Monday, November 26, 2007

BBQ Rants: Thanksgiving House Fire

Here’s a quick cautionary tale for those that are interested in smoking their ham or turkey for Christmas. There may be an urge to take shortcuts in the winter months, such as moving the smoker closer to the house or to monitor things less closely due to the cold. It is imperative that the same precautions that you would take in the summer are taken in the winter.

Courtesy of KSAT Television

SAN ANTONIO -- Fire officials at the scene of a house fire on the city's East Side on Friday said that a barbecue pit started a fire that heavily damaged a home.

When firefighters arrived in the 300 block of Glen Oak at 5 p.m., flames were shooting from the roof of the home.

Fire officials said the barbecue pit, which was used for cooking on Thanksgiving Day, was leaned against the home with hot coals still in the pit.

It's believed the pit ignited the garage and the fire then spread throughout the home.

A 72-year-old man who was alone at the time of the blaze escaped uninjured.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Recipe: Green Tomatillo BBQ Sauce

It’s holiday time! Here is a recipe for a green(ish) BBQ sauce and I will follow it up with a red sauce. Perfect for Christmas gifts. I’ll be following up these two recipes with an overview on how to ship your sauces to friends and family without breaking the bank or the sauce containers.

Tomatillo Green Sauce

5 pounds green tomatoes, coarsely chopped
3 pounds tomatillos, husked and coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, pressed
1.25 cup brown sugar
2.5 cup cider vinegar
1 cup diced Vidalia onion
3 tablespoon dry mustard
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons Tabasco sauce (or hot sauce to taste)

Sautee garlic and onion in butter or olive oil until onions are translucent. Add all other ingredients and cook until tomatillos and tomatoes are tender. Take off heat and allow to sauce to reduce temperature. When at room temperature add everything to food processor and blend until smooth.

Makes 6 cups

Monday, November 19, 2007

Recipe: Quick and Easy Mustard Sauce

There is a BBQ joint near where I live. They specialize in Louisiana style comfort food and BBQ. The quality of the food is up and down, but what is always a standout is their sauce selection. I tried to duplicate one of their sauces tonight, but missed the mark by a great deal.

Fortunately, although it wasn’t what I was aiming for, it was still pretty good. So here is a quick, easy mustard sauce recipe that uses lots of shortcuts.

1 bottle of Raspberry Vinaigrette salad dressing (found at any grocery store)
A like amount of yellow mustard
Assuming that this makes 2 cups of liquid, add:
2 tablespoons hot sauce (I used Bull Snort)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
4 tablespoons lemonade mix (I used Country Time)

Simmer for 30 minutes.

I used it on pulled pork. Interesting taste. Easy to make. I’m going to modify the sauce a bit and try it again in a few weeks. I’d like a stronger citrus and raspberry flavor.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Interview: American Royal Grand Champions

The American Royal is the Superbowl of BBQ. With well over 500 competing teams and over 70,000 attendees, this event is the gold standard to which all others are compared. The most prestigious competition at the Royal is the Invitational. You have to asked to compete in the invitational and you will be up against the very best in the BBQ world.

We are very honored to talk with the Grand Champions of the 2007 American Royal Invitational, Great Grills O’ Fire aka Mark and Becky.

How many people help you out at events, or is it usually just the two of you?

Yes, usually it is just the two of us. We have had friends that have come out and helped at a few of the bigger contest when they are not cooking. The people that have helped us in the past are Floyd and Terri Murray and Dan Burkhart. Out of the 19-21 contests that we did this year we had help at 1, which was the American Royal.

What are your first memories of BBQ?

My first memories of BBQ are eating overcooked hamburgers and hotdogs at all the summer holidays. But I do remember seeing BBQ restaurants and always wondering what it tasted like.

When did you first start making your own BBQ?

I first started making my BBQ at the age of 21. I started cooking pork steaks and country style ribs for friends (had no idea what I was doing).

Do you remember the first dish that you made?

The first dish that I ever made was pork steak soaking in beer, not very good.

When did you make the jump from backyard cook to competitor?

I ran the backyard circuit from 1993-2000. The first KCBS contest that I cooked was in Serotma in Springfield, MO. Didn’t place in anything, but was helped by several of the bbq people that we now call friends.

Do you remember when you first got the feeling that you could be a serious, successful competitor?

No still waiting for that feeling. Like everyone says ‘any given day’.

Can you give us an outline of how you prepared for the American Royal?

We always have a list that we go by with what needs to be packed. For the past three years that we have done the American Royal we treat it like any other contest. Yes it is a lot bigger but you still need the same stuff at smaller contest also.

What was your experience like?

Every time we have done the American Royal we have always had a good time. It is great going and seeing people that you haven’t seen in a while and being able to sit there and talk with them, not to mention all the new people that you get to meet.

What equipment did you use to cook on?

We always use the same for every contest. We cook on a homemade smoker, made by a friend of ours, Chris Koetting, who also puts on a contest in Sedalia, MO. We also cook our chicken on a Weber Bullet.

Does Chris Koetting make smokers for purchase?

No he does not sell smokers. He just plays around on what he can make and what can be done to what he does have. One night he told us that he had a smoker that maybe we would be interested in, go out to his house cook on it and then buy it. If you haven't seen our baby it looks kinda ruff, but it does what needs to be done. She used to be all red, that is why she is called BIG RED, but now we painted her black but yet still the RED comes out. She is not pretty to look at but she can cook.

What type of wood did you use?

Oak, Cherry and Apple.

What sort of sauce do you use?

We make our own sauce, which consists of several ingredients. We also use Four Men and A Pig.

I realize that you don’t want to give away too much information, but can you give us a bit of detail on the sauce that you used and how the sauces changed per category?

