taste event, the award-winning Safeway’s 15th annual National Capital Barbecue Battle. Held each year on the first weekend of summer, this extravaganza of tastes, sights and sounds offers something for everyone to enjoy.

The Safeway National Capital Barbecue Battle features the National Pork Championship, where barbecue-obsessed teams from across the country compete for over $25,000 in cash and prizes and the coveted title of National Barbecue Champion. The event attracts tens of thousands of local, national and international barbecue enthusiasts who enjoy free food samples in the Safeway Sampling Pavilion, celebrity chefs and on-going cooking demonstrations, every type of mouth-watering barbecue from vendors from across the country, over 25 rock, R&B, jazz and blues bands performing on three stages, kids activities including NBA basketball games for kids led by players and stars, exciting interactive exhibits and much more family fun!

With so much to eat, see and do, it’s no wonder the Safeway National Capital Barbecue Battle has been voted a “Top 10 BBQ Event” by The Travel Channel and, and a “Top 100 Event” in the U.S. by the ABA Travel Industry Association .

The Safeway National Capital Barbecue Battle is also the largest annual fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington Metropolitan Police Clubhouses, and has raised over $800,000 for this very worthwhile organization, as well as several others, in past years.

Visit for more details or call the event info line at (202)828-3099

Competition BBQ Secrets

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Start a Barbecue Restaurant

I ran across an interesting article on about Bo McSwine's quest to start a barbecue business in Lafayette, CA. Bo's Barbecue and Catering has been in operation since 1999.

For those that are not familar with SCORE it's a group of retired or semi-retired veteran entrepreneur's that counsel small business owners or prospective small business owners about creating a business plan, obtaining financing, how to price your product(s), insurance considerations, and much, much more. The SCORE counselors come from a variety of professional backgrounds including banking, small business, corporate business, and the legal profession and have a wide ranging background in all the in's and out's of business ownership and management.

The SCORE website has a lot of free templates that you can use to create your first drafts of a business plan, request for financing, balance sheet, breakeven analysis, and loan amortization spreadsheet among others to use when holding discussions with your local SCORE counselor.

They've even got an online reading room with articles relating to the business community.

Competition BBQ Secrets

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Tale of Two Barbecue Restaurants

With my barbecue cookers in storage for a few weeks I haven't been able to cook barbecue for awhile. To compensate for this, I've spent some time visiting and researching a few popular barbecue restaurants in the area. Both restaurants appear successful (in my personal view), but based on my experiences eating there, neither have especially "good" barbecue.

The "first" example is one of the first bbq chains that decided to expand on a nationwide basis. I'll not mention the name here because it's not really important to illustrate my point, but to barbecue enthusiasts it offers a valuable lesson. It's part of a restaurant conglomerate and in my opinion not a true representation of the "real barbecue" culture that most readers probably think of when they picture a "barbecue restaurant", but it's hard to argue with the success of the chain. From a strictly business standpoint, I'm sure it's successful. Their restaurants are nearly always busy, they're large and clean, and most have been constructed brand new from the ground-up within the past 5-years. The seating capacity is more than 150 people and they are lined with televisions on every wall. They even have a bar area. More and more of these restaurants are popping up on interstate exits across the eastern part of the country.

As someone who has dedicated a lot of time and effort studying barbecue these past few years something is missing from the dining experience when I've eaten there. It kind of reminds me of going to McDonald's for barbecue. The barbecue is kind of bland, but consistent; and it's served with a selection of sauces ranging from hot, to sweet, to mustard-based. The brisket is their best menu item, but it's not heavily promoted by the waitstaff. The quality of the barbecue compared to the best barbecue I've eaten is adequate, but it doesn't have the same knock-your-socks-off quality that I first experienced eating my first barbecue sandwich at a small roadside stand in Dickson, TN back in 1991. In a nutshell, it has no "wow-factor".

In contrast there is another family owned barbecue operation that my co-workers rave about from time-to-time located within a mile of the "barbecue factory" discussed above. It's been in operation for 11-years, according to their website, and is owned by two local gentlemen that saw a business need and filled it. This second example is smaller, older and not as clean as the other one, but both times I've eaten there the line of folks waiting to order stretched from the cash register to about 20 people deep inside the store. It was standing room only so that the line of customers waiting to order stretched out the door onto the sidewalk. They can't ring up the cash register fast enough. And people go on-and-on about how good the barbecue is.

While eating there with a group of friends last week one of them put me on the spot and asked if I thought it was good barbecue. I could have gone all day without having to answer that question because the group I was eating with sincerely thought it some of the best barbecue they've ever eaten. I responded that it wasn't as good as barbecue I make, or as good as barbecue I've eaten in Tennessee at various mom-and-pop locations, but for "restaurant" barbecue these days, it was simply o.k.

After thinking about it now for a couple of days I've come to realize that the second example was influenced by the first example and probably had to change it's methods of operation to compete with the "barbecue factory" down the street. Since I'm convinced that people don't purposely set out cook just "average" food, that's what I've chosen to believe anyway...and I'm fine with that.

You see the second restaurant has had to develop cost-saving and time-saving methods to compete head's-up with the 800 lb gorilla. Instead of cooking the food using "traditional" methods they sear the pork butts on direct flame for about 5-6 minutes and then wrap in foil immediately. They don't use a spice rub because it would burn on the meat. They appear to use the searing technique to create a simulated bark and they don't allow time for the smoke to penetrate the meat before wrapping it in aluminum foil.

After wrapping, the meat is taken to the kitchen, where I presume it is either cooked in a gas or electric oven to save time. Orders are filled from a steam table that stores what appear to be half-pound portions of pulled-pork wrapped in aluminum foil that is chopped using two meat cleavers as orders are placed by customers. When served the meat is slathered with so much barbecue sauce that it's impossible to eat the sandwich without sauce dripping all over everything; hands and clothes included.

The quaint little hometown mom-and-pop bbq joint has sacrificed it's charm and originality to survive. It not only competes, but thrives against a much bigger and better funded corporate-owned store. It's a barbecue and business reality. I don' t like it, but it is what it is.

I'm sure glad I have my own cookers back again. I think I'm going to have to fire them up again next weekend and cook my own barbecue from now on.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

BBQ Train

This "BBQ Train" by Farmer Grill sold recently on eBay for $12,300. Pretty cool, huh? This item received 55 bids before being awarded to the lucky new owner.

I've seen bbq grills and smokers bulit like trains at various events around the country over the years. At the American Royal I say a "coffin smoker", an airplane smoker, various types of car smokers, a smoker built to resemble an Armadillo, and a metal pig smoker that was huge.