January 2006

The following review was submitted by Bob Novak aka “drbob” on the BBQ Forum with minor editing by the reporter.

Santa Fe BBQ Company
1505 Encinitas Blvd.
Encinitas, CA 92024
Ph# 760-632-5BBQ
Web site: www.sfbbq.com

A large group of us recently enjoyed a delicious luncheon in honor of Danny Gaulden and his wife. The group included two pit masters with several grand champions, a master judge, 2 certified experienced judges and some wives. The restaurant is at 1305 Encinitas Blvd., Encinitas California, about 30 minutes north of San Diego. Nice clean cheery atmosphere. They use Olyler pit, all their smoked meats are cooked with times like competition cookers would do. Sides are made fresh twice a day. Combo plates are varied and it is possible to get what you want. Ribs are cut in third slab portions. Rather then quarter slabs like other restaurants. We were hosted by Matt Deleone-General Mgr. and Rick Heidt-President. They are in a learning mode, but both agree, no sacrifice to quality for profits.

They have even installed a bank of Microsoft X-Boxes for the youngsters to keep them occupied and large screen Digital screen all over for sports and special events. I had the pulled pork sandwich, tasty with hint of smoke, moist and tender, Ribs were properly cooked, tender and very tasty. They were out of chicken during our visit, but there is little doubt there would have been any difference in quality. All there judged the food including sides very good and all agreed, they would return. We were allowed full access, the premises are spotless, and all employees regardless of position are involved in keeping the interior clean and inviting. There is plenty of parking in the rear and a pleasant little outdoor dining area (patio). They are on the web at www.sfbbq.com. Phone number (706)-632-5bbq. A great place in keeping with our traditions. Brisket cooked 18 hours the night before, judged a 9 by the 3 judges. All foods judged 9’s. Try it you will like it.

Bob Novak

This is the time of year competitors get antsy. The holidays have come and gone and you’ve begun thinking about the competition schedule for next year. Where do you begin? How do you choose where to go? How many should you do? Nobody can answer most of the questions you ask yourself except yourself. But some tidbits of advice are in order.

Yes make yourself a budget. Alright, this isn’t an absolutely necessary requirement, but it does help to understand how much you and/or your family are willing to afford on this pastime. It’s essential when determining how to split costs with partners. Some folks choose not to because they have the financial wherewithal to do anything, or they take serious issue with having to budget for a hobby or pastime. I know for me, starting out with a budget helps to thwart disappointment in not being able to do this every week.

Competitions are expensive, from entry fees, to meat, to fuel costs, to lodging, to all the spices, rubs, sauces, etc. And that’s just some of the recurring costs of each contest. If you were very diligent about budgeting, you’d include the start up costs of smokers, and canopies, and coolers, and tables, and…I think you get the picture. Honestly, after the first contest, I didn’t bother to track those one-time costs anymore.

Get used to operating in the red. Competition cooking isn’t a money making venture. There’s some cash to be won, and if you’ve done your homework, and practiced, you might even be able to take some home. But it’s best not to get into this game assuming you can be self supportive with your earnings.

Get out a calendar and look at what constraints you have on your time. Every competitor has the good fortune of being able to dedicate as much time to this hobby as is available to them. Some get to dedicate more than others. Most of us have too many balls in the air just juggling the work/family responsibilities. Add into that already tight schedule several weekends dedicated to cooking, and all of a sudden time becomes a bigger constraint than money. But that’s ok. Taking the time early on to set your own and your team’s expectations of how much you’re going dedicate to competition BBQ will result in a much more fulfilling experience each time you venture out. For instance, there are about 12 – 14 contests that I would love to participate in (not including the Royal and Jack). But after factoring in family vacations, get togethers, dance recitals, birthday parties, work travel schedules, school events, house maintenance, etc; it becomes pretty obvious that I’m not making it to that many. Does that make me a less dedicated person to BBQ? Maybe in the minds of some, but in the end, it’s my mind that has to rest easy. And at the 6 or so contests that I do get to attend, I get to dedicate all my energy towards prepping, cooking and serving the best BBQ I can.

Really this is related to time more than anything else. The further away a competition, the more time consuming it becomes. Determine what your limits to driving distance might be. Is 3 hours you maximum tolerance, or are you willing to drive 6 hours for a competition? When first starting out, most newbies probably keep that driving distance on the small side. As your scores improve and as you meet some success, it’s easier to justify longer drives.

Something else to consider when mapping out a schedule is the journey itself. Some contests are held in remote hovels of Americana. One of the biggest rewards I get out of competition cooking is making the trek to some of these locations. For me it’s an escape from the urban rituals. In some cases, it involves a significant departure from the main highways, enabling me to take a snapshot of rural America that isn’t afforded me on a daily basis. Some competitors already have that I’m sure, but for me; I always look forward to the journey.

