Monday, March 31, 2008

COMPETITIONS: Comp Month

We would like to wrap-up competition month with two links and a big ‘thank you’.

The first link is to a previous interview that we had conducted with the winners of the American Royal Invitational, Great Grills of Fire. This is possibly the most prestigious win in BBQ. The interview can be found at:

http://www.homeofbbq.com/2007/11/american-royal-grand-champions.html


The second link is to an article on box building as an assist for new teams and a refresher for established teams. I appreciate the help of Who Are Those Guys. Check out their blog often. You can read the article at:

http://thenewguys.blogspot.com/2008/02/bbq-turn-in-box.html



We would like to extend our thanks to Russ and Franks for sponsoring March’s sauce contest. We recommend that you read our reviews of their sauce and try their products. Their sauce deserves a home in the pantry of every serious BBQ fan.

www.russandfranks.com


We will be starting a new contest in a few days. Drop by and enter to win some more excellent sauce.

April is Organization Month at the Home of BBQ. Who are the sanctioning bodies, what do they offer and more will be discussed.

CLICK HERE TO RETURN TO THE HOME OF BBQ FRONT PAGE

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

INTERVIEW: Chef Michael Stines




Chef Michael Stines (Ph.B) is the author of ‘Mastering Barbecue’ and acts as the Barbecue Editor for fiery-foods.com. Mike lives in Cape Cod, far from the fabled meccas of BBQ. He is a Certified BBQ Judge and has judged at some of the most prestigious events in the nation.

We appreciate Chef Stines' taking the time from his busy schedule to answer our questions.



Q. Can you give us an overview of your BBQ'ing history (including your
prestigious Ph. B)?


I began barbecuing in the 1980s when I was working on a cookbook that I never published. I found barbecue to be a uniquely American phenomenon and wanted to highlight what I though should be our national food.

I traveled to the barbecue Meccas – North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Kansas City and Texas – researching various regional cuisines. I joined the Kansas City Barbeque Society and became a Certified Barbeque Judge and a Certified Table Captain.

I’ve been very fortunate to judge some of the best barbecue contests in the world – the American Royal Open and Invitational (twice), the Jack Daniel’s (twice), the Best of the Best in Douglas, GA, the World Barbecue Association International Competition in Parmesans, Germany and the BarbeQlossal in Des Moines, among others. Four of us from “Fiery Foods & BBQ” magazine – Dave DeWitt, Gwyneth Doland, Ray Lampe and I – competed at the 2007 BarbeQlossal. Although we didn’t finish anywhere near the top of the pack, we had a lot of fun at the competition.

My Doctorate in Barbecue Philosophy (Ph.B.) from the KCBS’ Greasehouse University is quite an honor. My book was accepted as my Master’s Thesis and I had to submit a “doctoral” dissertation to a review panel of Ph.B.s and then undergo an oral examination. That was at the Jack Daniel’s a few years ago… Ardie Davis, Tana Shupe, Caroline Wells, Jim Taub and a few others were on the panel that did the oral exam.

I’m humbled they found me worthy to be one of 26 people in the world to hold the degree.



Q. Can you describe the journey from deciding to write a cook-book to it's
publication?


Writing a book, any book, is an adventure and a lot of work. I have a lot of respect for authors that have multiple titles to their credit.

“Mastering Barbecue” was a dream of mine when I started collecting barbecue recipes from around the country. I compiled a lot of “original” recipes and actually cooked each recipe making modifications that I thought improved the recipe. The book took more than five years to research and complete.

Originally, the book was self-published under the title “Mastering The BBQ” with a business partner – Tennessee Gourmet – out of Nashville. The next year I stopped at the Fiery Foods and BBQ Show in Albuquerque, N.M., on my way back from a three-week trip to Hawaii. It was there I met Dennis Hayes from Ten Speed Press. Candy Weaver of BBQr’s Delight had some copies of my book so I gave one to Dennis and I pitched the book to him. He liked it so he presented it to his acquisitions board and they accepted the concept.

Over the next few months, some modifications were made to the book and it was published in the Spring of 2005. Since then, “Mastering Barbecue” has received rave reviews from numerous reviewers and I have been featured on several radio food shows and print articles.



Q. What are you most proud of regarding 'Mastering Barbecue'?


That an unknown author from New England was accepted by a major publisher and distributed across the country. And that all the reviewers have found the book to be a definitive guide to barbecue.

Q. If you had the opportunity to prepare some BBQ and enjoy it with three
people, live or dead, fictional or real, who would they be and what would be
served?


There are a lot of BBQ greats out there that I would love to share a meal with and “talk the talk”… Arthur Bryant and Ollie Gates would be great guests at my table. I have a lot of respect for scores of people on the circuit and would welcome them to break bread with me… Paul Kirk, Ardie Davis, Mike Mills, Caroline Wells, Johnny Trigg, Myron Mixon, Dave Kloss… the list is almost endless.

If I had to limit my guest list to three, I would chose Ardie Davis, Mike Mills and Paul Kirk.

I’d hate to serve barbecue to that group as they are all world-class barbecuers! But if that was the only menu I could offer, I’d do some Carolina-style pulled pork along with slaw and baby backs.



Q. BBQ means different things to different people. Some people are in it
just for the cuisine, others enjoy the social aspects of cooking around a
fire with friends and still others enjoy the traditions and cultural
heritage. What does BBQ mean to you?


It’s all of that and more. I think the social aspect is the high point of barbecue. Whether it’s at a competition with other teams or in your backyard, the camaraderie among BBQers is unlike any other sport. There’s nothing better than cooking barbecue in your backyard with a bunch of friends. And, of course, it’s a guy thing with fire and all that!



Q. Where did you first develop an interest in cooking?


When I was in high school I had a summer job at a seasonal quick-food restaurant on the Cape. This was long before McDonald’s or Burger King came on the scene. I learned the fry station and the grill station.

From there I didn’t do much in food service until after my career in newspapers except cooking for my daughters at home as they were growing up. I was semi-retired and looking for something to do so I started experimenting with creating recipes and cooking.

That led to real jobs in real restaurants where I learned there is a big difference from home cooking to restaurant cooking. Although most of my cooking skills are self-taught, I had a few mentors along the way. After a few positions in different restaurants I became the executive chef at “Cape Cod Grille,” a restaurant featuring grilled and smoked foods.



Q. What do you think is the biggest misconception about BBQ?


Most people – even the Food TV network – equate barbecue with grilling. Of course, it’s two entirely different cooking methods.



Q. Of standard BBQ fare, what do you think is the easiest for a novice to
mess up and what advice would you give him?


Of all the barbecue meats, I think chicken is the most difficult to master. A lot of competition teams have good tasting chicken but the skin is rubbery. Others have a crisp skin but over-cooked meat.

I don’t have the secret to great chicken. All I could suggest is try a bunch of different methods and see what works for you.

Pork butt is pretty forgiving; it’s hard to have bad pulled pork. Brisket and ribs are not so forgiving… they are often over-cooked.

Another thing is it seems a lot of cooks rely on sauce to make barbecue. Barbecued meats should have flavor on their own, without a sauce. A sauce should complement the meat, not hide its flavor.



Q. If your neighbor saw how much you enjoyed BBQ'ing and decided to 'get in
the game', what advice would you give him on starting out?


Keep good notes on what you’ve done. That way you can repeat something that worked and not repeat something that didn’t.



Q. How would you describe BBQ to someone that was completely foreign to our
culture?


It’s smoky, tender, flavorful, slightly spicy, slightly sweet… Barbecue is almost as complex as a fine wine, there are a myriad of terms that could be used to describe the flavor that is unlike anything else.



Q. Where can readers find out more about you and your BBQ related efforts?


I have two web sites: CapeCodBBQ.com and GourmetEmeals.com. I’m also the barbecue editor for “Fiery Foods & BBQ” magazine, the only full-color national magazine covering barbecue in the country. I write articles on various aspects of barbecue in every issue and the articles are also posted on the magazine’s web site: fiery-foods.com.

