April 2006


Please allow me to introduce Mark Pepelea, head cook for Slug Bug BBQ, and his tag on the Forum is ‘pepeq’.  The Slug Bug team consists of Mark and his wife Lisa.  They currently reside in the Cleveland, Ohio area, but have roots in Northern Illinois and the Chicago land area.  Mark and Lisa were some of the very first people I met in competition BBQ and I consider them to be not only BBQ buddies, but friends as well.  Like so many of us, Mark and Lisa would love to cook at contests every weekend, but also like so many of us, other obligations prevent that, so they get out when ever they can.   I’ve asked Mark to write a little piece about choosing to attend a competition BBQ cooking class.  I haven’t done that yet, but I knew he and Lisa had, so I thought such a discussion would be better coming from someone who had actually attended a class.   So if you’re out on the circuit, and happen to run into these guys, stop by and say hello.  But be careful, because it was Mark’s gently persuasive demeanor that pushed me over the edge and got me into this obsession we call BBQ 😉 !  Thanks for the article Mark.  Joey Mac.   
 

 

My love of BBQ started about 8 years ago on a trip to North Carolina where I tasted pulled pork for the first time. A short time after that on another trip I tasted some Texas BBQ. That is when I said “I gotta learn how to cook this stuff”.  I cooked BBQ at home for about 5 years and just like everyone else, my friends and family said my food was the best they ever tasted. My wife Lisa and I became CBJs under KCBS and judged a couple of contests. When I tasted the food I thought “My stuff is better than this!”  Then we jumped into competition and had a real awakening.

 

Our first contest was at Shannon, IL  and we competed in all the usual categories chicken, ribs, brisket, pork and the optional categories of sausage, beans, and pie. We tried a citrus based sauce for the chicken that we thought was terrific; the rest of the food was prepared how we like it. The only call we got was for the pie. Of the four main categories our best finish was middle of the road. Our chicken and pork came in close to last. Our overall finish was at the top of the bottom third. We realized that we needed to cook for a different palette, not for ours. Boy, competition BBQ was different than what I cooked at home just for us.

 

The second contest was in Peoria, IL where our overall finish was slightly better, but still in the bottom half (although we got a call for dessert!!). Since my wife does the dessert and I cook the meat, I was happy for her but getting frustrated with my turn-ins.

 

At contests we kept hearing that one good way to do better at contests is to cook at a lot of contests. Since we only cook 2 – 4 contests a year due to time limitations, we needed something else.  I wanted to improve, but could not commit the time for competing more.  I heard about the various competition classes that were offered and looked into them. We decided to take Ray Lampe’s (Dr. BBQ) Real Deal class. The one we took was offered early in the season and my real attraction to it was that you cooked overnight, just like a competition. The fact that Ray competes in some of the contests that we consider for our schedule and does very well at them reinforced the decision since he would know what works at those contests.  I signed up to cook and my wife attended as a non-cooking spouse.

 

When we arrived, we were surprised by the number of faces that were familiar from the competition circuit including some teams that I considered successful and experienced. Now it would not be fair to disclose the content of the class but I believe Ray really did reveal what he does for competitions.  Despite a 34 degree night with rain wind and a little sleet, the class was fun too. We received many pointers and tips from prep, to cooking technique, to rubs and sauces, to presentation that we put into use. At the very next contest, I got my first two calls in meat.  Nothing stellar, but substantially better than we had done before and I give most of the credit to the information I learned in class. I know that one person’s experience does not mean that everyone’s experience will be the same, but I am certain that the class shortened the time it would have taken us to reach this level. Our overall finish was right in the middle – I still went my own way on ribs.

 

My wife and I agree that the class was worth every dollar that we spent and we recommend Ray’s class to anyone that is interested. Even the experienced teams said that they picked up some worthwhile information from the class. Every issue of the Bullsheet lists cooking classes taught by big name BBQ cooks. I have only taken Ray’s class so I cannot comment from experience about the other classes, but there have been very positive comments about them on the BBQ Forum.

 

If you can cook with a winning team, it might not be worth your while to take a class since you already have a proven source of information.  If you are fortunate enough to do well on your own, you might not want a class. But if you are like me with limited time and/or are not improving in you scoring, a class might be the thing to help break into the next level.

 

Mark Pepelea

Slug Bug BBQ

Tuesday 18, April 2006

Guy Fieri

podcast icon Guy is a family man, devoted father of two and owner of three Sonoma County, CA restaurants. One of the restaurants is Tex Wasabi’s which is a sushi barbecue eatery. He is in the competition for the Food Network “The Next Food Network Star.”

