Tuesday, March 25, 2008

COMPETITIONS: Red Todd Interview


In the final week of Competition Month we will be providing a number of interviews with teams of varying experience. We hope that both their contrasting and similar views on set topics will provide the reader with insight into the competition process. We now present Red Todd of T.B.U. BBQ.

My name is Red Todd and I’m from Lancaster, PA. I compete with my fiancée Doris and our team name is T.B.U. BBQ. T.B.U. is an acronym for Threads Between Us which is a small hobby/business that we have. I have been into competition cooking since 1990 when I started cooking in chili contests. Since that time I have won seven Grand Championships in the chili arena and my first GC in barbeque in 2007. It was our first competition as T.B.U. and I was really on my game.

When did you first get interested in BBQ?

I’ve been a backyard hack all of my adult life and never really did anything but grill. Then in 2001 or so my oldest brother, Jeff, told me that he had just become a certified barbeque judge. He was already competing and it sounded pretty cool. I became very interested in what that was all about and started reading everything I could about barbeque and asking a lot of questions.

How did your interest morph into an interest in competing?

I love to cook and as I said above, my brother was already competing in barbeque contests. His team was the Pennsylvania Posse and they were looking for a fourth member to help them along. Another member of that team, who later became my best friend, also approached me about coming on board. I did and the combination of my skills fit very well with the team and we started scoring stage calls from my second contest on.

Have you ever assisted in the running of a competition and if so what did you learn from the process?

Yes I have. I am currently on the organizing committee for the New Holland Summer Fest in New Holland, PA. In the past I was on the committees for the BBQ on the Farm contest in Yardley, PA, the Berks BBQ Bash in Reading, PA, and the First Capitol Smokin Rib Fest in York, PA. They are all KCBS sanctioned contests. Then, my buddy Lee Wick (PA POSSE member and best friend) and I talked about having an “Any Fuel – Any Tool” kind of contest in which we had three categories. First was the “Any Legal Foul” category in which a contestant could cook any bird such as a chicken, duck, goose or any bird that is legal to hunt or buy. The second was the “Any Legal Seafood” where the rule was the same as the foul category but could be fish or shellfish. And finally the third was the “Any Part of the Pig” category. In a KCBS contest a contestant must turn in six individual pieces for the judges to judge. In my contest a contestant could do the same or turn their entry into an entrée for the judges to taste. I’ve learned lots over the years about organizing contests and will continue to be part of contest organizing for years to come.

Have you ever judged a competition, and if so what did you learn from the process?

Yes I have and I learned that a judge must take their responsibilities very seriously. As a competitor I want the judges to do the same with my entries. I also learned that some judges have no idea what they are tasting. After a whole category entry is scored by the whole table and the score sheets are turned in, the judges are allowed to talk amongst themselves. There are some very inexperienced people who are judging. This inexperience is in the cooking arena. Some of them have no idea what spices and herbs they are tasting.

There is a vocal minority of competition cooks who believe that judges are inept and don’t have a proper appreciation for the efforts of competitors. What are your thoughts?

Well, I have judged many times and I have been judged many more times. Personally I have always felt that judging is a “luck of the draw” kind of thing. I’ve been at competitions where I’ve been up against People like Paul Kirk, Byron Chism. Johnny Triggs, Mike and Beth from BarbeQuau, etc and have out scored all of them in a contest or two but they are cashing in on $20,000 and up each year. I only have a single Grand Championship and folks like that have oodles. I think the majority of contest organizers try to have certified judges in order to draw more teams. In doing so, I also think that most teams are judged very fairly.

Do you tailor your style of ‘Q to the region you are competing in?

Yes indeed I do. The more north I go the sweeter the taste I go for and it is also a tomato base. The further south I go the more tang I go for. In the south it also depends where because I may need to use a mustard base instead of a vinegar base.

Who was your biggest influence or guide when you were starting out?

I didn’t really have an influential person for barbeque. I just love cooking and competition. I love making people happy with my cooking and I also take competition seriously.

What resources would you recommend for new competitors?

For competition dates and places I’d suggest www.kcbs.us or the Bullsheet. I’d also suggest looking at the National Barbecue News for that subject. I would also suggest that newcomers should approach some of the older competitors and see if they could attend a full contest with them in order to get some firsthand knowledge of what it takes to compete. They may have to be a dishwasher for that kind of set up but it is well worth it to do so.

What do you believe the biggest misconceptions are for new teams?

I believe the biggest misconception is that you need a huge cooker that costs thousands of dollars. I’ve seen teams win while just cooking on Big Drum Smokers (BDS) or Weber Smokey Mountain (WSM) bullets.

What was the most important lesson that you learned while moving from novice to journeyman?

Practice, practice, and more practice. Competition cooking is totally different then cooking for a family event or a catering gig.

What similarities do you see among your favorite cook-offs?

The organization of them and the hospitality of them. My very favorite contest is not included in that statement though. It is called “The Deer Hunter” contest. As you know, in a KCBS contest each team must turn in six individual pieces of each meat to be judged and each team may cook as much meat as they want in order to get those six pieces. In the Deer Hunter contest each competitor may only cook a single butt, a single brisket, a single rack of ribs, and six pieces of chicken or a whole chicken. You only get one shot at cooking your meats at their best. Then, all of the teams judge each other instead of having neutral judges. This is the contest I won my Grand Championship in last year. It was such an honor to know that for that day at least, that I was judged the best out of all the competition by all of my peers. It was awesome.

How many competitions do you expect to participate in this year?

My schedule is as follows:
• May – I’ll be mentoring a fella in Camden, NJ
• June - I’ll be competing in Yardley, PA with my brother’s team (Campfire Cookers
• July – I’ll be mentoring another fella in Reading, PA (Smokin Gnomes)
• August – I’ll be cooking with the Campfire Cookers again in Bel Air, MD and New Holland, PA
• September – I’ll be competing with my own team (TBU BBQ) in Hillsborough, NJ and then in Warminster, PA

What value do you find in competing?

A wealth of knowledge to fish from as well as an abundance of new and old friends.

What type of sauce do you use in competitions?

I found a sauce in a local grocery store that is simply called “Q.”

How many people do you have on your team and what are their roles?

Just Doris and me. Doris helps with the dishes and is a great cheerleader.

Do you have a website where our readers can learn more about your team?

No team website but we do have a business web site. You can visit us at www.ThreadsBetweenUs.com to see what we offer.


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