I also produce an occasional e-mail called “Mike’s Gourmet E-Meals” that is an eclectic mix of recipes from high-end cooking to comfort foods. I send those out to free subscribers as they are created (sometimes it’s a couple of times a week, sometimes once a month depending on what I’m cooking). Subscribing information is on my web sites if anyone would like to receive the E-Meals.


CLICK HERE TO RETURN TO THE HOME OF BBQ FRONT PAGE


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Thursday, March 27, 2008

INTERVIEW: Pat McSparin of Gremlin Grill

COMPETITION MONTH

In our continuing exploration of cook-offs, we present this interview with Pat McSparin of Gremlin Grill BBQ. Allowing for an examination of contrasting opinions, the questions are the same as our earlier interview with Red Todd.

We appreciate Pat’s time and thoughtful answers.


In 1994, Gremlin Grill barbecue team out of Kansas City, Missouri, competed in our first KCBS contest. We took 4th in ribs. Now entering our 14th season, Gremlin Grill has competed in about 80 contests, and won about 80 awards. In 2007, we cooked five contests, won five awards – one in each category, twice in chicken. But the awards were all at different contests. Consistency wasn’t our strong suit last year. Our best showing ever was probably when we had two top fives at the American Royal, and finished 17th overall. That was a looong time ago. We do have a couple Reserve Grand Championships over the years, but never a Grand Championship. And we’re not losing much sleep over it. The team, comprised of me (Pat McSparin), my brothers Al and Brett, and our friend Kent Bjork, is more concerned with having fun than we are with winning.

And we have had our share barbecue success away from competitions. After a Chiefs Monday Night Football game in 1997, NFL analyst/very large carnivore John Madden included us in his book, Ultimate Tailgating, and said our recipes were his favorite in the book. Of course, they left the black pepper out of the brisket recipe, and called me “Larry” throughout, but whatcha gonna do? Emeril Legasse once demonstrated our pork recipe on Good Morning America. In 2003, author/food writer Peter Kaminski featured us in a New York Times article titled “Tailgating with Gusto.” And thanks to barbecue, we’ve been barbecuing and catching a few tires for Jay Robinson Racing of the NASCAR Nationwide Series for a few years.

If we hadn’t honed our skills at contests, we wouldn’t have had those opportunities. And while we don’t have that elusive Grand Championship yet, we’re having fun. And we’re like the Cubs: sooner or later, we have to win one. Right? Right?

(By the way, the recipes in Ultimate Tailgating are outdated. Talk to me before trying them.)


Q. When did you first get interested in BBQ?


It’s hard to live in KC and not love barbecue. There are people who do, but when we find them, we tie them to a rail and ship them to St. Louis.
I guess our family discovered “real Kansas City barbecue” in about 1987, when my oldest brother, Al, moved his family here from where we grew up in the Quad Cities area of Illinois/Iowa. Our folks joined Al and them soon after, then younger brother Brett moved here after graduating from college, and I joined them all when I got out of the Air Force in ’91. Gremlin Grill “Chicken Man” Kent Bjork basically did the same thing. He moved to KC from Nebraska after college, started working with Brett, and joined our team in our second year of competing, I think it was.

Q. How did your interest morph into an interest in competing?

I think it was Christmas 1992 that our mom bought my two brothers and I each a Brinkmann Smoke-n-Grill. That’s right: the “El Cheapo Brinkmann.” Brett probably still has his. We messed around on those a few times, thinking we were doing pretty good, until one of Al’s co-workers tried some pork loin that we thought was excellent. She told us about her parents’ barbecue team, Armadillo Bob and Margaret Nolop. Bob and Margaret were among the best in the KCBS at the time, so our first exposure to contest barbecue couldn’t have been better. They taught us a few things, and in ’93, they and another champion team, Smokin’ in the Boys Room (Lynn and Rich Kancel) mentored us at a few contests. We were hooked. Think about it: it’s barbecue better than at any restaurant, plus cold beer and some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. How can you not be hooked?

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

None of us has ever helped run a contest. The closest we’ve come is pressuring our favorite meat guy into putting one on. Jimmy Dunn is the meat department manager at the Barry Road HyVee (supermarket) here in KC. Their third annual contest is coming up in April. I’ll tell ya what I learned from Jimmy: organizing a contest is an incredible amount of work. I mean, I can’t even imagine. He works on it all year, getting everything together, then the week of the competition is non-stop contest prep as well as his regular duties at the store. And last year, after the awards were given out and everyone was all but packed up and heading for home, Jimmy was out picking up trash bags in the lot.

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

I’ve never judged. My dad and Brett are Certified Barbecue Judges, but I just never got around to it. By the time we’re turning in brisket at a contest, I’m so tired and full of barbecue, the thought of judging scares the crap out of me.

Q. 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?


I don’t agree. Don’t ask me that right after a contest, though. Seriously, every team gripes about judging at one time or another. But ultimately, it’s a crap shoot. It all comes down to individual taste, and that can’t be taught. No one should even attempt to teach it. I like sweet, my teammates like more spice; is one of us wrong? No way. The basics of tenderness and texture should be taught, along with some education on what real barbecue is, but after that, it’s a matter of what the judges like. The opinion of the average Joe off the street is every bit as valid as someone who’s a certified judge.

When we started competing, judges were usually local celebrities, dignitaries, and a lot of those aforementioned average Joes off the street. I love cooking for people like that, because they’re often having the best barbecue they’ve ever had. And that’s why you cook: to make people happy. From a grandma to a celebrity chef, cooks cook because they like to make the people eating it happy. Let us cook ribs for someone who thinks Applebee’s riblets are the epitome of barbecue, and we’ll all have a better time than if we’re cooking for someone who’s convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that he/she knows exactly what barbecue should taste like. And that’s what it’s about: having a great time.

I will say, though, I think some of the vitriol towards judges these days is in response to some judges’ superior attitudes. When a CBJ acts like he/she is the heart of the competition, it makes cooks mad. But we’ll save the topic of barbecue contest egos for another day.

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

We usually only cook around KC, so it isn’t really a problem. Our tastes and styles are more of an issue within the team than at contests. For instance, I like ribs all but candied, but I’m the only one on the team who does. And judges seem to agree with my teammates, because the ribs I did last year bombed completely. And Al puts a little somethin’-somethin’ on the brisket that I thought was nuts, but it was a consistent scorer last year, including our first blue ribbon in the category in years.

I believe you should cook what you like, if for no other reason than you’ll be taking leftovers home – might as well like ‘em. Last summer, I did a backyard rib and wings competition in Geneseo, Illinois, about 180 miles west of Chicago. That’s where we grew up: it’s the in the self-proclaimed pork capital of the world, and a land where boiling the hell out of ribs is considered a barbecue technique. Well, at this contest, I thought I should tone down the sweetness on my ribs to better fit their taste, and I turned up the sweetness on the wings, trying to surprise them. Nope: finished second in both categories.

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


Our mentors and teachers, Armadillo Bob and Margaret Nolop, and Lynn and Rich Kancel of Smokin’ in the Boys Room, and Cimarron Doc (Larry Koch). They taught us a lot. Not just about barbecuing, but about competitions. Many an early, early morning, Rich reminded us that it wasn’t about winning money or awards, it’s about fellowship. It’s about having a good time. Which is a hoot, because Smokin’ in the Boys Room were an incredibly competitive team. They liked to win. But we always had a great time with them. And wow, could they barbecue.

Q. What resources would you recommend for new competitors?

The BBQ Forum, blogs like Home of BBQ, there are a million books out there now, and I learned a lot of cooking techniques on TV. But mostly, talk to other competitors. There are always some “I’d tell ya but I’d have to kill ya” teams, but most folks are happy to help new teams. That’s what it’s all about: teaching as many people how to make great barbecue as you can.

