Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Turn Out The Lights........

Yep, the party's over for this year. With the American Royal in the rear view mirror, I now can look back on our 2010 barbecue season. There were some great finishes and some not so hot ones. It was a season where our results let me fly high and roll in the dumpster at the same time. A dove in the hands of judges that could be set free or crushed.

Our 2010 preseason was terrific. The team was very excited for the upcoming season after coming off of our 3rd place Chicken finish at the 2009 American Royal Open. In early January, we appeared on episode 5 of the first season of "BBQ Pitmasters" on TLC. It was great to have our 2009 American Royal experience chronicled for us and to have the cameras there when we received our 3rd place call! It really got our juices flowing.

Our team met in January and planned out some initial competition dates for the first part of the 2010 season and also to lay out our cooking methods for each category. This enabled us to get some dates on the calendar, have more time to prepare for those events and to have a single methodology as to how we would cook each category. Now chicken, ribs, pork and brisket would be cooked one way so each member would know all the time lines and procedures to each category to follow.

Everyone was now on the same page with our cooking process. To insure everyone was comfortable with the cooking methods, we conducted a practice cook in February that followed a contest timeline. Prepping and cooking all four categories, as well as, working out the presentation bugs. It was something we had never done before and was a great tool for us. Armed with all this knowledge, we were ready for the competition season to start!

The decision had been made to start our season in March at the Smoke On The Water contest in North Little Rock, AR. It was not an easy decision to come to. It was the first time that we had argued over something as a team but we worked it out and came to an agreement. The entry fee was steep but the prize money was high. It was the first time we had traveled out of the Kansas City metro area to compete so there would be higher travel costs for us as well. It was also an opportunity for us to get out there with the big boys and show them that we could hang with them. The contest mood was very serious amongst the teams. No partying or carrying on late into the night. With all the top teams there from across the country, this was no ordinary contest but rather an elite invitational. That gnawing pit in my stomach was telling me that we would have to be perfect in order to have a good showing. The cook itself went well. None of the meat gave us any trouble. However, for the first time, some tempers flared up and hung like a dark shadow over the cook. We worked through it and thought all 4 categories had come out well. When the awards ceremony started the rain came with it. It was an ominous foreshadow for what was coming for us. Getting a call in chicken for 12th place gave us hope for good things to come but we sat through the rest of the categories and we were not called again. After waiting for seemed like an hour to get the judging sheets, my heart sank when I saw that we finished 155th out of 225 teams. Dejected, we piled into our vehicles for the long drive home and had our finish to think about each torturous mile. What the hell happened?! On top of this, as the weather on the way home severely deteriorated from rain to sleet to a full blown snow storm, so did our team along with it. The BBQ gods were laying down a severe punishment on us! Why? What had become excitement before the event turned sour after. "What a waste of money!" " It wasn't worth our time!" Looking back, all I can say is hindsight is always an unforgiving bitch! It is so easy to second guess yourself. What I took away from this experience was sometimes you have to get hit in the face to realize who you are and to bring you back to reality (television be damned!) It was a valuable lesson learned, and as it turns out, it wasn't going to be the last time we get KO'd in 2010.

April brought us Spring and also the second stop on our barbecue tour at the Springfield, MO Rockin' Rib Fest. Our team was now a man light and we adjusted accordingly. This was also the second contest we cooked outside of the Kansas City area. Fifty-nine teams showed up to do battle on the grounds of the iconic Bass Pro Shop. This was a great event. We met so many nice folks there who wanted to talk barbecue. Our cook went excellent. It was the most productive and efficient cook we had ever had. Everything went perfect. Our presentation boxes went together so effortlessly and looked terrific. We felt great after the last turn-in and for the first time that great feeling translated into great results. We ended up 6th overall! It was the polar opposite of Little Rock. What a great feeling! However, these results were dampened with the announcement by our 3rd teammate that he would be leaving the team for personal reasons after this contest. It was bittersweet for me. Everyone on the team brings a unique set of abilities that combines to create who we are. Those abilities would be missed as the 2 of us work to fill in the those missing gaps. We would learn that at our next cook.