Maybe eventually this becomes more important, but especially for newbies; don’t get caught up in seeking high pay out contests. Sometimes it works out that the nearest and best sized contest is the best payout, sometimes it doesn’t. Honestly, so far, I haven’t considered payout in any of the contests I’ve attended. Guess that still reaffirms my distinction as a Newbie.

Aright, bragging rights. Yes, lets all admit it, one of the main drivers for all of us competing in the first place to have the elusive bragging rights that you did this or that at a competition. And some contests have more prestige thus carrying more bragging rights than others. I will also suggest that this should be as far from a newbie cook’s mind as possible. Remember, if the contest has a reputation as a “great” contest, there’s a good chance that many of the best teams and cooks will be there, after all that’s what makes it great. And great equals tough. Its tough not only for the newbie cooks, but also for everyone participating in that contest. I’m not suggesting that just because a contest has a phenomenal reputation to pass it up. Ask yourself what are expectations from attending this contest and if your satisfied that it will be a good experience, do it by all means.

Finally, do a little background digging about a contest you might be interested in. Post a message on the Forum inquiring about a contest, there’s tons of advice to be had. Ask fellow competitors at a contest which ones are their favorites. Another good way to assess a contest is to become a judge, and judge at those contests. I did this for some of the contests that were a little further away than my initial comfort zone. Having judged there and assessed the venue, and the atmosphere, I can better determine whether I want to go through the trouble of transporting all the equipment the longer distance to compete. One contest is getting added to my schedule this year because I did just that.

So get your maps out, your spreadsheets ready, clean up those smokers and start getting motivated. Hope to see you out there soon.

Saturday 14, January 2006

Bill Milroy

Texas Rib Rangers has been competing in barbecue cook-offs and championships since 1992. Owners/creators, Bill and Barbara Milroy, travel all over the country sweeping high honors in everything from cooking competitions to barbecue sauce challenges. Currently, Texas Rib Rangers holds the titles for the first and third best barbecue sauce in the world, along with countless other recognitions and awards. In a contest with well over 500 entries, Texas Rib Rangers entered 4 barbecue sauces and walked out with first, second, third, and fourth place.

31:59 minutes 7.5 megs 13 seconds to download by cable broadband

The following review was submitted by Stan in MD, a regular forum contributor. Minor editing by the reporter.

Smokey Hollow BBQ
7500 Montpelier Road, #116
Laurel, Maryland 20723

This past weekend my wife, daughter and I had the pleasure of eating at Smokey Hollow BBQ. The restaurant is owned by Dave who is a BBQ forum member.

Smokey Hollow is in a small strip shopping center just off Route 29 between I-70 and Washington, DC. It is a bright, airy place with a very friendly staff. It is mostly carryout with three small tables for eat in. From the moment you walk in the door you get that wonderful combination of meat, spice and smoke aroma that tells you are in a “real” BBQ place.

Now to the important thing, the food. My daughter had a pulled pork sandwich that was filled with a very generous serving of pulled pork. She is the real mustard sauce enthusiast in the group and she pronounced not only the pork, but also the sauce to be extremely good. My wife and I shared a sampler that included ribs, brisket and pulled pork. The flavor of all was very good. The ribs were a bit tenderer than I would prefer, but I know that when you are selling to the public you have to give what the majority of people are looking for. The pork was very tasty. I thought the brisket could have been sliced just a tad thicker to make a slightly moister product but it was very tender and the flavor was very good. We tried three of the sauces, mustard, gorilla and Carolina style vinegar. All were very good. I really liked the mustard and Carolina on the pulled pork and the gorilla (which has a bit of a pepper kick) on the brisket.

I had a chance to talk to Dave who is very open to suggestions and is continuing to make adjustments and is an all around nice guy.

All in all, very good food, great service and reasonable prices, what more could you ask for?

There you sit in the hot sun, not sure whether its exhaustion or relief that’s caused you to collapse in your seat. Your heart begins pumping a little faster. You try concealing your nervousness, but its not working. The heart pounding reminds you that you still have a competitive streak in you. You’re brimming with anticipation. You’ve practiced, and practiced, you’ve prepared, you’ve cooked and you’ve submitted your food to the judges. At the awards ceremony, the moment of truth has arrived…”Tenth place chicken goes to…” Oh how you wish it was your name. But before you get here, there’s a whole lot that happens on BBQ Saturday. Here’s the final installment of the three part series shedding some light onto what goes on at a competition from a cook’s perspective.

BBQ Friday is characterized by pockets of intense activity followed by extended duration of lull time. BBQ Saturday is quite different. It starts sedate and calm, just like the dawn. As the sun rises to its zenith, so does the activity and stress levels of the BBQ cooks, culminating in an hour and a half of self induced penance we affectionately call “turn-in.”