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

That if you play your music as loud as it’ll go, chicks will dig you. Actually, a lot of veteran teams seem to think that, too, so maybe it’s true? Note to self: get a new stereo.
Seriously, people think that it takes a ton of money to compete. You do not need a $2,000+ tailored rig with a computerized temperature system to win. We built our main cooker out of a Model A axle, some scrap metal, an empty keg and parts from my old AMC Gremlin. Parts cost a few hundred bucks. Labor’s different – it helps to know a good welder. Like our dads. But teams win on old barrels, Brinkmann bullets and Weber kettles. All the gadgets and fancy equipment make it easier, not better.

And remember that gambling adage: don’t play with scared money. If you’re too worried about winning money, you won’t have fun. And if you’re spending more money than you can afford, you shouldn’t be doing it.

There also seems to be a trend of people who think competition barbecue is a great way to make money. It ain’t. Few if any teams compete for a living. Unless you have a barbecue product to sell – rub, sauce, a restaurant, whatever – treat this as a hobby or you’re heading for trouble.

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

Always take your own toilet paper to a contest. Port-o-potties run out.
Also, never, ever take it too seriously. It’s a barbecue contest. If you’re not having fun, why do it?

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

We don’t win at any of them. Actually, the contests we cook are all laid-back and relatively small, with no obnoxious amounts of prize money. We cooked in the American Royal for 12 years, and as grand an event as it is, it was just a ton of work. On the other hand, the Basswood Resort (Platte City, MO) contest usually has about 50 teams, I think, and it’s just a nice, relaxing weekend. It’s held in a campground with fantastic facilities. We usually leave Basswood empty handed as far as awards go, but having had a wonderful time with family and friends. That’s what we’re in it for.

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


Right now, we’re planning on HyVee, Basswood, Excelsior Springs, Blue Springs, and Pleasant Valley (all Missouri). It’d be nice to work in a couple more somewhere, but we also have graduations and parties like that to cook for, and with cooking for Jay Robinson Racing at a few races throughout the season, and Chiefs tailgate parties are a pretty big deal. So five contests over six or eight months doesn’t sound like much, but when you add in the other barbecue events, half the summer weekends are gone. In a good way, of course.

Q. What value do you find in competing?

Getting to hang out with the idiots…I mean, with my teammates. We’ve talked about retiring from contests and just barbecuing and hanging out at home or the lake, but we’d never get together. There’s too much going on. But barbecue contests trump everything. Well, almost everything. If we decided to compete more often, the wives would eventually rein us back in.

Q. What type of sauce do you use in competitions? If you make your sauce, can you share the recipe?*

We usually use The Slabs sauce. Pretty much straight-up on ribs, but on pork, I sweeten it with raspberry All-Fruit. And for chicken, we combine Slabs with a sweet homemade glaze. I’ll give you that recipe (it’s probably already online somewhere), but your readers have to figure out how to use it on their own. Or just ask me at a contest. Actually, ask anyone at a contest – it’s a pretty common technique.

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


For 13 years, we all did a little bit of everything, except Kent Bjork has been on chicken most of the time. This year, we’re going to try something different. I’m taking pork, Al is on brisket, and Brett’s on ribs. We figure it’ll make assigning blame much easier. We also have team engineers (our dads designed, built and repair the smokers), and we get support and heckling from moms, wives and kids.

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


We have a blog at GremlinGrill.com. It mostly consists of me ranting about whatever is grinding my gears at the time. And lately, bacon. A lot of talk about bacon.


Chicken Glaze
2 12-oz cans frozen apple juice concentrate
1 Cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 Cup catsup
¼ Cup apple cider vinegar
4 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (or to taste)
dash of cayenne

Heat it all up in a saucepan just to get it all incorporated well

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

REVIEW: Blaze Orange Sauce






Demon Pig Blaze Orange BBQ Sauce




**IMPORTANT NOTE** I mistakenly reported that the sauce costs $8.50 a bottle. That is incorrect. The sauce is $4.75 or two for $8.50. The error is entirely mine.

Manufacturer
Demon Pig
Website www.demonpigbbq.com

Quality **** (4.5 out of 5)
Viscosity *** (3 out of 5)
Aroma *** (3.5 out of 5)
Appearance **** (4 out of 5)
Packaging ***(3 out of 5)

This sauce was used on pulled pork, pulled chicken and brisket that were all cooked low and slow over cherry wood. The opinions are both mine and Will Breakstone’s, owner and pit-master of Willie B’s Award Winning BBQ.

There is a style of sauce that is heavily influenced by catsup. That may come across as denigrating, but it’s not intended too. It’s simply a neutral descriptor of a sauce that, like any other, can be excellent and can be horrible. Both of Demon Pigs sauces have a taste that seems to be strongly reminiscent of catsup. Both of the sauces transcend their origins.

The aroma of the Blaze Orange sauce eerily parallels the taste experience. The initial aroma is that of sweet tomato and it is followed by a feisty spice aroma that lingers in the nose.

The sauce comes in a 13 oz. glass bottle and pours easily. The Blaze Orange sauce retails for $4.75 and can be purchased on their website.

I have mentioned before that I have a natural inclination towards sauces that tend towards the hot. Unfortunately, many sauces that are labeled as ‘hot’ or ‘spicy’ simply aren’t. Demon Pig has found an amazing compromise between spice and sweetness with their Blaze Orange sauce. The first thing that hits you is the sweet tomato flavor and it is followed by a significant, but not overwhelming kick. The heat lasts but doesn’t overpower the rest of the food.

Both of Demon Pigs sauces can hold their own against the very best sauces out there. Within their specific niche, they may be the best sauces made. Without a doubt, their sauces are highly enjoyable and well worth the effort to find and purchase.



CLICK HERE TO RETURN TO THE HOME OF BBQ FRONT PAGE



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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

COMPETITIONS: Red Todd Interview

COMPETITION MONTH

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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Monday, March 24, 2008

REVIEW: Chukar Cherry Chipotle




Chukar Cherry Chipotle BBQ Sauce

Manufacturer
Chukar Cherries
Website www.chukar.com




Quality **** (4.5 out of 5)
Viscosity **** (4 out of 5)
Aroma *** (3 out of 5)
Appearance *** (3 out of 5)
Packaging **** (4 out of 5)

This sauce was used on pulled pork, turkey, babyback ribs and brisket that were all cooked low and slow over cherry wood. The opinions are both mine and Will Breakstone’s, owner and pit-master of Willie B’s Award Winning BBQ.

I have been having great luck in finding little gems that are off the BBQ beaten path. This product is a wonderful addition to a growing array of non-traditional sauces. It’s not surprising that the sauce is good as it comes from a company that specializes in cherries and their use in gourmet foods.

The aroma is surprisingly mild. I didn’t pick up much of the chipotle, which would have been nice. Thankfully, the sauce lacked the all too frequent ‘artificial’ smell that can be found in many mass produced sauces.

This is a sweet sauce, make no mistake about it. It’s an enjoyable sweetness that is on par with the sweeter of the Kansas City style sauces, but much of that taste seems to be derived from the cherries as opposed to refined sugar. The sauce went well with all of the meats, but was an amazing glaze on the ribs. The sauce might offer too powerful of a cherry taste and be a bit too sweet for chicken, but it stood up well to the stronger meats such as brisket. I did use it sparingly on turkey and it was great as a substitute for the traditional cranberry sauce.

I would have preferred a more prominent chipotle taste, but I recognize that this is strictly a personal preference. The chipotle added a nice undertone and provided the sauce with a depth and balance that would otherwise be missing.

The sauce was a bit looser than a traditional KC sauce and came in a very nice glass bottle. The label was elegant and understated. The sauce was $8.95 for 13oz.




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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Ramblings: Happy Easter

Happy Easter everyone. I hope that you get to spend today with friends and loved ones.

Look for more reviews coming up, including coverage of some rubs, the ever popular sauce reviews and two BBQ books.

We will also be hosting interviews with competitors, authors and Chef Rainford from 'License to Grill' on the Discovery Home Channel over the next few weeks.