Deciding to strike while the iron was hot. We chose Belton, MO as stop 3 on our tour. This put us back in the Kansas City metro area to compete for the first time this season. Thirty-three teams showed up to participate that first weekend in May. We felt our chances of having another top 10 finish were very strong. We were now a team of 2 having to adjust to doing the work of a team of 4. For the most part, we were able to do this. The cook was normal with no issues. We felt good about the turn-ins but things were not as smooth as the last contest in Springfield. Our bubble was burst as we received no calls and a 16th overall finish. I was left scratching my head at what happened? How can what was the same tasting product do so well in Springfield but just be average here? As we would find out, this theme would pop up again later in the season. We survived and suffered a TKO for our efforts. It helped prepare us for the next contest in Raytown, MO.

Tour stop 4, Raytown, MO, took place in early June and it was considerably hotter and humid that weekend. After our TKO at Belton, we were eager to prove that we were better than those results. We learned a few things at Belton and didn't want to repeat them. The tone for us was a far more serious one with the emphasis of keeping our focus on the cook. Things went very well until 10:30 am on Saturday morning. A severe thunderstorm ripped through the area. It dumped a tremendous amount of rain for 1.5 hours along with strong winds, hale and lighting. It was all we could do to hold onto the Ez-ups to keep them from blowing away. Some how we made it through and miraculously the ribs and chicken we were cooking made it through too! We were wet and miserable when we showed up for the award ceremony but it had all paid off. We ended up 7th out of 65 teams overall with a call in Ribs and Brisket. What a great feeling that was! Everything had come together nicely and we had survived the fight.

We sat out the hot part of the summer, or so we thought, and picked up again in mid August at the Sertoma contest in Springfield, MO. This was our 2nd contest here and it was the hottest one too! After setting up on Friday, the temperature was at a cool 111 degrees in the shade. I was already spent and we had not even started prepping yet! Fortunately, we had pre-trimmed the meat before arriving so that helped ease the amount of work we had to do on site. Thirty-two teams were there to battle the heat and eventual rain that rolled in Saturday morning. Once again we had to battle mother nature! Our cook went well except for the brisket. It just would not finish like we wanted it to. By the time it was ready to turn in, it was done but it just didn't have the wow factor we wanted it to have. When the awards ceremony started we felt like we had delivered good product and thought we should hear our name called. Boy did we ever! We were 1st in Chicken, 6th in Ribs and 7th in Pork. It was going to come down to the brisket if we were going to win this thing! Sadly, it let us down and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. We did finish with 5th overall and it was our 3rd top ten finish this season. Had the worm finally turned for us? We were going to find out at the American Royal.

The 6th, and more than likely last stop this season, was last weekend at the American Royal. In a way, it was the closing of this barbecue odyssey circle we have been on this past year. A lot of things have changed in that year's time. We had gone from being a team no one had really heard of to one that got a little publicity from the Pitmasters program. It was a humbling experience and we are thankful for the publicity generated by the show. It has allowed us to meet a lot of great folks this year while competing. It also is an experience that changed us. In a way, it made us turn up the fire to be more serious about competing and wanting to win. Did it take some of the fun away? To me, the answer is no because part of the fun I get out of competing is winning.

Our experience this year was a much quieter one as there were no cameras filming our every move and also that there were only 2 of us instead of 4. The cook went flawlessly. We even entered in the sausage category for the first time. Our boxes looked great and we both thought everything tasted excellent. We were very excited for the award ceremony. When the awards started I had that nervous/excited feeling come over me. As the top 20 was announced by the emcee in each category, I hung on every word waiting to hear our name called. When he called us for 6th in Sausage, I was elated! Our first time out with that category and we make the top 10! I thought that was a good omen as to what was coming. Once again, I was wrong! The ceremony went by without our name being called. We looked at each other and said maybe we were just outside the top 20 on each category. When we got the overall results and finally found our team name at 212th place overall, I was disappointed. What happened? Were we that bad? What were the judges thinking or not thinking? Myron Mixon was right when he said that this event is a total "crap shoot!" Our Chicken entry was spot on and was no different than last years 3rd place entry but this year it was a paltry 285th! What a dagger to the heart. I know our product is better than what it was scored at! Just like at the beginning of the season, we are KO'd at the end too! I'm off the canvas and I'm ready for next year!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Will The Real Pitmasters Please Stand Up

Well, we are now 3 episodes into the newly formatted "BBQ Pitmasters" on TLC. I guess the best way to describe what I have seen so far is part game show, part "American Idol" and part "Chopped". It is reminiscent of past barbecue competition series in its format and style but with some new twists.

