Monday, March 30, 2009

Ramblings: KCBS & Small Events

KCBS: Protecting IP’s or Draconian Overkill?

Why quibble? Let’s surmise that both are true.

It seems that the KCBS has been much more active of late in aggressively protecting what they perceive to be their intellectual properties. As a supporter and member of the KCBS, I am in full support of this. As with many things in life, the problem here is not in what they are attempting to do, but how they are going about it.

A number of small, non-sanctioned contests have been receiving official ‘cease and desist’ letters from the KCBS, claiming that the organizers have been utilizing protected material without the consent of the KCBS. Oddly, these claims have extended to grilling contests.

I’m arranging for an interview with a lawyer to be published here next week where we will discuss in broad terms the legal implications of the actions by the KCBS and what is and what isn’t protected material. I fully endorse the KCBS doing whatever is necessary to ensure that their name and protected properties are neither abused nor slip into the public domain. Unfortunately, the sudden and severe measures taken by the KCBS run the risk of alienating the very people that they depend on to grow the hobby and their membership.

As someone involved in the organizational aspects of competition BBQ in my area, I have had conversations with a number of organizers who have received these letters and have expressed serious concern and consternation. These are the people in the trenches, selflessly working to promote the hobby we all care about. Not only was their first contact from the KCBS about their events one that was inherently hostile, it also lacked specificity and an attempt to work with organizer to ameliorate the situation.

What could have the KCBS done better? Glad you asked.

1) An initial letter stating the event in question was utilizing intellectual properties owned by the KCBS and that the event in its current form would need to be sanctioned by the KCBS for the 2010 season. That would allow a one year grace period, which would have been especially appreciated by events that received the cease and desist letter within a month’s time of their event, not allowing them much time to fix whatever problems that exist.

2) Be specific. The letters were general in nature and provided no specificity. What do you perceive to be too close to KCBS’ protected practices? If the KCBS can’t identify the problem areas than it is hard for the organizers to accommodate their requests.

3) Attempt to work with the organizers. Offer a one year reduced fee. Provide a public domain alternate set of rules or guidelines for starting events and allow them to grow into ‘the bigtime’ with full blown sanctioning. Put them in contact with KCBS Reps in their area who can answer questions for them and offer advice.

In addition to running the risk of offending the very people that they need to promote their existence to the general public, the KCBS has also let it be known that their official event representatives are not to assist at non-KCBS sanctioned events. This ban is not limited to BBQ competitions but at the very least extends to Grilling contests. Does it include chili cook-offs? What about cake decorating contests? I don’t know, but it would be interesting to find out.

So, if there is a dearth of smaller, start up competitions in the near future, we have at least one direction to look when seeking a cause.

We will be looking into this further and providing more detailed information.


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Friday, March 27, 2009

Review: Texas BBQ

Texas BBQ

By: Wyatt McSpadden

Publisher: University of Texas Press

160 pages

How good is ‘Texas BBQ’? It’s good enough to make me regret my lack of a reasonable visual aesthetic and a master of photography nomenclature. If the old trope that a picture is worth a thousand words is accurate, than this book is a collection of some of the most eloquent essays I have ever had the pleasure of viewing.

As I alluded to earlier, the visual arts are not my forte. In spite of this, I was in awe as I flipped through this pictorial of Texas pits and pitmasters. Some of the photos are breathtaking, some are vibrant and some are rustic; but they are all evocative and alluring.

If you are a student of BBQ, you will find an almost emotional resonance with the images in this book. The impact of these photos is visceral. You can almost feel the dry heat, smell the mesquite and meat smoke and hear the west Texas twang as customers sit at a threadbare counter.

I’m sure that if I spent the time doing some research, I would find that most of the commentary on this book will be from the community of avid photographers. There is a purity evident in the photos that speaks to the people who choose BBQ as an avocation. Hard working people who take the time to do something the right way and refuse to cut corners come to life as you slip from page to page.

There is a lack of joviality in these photos. For the practitioners, BBQ is a serious business. This does not convey a sense of drudgery as much as an appropriate solemnity. For the subjects of this pictorial, BBQ is a way of life, deserving of respect and filled with tradition.