As always, we appreciate your stopping by the Home of BBQ.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

REVIEWS: Grandville's Gourmet Tropical

Grandville’s Gourmet Tropical BBQ Sauce

Manufacturer
Grandville’s Gourmet BBQ Sauce
Website www.grandvillesbbqsauces.com

Quality **** (4.5 out of 5)
Viscosity **** (5 out of 5)
Aroma *** (3 out of 5)
Sweetness **** (4 out of 5)
Appearance ***** (5 out of 5)
Packaging *** (3 out of 5)

This sauce was used on pulled pork and brisket that was cooked low and slow over cherry wood. The opinions are both mine and Will Breakstone’s, owner and pit-master of Willie B’s Award Winning BBQ.

It’s strange how it works out. If you find an average or subpar sauce you will usually see that they have a website that is chock full of information and they are often well known. Awards won (how, I don’t know), recipe suggestions, a vast history and a corporate bio will be featured on their site. With some of the best sauces the information available is sparse and no one has heard of them.

I'm afraid that this might be the case with Grandville’s Gourmet BBQ Sauces. I had the pleasure of trying their tropical variety and it was fantastic. They have done very well with winning awards, taking first in two categories and second in a third at the 2006 Scovie Awards. Unfortunately, like numerous other quality products out there, it seems that they need help in getting the word out. I hope that this review helps.

The tropical sauce lives up to their billing as ‘the thickest, chunkiest BBQ sauce on the planet’. It is a fun departure from the thick, pureed sauces that you usually see. There are visible chunks of onion and other vegetables in the sauce that provide a great mouth-feel when chewing.

The aroma of the sauce isn’t as strong as I would have liked, but that might be the nature of the beast with a sweet (as opposed to spicy) sauce. It is, however, indicative of the taste, with the flavor being more pronounced than the aroma and certainly stronger.

The flavor of the sauce was outstanding. I had a recent run of sampling an array of below average sauces that all seemed to have the same flavor profile. This sauce and another that I’ll be reviewing soon helped to restore my faith. There is great BBQ sauce out there if you are willing to look for it.

Grandville’s Gourmet Tropical BBQ Sauce has a sweet, fruity flavor which avoids being overpowering. Although great with the pork and brisket, I’m looking forward to trying it on chicken. I’m amazed that of the three sauces that they had won awards for, the other two scored higher (taking first as opposed to second).

The sauce comes in an 18 oz. wide mouth (similar to a mason jar) glass jar. There is a nice label on the jar with a cute logo. The glass has a nice heft to it.

If you are looking for a sauce that has a different consistency, if you are looking for a sauce that has a ‘fruity’ flavor profile or if you are just looking for a great sauce; check out Grandville’s. You’ll be glad you did.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

COMPETITIONS: BBQ Calculator

COMPETITION MONTH

We are very pleased to present a new tool for Competition Organizers. To the right you will find a link to a program that will calculate estimates for judging needs at events. Number of judges, number of tables and chairs, amount of water and crackers and so on.

To go directly to the site hosting the program file CLICK HERE

The program is good up to 101 competition teams.

Every event is unique and your numbers will certainly vary, but I believe that this is an excellent tool, especially for new organizers. Just plug in the number of competitors and the program will do the rest.

The file is hosted by rapidshare. When you are taken to the program it will ask if you want the free or premium download. Just hit free button.

I would like to thank Linda Mullane for the advice and suggestions and Serge Pierro for creating the program.


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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

INTERVIEWS: The Hot Dawg Truck

COMPETITION MONTH


The Hot Dawg Truck Team Bar B Que is a competition team from Long Island, NY. They are fairly new to BBQ competitions, but they are certainly not new to cooking. They own and operate The Hot Dawg Truck, a gourmet hot dog stand in Nassau County, NY.

Let’s be completely honest here. I’m a bit intimidated by Rod, the chief cook for The Hot Dawg Truck. It’s not his size, although he’s a big guy. It’s not his tattoos, although he has a few. It’s not his demeanor, as he is certainly jovial. It’s that he can out-cook me in a space that seems slightly larger than a postage stamp. That’s just not fair.

The Hot Dawg Truck Team Bar B Que is what I’m terming a mid-experience team. I hope to have interviews with teams of varying experience for Competition Month. I couldn’t be happier to present this interview with Rod.


Q. What’s your earliest memories of cooking and who helped you get your start?


A. I started cooking at an early age. We didn't have cable so I found myself watching PBS channel 21 allot with Julia Child, Graham Kerr (the galloping Gourmet) Justin Wilson & Mary Ann Esposito. I found myself writing down their recipes and trying them out on my family & friends. My mother had a box of recipes (some that I still use today) that I would copy down and put my own spin on. Some successful, some failed. It was not until I ended up in county lock up did I have my first experience with industrial equipment. I ended up working in the jail kitchen and one of the cooks there seen I had an interest in cooking so he took the time to show me a few tricks of the trade such as making roux's and sauces (including BBQ sauce), he also taught me some knife skills. That was the extent of my professional training. Now days I like to call that college.

Q. How did you get interested in BBQ?


A. I had an interest in all kinds of cooking (I liked to eat). A friend of mine asked me to help him out roasting a pig one night. I had done a few pigs before on a rotisserie which came ok for the time it was. When I got with him they had just finished welding up a 275 gallon oil tank from a house that they had made into a indirect heat pig cooker/smoker. I had never seen anything like it! The cooker can handle 6 to 7 pigs at a clip 35 to 40 lbs each. I now own it and I still have that cooker in my arsenal cookers today. He taught me a whole new way to cook...BBQ! Like most people in the north I thought grill'in was BBQ'in. He introduced me to using different woods, indirect heat and then Beef Brisket which was the most delicious thing I ever tasted on the planet! I was hooked from there. I have since taken over roast'in the pigs for that event every year. Last year our Team BBQ got involved. This will be my 13th year roast'in the pigs for this event.
A funny story, after learning how to some what use a smokers I got my first Brinkman stand up water smoker and decided I was gonna do a turkey in it for a small party. Well I started the coals early in the Am (with lighter fluid of course) and put together the smoker. I had all kinds of trouble keeping the fire going, no temperature gauges, I swore I knew what I was doing cause I had watched my friend do it... After about 15 hours and 4 bags of charcoal I kept cutting into the turkey to see that is was still pink inside, who knew? The sun was setting and people were hungry and mad! Finally I lost my cool and took the turkey like an Olympic thrower and did a full 360 spin and hauled it over the fence into the neighbors yard! Ended up ordering pizza! The dogs next store loved me! It was back to the drawing board.

Q. How long did it take you to move from having an interest in BBQ to becoming interested in competing?

A. Probably about 10 years. I never knew there were BBQ competitions I did it cause I enjoyed doing it. Each year I would find that more people were interested in BBQ then the year before and some would offer to help me each year just to learn how to BBQ. We ended up with a BBQ crew which became a competition team once we found out about competing. We just added 2 new people to the team which brings us up to nine members.

Q. How did you prepare yourself for your first competition?


A. We would have monthly practices and meetings and as we got closer to competition it became every 2 weeks and then once a week. We would try all different recipes and meats to see what we wanted to enter in competition. We established a routine and who had what jobs. We would practice our set up along with grill'in and bbq'in so when we did finally rolled into competition it would all be familiar to us. Plus we got to grill and bbq almost every week, what could be better then that! We would have a meeting during practice to discuss whatever was on our teammates minds, pay weekly dues so we would have travel and food money. If you ever competed before then you know it is not cheap! Now we have several sponsors that help us out for each competition and some help out for practices as well.

Q. Was there anyone that was a particular help to you as you got started?


A. I read a few books by Paul Kirk and also one by a husband and wife I forget there names but the book was called Smoke & Spice I believe. We didn't know anyone else who competed so there was no one to really ask. We went on-line allot and read up on it too. We just kind of helped each other.