Gone is the public access to what happens to teams on the competition circuit and in is what happens to these teams in a controlled contest environment. The show reaches beyond a typical barbecue contest by asking cooks to prepare more than just brisket, chicken, ribs and pork butt. By adding a wildcard meat category and side category, the show tries to extend the range of each cook. Thus turning the competition into something that should be called America's Best BBQ Caterer.

I am not a big fan of the new format. I know "chopping" someone after their first turn-in helps build drama but it detracts from the show overall. If I was sent home for what was judged as inferior alligator, without tasting my pork butt entry, I would be hot! Just like Kyle Laval of TheSlabs did regarding his seafood turn-in. In addition, the sides also seem to be getting in the way of the judging too. All of these cooks can produce an excellent barbecue product and the final meat turn-in should determine the winner and not whether someone dislikes mayo in their coleslaw.

Speaking of mayo in the coleslaw, the judges have not been what I expected either. As I thought he would be, Myron Mixon is the best of the three and realizes it is a meat contest and not a sauce contest. Without him there, I really feel the direction of this show would really lose its way. No disrespect to Warren Sapp or Art Smith, but those guys get caught up too much in the sauces and side dishes. I realize this is not a KCBS contest and that the judging process has to be changed in order to account for Sapp's and Smith's lack of barbecue competition knowledge. The whole process seems to come down to who can prepare the best outdoor picnic.

The best part of the show are the teams and they are reason why I am watching. The teams they selected have been terrific. It is a great that my fellow competitors are getting the exposure they deserve. When all is said and done, the winner of this competition will go home with $100K and some major bragging rights on the competition circuit!

I hope that there will be a season three of "Pimasters." It would be nice to see it take place back on the circuit again and to throw in some of the elements of season two with it. Maybe they could sponsor an up and coming team through the competition season and chronicle their quest toward their first grand championship? I know a team that would volunteer for that! When it comes down to it, whatever incarnation TLC chooses, I am just thankful there is a show on television about BBQ!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Springfield, MO Redux - Man v. Heat

It's already mid-August and the summer of 2010 is almost over. It always go by so fast. The posts have been sparse this summer as our activity has slowed down as the heat picked up. However, we have not been totally idle this summer. We have had a few things going on to keep our hands in the smoke.

In July, we were invited to cook at the home of Larry and Donna Reed in Grand Lake, OK. They had a large party for their family and friends in their backyard which offers a spectacular view of the lake. We cooked chicken, spare ribs, boston butt and brisket. It was a very relaxing cook as we set up our smokers with the lake in the backdrop. Watching the smoke rise out of them with the water in the background made for a relaxing day. We all had a great time!

This past weekend we participated in the Cattleman's Ozark BBQ Challenge in Springfield, MO. The event was held at the Ramada Inn Oasis Convention Center on the northeast side of town. Thirty-two teams showed up to do battle. The weather was sweltering with the temperature gauge on our clock reading a cool 111 degrees in the shade! I have never perspired so much. The organizers did a terrific job insuring we had plenty of ice, water and power. We also had access to the air conditioned convention center which was a polar paradise!

The cook itself went well. The rain moved in around 1am and lasted until 430am helping to cool things off for a few hours. The WSM does not like getting wet. I was worried we might run into some trouble trying to maintain our temps but we were able to keep the cookers underneath the ez-up and out of harms way. We did have trouble trying to get our brisket to finish. I can not remember having to struggle so much with one piece of meat. It refused to cooperate and took much longer than normal to finish. Everything else was very cooperative. Once turn-in time arrived, everything went into the boxes very well. I felt all of our presentations were top notch. We did change our pork box presentation. Both of us really liked the new look and hoped that the judges did too.