Even for someone as blind to the artistry as I am can appreciate the mastery of Mr. McSpadden. There is an image of Roy Perez from Kreuz Market where he is holding a shovel full of glowing charcoal. Mr. Perez looks like a cross between a latter year Elvis and Hephaestus, as he tends to a mythic forge and a crucible for brisket. There is another image of Jim Sells of Smitty’s Market tending to the pit, where the entire setting looks like it could have been pulled from a renaissance era castle.

My favorite image is of the smoker from Big Earl’s Texas Style Bar-B-Que. There are streams of light breaking the darkness as the sun fights its way through the slotted wall. While everything else is in heavy shadow, the light illuminates the smoker, as if offering a promise of BBQ mana from a beneficent God who knows that true BBQ resides in Texas.

Regular readers will have surmised that I have had my hands on a large amount of BBQ related books. Some of those books are ‘low and slow’ travelogues, taking us through the backwoods of our native cuisine. Many have photos that bring to mind what words alone can’t.

Let me assure you that none are as eloquent and as realized as those found in ‘Texas BBQ’.


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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Review: Playing with Fire: Whining & Dining on the Gold Coast

Playing with Fire: Whining & Dining on the Gold Coast

By: Thomas G. Schaudel

Publisher: Legwork Team Publishing

408 pages

Although this isn’t a BBQ book per se, it is well worth a look by anyone interested in the world of restaurants and catering. To allay the fears of those who are only interested in BBQ related books, there is at least one story that you will find of interest involving a near conflagration at a vineyard.

When reading about Playing with Fire you are going to notice comparisons to Kitchen Confidential. Those comparisons are apt, both in the content and in the authors. Where Kitchen Confidential stands at the doorway helping the reader peek into the kitchen, Playing with Fire turns the reader around 180 degrees and presents a view of the customers as seen through the eyes of a restaurateur.

I don’t want to pursue the comparisons much further, but like Bourdain, Chef Schaudel is a natural raconteur. It is evident that if he decided to hang up his spatula, he could find a second career as a writer. Where Bourdain is acerbic with a sharp wit, Tom Schaudel is good natured and exhibits a zen like acceptance of the bizarre and often outrageous behavior of his customers.

The book is a compilation of vignettes, most about three pages in length. Over the course of his long and rather illustrious career as a restaurateur on Long Island, Chef Schaudel has seen behavior in his dining rooms, bars and restrooms that is as shocking as it is humorous. He conveys these stories with humor and a bit of hyperbole, often leaving the reader to wonder how Schaudel managed to refrain from physical violence when confronted by social barbarism.

Whether it is a woman who uses a birdcage from the ladies room as a disguise to make it past her cuckolded husband who is eating in the same restaurant as his wife and her paramour or the pack of octogenarian kleptomaniacs who consider the theft of a menu holder to be a signal victory, the book is replete with examples of behavior that would make Attila the Hun blush.

I thoroughly enjoyed Playing with Fire and hope that we don’t have quite as long of a wait for the next book by Schaudel. If my recommendation isn’t enough for you, how is this for an eclectic fan base? The opening testimonial is by guitar legend Steve Vai and the foreword is from author Nelson DeMille.


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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Interview: Chris Lilly

Chris Lilly is a legend amongst serious BBQ fans. Chris has won the prestigious Memphis in May competition numerous times and has been a State Champion at least 8 times.

Chris is a Vice President of the acclaimed Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q and is the head of their competition team. Mr. Lilly is the corporate PitMaster for Kingsford Charcoal.

We are thrilled that he has agreed to take some time to talk to us about BBQ.

Q. How did you get your start in BBQ?

A: I met my wife in college, and she just happened to be the great-granddaughter of Big Bob Gibson. I've always been a foodie, but it was through her that I really got involved. I was definitely not going to college to cook barbecue! I double majored in marketing and finance and after graduation I got a job in Franklin, Tenn., in pharmaceutical sales.