Q. Aside from Q’ing, do you have any other interests or hobbies?


A. Motorcycles & Shotguns! If you can't ride it, fight it or sleep with it, shoot it and cook it!

Q. Who are the members of your competition team?

A. Proud to introduce The Hot Dawg Truck Team Bar B Que - Rod (Big Rod BBQ) , Rose ( I'm a gurl) BBQ, Brian (the Brain) BBQ, Bob (the Whore) BBQ, Paulie (the Butcher) BBQ, Lance (the igniter) BBQ, Sharon BBQ, Jimbo BBQ & Barbara BBQ

Q. Do the members of your team have specific jobs and roles, or does everyone just pitch in?

A. Everyone has there own nitch and jobs but in general we all pitch in where we can be of help. We like to have fun with it too.
Big Rod BBQ - Pit Boss - BBQ
Rose BBQ - Chicken, grill'in and sanitary station
Brian BBQ - Seafood, grill'in and music
Bob BBQ - Lamb!, grill'in, and whoring for sponsorship
Paulie BBQ - preps all meats for cooks, dishes
Lance BBQ - fire starter, extra hands for cooks, temperatures
Sharon BBQ - camp set up, lights, temperatures, dishes
Jimbo BBQ - Drinking, set up, break down, Security (keeping people away from the cooks during competition)
Barbara BBQ - keeps camp in order, dishes
We all are in charge of taste testing. In one grill'in competition the category was chicken wing. Bobs wings came out so good that we ate them all and had nothing to turn in! oops!

Q. How many competitions did you enter your first year?


A. The first year we had the team we didn't enter any competitions. We just got together and practiced allot. The second year we entered 2. Hudson Valley Rib Fest & Sayville Long Island BBQ Battle. Both were a blast! This will be our third season as a team.

Q. Looking back, what was your biggest surprise about BBQ competitions?


A. The People. Has to be the people. The BBQ community is full of great people! Everyone we have met in BBQ Land as we like to call it, have been wonderful, friendly people.

Q. Do you set goals for your team and if so what are they?


A. We have one rule - we are here to have fun! As far as goals we always try to out do ourselves. Who ever finishes the best on the team gets the pit bosses flamed tongs until the next competition. We keep a sign posted in our camp that reads, "This is NO dress rehearsal, we ARE professionals and this IS the BIG TIME!!!"

Q. How many competitions do you plan on entering this year?


A. We have scheduled the team for the "81 Thunder Run & Chili Cook Off" we also do "The 13th annual Summer Pig Roast & BBQ" which isn't a competition we just do all the food for the days party. "The Hudson Valley Rib Fest" in New Paltz, NY & Sayville, Long Island "Battle of the BBQ Brethren" we may enter Lowell BBQ & Brews this year not sure yet. We have 2 team members that are from Rhode Island so we would like to do one up in New England way. We have all the events that The Hot Dawg Truck and Team BBQ will be attending posted on our web site. www.HotDawgTruck.com

Q. What do you get out of competing?

A. Great enjoyment and relaxation. We plan our vacations now around BBQ. Its a great feeling to watch our team come from basically nowhere and to see us receiving awards for our efforts.

Q. What advice would you offer a new team just starting out?


A. Have fun! Cook like you were at home cooking for yourself and family. Most of the people you feed at home enjoy your food chances are the judges will too!

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

REVIEWS: Guido's Serious BBQ Sauce


Guido’s Serious BBQ Sauce


Manufacturer Guido’s International Foods

Website www.guidosseriousbbq.com

Quality **** (4 out of 5)
Viscosity *** (3 out of 5)
Heat **** (4 out of 5)
Appearance *** (3 out of 5)

This sauce was used on pulled pork and brisket that was cooked low and slow with apple wood.

It’s nice to find new sauces that have an impressive pedigree. Guido’s Serious has won some major awards at the most prestigious BBQ events in the country. After tasting their sauce, their accolades come as no surprise.

I’m happy to say that Guido’s Serious BBQ is a bold sauce. They are not hunting for that elusive middle ground so they can appeal to everyone. They have a very strong opinion on what constitutes a quality sauce and that is what they offer.

The sauce has a strong, earthy aroma that immediately tells you that the taste is going to be strong. The smell is an accurate olfactory representation of the taste. I do need to mention that the sauce is somewhat separated upon opening of the bottle. A quick stirring takes care of that minor problem.

The sauce has a nice combination of ‘mouth feels’ and viscosity (once mixed). It is thicker than most sauces, but it doesn’t have that over-processed viscosity of many mass produced sauces. As stated earlier, the taste is bold and deserves a meat that will stand up to that strength. Although I wouldn’t use the sauce on chicken, it was a great accompaniment to the brisket.

The taste mellows a tad during cooking, but is enjoyable either straight out of the bottle or cooked onto the food. The spice in the sauce lingers, but isn’t overpowering. It’s important to mention that this sauce doesn’t fall into any traditional category. It’s not a KC sauce. It’s not a Texas sauce. It’s not a Carolina sauce. It has a unique flavor profile. In our age of standardized sauces, that is a marvelous thing. If you enjoy a sauce that is on the spicy side and makes a statement, this is for you.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

REVIEWS: NonBBQ Round-Up

Non-BBQ Reviews I

This is a bit of a round-up of reviews for items that were sent to me that weren’t BBQ centric. They will be brief and to the point. I will follow this article up with another in a couple of weeks.

Crazy Mother Puckers Hot Sauce


This sauce was tasted straight up and in chili. I was a little surprised when I plopped some on my tongue. It had an immediate and pleasing taste that supported the description on the label of ‘Fire Roasted Fusion’. I was surprised by the lack of heat. My first impression was that I would give it a 4 out of 10 on the heat scale. A few seconds went by and I got the kick. It went from a 4 to about a 6 or 7. Very nice. The heat lasted well and maintained the initial flavor.

I added about 1.5 tablespoons to a bowl of chili. The chili on its own was mild and this helped to kick it up a bit. Some of the flavor and heat were lost, so I would recommend a greater ‘dose’, but it made the otherwise uneventful chili enjoyable.

Jimbo’s Apple Salad Dressing

This sweet vinaigrette is a pale pink color and requires considerable shaking prior to use. Don’t worry, it’s worth it. The sauce has a unique flavor that forces you to hunt down more lettuce to play host to the dressing. I know, I know; most BBQ’ers hold salad to be an anathema. If you want to hold onto those beliefs, don’t try this dressing. Soon after opening the bottle you will be a convert.

Pallabi Hot Sauce


Rick’s Test Kitchen produces a variety of sauces, most of which offer considerable heat. The Pallabi Hot Sauce is sweet hot sauce with an eastern influence. Like the hot sauce above, this starts out slowly and offers a very nice, sweet taste. The heat comes in a second or two later. It was enough to break a small sweat, but nothing serious. The heat lasted quite a while, but it wasn’t strong enough to detract from the taste of everything around it.

Very tasty and will be used often.

Guido’s Serious Louisiana Hot Sauce

Guido’s Serious produces enough quality BBQ products to fill the average enthusiasts cupboard. Rubs, BBQ sauces and hot sauces all make an appearance on their webpage and all that I’ve tried so far have been excellent. The hot sauce is no exception.

This hot sauce is what a better made A1 sauce would taste like if it offered heat. The label on the bottle clearly states that the sauce is ‘bold, not brutal’ and it lives up to that moniker. If you are a ‘pepper head’ looking for an eye popping, sweat causing sauce; this isn’t for you. If you are looking for a great sauce for steaks and the like that provides a kick, give this a shot.



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Thursday, March 13, 2008

REVIEW: Sticky Fingers Memphis Sauce

Sticky Fingers Memphis Sauce

Manufacturer
Sticky Fingers
Website www.Stickyfingersonline.com

Quality ** (2.5 out of 5)
Viscosity *** (3 out of 5)
Aroma *** (3 out of 5)
Appearance ***3 (3 out of 5)
Packaging *** (3 out of 5)

This sauce was used on pulled pork that was cooked low and slow over cherry wood. The opinions are both mine and Will Breakstone’s, owner and pit-master of Willie B’s Award Winning BBQ.