As the award ceremony started, we both felt that everything came out well but we were a little worried about the troublesome brisket. We were hoping for at least one call on something. The chicken category started off with a bang as we took 1st overall! Wow, what a shot in the arm that was! We heard our names again for ribs in the 6th position followed up with a 7th place call in pork. Well, we are sitting on the edge of our seats now. I was afraid to say anything as to jinx us in brisket. I knew we had a shot at winning but it would take a call in brisket to get it. So we sat as the brisket top 10 was announced and we were not called. It was a little deflating. I thought we still might have an outside shot at winning but ended hearing our names called for 5th place overall. We were still very pleased with the results as we are just that much closer to winning our first contest!
Right now we have one more contest scheduled and that is the American Royal Open. Hopefully with our lessons learned this summer, we can make a good run at it there.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Weighing In On BBQ Pitmasters Season 2

Recently there was a press release regarding the second season of BBQ Pitmasters on the TLC network that left the BBQ world scratching our collective heads. A change in format from season one has everyone wondering what will happen to "our" show? The release talked about celebrity judges and a format that is reminiscent of the cook-off show that appeared a few years back (the one Mike Davis won) on the Versus network.

I have to admit at first I was a little disappointed at the news. After hearing John Markus on Greg Rempe's BBQ Central Radio Show, I have a better understanding why the change was made. Bottom line - it is a business. The ratings for season one were decent but not great. Football and the break out success of "Jersey Shore" made it an uphill climb. According to John, the network could not understand why the teams were not winning every week (Hey, welcome to the world of bbq!) and that the show was not good enough to support another season like the first. A compromise was made resulting in the change of the format.

Filming for season 2 started in Los Angeles yesterday. Four different teams will compete in 5 episodes with the winners competing against each other in the final episode. The celebrity judges are Myron Mixon, Southern Chef Art Smith and ex-NFL star Warren Sapp. The show's host will be Kevin Roberts (the French's mustard shooter) who has been described as a high enery ring-master. The teams that were selected will represent the the entire picture of competition barbecue. They were chosen for their TV appeal, energy and bbq competency (apparently our audition tape missed the mark or we wore out our welcome on season one, either way we needed some shtick and didn't have it.) John said we will see familiar faces and some that should have been on previous barbecue shows but were not.

Season 2 is scheduled to debut this August. Myron Mixon will be one of the remaining straws we can hold on to from the previous season. I am sure he will not disappoint us with his candid opinions, southern colloquialisms and colorful language. Unless someone turns in something completely awful, he should be a strong defender of the cooks to the other judges. That interaction will be fun to watch.

Regardless of what you think of the new format, the impact of season one has been very apparent as it has brought more new teams to the competition circuit this year than ever before. Though we may never see a series dedicated to competition barbecue like season one was, anything on television about barbecue is always good thing!

Good luck to all of the teams competing on season 2!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Belton v. Raytown

Roe v. Wade, Cain v. Abel or Lakers v. Celtics - we all have our battles. For us, it was Belton v. Raytown. Two contests where we followed the same road but ended up at different destinations.

At Belton, fresh off of our Springfield success, we thought we were cruising down the barbecue road in a Cadillac. The barbecue world is a cruel mistress and our Cadillac ended up being a broken down Pinto as we limped to our destination. Upon arrival, we were rear ended and our Pinto, along with our dreams of a top 10 finish, went up in a ball of flames! Thirty four teams did battle and we finish in the middle at 17th. No top ten calls for us that weekend. We tuck our tail between our legs, take our smokers and go home. Gone too is the swagger of Springfield and what we are left with is the second guessing of our skills, processes and presentations. It was a weekend to forget.

Enter the dragon that is Raytown. We backed off competing for over a month before deciding to do Raytown. Humbled by our last experience , we needed to take a more serious approach to what we were doing. The weather was hot with a chance of showers. We hope we can get the cook in without any rain. At 10:15am on Saturday morning, a torrential downpour rolls in. Wind, rain and lightning roll through the contest area. The timing couldn't have been worse. Our chicken goes on at 10:30am and all I can think about is trying to keep the cooker at the temperature we need while a river of water rolls through our prep area. Brant and I our holding on to the ez-ups with thoughts of disaster racing through my head. This is the first time we have ever faced such a ferocious storm while competing. When it's all over, sixty-five teams go into the water and 10 come out on top. The barbecue sharks get the rest. We finish 7th out of the 65 teams overall with a 2nd place rib call and a 4th place brisket call. We did exactly what we set out to do. Finish in the top 10 overall and have at least one call. Mission accomplished! We have the Cadillac back but now we need to remember to respect the road.

