I am not sure how to begin, so I will try to discuss what happened that resulted in the worst ribs I ever had!! I had the worst ribs in the largest, biggest, most popular BBQ competition in the world!!!! The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo World Champioship BBQ(WCBBQ) Competition. Oh woe is me! Oh woe is me!
“My neglect of maintaining my pit and accessories kicked me in the ass! Just like in marriage, it never bodes well for you to take your wife for granted!!”
Talk about cracking under pressure! I had practiced so much I took my pit for granted. I neglected maintaining my pit and accessories and that neglect kicked me in the ass!! Just like in a marriage, it never bodes well for you to take the wife for granted! To tell the story, I have to go to last year’s competition at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo WCBBQ competition. I am the head cook for a 501 (c)3 charity BBQ team called the Third Coast Cookers. Every year since they have had a WCBBQ spot they have used the cater cooking pit for competition cooking. Before I became head cook, they placed top 100 but not consistently. At the time of this blog, the team now has placed top 100 2 years in a row. My 2017 ribs placed 17th out of over 400 entries and in 2018 Chicken placed 68 out 247 entries. In 2017, because of improper floor plan the only pit that could be used due to space was the cater cooking pit. The problem with the pit, besides it massive size, is that it is also used for cater cooking for the ~1000 people that needed to be fed over 3 days. I was so upset that while I was cooking my ribs that we had to cater cook so the pit was being opened and closed and yet I placed 17th!
Wow! All I could think was that if I had my pit instead of a cater cooking pit, I would have had a smoke ring which was missing from my entry and thus even better placement in the competition. After a lot of discussion, Third Coast Cookers agreed to accommodating my team’s competition pits. I was so excited and happy as I just knew I would knock it out of the park!
I set everything up and proceed through my routine. Start coals,set-up digital iGrill temperature gauge and probes, pre-heat pit to desired temperatures, prep-meat, and then I placed the meat into cook chamber.
Whew! Its in so now I just monitor the digital thermometer via bluetooth on my iPhone7 and go about my business. I really dont worry as my iGrill will alert me of low and high temperatures. YEAH RIGHT!! I normally check my temperatures about every 30 minutes to 1 hour frequencies. However, on this big competition day, I was looking at my iPhone at the iGrill app to view temperatures. It felt like an incessant habit like a drug addict looking for the next fix to assure proper temperatures.
“I saw it but just let it go and continued to cook but at the 2 hour mark something in my gut said check the probes! This just isn’t normal!”
I noticed that after about 2 hours that the temperatures never budged. Normally there are fluctuations but I didnt think nothing of it. I was distracted as I had other duties being head cook of a team of 6 for the catering cooking. I saw it but just let it continue to cook but at the 2 hour mark something in my gut said check the probes! This just isn’t normal!
I plugged in a new probe and where I thought I was cooking at 230º-250º I was cooking at 185º!! The rest of the story is trying to make up for the cook but my turn in time was closing in. The result was near bottom of the pack effort 238 out of 252 entries!! I was so ashamed!
Here is the worst part..the destruction of pride…I took out ribs and let it rest for 30 minutes. The BBQ competition proctor came and it was time to cut the ribs to place in the container. This is a big competition so the team and many others circled the table to watch the cutting of the ribs and give advice and comments.
“I broke my own rules! Stick to the plan and what was practiced!!”
I knew right away there was an issue as I was cutting the ribs. I have cut through so many ribs that I knew what my ribs felt like. It was much firmer cutting through the ribs than normal. I continued on hoping for the best. They looked great! They had a really good smoke as it penetrated the entire rib. I forgot to say I also changed up my practiced game plan by purchasing these really huge ribs. I thought to myself yeah! These ribs will be perfect in a judges hands! Damn! Damn! Damn! I didn’t think about the size of the container!! The ribs were to big to fit in the container!! I am holding back tears!! Everyone at this point had looks of concern and I am turning red and the embarrassment level is rising. Finally, I get all 9 pieces into container. I could only use 1 large rib and the rest came from the other rib. As I was walking off, I grabbed and bit into my rib and I immediately spit it out!! I knew then that it was horrible. At the sametime, the horde of people surrounding the ribs gorged themselves like it was a trough…..After the turn in, I came back and people were coming up to me praising my ribs…in my opinion they were being nice or just didn’t know any better…there were a few ribs were left. I immediately threw them away. I was so ashamed. My pride was hit hard that day..but live and learn.
- I broke my own rules! Stick to the plan and what was practiced!!
- I didn’t put to competition what I normally practice. I purchased ribs that were not my normal rib.
- I didn’t think about the container size. Make sure your meat is trimmed or bought to fit in the container!! (I will add this as an addendum to my Practice blog)
- I had probe failure! Luckily I had an extra probe but I chose to ignore my training when I realized that the temperatures were not fluctuating as normal.
- At least 1 training habit kicked in..I had an extra probe! Like a spare tire baby every car has, so should every digital thermometer have an extra probe!
- Reduce/remove outside interference/distractions if possible. I had to multi-task and also do cater cooking that may have distracted me from doing the right thing on the probe replacement!
- Check equipment before the big day! If I had tested my probes before the competition, I may have avoided probe failure and created a plan to address how to cook my ribs!
- After the fact discovery, I have tuning plates in pit and I forgot to rearrange them changing the flow of smoke. They were jostled from position during the trailer ride!
I made many mistakes on the big day. All I can do is learn from my mistakes. I suggest to any one that is serious about BBQ keep a log of your actions and experiences. You never know when that right combination will produce Perfection and you want a record of it to reproduce it again!!
As I say to anyone that knows me my BBQ Pleasure is the Pursuit of Perfection! The 3 Ps of BBQ: #PleasurePursuitPerfection