Don, my wife's father, always wanted to open another restaurant in Decatur, Ala. but he never had anyone to run it, so he decided to build one and offered me the job. They were so supportive of me coming in and learning. When I first started, I came in with the pit guys at 6 a.m. and spent years learning the BBQ techniques of Big Bob Gibson. I didn't feel comfortable managing the staff unless I knew how to barbecue myself.

Q. With your success as a competitive pitmaster and your involvement with Kingsford, you have become something of an ambassador for BBQ. When you travel to areas of the country where people think that BBQ is grilling up burgers and hotdogs, what is the most important concept that you try to convey about true BBQ?

A: I tell them that barbecue is all about improvising and making do with what you got. I give them a taste of great barbecue and tell them that they can most definitely get that same great taste at home with a kettle grill and a bag of charcoal. I also make sure they know the difference between grilling and barbecuing and show them how to set their grill up for each style of cooking.

Q. What do you enjoy the most about speaking with the public at an event like Memphis in May where there is an audience that is educated about BBQ?

A: Memphis is like a big family reunion for those of us competing, so the whole event is a lot of fun. Talking to people who really know BBQ is also always a great time, because they like to share their cooking experiences with you – I learn a lot. It is always fascinating to me to explore more complex ideas and levels of cooking with BBQ veterans. It’s sort of like a jam session with musicians.

Q. What do you enjoy the most about speaking with the public at an event like the Big Apple BBQ in the middle of Manhattan where people are not as conversant with our national cuisine?

A: Big Apple BBQ is a great event, and the reason it’s so cool is that you’ve got people from all walks of life there gathering for what is essentially a big cookout. Everyone’s having a good time eating, drinking, learning new things and hanging out with each other – which is really the best part about barbecue.

You always hear stories of how short tempered and hard New Yorkers are but I have never seen it, especially when I am breaking down a whole pork shoulder. I think they are very appreciative that we will take the time to travel to their city and visit with them at this wonderful event. BBQ conversation in NYC is great because people are always open to hear your story and eager to share theirs.

Q. Kingsford has a wide array of briquettes. In addition to the standard, they also have flavored briquettes such as Mesquite and Hickory. They have recently introduced Competition Briquets. What advantages does this new product offer the serious griller? What advantage does it offer those that would use it for smoking?

A: New Kingsford Competition Briquets are unique because they combine the high heat that you traditionally associate with lump charcoal with the consistent burn of a charcoal briquet. A serious griller is going to see that this allows for the ultimate versatility when cooking - whether that’s searing, slow cooking, smoking or advanced grilling techniques. The new product is also 100 percent all-natural and is made of the same quality wood char that is used in the original blue bag.

As far as the advantages for those grillers who are looking to use the low and slow method and smoke their foods, the high heat capabilities of the new Kingsford Competition Briquets is actually perfect for them. What you have to remember is that heat and smoke in a charcoal grill are like wattage that you can dial up or down depending on your cooking method of choice. By controlling the air flow through your grill, you can leverage this product’s high heat for low and slow cooking.

Q. Looking into your crystal ball, what changes do you see for BBQ in the next 20 years or so?

A: I truly hope we see the past 20 years mirrored in the next 20 years. Since I have been in the barbecue business I have seen great strides in not only the popularity of barbecue but the education of barbecue. Many people are just now grasping the idea that barbecuing is not just burgers, hotdogs and sauce. The idea that our style of low and slow barbecue is a truly American cuisine is now taking hold.

The next 20 years should begin with continued promotion and education. I am presently working with the Atlanta History Museum on a project called “Barbecue Nation.” This will be a traveling museum tour which celebrates the rich history and cultural influences of barbecue. We are 2-3 years away from the completion of the project but support and participation are overwhelming.

Through education the popularity of barbecue should continue to thrive. Barbecue is not restricted to the road side shacks and joints of the South. Events such as the South Beach Wine and Food Festival and organizations such as the James Beard Foundation have embraced this American food culture.

Q. May 12th will see the release of Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book. Is this the first cookbook that you have worked on?

A: Other than submitting recipes, doing interviews for other people’s cookbooks and writing the foreword to Ray Lampe’s “Dr. BBQ’s Big-Time Barbecue Road Trip!”, yes, this is my first cookbook. May I also add that writing a cookbook is a full time job!!!