Now we reach our down time. We have an event to cook for in July down in Grand Lake, OK and probably won't compete again until mid August in Springfield, MO. Then another break and finish the season at the American Royal in early October. Hopefully, we can continue our winning ways. It would be nice to cook more events to help us be more consistent but the current financial status just won't allow it. So I'll sit back, wait and watch from afar.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Tale Of Two Contests

Well, where to start? Our 2010 competition season has started and we now have 2 contests under our belt with some interesting results.

We did participate at Smoke On The Water in Little Rock, AR. This was the first time we traveled out of the Kansas City metro area to cook. It was very eye opening. The contest itself attracted some of the top teams in the country and we knew we would have to work hard to get a call in any category. The atmosphere was very different from most contests. There was no partying or loud music late into the night. It was very down to business. The game faces were on early Friday and did not come off until the last turn-in. We did meet some new teams and we were able to get an audience with Myron Mixon. Also caught up with Rod Gray of Pellet Envy (The Grand Champion of the event) and Harry Soo and his partner Mark of Slap Yo' Daddy when all was said and done.

Overall, we finished 155th and received a 12th place call in Chicken. We were very pleased with our Chicken call considering the level of cooks we were against. We felt our brisket was the best we had ever cooked but unfortunately the judges thought differently. That's one thing I can always count on, if our team likes it, the judges will not! The contest outcome and the bad weather made it a long drive home.

Now we flash forward to this past weekend at the Rockin' Rib Fest in Springfield, MO. There were 59 teams competing on the grounds of the giant Bass Pro Shop. The contest atmosphere reminded me of a mini American Royal. There were many barbecue/Pitmaster fans who showed up both Friday night and on Saturday. We met and talked to a lot of great folks!

This contest also required that we cook for and serve the public on Saturday after our last turn-in. We had not done this before but found out that 6 pork butts and 2 briskets didn't last very long with the hungry crowd. We did not win any People's Choice Awards but still enjoyed the experience.

As far as the cook process, we felt like it was one of the smoothest we had every had. Everything finished within our normal time range and the presentation boxes went together like clock work (big props to Darrin and Brant.) At the awards ceremony, we were rewarded for our hard work. We placed 10th in chicken, 7th in pork and 2nd in brisket for a 6th place overall finish! The damn ribs did us in this time with a 23rd place! We did receive a nice etched plate from the 417 Magazine for being the 1st place brisket champion in their contest. All in all, a very pleasing result for our second cook of the season!

Next up.....Belton, MO Heritage BBQ Contest on April 30th. Let the good times roll!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Smoke on the Water - T Minus 2 days and Counting

Just a few days now until one of the most anticipated events of the young 2010 barbecue competition season! I'm on the edge of my seat waiting for Friday to get here. Of course, I still have a lot of things left on my to do list before heading out in the wee hours Friday morning.

This winter has seemed extremely longer and colder than past years. I suppose part of that is because of I have been waiting for March 19th to get here just like a kid waiting for Christmas day to arrive. The cold, overcast gloom is finally going to give way to the start of our barbecue season. Surely sunny, warm days are on the horizon?

This contest will mark the furthest we have traveled to compete. That being said, I need to narrow down what I can take to only the essentials. In the past, I have found myself loading items I never touch at a contest (for my first contest I took three barbecue cookbooks - which I never touched!). I will say over the past year I have worked to reduce what I haul to a contest quite a bit. I've found that cluttering up your work area with non-essential items just doesn't make sense. I got so tired of tripping over plastic containers full of things I never touch but thought necessary. Experience is a great teacher and we're all working a little smarter these days.

My goal is to have everything loaded early Thursday evening. Leave Kansas City very early Friday morning and meet up with Darrin and Corey on the highway around Harrisonville, MO. We are shooting for an arrival time around 11 a.m. at the contest site. That will give us time to get set-up and have a little down time before we start our prep work. Brant and his entourage are flying in from Florida so we expect him on site about 5:30 p.m.