I’m sad to say that Sticky Fingers Memphis BBQ Sauce falls into much the same category as their previously reviewed Carolina Sweet sauce. The sauce is uneventful and a bit boring. It’s sweeter than a traditional KC style sauce with less of a tomato taste. It offered less nuance and underlying taste than I would have appreciated and just didn’t seem to make an effort, if that makes sense.

As with the Carolina sauce, it wasn’t bad. If I was on a highway and pulled over at a chain BBQ place and had that sauce with my meal I wouldn’t think twice about it. I certainly wouldn’t complain or be disappointed, but that is part of the problem. They sit too entrenched in their comfort zone. By the time I would hit the next exit on the highway I wouldn’t remember what the sauce tasted like.

It seems that they are very concerned with appealing to Joe Everyman. And maybe they are successful. Maybe I’m using the wrong criteria. The sauce isn’t bad. They seem to be making money. I don’t mean to come off as being supercilious here, but maybe the sauce just isn’t for the BBQ connoisseur. If this supposition is correct, and they are appealing to a different market, and that clientele is happy; than great.

The aroma is fine. It is actually better than average and surprisingly good when considering the taste. It lacks the artificial ‘chemical’ odor that mass produced sauces often have.

The viscosity of the sauce is fine. It’s adheres to the meat well. It’s not overly thick. This is the one category that may have deserved a better review. I’m vacillating between a 3 and a 3.5.*

The sauce comes in a plastic 18oz. bottle. It’s a nice bottle and it has a distinct, clear label. I would have given it a 3.5 if it had been a bit more descriptive.*

You can purchase this sauce online for $3.99. It’s also found in their chain of Sticky Finger restaurants. Although a clear step up from sauces such as Kraft, there are much better sauces to choose from if you are purchasing BBQ sauce online.*

* Same as with review for Sticky Fingers Carolina Sauce review.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

COMPETITIONS: Organizers Expenses

Competition Month

EVENT ORGANIZERS EXPENSE OVERVIEW

I have provided a link (see sidebar on right) to a document that provides an overview of expected expenses for the creation and running of a BBQ Competition. This is intended to be a resource for any event organizer that would find such a document useful.

If you notice any flaws, they are entirely my fault. I would appreciate you bringing those and any suggestions that you may have to my attention.

If you find the document valuable, the credit goes to the various Event Organizers and competitors who offered advice and criticism, especially Linda Mullane.

In addition to the expenses, there are also revenue generation suggestions.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

REVIEW: Sauce Review Site

I'd like to bring www.bbqsaucereviews.com
to your attention.

They do an excellent job of breaking down a sauce and providing an informed opinion on the taste, aroma, marketing and more. They offer a wide array of reviews, covering everything from sauces that you can pick up at a local grocery to mail order only products.

Like most things, sauce reviews are subjective. I enjoy reading their reviews and seeing where I agree and where I disagree.

Stop by and take a look. They do an excellent job and provide a great resource for BBQ enthusiasts.

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Sunday, March 9, 2008

REVIEW: Rufus Teague Touch of Heat BBQ Sauce









Rufus Teague Touch of Heat BBQ Sauce







Manufacturer
Rufus Teague

Website
www.rufusteague.com

Quality **** (5 out of 5)
Viscosity ***** (5out of 5)
Aroma **** (4 out of 5)
Appearance *** (3.5 out of 5)

This sauce was used with pulled pork that was slow cooked at 225 degrees over hickory. It was used as a dipping sauce, in the pork and on a sandwich with a Kaiser roll. It was also tried as a dipping sauce for pulled chicken.

I feel compelled to include an explanation with this review. This is the first sauce that I have given a ‘5’ to for quality. That doesn’t mean that it is a perfect sauce. It does mean that the sauce is damn good. Personal taste is subjective and I’m sure that I will find another sauce that I like just as much or even better, but for now this gets a ‘5’.

As with their other products Rufus Teague’s Touch of Heat bottle is sparse on the verbiage. Thankfully, their naming of the product is right on the money. In general I’m a student of the ‘hotter the better’ school, but I recognize that this sauce strikes the perfect balance between mild and hot. It adds an enjoyable kick while allowing the meat to be the star of the show.

The sauces by Rufus Teague all have the same viscosity and coloring. The thickness is fine and does the job. It adheres to the meat well and isn’t overly thick. The coloring is a deep red and is consistent throughout. It might have been nice to see some variation in hue.

The sauce comes in a flask like bottle with a nice heft. There were no corners cut in the packaging of this sauce.

What can I say? If I am too lazy to make some sauce on my own, this is going to be one of the bottled sauces that I reach for.

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Saturday, March 8, 2008

RECIPE: Vinegar Examinations

Vinegar and BBQ Sauce pt. 1

In an effort to determine the impact of various vinegars on the same sauce I created a bold red sauce that was separated into four equal portions and had four different vinegars added. Within the next few weeks I will repeat the experiment with a vinegar sauce and then a mustard sauce.

The vinegars used were

1) a traditional, cheap cider vinegar. Found in a plastic bottle at any supermarket.
2) a white balsamic vinegar imported from Italy.
3) a California Grapefruit vinegar.
4) a muscat orange champagne vinegar.

The overall impression was that the sauce was too bold for the variations to have a significant impact. Although there were discernible differences, the impact on the taste was too small to be considered worth the effort.

The sauce was made using Woody's Cook-in sauce, my favorite tool for creating red sauces. The resulting product was a strong, bold sauce that should be used with beef or pork.

1.5 Cup Woody's Cook-in Sauce
3/4 Cup Orange Juice
3/4 Cup Brown Sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried ancho
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
7 tablespoons syrup (I used a mixture of boysenberry and maple)

I let the sauce simmer for roughly 30 minutes and let it sit for another 15. I separated the sauce into four equal portions and added 1/3 cup of a different vinegar to each.

The most enjoyable was the sauce using the cider vinegar. The cheapest and most standard turned out to be the best. The flavors melded well and left little of the aftertaste the others left.

The orange muscat was the most enjoyable of the three more exotic vinegars. It added a nice sweetness and a strong balance to the boldness of the sauce.

Next in order of preference was the California grapefruit. Although enjoyable, it was a bit tart and lacking in the sweetness that helped to round the sauce.

The last was the white balsamic. There was a harsher taste to this than the others. It left a stringent aftertaste and is not recommended for this sauce.

Overall, the sauce was fun. Bold and strong, it needs to be paired with a meat that can stand up to it. The differences that were engendered by the vinegars were too small to matter much, but even if you are looking for a little variety, I would stay away from the balsamic.

I believe that the sauces that are more dependent on the vinegars will be more telling.

If you are interested in another look at BBQ and vinegar CLICK HERE to read a post on White Trash BBQ.

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Friday, March 7, 2008

INTERVIEW: Patrick Carlson - BBQ Logos

COMPETITION MONTH

We recently spoke with Patrick Carlson of BBQLogos.com about his designs for competition teams. Patrick is clearly the leader in the field and has a knack for creating logos that are intrinsically evocative of the personality of the team that they represent.

You can visit Patrick and view his work at www.bbqlogos.com

If you are looking to build an identity for your team, his services are invaluable.


What is your background? How did you get started creating logos?


I have about 18 years of freelance cartooning experience. I was a youth director
of a church and a middle school teacher while doing artwork on the side.
I've been doing this full time about 4 years. I began doing BBQ logos
simply by chance. I created my first one about 5 years ago and word got out
and people just began contacting me. I never really did anything to draw
people to me for BBQ logos.

Do you have an interest in BBQ outside of the artwork?


I love to eat BBQ but I've never been involved in the competition scene.

You have created logos for teams, events and business; what are you
most proud of when it comes to your BBQ logos?


I guess I'm most proud of the logos themselves. I love creating characters and I love it when a good character fits perfectly into a logo.

Why is a good logo so important in building a BBQ brand?


A logo should represent the personality of the team.

What questions do you have for a prospective customer?


I usually begin by asking if the customer has any ideas they want to see. I like to give them input since it's their logo.

