Rosenberg Masonic Lodge 881 14th Annual Texas State Championship Cook Off Experience

It has been sometime since my last post and doing some catch up.  I can say this cook-off again tested the limits of your human endurance and your cook abilities as well as testing your equipment to the fullest under adverse conditions.  This is not so much about the cook process but more about the BBQ competition experience and everything else!  I think for the vast majority of bbq’er this will apply.  This will probably be a point of laughter for the ones that had RVs and fancy pants trailers!

Weather conditions:  Raining, 15-25 MPH winds, and High 50 to low 60s degree temperature.

Equipment: Tent with side panels, trailer with pit, generator, ice chest etc, and F150 truck

At this point, I had learned my lessons from the Championship Cook-off at Bosque Bottoms that had 33 degree weather!!  I had wrapped my pit with insulation which extended refueling times as well as pit temp stability!  However, this time we had 15-25 MPH winds and rain!!  Amazingly enough my pit held up as well as the temps!  This turned out not to be the issue!  Pit held up just fine with the insulation despite the rain and strong winds!!

Roughing it:  Man, this was a smaller venue and I thought this was going to be a simple drive in and drive out competition.  WRONG!!  I had previewed the weather forecast and knew it was going to be cold but boy!  I didnt know about the rain and the wind.  I set up my tent and usual set up cot, chair, heater, bluetooth, etc. You know the creatue comforts 🙂

I spent the night fighting the wind as it was so strong it almost blew over my tent and raining so hard it was flooding the space I was in!!  We literally were walking on water!  Luckily, I put the truck bed down and had a place to hide my generator during the rains!  I at least had power.  While I was dealing with my living conditions, I also had to deal with my cooking!   Can I say that I didnt feel I gave the cooking as much attention as it was trying to keep my tent from flying away!! 

Despite all of what Mother Nature threw at us, the camaraderie of the BBQ Cook-off was still fantastic and I would do it again.  I had a good time hanging out with like minded people and who I call friends!  We will have stories to tell

Lesson Learned:  Planning!  I now believe that Planning is a key aspect of the BBQ competition and will update some of my previous post based on this experience.  It is not just the cook you have to worry about but also everything else!!

Let me know what you think below and comment?!

2018 Alvin Music Festival Experience

It was my first time competing in a cookoff.  I’ve been to several and provided minimal help, but this was my first time being judged. It’s a humbling proposition for anyone. It’s one thing to cook for friends or family but these are strangers and their sole purpose is to be hypercritical of your offering. Truthfully, I’ve been nervous for the last couple of weeks. I know I was prepared. I’ve probably smoked more than 15 chickens so far in 2018.

My flavors were good. I was able to control my temps on my Weber Smokey Mountain and I had my timing down. I am confident in cooking a chicken. However, there’s still that little voice in the back of your mind that’s asking,

“What if they hate it? What if I finish dead last?”

Saturday morning was a bit of a whirlwind. I like to brine for two hours. Chicken doesn’t need more than an hour to brine but two hours seems to loosen up the tendons a little more for me and imparts a little more flavor. I keep my brine very simple, which is a common theme for me. Some people like using buttermilk to add some acidity. I use water. Some folks use a number of spices in their brine. I don’t. Don’t think it needs it. Once the brine is ready, I spatchcocked the chickens. I like to be rid of the back and breast bones. Makes for a cleaner presentation.

Nothing left to do but the cook. The coals are ready. I dry off the chicken, spray down with EVOO and add my rub. It’s a very simple rub. I like to start skin side down to hopefully crisp up the skin while the coals are at their hottest. I also rotate the grills 180 degrees after an hour to hopefully impart a more even cook throughout the chicken. I was a degree or two from my optimal temp as it approached the deadline, so I flashed it nearest the coals for several minutes.

We made the turn-in time with a minute or two to spare. The adrenaline was off the charts!

It looked great presentation wise. Perfect golden and reddish hues on the skin. Now, we’re waiting. And waiting. The announcement was seven hours after we turned in our chicken. When I heard we earned 5th place, I couldn’t believe it. Honestly, I thought someone was pulling my leg. Validation. The hard work had paid off.

Everyone realizes these competitions are entirely subjective. People’s taste buds differ. However, this was fun. I’m excited to do it again. I only hope I can perform as well, or fingers crossed, better than I did this time.