There will 228 teams competing for $100k in prize money. The list of teams is like a who's who on the bbq circuit. A good finish here would say a lot about our team. We will really need to be on top of our game to have a shot at a top 40 finish in any category. Regardless of the outcome, it is still very valuable experience for us and another learning opportunity as we "rub" elbows with some of the elite cooks in the country.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Eric Clapton

I was fortunate enough the other night to see Eric Clapton perform at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. This was the first time that I had the chance to see him perform after missing out on opportunities to see him in the 80's and 90's. I liken the whole experience to being in church as you sit and wonder in awe at his guitar playing. Age has not diminished his guitar or vocal skills. Watching him close his eyes and become completely immersed in his playing was truly magical.

He played 15 songs in all. His is set ranged from the blues song "Going Down Slow" to rock standards like "I Shot the Sheriff." Acoustic versions of "Layla" and "Driftin' Blues" were a big hit with the audience. Of course, "Wonderful Tonight" and "Cocaine" closed out the set. He then came back out and played "Crossroads" for the encore which capped a great show.

There were a couple the things I enjoyed about the show. One of which was that EC came out and played through the first 14 songs with no breaks. Also there was no patronizing the audience or preaching from the stage.

Roger Daltrey opened the show and proved he still has the energy and voice to perform. Windmilling the microphone like from days of old, he sang several Who hits and deferred to Pete Townsend's brother Simon to sing "Goin' Mobile." He told the audience the last time he had opened for someone was back in the early 1960's for The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

The amount of rock and roll history and talent displayed on stage that night was amazing!

BACK TO BBQ: We are getting geared up for Smoke On The Water down in Little Rock on March 19th. More updates to follow......

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Countdown To Little Rock!

It's the last day of February. That means March and its eventual warmth are here. The Olympics are in the book and the opening ceremonies for Holla-N-Swalla's barbecue season start on March 19th in Little Rock, AR. No huge fanfare or parades. Just we four with our ez-up and equipment hoping to strike gold, or should I say green, against some of the countries top competition. It will be challenging but it will also be fun! I can't wait to get started!

Last weekend all four of us were able to gather at Darrin's house in Louisburg, KS to have a practice run through of all four KCBS categories (but sadly no cider or doughnuts). A big thanks to Darrin for not only suggesting this but hosting as well! This was the first time we had done this and I am not sure why we never thought about it before?

We have been very fortunate that we all can come to an agreement about how we cook each category. Chicken and ribs have been solid categories. Brisket varies for us -some contests it is great and some not so great and pork has been all over the map. We were looking to incorporate some new procedures in brisket and pork I learned about in the off season. This get together enabled us to successfully work through these new processess. I feel very confident in what we are doing and I'm looking forward to getting things kicked off!

Now we just need the calendar to speed up and the weather to warm up!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Big T's Bar-B-Q

February is the time of year I find most difficult. So close to the warming days of March but yet still locked in winter's death grip. On these gray, cold days, I look for any kind of respite or release from nature's injustice.

My release today was venturing over to Big T's Bar-B-Q on Blue Parkway to meet my buddy Larry for lunch. To be honest, I had not heard of Big T's until about a month ago. We have a gluttony of riches when it comes to barbecue restaurants here in Kansas City and I am guilty for overlooking many of these places. Today, I wanted to extend my barbecue dining experience yet again.

We met at 1pm to avoid the lunch rush. Parking was not an issue and service was friendly and quick. The place itself was clean and appealing. I would describe Big T's as a "BBQ Joint." When you walk in you are immediately hit with the familiar smell of french fries cooking inter-mingled with the aroma of meat smoking. A nice jolt to the senses on such a blah day. The walls were ordained with pictures of past Kansas City sports teams. Black and white pictures of the NBA's long gone Kansas City Kings, a picture of the 1946 Negro Leagues All-Star Game, and a 1998 team picture of the Kansas City Chiefs to name a few. A napkin dispenser, bottle of Heinz ketchup and salt and pepper shakers adorned the tables. Extra barbecue sauce was available if you asked for it at the service counter.

The order process here is quite familiar. Place your order at the counter and they call your number when it's ready. I ordered the brisket on a bun , fries and a small ice tea. The total was $7.81. The brisket was thinly sliced and served with sauce on it (I need to start asking for sauce on the side). The meat itself had a slight hickory smoked flavor while the sauce was sweet and thin. I felt the sauce detracted from some of the flavor of the meat. Also I prefer my brisket to be sliced a little thicker than what I received today. The fries were greasy and were your average fare. Larry ordered the burnt end plate and said that the ends were tender and had a good smokey flavor.