Dawn – BBQ Saturday starts with coffee and the rising sun. First order of business: establish how the briskets and butts have cooked. Are they still cooking at temperature, do the fires need fuel, and what do they look like? We don’t peek at the meat until this point, but now its time. I suppose everyone has a little different opinion here, but for me, dawn is my favorite time of a contest. It’s usually cool and fresh, a welcome relief from the sweltering heat of the previous evening, or the rest of the day to come. It’s filled with anticipation of a good cook and memories of good times and conversations shared just a couple hours earlier. But there’s not much time to take in the moment. Looking at the clock it’s 7 hours or so before rib turn-ins, and it’s time to get them and the cooker ready. Up until this point, all the activities that need done have been manageable, but Saturday morning brings a completely different demand on your ability to manage time. Best practice is to have a plan, a Gantt chart, a white board, a Blackberry reminder, strings around your fingers, what ever it takes to have some reminders of what needs done.

Early Morning – Those hours between 7:00a and 9 or 10a can be different for each contest. The big meats come off and go into their storage. Ribs may or may not get foiled depending on your approach, and chicken will go on sometime towards the end of that time period. The biggest activity during this period should be preparing for the anarchy of the hours between 11:00a and 1:35p. This means getting the prep site cleaned as much as possible, washing greens if you’re using, and getting boxes ready for turn-in. Sauces may need some final tweaking. We usually take some time to start the packing process as well. Things that aren’t needed anymore are prepared for the return trip. You’ll also find yourself chatting with fellow competitors, although now the banter doesn’t have the same light heartedness of Friday night. A feeling of anxiousness begins to creep into body language. There are attempts to cover the nervousness with feigned confidence or nonchalance, but it’s unmistakably there. This is the time where a contest begins to transform from a great gathering of friends to, well a contest. Well wishes are exchanged as the cooks retreat to the privacy of their canopies or campers to prepare for the anarchy ahead.

Late morning – More strangers will start walking by…You’ll have a good gauge on how your brisket and butts have cooked up…If you’re lucky, there will be no Bobcat tractors around to knock over your WSM (yes that happened to me once…great story, with a happy ending!).

After about 10:30a, the real franticness sets in. Butts are wrapped….Briskets are resting…Ribs are cooking…If It’s not on, the chicken will be soon…sauces are simmering….Dishes are being washed…Boxes are going being prepped one more time…Knives are honed…And cooks pace.

11:00a – 11:35aThis is the absolute busiest time of a contest…Chicken and Ribs each demand attention…At first the clock seems to slow down, you’re staring at it every 30 seconds…Chicken comes to temperature…Glaze applied…Ribs need flipped and glazed…Chicken needs moved…Wind comes out of nowhere rocking the canopy…Ribs need some more attention…You look at the clock, and suddenly, the moment of truth has descended up you…

Chicken’s off the cooker.
The best pieces are selected.
They get staged on the cutting board.
They are rotated, and rotated again, and rocked, and shifted, and rotated, and moved around like something resembling a 6 piece shell game.
Fingers become numb from handling the hot meat.
Into the box…doesn’t look right, rearrange, try again
11:50 – 5 minutes till turnings begin
Rearrange again…still not right…rearrange
11:54 – 1 minute
Looks good…a little piece of garnish here…there…looks real good
11:55 – Turn-ins begin
Cooks and runners start walking by.
Take the picture.
Bless it with a little luck
Close it up…wrap it up…hand it to my wife…kids blow kisses…off it goes.

At that point in time at my very first contest I collapsed onto a cooler. I couldn’t believe that my hands could shake so much. I never thought that 15 minutes could pass by in 10 seconds. And I couldn’t answer the question of “why would I choose to subject myself to such pressure?” I must have sat there for a solid 5 minutes, motionless, unable to find an ounce of enjoyment in that experience…when a fellow competitor walked up and patted me on the back and said “Having fun yet? How’d ya do Joey?” That snapped me out of the funk I was in. About that time my wife returned, and the whole world started moving again.

It’s not quite as crazy anymore. My hands don’t shake nearly as bad; I only rearrange the chicken ½ a dozen times instead of 24 like the first contest. And instead of collapsing, we just casually start cleaning up and getting prepped for the next category…Ribs.