Q. What can readers look forward to in this book?

A: There has never been a BBQ personality as over-the-top as Big Bob Gibson. This book focuses on him, snippets of his life, and his philosophies of cooking. I also throw in a few of my experiences over the years.

While life at Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q is the back-drop of this book, the main focus is barbecue methods, techniques, strategies, and recipes. How do you make a dry rub? What type of wood should you use? What are some of the most efficient grill set-up techniques? Beef, pork, poultry, ribs, sauces, four hooves and a fire; all is covered in a way that will encourage a BBQ beginner to fire up his grill and provide the seasoned veteran with new cooking tangents to explore.

No ghost writer, no recipe consultant; just a guy who loves barbecue and is excited about the opportunity to share his family’s passion and experiences.

Q. Let’s say that a novice griller has a new Weber kettle, a bag of Kingsford Charcoal and a good cut of meat. What would be the most important piece of advice that you would offer them as they get ready to embark on their first foray into the world of grilling?

A: The piece of advice I would offer up is to build a two-zone fire in your charcoal grill for direct and indirect heat. It is important to then make sure that you understand where to place different cuts of meat on the grill. Normally, I like to grill the thin cuts of meat that are ready to go in a short amount of time, like a nice flank steak for instance, directly over the charcoal. For the thicker cuts of meat that need to cook “low and slow,” they need to be placed over indirect heat. The advantages of this two-zone fire is that if the food in my hot zone starts cooking too fast on the outside, I just slide it over to the other side to finish the job and make sure it cooks through in the middle without charring.

And lastly, I would say that any griller, no matter their level of experience, just needs to make sure that they have a love for the arts because barbecue is an art.


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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Recipe: Grilled Potatoes

Grilled Potatoes

2 lbs small or nugget potatoes (halved)

4 tbsp olive oil

3 sprigs of basil

1 tspn oregano

1 tspn rosemary

3 cloves garlic

1 tbsp Rub

Ensure that potatoes pieces are of uniform size. Coat potatoes with olive oil. Sprinkle on rub, oregano and rosemary. Wrap in tinfoil with the basil and garlic. Place on grill for 30 minutes.


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Friday, March 13, 2009

Recipe: Grilled Cabbage

Grilled Cabbage

1 Head of Cabbage

12 tablespoons lager

6 tablespoons butter

6 tablespoons dry rub

Remove the core of the cabbage. Divide the cabbage into 6 wedges. Sprinkle 1 tbsp of rub over a wedge. Place wedge, 2 tbsp lager and 1 tbsp butter in tin foil. Wrap and repeat with other 5 wedges. Place wedges on grill for roughly 45 minutes. Cabbage is done when you are comfortable with the consistency.



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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Recipe: Corned Beef Brine

Corned Beef

Here is a recipe for basic brine for making your own corned beef for St. Patrick’s Day. You will need to make multiples of this recipe depending on the size of your brisket. The brisket will (of course) need to be fully submerged in the brine.

How long should you leave the brisket in the brine? Some recipes call for as short as three days, others call for seven or more. My advice would be to set up the brine immediately and pull the brisket the night before St. Patrick’s Day.

The recipe calls for ‘pickling spices’. Here is a list of what goes into pickling spices, but it might just be easier to purchase some from most stores (spice aisle) or via an online retailer such as Penzey’s:


2 cinnamon sticks, broken into small pieces

1 tablespoon mustard seeds (whole)

2 teaspoons black peppercorns (whole)

1 teaspoon whole cloves

½ teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon cardamom

1 teaspoon whole allspice

1 teaspoon coriander

1 teaspoon juniper berries

1 teaspoon crumbled whole mace

1 teaspoon dill seeds

4 dried bay leaves

1 small piece dried ginger

Your pickling spices will last up to 4 months if stored in a dark area in a dry, airtight container.

Corned Beef (with thanks to

4 quarts water

1 cup kosher salt

12 cloves garlic, crushed

3 tablespoons pickling spices

8 bay leaves

1 cup white vinegar

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

5 cups sugar


Bring the water to a boil. Remove from heat and add the salt and saltpeter (optional). Stir until the salt is completely dissolved. Allow to cool. Stir in the other ingredients. The brine is now ready for use. For brining, always use a non-reactive, air tight container like plastic or stainless steel.