I guess a good sign if you don't like something is to leave it on your plate. Both of our plates were empty so we must have liked it. Is Big T's my favorite barbecue place? No, but I would visit again to try out more of their menu.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Silver Dollar City Festivals 2010: Bluegrass & BBQ

Sweet sounds and sweet sauce will prevail during Bluegrass & BBQ at Silver Dollar City, May 13 through May 31. The top names in bluegrass will perform while experts cook up the ribs and burnt ends. The House of BBQ will serve Memphis dry rubs, sweet and tangy Carolina vinegars, smoky Texas-style and Kansas City-style barbeque that will make your nose twitch and your mouth water.

Silver Dollar City has earned its reputation as one of the nation’s premier amusement parks with events such as Bluegrass & BBQ. Located in Branson, Missouri, within walking distance of the well-known Lodges at Table Rock, Silver Dollar City offers a 1800s-themed environment complete with arts, crafts, cooking lessons, period displays, rides and much more. Bluegrass & BBQ is only one of a number of extended events held throughout the year.

For 19 days, Bluegrass & BBQ will serve up electrifying performances by rising stars and veteran favorites in bluegrass music. They come from all over the country to the place bluegrass belongs, the Ozark Mountains.

Some of the acts you can expect to see and hear include:

Nothin’ Fancy-Formed in 1994 to compete in the East Coast Bluegrass Championship in Crimora, Virginia, Nothin’ Fancy has since released eight albums and one CD single. The group has played the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee; Lincoln Center in New York; and the Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia. The band has also hosted its own festival in Buena Vista, Virginia, and won The SPBGMA Entertaining Group of the Year award in 2008 and 2009.

Red Head Express-This group has it all — a variety of musical styles, dancing, comedy, you name it. And they all get along, even though they’re family: Mom, Dad, four daughters and three sons. They’ve played throughout the Midwest and South in performing arts centers, at festivals and in theaters and opry houses, and they’ve had two seasons playing in Branson.

Hunt Family Bluegrass-Born in Orlando, Oklahoma, in 2004, Hunt Family Bluegrass has become known for its hard-driving style. The family includes Terry, the dad, who plays guitar; Leanne, the mom, who plays bass; 17-year-old Andrew on mandolin and fiddle; and 15-year-old Jonathan, who plays banjo.

In all, about 40 bluegrass bands will perform during Bluegrass & BBQ, and the barbeque will be available the whole time. Whatever your taste in music or food, this event is sure to satisfy.

While you’re in Branson and visiting Silver Dollar City, you should consider staying at The Lodges At Table Rock. Among lodges in Branson, it has a reputation for family-friendly excellence. Many people think of it as the Silver Dollar City lodge because it’s so close to the park, or the Table Rock lodge because of its proximity to Table Rock Lake. It’s also one of the most popular Branson lodges for people who are visiting the area to enjoy the lakes and Branson attractions other than Silver Dollar City.

So, when you’re looking for lodging near Silver Dollar City, be sure to visit where you can learn more and make your Table Rock Lodge reservations. You’ll enjoy the convenience as you take in Bluegrass & BBQ.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Say Good Night Gracie

Tonight season one of Pitmasters rides off into the sunset. I find myself running after it and calling its name like Brandon De Wilde chasing after Alan Ladd. "Shane" didn't come back but hopefully TLC will heed the calls and "BBQ Pitmasters" will return for a second season.
This series was eagerly anticipated by the barbecue world. Sure the Travel Channel or Food Network would occasionally throw us barbecue cooks a bone but I was always left with wanting more - enter Pitmasters. What the competitive barbecue world received was not only a show for us but also a show to help enlighten non-Q'ers on what competing is all about. Like a zombie drawn to a mall, I was drawn to the show.
From my experience, the show has opened up the barbecue competition world to more people. I have talked to many people who have no real interest in barbecue but have watched the show and enjoyed what they saw. In fact, the question I have to answer most is regarding Myron and "What's he really like?" It's good to see the interest generated about barbecue.
I will not be surprised if we see a second season of Pitmasters. If TLC wants no part of it, I am sure some other network would. The show has clearly marked out its territory on the reality show map. It will be interesting to see the impact the show will have on the competitive trail this season. Will there be an increase in rookie teams? More contests? More barbecue groupies? I can't wait for our competition season to start so I can find out. In the meantime, I'll head back to the farm and see if Shane shows up!
Happy Trails!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Looking Ahead

First, I wanted to thank Greg Rempe for having me on his BBQ Central Radio Show last Tuesday (1/19). We discussed our teams' experience with being on "BBQ Pitmasters," our teams' background and feelings about Myron Mixon . I enjoyed giving the amateur team perspective on things. Thanks again Greg!