12:15 – RIB TURN-IN
This is where I think we start to relax again. Now it’s only about ribs, nothing else is requiring attention. We move to cutting the ribs and sampling…not that we could do much about what we’re turning in at this point anyway. The best ribs are selected and they go in the box. After several contests, I had the plan of how I was presenting the ribs engrained in my head, there was no guess work. Just little things that I guess would be considered a bit anal retentive anymore. And as frantic as chicken might be, ribs just seem a little more relaxed. Same ritual…Done? Yeah. Snap a picture, beg for luck, close, wrap, blow kisses, off it goes to the judges. That’s usually right at 12:30. For those of you new to competition cooking, turn-ins start 5 minutes before the prescribed time and go until 5 minutes after the time. After taking 5 minutes to take in the scene and ‘rib’ a couple fellow cooks as they walk by, we begin to attack pork.

If your reading this article, there’s a good chance you know that pork butts wrapped in foil, and towels, resting in a dry cooler can keep so much heat that even after 4 or 5 hours from the cooker, they are still too hot to handle. But handle we must. For our team this is a two man affair. My partner has one job and I have another. First couple comps we were pretty timid, we gave ourselves PLENTY of time to pull. Now, we have the process down so hopefully, the pork is able to maintain some heat on its journey to the judge’s palate. We taste, make adjustments and additions as necessary. There’s little debate on the presentation. Box is declared complete, picture is taken, box is closed wrapped, has it blown kisses, and it’s off! Preparing pork is messy, the whole area needs cleaned before starting on the final entry of the competition….brisket.

There is probably no meat more telling about its chances upon first slice than brisket. Instantly with the first slice you can tell about the tenderness of the meat. I have no idea why, but I always seem to use up every second worth of turn-in time available for brisket. Don’t know why, tenderness is determined by this point, and I can’t do much about flavor either, should be easy, slice, put it the box and send it away. Always seems like it needs some piddling though. Brisket’s also the absolute messiest of all of the turn-ins. I heard it described once as the “brisket bomb”, brisket pieces and juice get everywhere. We cook two briskets and have learned to make sure you cut into both of them. Sometime you’re surprised by how the “other” one turns out. Now if I cook it at a competition, I am at least going to take a look at it. We finish the box, take the picture, get the kisses, and I personally march it to the judges tent. I guess it’s my way of putting closure to another contest. I usually run into lots of fellow cooks and we all critique our food…”brisket sucked”, “ribs were OK”, “I was happy with chicken”, “who knows about pork”. After visiting for several minutes, it’s back to site…for a beer and to begin the tear down.

I’ll fast forward over the whole tear-down thing this time around. It’s boring, pack things and get them into the van. It’s hard work. It’s usually hot. And all you really want to do is sit down and drink a beer and reminisce a bit.

That brings us back to the awards ceremony. You’ve just turned in some of the best food, or at least you and your team think so, and you’re ready for that “call” to the stage. They start at 10 and work backwards, 8, 7…5 (maybe I did better than I thought?)…3 (no way, not me), 2, 1, and your name wasn’t called. Next category… (my ribs were really good)…10…5 (maybe?)…3, 2, 1. (Oh well, maybe they were spicy…Pork, everyone likes my pork) But when it’s all said and done, you weren’t called there either. Reality begins to sink in, (I know my brisket was too tough), and sure enough, the announcements come and go, and no one called your name. The reserve and grand champions are announced, then you find out they give out your scores as well. You work your way up the Rep handing out the scores, you get yours and at first you’re woefully confused by all the numbers, you start turning pages, and finding your name, middle to lower middle with all categories, except ribs. There you find you’re dead last, yes last place. Someone’s got to be there, but you’d prefer it wasn’t you. Yes this is autobiographical, but what comes next is what BBQ competition is all about.

Dejection doesn’t adequately describe the feeling I had that day. I was shocked. In retrospect I got what I deserved, but it didn’t feel that way on that Saturday. A venerable veteran BBQer came sauntering over, where I was looking in disbelieve at my scores. “You did real good for a first contest Joey”. My first thought was this guy’s just patronizing me, until I made eye contact and saw his concern, and encouragement and that he really meant it. “Can I give you some pointers?” “Sure” I respond. “Get your notebook, every good competition cook’s got a notebook, you got one?” A moment later I pulled out of my bag my notebook, and a smile cracked across Old Dave’s face as he began….”you ever thought about….” Old Dave spent about an hour with me after that first contest. He really told me no secrets, just lots of reassurances, and some tidbits that have made me a better cook. In that hour I made a transformation from a backyard cook to a newbie competition cook.

One year later, at the same contest where I took last place in Ribs, I took my first First Place in any category, and it happened to be in Ribs. How I turned that around is subject for another article. It was I who took that first place plaque home that day, it wasn’t with out plenty of input from many different cooks, like Old Dave, who I’ve met along the way. Saturday’s are bittersweet, but strangely, the bitter times make those sweet moments that much better.

Happy New Year to everybody and start mapping your contest trail out…it’s already January you know!

Joey Mac

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