5th place out of 151 teams!  2 places from the money rounds!

Josh G – is one of my best friends and finally took the leap to compete! Josh wrote the above article to share his BBQ competition experiences.  I loved the camaraderie and good times hanging!   Thank goodness he did!  Really showed that his chicken was excellante!

Keep on Q’ing

BBQ Kings!

World Championship BBQ 2018 #wcbbq #hlsr2018

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!

Fast forward to 2018, I have my beloved pit, which I have been cooking almost every other weekend either, brisket, ribs, or chicken for the #PleasurePursuitPerfection of #BBQ.

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.

Lessons learned:

  1. I broke my own rules! Stick to the plan and what was practiced!!
  2. I didn’t put to competition what I normally practice. I purchased ribs that were not my normal rib.
  3. 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)
  4. 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.
    1. 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!
  5. 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!
  6. 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!
  7. 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

BBQ King

 

PRACTICE – PLANNING (TIMING)

I list TIMING as the # 1 item that you as a competition or backyard BBQ’er must understand.  TIMING encompasses many aspects of the BBQ process that you as the BBQ’er must master as it is the core skill in BBQing.  Regardless, of backyard or competition BBQing, you have to have the food ready for a particular time.   The time can be your competition turn in times or the time your family will be ready to eat on a Saturday afternoon!  I believe TIMING includes these sub -topics that you must understand and master.

KNOW HOW TO USE YOUR TOOLS

This should be common sense to know that you should master your tool and if it isn’t, I am here to tell you that it is!! Whether it is a BBQ Off-set or Upright smoker, standard or Kamado style grill or any combination or contraption that allows you BBQ.  The only way to really know your tool is to cook on it.

My off-set smoker specs:

40″ length cook chamber

20″OD PIPE , 19.5 ID PIPE,  Full 1/2 inch wall thickness Cook Chamber

20x20x20 Firebox

1.  Preheat times

Knowing how long it takes you to get your pit to temperature is important.  Just because you started the fire doesn’t mean you can put the meat on. Just like an oven you want to preheat your pit before you start cooking.  Understand how long it takes for you to get the fire where you want it and temperatures where you want it.  This includes how long to get charcoal to proper cooking or wood to crackling or wood burned down to coals to feed firebox.  On my pit, it takes ~1 hour to get my pit to cooking temperatures once I put the coals in that I want to start at.  To get the coals/wood ready is another 15 minutes!  This time is included in the total length of time for you to cook your meat.   

2. Re-fuel times

You should know how often you must refuel.  On those long slow and low overnight cooks understanding when to refuel can enhance your ability to get some sleep/rest or do other things like preparing spices and sides during the competition or your backyard cook.  This also let’s you know how many bags of coal or hardwood you will need.  You don’t want to be begging for fuel because you didn’t bring enough to cook 12 + hours on a brisket, ribs, butt, or chicken!!  On my pit, it took usually ~1 hour before I had to refuel with charcoal and logs.  Since December 2017, I have insulated my pit I extended the  refuel to 3 hours!!  This is covered in #5 below.  Definitely more time for sleep, drinking, and other activities in the middle of the night cook..wink..wink..  🙂

3. Temp probe accuracy

This is probably the only mechanical device on your pit.  With any mechanical device that has moving parts or disposable parts in the instance of digital probes, regular wear and tear can render the device inaccurate and useless.  This is very important to know that your temp probe is accurate.  Is the temp on the gauge the same temperature within the cook chamber.   I find that after sometime the stationary pit probe or wired probe can lose its accuracy.  Be aware of this and I would recommend at least once a year testing your equipment out especially  the temperature probes used for cooking for accuracy.  1 way I confirmed temperature gauge accuracy was to have another temp probe and compare the pit stationary probe vs mobile wired probe.  I also test my probe ondefined temperatures like boiling water which 212º.

4. Hot-spots

In an off-set pit the grill closest to the firebox is always hotter.  In a reverse flow pit the hot spot is in a different area.  Know the distance you should cook at from the firebox or the hot spots.  You don’t want to overcook or burn your meat because you had not mastered the hot-spots on your pit.