All the snow has melted in the Kansas City area. It has taken a month to get rid of it but it's gone! Hopefully for good! Temperatures have rebounded from highs around 0 degrees to what feels like tropical highs in the 30's! The warm-up in the weather really gets the competition juices flowing.

Darrin, Brant and myself met at Darrin's house to have our preseason game plan discussion last weekend (Corey was busy cooking and couldn't attend. We'll forgive him as it was bbq related.) This is a good strategy session for us as we can lay out our competition schedule for 2010, address any cooking related issues or adjustments we want to make, discuss marketing/sponsorship items and hash out any issues from the previous year.

Contest selection is what drives the bus for us and it is important that we choose wisely. We decided to kick off the cook season with the Smoke on the Water contest in Little Rock, AR. The total prize package is a staggering $100k and they are paying out 1st through 40th place in each category. It is a great opportunity to compete with many of the top teams from across the country early on in the BBQ season and to capitalize on our success at the American Royal. This will be the first time that we step out of the Kansas City area to compete.

In addition to Little Rock, we are looking at the Springfield, MO contest in mid April, Great American in May and the American Royal in October. We will also look at adding an additional 2 to 4 contests dispersed across late April through September. I'm really looking forward to the 2010 season. Hurry up and get here March!

Darrin also is organizing a practice cook at his house in February. After I attended the JOS cook school this past November, we decided that we need to incorporate the brisket and pork butt techniques into our cook process. This will give everyone a chance to work through these techniques together after having practiced them separately. Also another area we will explore will be our rib process. We've been happy with our ribs but want to give the JOS process a try as well. It is nice to know that we have 2 solid rib techniques to utilize. For now, the chicken process will remain the same but I feel we can make 2 minor changes and still attain the same solid finished product.

I'm ready to cook!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Pitmasters Episode 5 - Attack of Holla-N-Swalla

Well, where to begin? We had no idea what to expect other than we were to appear on the show. There was a lot of video shot Saturday night into Sunday. The show's producers did a great job getting what was shot condensed down into a nice concise program.
To be honest, when the episode started I was a little nervous where it might go. Would we be portrayed as "partiers," clueless cooks or something out of leftfield? As the show progressed, I was very relieved as they worked the amateurs getting help from the pro angle.
When we were initially approached on that Saturday of the Royal by John Markus, he said they were looking for an amateur team that one of the Pitmasters (Myron) could mentor. Myron had put in a good word for us and John asked if we would like to participate. We would have access to Myron to ask questions and see behind the wizard's curtain during the morning of the open. Who could say no to something like that?
As Sunday morning unfolded, Brant, Darrin, Corey and myself tried to take advantage of going over to Myron's tent to ask questions and to see some of his processes. Brant and I talked to Myron about chicken and we mentioned to him that we had some legs to cook with our thighs. We normally cook thighs and 6 to 10 legs at a contest. If we have room in our box, we try to get at least 2 legs in there as well. Myron said if we had legs to make sure we get them in the box as the judges like a "handle" to hold onto while they eat. Fortunately, we were able to get 6 thighs and 2 legs into our blind box at the Royal. We hit the right judging table and the rest is history.
The Myron Mixon you see in this episode is the real Myron I know. He is helpful, friendly and gracious. Is Myron cocky and self assured in what he does? Hell yes! He's a champion and has earned that right. I think some folks may be reading a little too much into the persona they see on the show. If you meet him and talk to him, you will come away feeling positive about him. I hope that we get the opportunity to cook next to Myron and his wife Faye again.
All four of us really enjoyed the episode. A big "Thank You" to the "Pitmasters" producers for letting us appear and to Myron for his kind words about our team. We had a great time and would love to do it again!
We can't wait to get the 2010 season going!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pitmasters Tonight

Tonight's the night to see if we made the cut. Not sure what to expect?