Do most of your clients come to you with a fleshed out concept and know
what they want or do they give you some general ideas and let you take care
of the creative process?


99% of clients already have a basic idea of what they want. I will give creative input and add things if needed but usually I try to give them as much input as possible. It's thier logo and, most of the time, there are a lot personlized elements that only the client and their team would understand. They like to add "inside jokes" that make the logo very personalized.

Is there a ‘busy’ season for you? The competition season is coming up
quickly, how much lead time would you like to have on a project?


I don't really have a 'season'. I get logo requests year round. I like to have a
several days to create a logo. Most of the time, it doesn't take that long
but I like to have that in case I'm extremely busy.

How long does it take for you to get a logo to a customer after everything is agreed upon?

I've gotten logos done in a day and other times it's taken months. It really depends on how fast we respond to each other. I do this all day so I'm pretty fast in my responses. I've learned that some people don't check their e-mail as much as I do! :)

Do you operate on a flat rate or do you have special prices, for example, for customers who would be willing to use stock images or for charities, etc?

I charge $200 for a logo. I don't use clipart. I want each logo to
be unique.

Your rates extremely reasonable. Having a corporate logo designed can easily cost you thousands of dollars, and the quality is, at best, equal to yours. How do you keep your prices so low?

Never really thought about it. I started at a low price several years ago and just adjusted that price each year until the time involved was equaling the price. $200 seems to be a fair price for the time involved now. That may go up as the years go by but at this point, it seems fair. But, now that you mentioned it......:)

Although you do have some competitors, you are clearly the designer of
choice for most BBQ teams. What do you attribute that to?


I'm not sure. I like to think it's my openness to the clients input/ideas and my turn-around time.

What percentage of your business is dedicated to BBQ related logos?


About one-third of my total work is BBQ logos.




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Thursday, March 6, 2008

REVIEW: Louisiana Licker Sauce











Louisiana Lickers Sauce





Manufacturer
Quaker Steak and Lube

Website
www.quakersteakandlube.com

Quality *** (3.5 out of 5)
Viscosity *** (3 out of 5)
Heat *** (3 out of 5)
Appearance **** (4 out of 5)

This sauce was used on pulled pork that was cooked low and slow with apple wood.

Quaker Steak and Lube offer a wide variety of sauces. That’s a huge positive. Variety is growing in importance for me every day. Unfortunately, variety bereft of quality is meaningless. If the rest of their sauces are of the same quality as the Louisiana Licker sauce, I will have no complaints.

Most sauces that I review are a variation of the standard KC sauce. The manufacturer takes a standard base and then modifies it to (hopefully) achieve their goal of producing a quality BBQ sauce. Want a hot sauce? Add some tobasco. Want a sweet sauce? Add some corn syrup? Want a fruit sauce? Add some pineapple juice.

Quaker Steak and Lube seems to have gone in the opposite direction with their Louisiana Licker sauce. They have used a hot (but not overpowering) sauce as a base and modified that to come up with a BBQ sauce. It was very unusual and I had to try numerous samples before coming to a conclusion. It turned out that I liked it. I liked it quite a bit.

The aroma leaves little doubt that you are about to have a spicy addition to your meal. The sauce is redolent with the spices found in the sauce.

The sauce comes in a long, glass bottle with a plastic stopper similar to what you see on some beers. The liquid had an orangish hue, with different ingredients being visible and providing a nice contrast. The sauce was thinner than the standard sauce, but still worked well.

The heat doesn’t overpower the sauce. It has a lasting flavor without much of a burn. The sauce does change the flavor profile of the meat, but that’s not always a bad thing. If you are looking for an original flavor with a kick for your BBQ, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this sauce.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

INTERVIEW: Gary of PigTrip







If you are in the north east and are interested in BBQ, www.pigtrip.net is indispensable. Gary, the owner and creator of PigTrip, has created a resource for the community at large that not only provides details on where BBQ joints can be found, but he also provides detailed reviews of most restaurants. Gary’s site also offers general BBQ commentary, stunning photography, updates on openings and closings and comparative reviews from other sources.

As a lone voice in what was long a BBQ wasteland, PigTrip.net is a much needed resource. Providing coverage from New Jersey to Maine, Gary’s dedication to the hobby helps other enthusiasts navigate their way through the BBQ morass.

PigTrip.net continues to evolve and move forward. Already one of the best resources for restaurant reviews on the net regardless of region, Gary’s site sets the standard for BBQ aficionados looking to provide a guide to their part of the country.

Gary is someone whose opinion I have learned to trust, a Certified BBQ Judge, the owner of a site that I’ve come to depend on and a friend whose advice I always appreciate.

Q. What prompted you to start your site?

As a serious barbecue fan, I like to try every joint I can get to, so for years I was always looking for a resource to help me find pit stops for trips to my in-laws in New York (I'm from Boston). Most websites had incomplete or outdated information, so in 2005 I started compiling my own directory, just for myself. I also started writing short reviews, email them to a small group of friends. Eventually they convinced me to make this information public, and pigtrip.net was born.

Q. Can you give us an overview of how it evolved into what it is today?

The backbone of the site, at least as I see it, is the Joints directory, with reviews there for those who want to read what I have to say. As far as evolving, a typical review now has around 20 photos, as compared to only a half dozen or so in the early reviews. About three months into the site, I started blogging. Some of these posts were just updates about the site, but I also got into writing longer essays about topics like all you can eat strategies, tipping, BBQ joint pet peeves, how to tell a good BBQ joint and the differences between competition barbecue and restaurant barbecue.

Q. Although you write about all things BBQ, your focus is on restaurant reviews. What came first, the chicken or the egg? Did your interest in quality ‘Q stem from the restaurants you visited or your personal BBQ experiences?

Definitely from the restaurants. Here in the Northeast, smokers weren’t something you’d typically see in back yards until recently. Although I prefer to cook my own ‘cue, I don’t always have the time or the advance notice, so even now, it’s often more convenient to drive an hour for a barbecue meal than to smoke a pork butt all day.

Q. You have jumped into an underserved niche. You provide an overview of BBQ joints throughout the north east. This burgeoning market has no one else offering this service. Have you modeled your efforts on other regional review services for areas such as Memphis, Texas or Kansas City?

No, although in retrospect maybe I should have. I just set things up in such a way where you could use the site for whatever you want. If you want to read the directory and ignore my reviews, that’s cool. If you want to read the blog and ignore the directory, that’s cool too. I do have one regret: I purposely chose a home grown site over a true blog to allow flexibility, but I don’t have built in comments sections, search features and automatic permalinks like other blogs do.

Q. How do you find out about new places to visit?

I scour websites like Chowhound, Yelp, Eater, Grub Street and all the barbecue-related blogs. I also investigate a lot of the regional "tabloid" publications for areas like Portland, Fairfield and the Hudson Valley. And I still use good old fashioned Googling. Lately, I’m getting a lot of good input from my readers.


Q. Does your reviewing make it difficult for you to visit a BBQ place for a relaxed, casual lunch or dinner? Are you always ‘on’?

Yeah, it makes things hard, especially when it comes to taking photos without arousing attention and focusing on the flavors so I can remember what to write. I feel a lot less pressure to be "on assignment" if I’m visiting a joint I’ve already reviewed. I’ll just take one or two photos and then just treat it as a regular meal. But every restaurant visit, even the non-barbecue ones, gets the mental wheels turning. I just tend to observe a lot and think about things a lot. It just comes naturally.

Q. When you are taking stock of a restaurant, what do you grade a place on?

First and foremost, it’s the food. If it’s fresh, juicy and bursting with flavor, I’m sold, even if the atmosphere and service are lacking. I also like originality. It’s funny that you say "grade," because in my reviews I don’t give stars or scores or ratings for categories, because what you may call a 10 I may call an 8 and vice versa. I’ll talk about the look of the place, the variety of the menu, the appetizers, entrees, sides and sauces. You’ll definitely know what I thought, but I skip the numbers so you can make up your own mind. I try to let the photos help you do that.