19:51 minutes

Monday 17, April 2006

Mike Tucker – Hawgeyes BBQ

podcast icon Mike has been a good friend of The BBQ Forum for several years. He is a very good business man who has a thriving barbecue business and also owns a landscaping company in Iowa named TNT Landscaping. This interview will give you a lot of background information on Mike that you will find entertaining and interesting.

30:07 minutes 6.9 megs 10 seconds to download by cable broadband

It seems impossible to be a regular reader of the bbqforum and to not have encountered one of the incredible creations shared by Chez (or John Eddy as he’s also sometimes known). His dishes are often ingenious variations on classic American food that is, uhm, ‘kicked up,’ and given a whole other life. Other times they are truly unique inventions that spark the imagination. Always generous with recipes, advice and the Friday jukebox, Chez is one of the bbqforum regulars that gives so much to the community. Bon Appetit!

Chez at ease
Name?
John W. Eddy aka Chez
 

Where from and/or where do you currently live? Born & raised on a dairy farm in NE Kansas ~ Pottawattomie County.  Traveled all over the country, when I was a working chef, mostly Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas & Missouri … lived in Kansas City for about 8 years prior to moving to Topeka when I retired in 2001.

Married, kids, etc…? Nope.  Always worked too much to have a personal life.  Got a lil’ niece & nephew that I adore, though.  Caitie is 18, and Alex is 16.

Profession (even if not bbq 24/7– if you cater, vend, etc please mention)? 40+ years in the restaurant business, grew up in a restaurant family … have owned several of my own restaurants (including a bbq restaurant). Opened my first restaurant when I was 18 yrs old.  Got my ACF certification (C.E.C.) when I was about 25 yrs old, and have worked as Executive Chef in many kinds of restaurants over the years, from big high-volume hotels & convention centers, to Country Clubs, to steak houses, to Mediterranean bistros & about everything in between.  Hung up my toque to become a full time day-trader (NASDAQ) in 1998 … and retired in 2001 when the markets crashed.  Still do a lil’ day-trading … and some private chef work, just to keep a lil’ spendin’ money in my pocket.

# of pits and what are they? Currently have 2 WSMs, a vintage red Weber Kettle and a MECO Swinger II
  
 

Have you ever made your own pit, if so, how many and what styles? Yeah, my friends & I built a big smoker out of a discarded fuel tank we found in a pasture.  It was a monster, and frankly didn’t work worth a damn, but we had fun with it. 
 

Earliest memory of bbqing– is/was your family involved? Well, my earliest memories are of my Dad bbqing … but he wasn’t very good at it.  It wasn’t till I was about 20 years old, and traveled to east Tennessee to visit some friends, that I discovered what real bbq was.  Been doing it *low & slow* ever since. 

Favorite thing about bbqing? I think I enjoy the social aspect of bbq the most … seems there are always friends around, usually some live music is being played, horseshoes being pitched, lies being told, etc.  On the other hand, I also enjoy the solitary cooks … seems the whole world slows down a bit … time for reflecting.  Not too many things I DON’T enjoy about bbqing.  Chowing down on the fruits of your labor ain’t bad, either.
 
 

 How you found the forum and when (if you can remember)? Just found it by dumb luck … I was doing some research about different types of bbq in different regions of the country, and stumbled onto the BBQ Forum.  That was about 5 years ago … 2000/01?  I’ve learned a great deal from folks there … my bbq is definitely better because of it.

What was your first pit? First grill was a MECO … it’s still my favorite *grill*.  First smoker was an ECB.

First thing you remember cooking (doesn’t have to be bbq)? I think scrambled eggs ~ I was about 4-5 years old.  My Mom had a couple of lil’ country cafe’s when I was growing up, so I started cooking in them at an early age, like mebbe 9-10 yrs old.  By the time I was a teenager, I was a seasoned short-order cook.

Favorite bbq woods, charcoal, rub, sauce, etc? I like to use hickory & pecan wood … and also apple & peach wood.  I rarely use lump, using mostly Kingsford & sometimes Royal Oak briquettes in my WSMs & grills.  I use all kinds of rubs, mostly ones made by BBQ Forum folks … I make my own brisket rub, which is heavy on the pepper.  I also like to try different sauces, but a couple that I am NEVER without are Arthur Bryant’s Original (for brisket) and Dumplin’ Valley (for pulled pork).

Favorite/best competition memory (where, when, who with, team name, etc….)? I’m not into the comp scene, so don’t have any favorite memories of comps.  I did the comp thing for a couple years, back in the late 80’s … and decided it wasn’t my cup of tea.