All of our sauces that we use are tomato based. The sauce that we make for chicken sometimes work and sometimes doesn't. You know once you use something you are always going to try to improve it. We could tell you that we use pickle juice and blah, blah, blah....We could tell you everything in the sauce and someone would go back and say....He really doesn’t use that does he????? You just have to try different things to make it work...We lose more then what we have won. But we always have a great time.

Does your sauce change depending on the category?


When do you apply the sauce?

At the very end.

How many sauces have you experimented with?

Probably about 70.

Are you considering changing your sauce at all?


For fans of BBQ that are looking for a sauce that they can purchase, what would you recommend?

Head Country, Blues Hog, Four Men and A Pig, Lutz and Spicewine Iron Works.

What BBQ resources would you recommend for someone that is just getting interested?

We would recommend going and cooking with someone. Just being there helping will teach you a lot. Another place to go to get good info would be the BBQ Brethren (, a lot of info to learn there. We can’t recommend any books or videos because we do not have any. Just practice, practice, practice.

Do you have a website where people could visit Great Grills O’ Fire?

Nope. Don’t have the time or the money...Anyway who wants to look us up? We are just a no name team and just try to go out there and have a good time...Yeah sometimes we win but more then others we lose. We go to every contest worried about all the big teams that are there. Just go cook and have a good time is the best advice that can be given. If you are not having a good time and meeting awesome people, you are doing something wrong.

We appreciate the very humble Mark and Becky taking the time to answer our questions. They are great cooks and gracious winners.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Book Review: Mastering Barbecue

Book reviews are rated on the ‘Stains Per Book’ method. We aren’t looking for pristine picture books on this blog. We want books that will be a resource. Dog eared pages and sauce stains are our earmark for success.

5 Stains Per Book (SPB) describes the ultimate book for our purposes. 1 SPB would denote a book that deserves to be left on the shelf.

Mastering Barbecue
By Michael H. Stines
4.5 Stains Per Book (would have received a higher rating if there was a larger emphasis on sauces)

192 pages
10 Speed Press, 2005

The title of this book is a bit of a misnomer. Don’t be dissuaded from purchasing this excellent tool if you are a newcomer to BBQ. It is certainly not directed towards the expert, although enthusiasts of all expertise levels will find value here.

Although the book is not entirely dedicated to BBQ (lots of grilling and food basics here), our concern is how is it as an introduction to BBQ in general and what does it have to say about sauces (c’mon, this is a BBQ sauce blog after all).

As an introduction to the cuisine known as BBQ, this is an excellent resource. An overview of the different types of smokers is provided, as is a conversion chart for both weights/measurements and replacement foods (for example, Stines has a list of ingredients that can act as substitutes for something that is called for in a recipe but you might be out of).

When it comes to sauces, there is a fairly exhaustive list of nearly fifty sauce recipes. Recipes cover all of the geographic idiosyncrasies that are the source of so much consternation in the BBQ world. Each one of us has a favorite style of sauce and we are often convinced that our opinion is objective fact (I know that mine is). Your favorite style of sauce is guaranteed to be represented here. Everything from Alabama white sauces to Texas red sauces are discussed.

In addition to the recipes themselves, there is an introduction to sauces, a breakdown of common ingredients (listing what they add to a recipe), general tips and an explanation of regional diversity.

I know that you, the reader, would agree that things other than sauce are barely worth talking about, but we have to put the sauce on something. So what else does the book cover?

There is a considerable discussion of mops/marinades, rubs, meats, poultry and vegetables.

Mr. Stines is a certified BBQ judge and has judged at some of the most prestigious BBQ events in the nation. A former journalist, Mr. Stines is the executive chef at a Cape Cod restaurant.

Mastering Barbecue comes with our highest recommendation. You can purchase the book on

Competitions: NY State BBQ Championships

I was honored to be part of the event committee that helped to organize and run the Battle of the BBQ Brethren on the weekend of October 19th. The event was the NY State BBQ Championships and was held as part of the Sayville Fall Festival on Long Island.

We were certainly blessed with great weather on Saturday and Sunday and the attendance by the public was unprecedented. This years event tripled the attendance from last years. There was a grilling competition on Saturday that was sanctioned by the North East BBQ Society and a KCBS sanctioned BBQ contest on Sunday. Over the course of the two days an estimated 25,000 people visited the Festival.

Although both days of competition enjoyed the wonderfully clear and unseasonably warm weather, Friday was a nightmare. It seemed that a monsoon arrived with the specific intention of vexing the competitors as they attempted to set up their plots. Winds howled and rain poured as valiant efforts were made to erect tents and carports.

As a diligent and compassionate host, I made sure that I was on hand during the arrival and set up. Yes, I was seated on a bench under a secure tent, but I commiserated with friends old and new as they came up to chat, drenched and cold. I hope that they found some comfort in the knowledge that at least I was warm and dry and was cheering them on. Ok, that might be asking for a lot.

The sauces that were used for the grilling were varied and excellent. The ‘steak’ category had a few bĂ©arnaise sauces and a few traditional Kansas City style sauces (which surprised me). Most of the sauces were either a deliberate or incidental au jus. The fruit category also displayed an array of sauces that included everything from fruit syrup reductions to chocolate sauces. One chocolate sauce had a spicy ancho taste and was used with grilled bananas.

The KCBS event was a bit disappointing in the lack of variety in sauces, but the sauces that were used were exceptional. The most variety was to be found in the ‘pork’ category, where every competitor that I am aware of entered pulled pork. All of the sauces were, to one degree or another, tomato based. They ranged from very sweet to slightly sweet but laced with diced onions.

I would like to congratulate Phil Rizzardi of Brothers in Smoke on his taking the Grand Champion title. Phil is the current reigning NY State Champion and is entitled to attend invitational events requiring a State Championship to enter.