Q. As an expert on the variety of BBQ found in the north east, do see any patterns? Are there any predominant styles?

I’d call myself more of a fan that an expert, I just visit a lot of BBQ joints. I think the Texas style, which is less sauce-intensive, is gaining more popularity now: partly because the public is ready to taste the meat first and foremost, partly because pitmasters are more skilled now than a decade ago, and partly because of the success of Hill Country. Speaking of sauces, I notice that in the Boston area you’ll find a lot more Carolina influences, with vinegar-based sauces more common than not on pulled pork. I attribute much of that to Chris Schlesinger’s influence. That’s the way he does it, and about a half dozen Boston area BBQ joints have some ties to his East Coast Grill in Cambridge.

Q. How long have you run PigTrip.net?


The site launched on August 1, 2006, although I started accumulating photos and compiling restaurant reviews since January 1, 2006.


Q. Have there been any favorite places that have closed during the time that you have been reviewing, or do you mostly see the restaurants failing that you would expect to fail?


For the most part, it’s been the survival of the fittest, but there have been some closings of places I’ll miss: Jake’s Boss BBQ (Jamaica Plain MA), Rouge (Boston MA) and Holy Smokes (West Hatfield MA) all come to mind. I also wish I had made it to Pearson’s in Manhattan (formerly Queens) before it closed.

Q. What traits do you see the successful places sharing?


Passion. There are many joints that exist primarily to make money, because barbecue is "in" nowadays. But the ones that exist because the pitmaster is passionate about barbecue are the ones that are my favorites. If by success you mean profitable, I can only guess, but I’d say the ones that have a varied enough menu to please everybody, along with the ones that are keeping it simple and executing well. I prefer the latter group.

Q. Your site continues to evolve. How do you decide what to add? Does feedback from your readership influence your decisions?


I wish I had time to do all the things I want to do. I do add items that I think my readers want to see, and that people comment favorably on. But I think most of the additions just happen naturally, as a result of my buying a new smoker, or visiting a new restaurant, or spending time with barbecue people who get my ideas flowing.

Q. What was your biggest surprise that you were pleased with at a BBQ joint?


Probably Goody Cole’s in Brentwood NH. Sometimes you just get a vibe based on the website or the signage and certain expectations fill your head. For whatever reason, I wasn’t expecting it to be anything special, and it turned out to be one of my favorites in the region. Swingbelly’s in Long Beach NY was a recent first visit that exceeded all expectation. For a specific item, I’d say tasting the burnt ends for the first time at RUB. It was like an epiphany.

Q. With all of your accumulated experience, have you ever considered opening your own BBQ joint?

I think about it all the time, but it’s mostly a dream. Although I’m often critical of BBQ joints, I’m the first to acknowledge that it’s a lot of hard work if you want to do it right. But even if I were successful, I wouldn’t be able to do what I really enjoy, which is going to restaurants (no, not all barbecue). If I could figure a way to operate only three days a week, and not depend on it to make a living, I’d love having my own place.

Q. What would you like to see more of in the restaurants that you review?

Barbecue fresh out of the smoker and onto the plate, with no reheating. There’s nothing like it.

Q. What do you see so much of that it inspires a gag reflex?

It’s not so much the food, though there’s more bad than good. It’s the overdone clichés, like the obligatory stacks of wood for show at New York joints. Or the endless shelves of pig paraphernalia. Or menu phrases like "Cooked to perfection" and "Smothered in our award winning barbecue sauce" and "Falling off the bone." Enough.

Q. What can we look forward to with PigTrip.net?

There will be more interviews, more coverage of the competition scene, recipes contributed from restaurants, interactive maps and updates for many of the earlier reviews. I’m also going to try to get back into writing longer essays, which have appeared less frequently lately. Someday I’d like to expand to include the Philadelphia area, but that’s at least two years away. There are still too many joints left in New England, New York and New Jersey that I need to hit.



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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

REVIEW: Heads Red BBQ Sauce












Heads Red BBQ Sauce








Manufacturer
Heads Red BBQ

Website www.headsredbbq.com

Quality **** (4.5 out of 5)
Viscosity **** (4 out of 5)
Aroma *** (3 out of 5)
Appearance **** (4 out of 5)
Packaging *** (3 out of 5)

This sauce was used on pulled pork and brisket that was cooked low and slow over cherry wood. The opinions are both mine and Will Breakstone’s, owner and pit-master of Willie B’s Award Winning BBQ.

Heads Red BBQ Sauce is the sauce that has helped the Chi-Town Smokers place in numerous competitions. You can visit Heads Red BBQ website to view an impressive list of their accomplishments.

The sauce comes in an 18 oz. glass bottle. The labeling is fairly sparse, with red text on a white background. The aroma is fairly mild and is not indicative of the taste of this very enjoyable sauce.

The thickness of the sauce is just right. Not overly ‘gloopy’ and certainly not runny. This deep red sauce adheres to the meat well and avoids pooling.

Heads Red BBQ Sauce is a sweet sauce with a very mild heat that is superbly integrated into the flavor profile. The flavor lingers without being obtrusive. There is a depth of flavor in sauces that are made to first please the manufacturer and then everyone else. You certainly get the feeling that if they didn’t enjoy the sauce it wouldn’t make it out of the warehouse.

Of the mild KC style sauces, this is clearly one of the best. I highly recommend this sauce and it has earned a permanent spot on my shelf. The sauce can be purchased in numerous retail outlets in the Midwest. For online sales visit their site and check under ‘where to buy’.

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Monday, March 3, 2008

CONTESTS: Free Russ and Frank's Sauce





Free Sauce for March

The Home of BBQ is proud to announce that our free sauce giveaway contest for March is being sponsored by Russ and Frank’s.

Russ and Frank’s offers three varieties of sauce and each is competition worthy straight out of the bottle. That is not PR from the company, that’s my personal opinion. Their sauces are among the very best that I have tasted and my view is shared by the judges at numerous contests where their sauce has won prestigious awards.

Go to their products page to see what the last sauce on that page is. Use the contact form at the bottom of this page to let me know. Three correct submissions will win free sauce, a BBQ calendar and more.

Regardless of who gets the free sauce, anyone who tries Russ and Frank’s products are winners.

CLICK HERE to visit their site.

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Sunday, March 2, 2008

CONTESTS: February's Winners

Congratulations to February’s Grand Prize Winner: John Rickert

John will be receiving two bottles of sauce from Woody’s Foods, a tee shirt, a BBQ calendar another random bottle of sauce and more.

Congratulations to February’s First Place Winner: Michael Scyr

Michael will be receiving a bottle of sauce from Woody’s Foods, a tee shirt, a BBQ calendar another random bottle of sauce and more.

Congratulations to February’s Second Place Winner
: Therese Munroe

Therese will be receiving a bottle of sauce from Woody’s Foods, a tee shirt, a bbq calendar and a random jar of rub.

Thanks to everyone that entered. Enter our contest for March (see sidebar to left) for a chance to win BBQ sauce from Russ and Frank’s and a BBQ calendar.

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Saturday, March 1, 2008

RAMBLINGS: Competition Month

Welcome to March!

We extend our grateful thanks to Woody's Foods for their support of February's contest. Winners of Woody's sauces will be notified and an announcement will be made over the next few days. Thanks again to Michael Payne and Timothy Bisson for their knowledge and assistance with the Beer and BBQ Pairings.

This month we will be focusing on BBQ Competitions. We will be offering weekly interviews with competitors, organizers, reps and more. We will be presenting an interview with the leading designer of team logos and we are working on an interview with a tax expert who will discuss the financial implications of competing.

I will be presenting two resources for cook-off organizers this month. The first is a fairly comprehensive document outlining expenses for those interested in starting a competition and the second is a program that organizers can use to help determine how much they need to rent or buy of the different items needed for a contest. Simply plug in how many teams you have competing and everything else is outputted.

We are pleased to announce that the sponsor for March's free BBQ sauce contest is Russ and Frank's BBQ Sauce. The contest will start in the next few days.

Check back often for updates.

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