Smoke your brisket as you would otherwise.


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Monday, March 9, 2009

Ramblings: BBQ Cleaning

Spring Cleaning

The weekend before last we were the lucky recipients of more than 12” of snow. This past weekend we had weather in the 60’s. That’s the hallmark of the start of Spring here in the north east.

I smoked a couple of Bacon Explosion variants and grilled up a bunch of hamburgers on Saturday. While using the snow as a safe place to hold the hot charcoal chimney, I realized that it was time to start getting serious about prepping for grilling weather.

Step One: Assess Your Equipment

Does anything need to be replaced? Are the hoses for the propane on your gas grill fully intact? Does the igniter still work? What’s the condition of your charcoal chimney (mine was horrible)? Has water gotten into your any of your thermometers?

Step Two: Tightening it Up

How are your grills structurally? Is there a handle loose? Do you need to tighten the legs on your WSM? Is the ash sweeper moving smoothly?

Step Three: Cleaning

There are a number of sites out there that offer specific and excellent advice for cleaning your grills. Derrick Riches of has a great article on general cleaning found here.

What about rusting? A light sanding and a trip to your local hardware store for high temp paint will take care of that.

Looking to get the shine back on those cooking grates? A trip to any BBQ supply store will offer both new grates for most grills and solvents specifically made for cleaning BBQ grates. If you have none near you, check online for stores such as these.

Step Four: Tools

If you are checking out your equipment, you might as well take a look at your tools.

Go over your spatulas, forks, brushes, baskets, rib racks, abt holders and the rest. Make sure that they are cleaned and in good working order.

Step Five: Start Cooking!

Get out there and do some grilling or BBQ’ing.


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Monday, March 2, 2009

Review: Paul Kirk's Championship Barbecue Sauces

Championship Barbecue Sauces

Author: Paul Kirk

Publisher: Harvard Common Press

Page Count: 262

There are three things that immediately come to mind when you take a look at Championship Barbeque Sauces. The first is the pedigree. The author is a legend in competition BBQ. He has won countless awards, including the Grand Championship at the American Royal. After being assured that you are in good hands, you realize that the title is a bit of a misnomer. The cover lets you know that in spite of the title, sauces aren’t the only subject matter. Marinades, rubs mops and salsas are also covered. The last item to catch your attention as you flip through the first few pages is that this book is 11 years old. Is it still relevant?

It’s hard to be disappointed in a well written book that contains 54 pages of BBQ sauces when sauces are your focus. If this book does present something to be disappointed in, however; it is that those 54 pages are out of a total of 262 and the book is entitled ‘Championship Barbecue Sauce’. The mustards, relishes, mops and salsas are all interesting and relevant, but they aren’t sauces. If that is my only major complaint, it should tell you something about the quality of this book.

Paul Kirk is a giant in the field and this book offers you some insight into why that is. The man is an expert who speaks with a friendly, down to earth and colloquial tone. His manner isn’t overly ‘folksy’ as if he were adopting mannerisms to appeal to a specific audience, nor is it overly stilted and bogged down in detail; like you might find in a sauce book by Harold McGee.

Although there were many recipes that I would consider ‘basic’, there were none that I would consider ‘simple’ or a waste of space. There is plenty here to appeal to both the novice and the expert. Kirk covers everything from flavor profiles to methodologies.

Although the book pays some attention to regional differences, I would have preferred a more in depth discussion of how sauces differ from region to region and why. Is there anything in the book that could have been jettisoned to make room for such a discussion? Sure. How about the BBQ sauce worksheet? I have no idea what that is doing there. The listing of resources is extremely limited and almost anachronistic. The reader would have been much better served if the book pointed to a comprehensive list of resources instead of offering said resources itself.

Overall, this book is a treasure trove and is one of the most important books in my collection. I would absolutely love to see this book updated and expanded. I understand the problems with building and maintaining a brand identity, but they might also consider renaming the book to reflect the fact that sauces occupy less than a third of the pages here.


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