5. How does your pit perform in cold ambient temperature & windy conditions?

Understand heat dissipation if you can.  Understand that cold and/or windy weather can and will affect your cook process.  Wind and cold ambient temperatures will make your cook chamber dissipate heat much faster.  Where I was normally every hour to re-fuel, I encountered 30-34 degree temperatures during a BBQ competition which required me to refuel every 15-30 minutes!!!  This was a surprise and required me stay up all night with the brisket and ribs.  This was one of my most miserable and most difficult cooks as I could never get rest nor negate the the fluctuating cook chamber temps.  Needless to say, my brisket was not cooked to tenderness.  Since then I have insulated my pit.  See the results here :  Insulating Your BBQ Pit

KNOW YOUR MEAT

I am sure you have heard this before but it is worth repeating.  KNOW YOUR MEAT!!  You should understand what recommended temperature your meat must be at to be considered cooked and the desired temperature that it is considered delicious  especially for brisket and pork butt!  Nothing will disqualify you or get you low placement or receive the “eww” faster with the judges and dinner guests then blood or the appearance of rawness appearing in your chicken or or a tough to bite piece of meat!!

1.  USDA Recommended Meat Temperature

I have included a link to the United States Department of Agriculture or USDA and their recommended temperatures for various meats.  You should know this like the back of your hand.

USDA Recommended Meat Temperatures

2. Desired Meat Temperature

The desired meat temp of course is much different than the recommended cook temp especially in the case of brisket and pork butt.  The desired cook temp can vary depending on your practice and what you want to achieve.  I have seen different temps that different cooks have done.  As a general rule of thumb Brisket achieves its best meat state after 195º-200º.  However a different cook that believes and cooks brisket to 180º but he had a different cook process with different meat rest times, different desired taste/expectation, and different cook temperature intervals.  I have another friend that likes to cook to 205º and again with a different process for completion.  You will have to practice this on your own to get the desired meat temperature.  For me, I like to cook brisket to 196º and pulled pork butt to 203º.

3.  Meat rest times

If you decide that resting your meat is beneficial then you should include that in your cook time.  I am a proponent of resting the meats before turn in however I have encountered others that do not rest meat before turn in.  This will have to be decision you come to based on your PRACTICE.

In case you didn’t know, the process of resting your meat is removing the meat from the heat and put into a separate container.  I like to use an empty ice chest, where I wrap the meat in towels with aluminum/buthcer paper on (Texas Crutch style)  and place wrapped meat in the empty ice chest and let it rest.  An ice chest is ideal when at the BBQ competition site which, in my opinion, easy to tote and affordable.  If at home I use the oven to let it rest.

I can provide you what my practice to date has  resulted in. These are my results and may vary greatly from what you discover in your PRACTICE.

Brisket – 2 hour rest after I reach my desired cook temperature.  There are different opinions here varying from 2 to 4 hours. I recommend that you practice so you can determine what is best for you on your pit to determine this.  In my opinion, it results in a more tender and juicy piece of meat.

Chicken – I believe 15-30 minute rest period once the temps hit 164F and during the rest period it hits 165F.  I believe anything beyond 165F is just drying the chicken out! However there are many instances I go higher temps to assure that blood doesnt scare away the taste testers from eating your chicken. Last thing you want is to be disqualified and chicken tossed out because taste tester is scared to eat your chicken!!  Only practice can get perfection in your chicken.

Pork Ribs – 30 min rest on my ribs after my cook.  I believe it makes the meat juicer.

TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT TIMING IN THE COMMENTS BELOW.

PRACTICE!

The 1st rule of competition BBQ is PRACTICE!!  Just like in any other sport or competition PRACTICE before the big day is what sets the winning teams apart from the multitudes of mediocrity.  There are many skill aspects of BBQ in my opinion that you must master and why there is a necessity to PRACTICE.  The major skills I believe that should be mastered are:

#1 Planning (Timing)

#2 Presentation

#3 Palatability

This series of posts will cover these skills to PRACTICE!

Image result for bbq fun

Go to  PRACTICE — TIMING

Hello BBQ Aficionados!

Welcome to the grandeur of BBQ!!  The Pinoy Pitmasters love BBQ.  We believe in the 3 Ps of BBQ.

 

The 3 Ps of competition BBQ are

PRACTICE * PALATE * PLEASURE

We believe that PRACTICE is the the basis for perfect PALATE.  Friends and family is what makes BBQ PLEASURE!!