Do you eat bbq in restaurants– if so, where, when why? I tend to avoid bbq restaurants … but when I lived in Kansas City, there were a couple of joints that I frequented on a regular basis. 

Favorite record albums, books, TV shows, movie, etc… Whatever you want to
include. Don’t even git me started on music!!  LOL  I’m an old throwback from the 60’s … I listen to music from the time I get up in the morning, until I go to bed at night.  All day.  Every day.  Favorite music:  traditional bluegrass, acoustic blues, anything rootsy & americana.

Favorite non-BBQ Food to eat and/or cook (or thing you eat most often when
not eating bbq)? Cajun/Creole

Favorite beer, favorite beer to drink w/food? Got *clean & sober* in 1991 … got to the point where I was having just a lil’ bit too much fun!!  LOL. After about 10 years of sobriety, I decided to allow myself to have NA beer.  My favorites are Buckler & Haake Beck … but my *everyday* swill is Old Milwaukee NA.  I drink a lot of good, black coffee … and fresh-brewed *sweet* tea.

Favorite BBQ Forum thread (can include “what’s an abt?” if you want)? I tend to like the slightly off-topic threads … music threads, cooking threads, etc.

Least favorite BBQ Forum thread (ditto)? I’m gonna plead the 5th on this one.

Do you have a web site and when did you start and why? No web site currently.  I’ve had several, mainly when I was in the pizza business…used them in my guerrilla marketing campaigns.  I was the first franchisee in the company to develop a web page, and when I sold my pizza shops … since I owned the domain name … I was also able to sell the web sites & domain name to corporate, for a huge profit. 

Where you learned to cook/how you got into the biz? My Mom was a helluva cook, and so was my paternal Grandma.  I learned the basics from them, and beyond that … I’m pretty much self-taught. 

Restaurants you’ve worked in? Too many to list.  Here’s a sample:
 
Small town cafes in Kansas
Steak & Prime Chop Houses in Texas
Cajun restaurants in Louisiana
Big casinos & hotels in Mississippi
Country clubs in Missouri
Mediterranean bistros in Kansas City
Pizzerias, chicken & catfish shacks, bbq joints, delis, sports bars, etc, etc.

Restaurant memory/disaster? Many memories, not very many disasters.  Most challenging gig was a contract catering job where we fed about 5,000 people at a big convention center … prime rib dinner the first night, breakfast the next morning & a sack lunch the same day.  15,000 plates in about a 16 hour time frame–off premise.  It was a logistical nightmare, but we pulled it off.

Recipe making history– do you ‘taste them in your mind’ or is it trial and error?  Yeah, I can pretty much envision & taste dishes in my mind, before actually creating them … as long as I’m using ingredients & spices & techniques that I’m familiar with. 
 

The theme of my last article was goal setting.  I mentioned that setting a goal also dooms you to failure.  Sometimes it’s just a little miss, hitting 11th place brisket instead of top ten.  But other times the failure can be utterly dismal, like last place.  There’s nothing quite so humbling as to get your score sheet back and there at the very bottom of the list is your team’s name.  Oh there might be some team listed below yours, but they didn’t even turn in food because they have zeros across the bottom.  No, the truth of the matter was your food was terrible. Talk about failure. What do you do?

 

1) You WILL shake your head in disbelief, stomp your feet on the ground like a two-year old, shake your head back and forth uttering choice expletives about, at, around, and to the judges.   “What the heck were they thinking…a 4 in taste?  At least this guy gave me a 9 in texture, so what if the others gave 5s and 6s, at least someone knew how to judge.” 

 

2) You WILL blame the system.  “Someone at the turn-in table switched my number. Wasn’t really their fault, I know, but they better be careful, messing w/ my pride like this.  There is no way on this earth that my ribs were the worst at the contest. Someone really messed up.” 

 

3) You SHOULD eventually begin to take an objective look at what you turned in.  You’ll carefully taste and assess the texture.  At that point, maybe you’ll return to reaction 1, or maybe, just maybe, a shadow of doubt will be cast upon your confidence in the product.  You think, it’s a little spicy, and these black char marks, I thought they looked appealing, but….now you’re ready to start building a better product. 

 

Evaluate – This is the first step in assessing your product.  What was it about my food they didn’t like?  Was it too spicy, too salty, or too sweet?  Was it the rub or the sauce?  Was it too done or underdone?  Was it too smoky or not smoky enough?  You have so many questions and no answers.  Some will contend and bemoan that they long for some additional comments from the judges, a statement that indicates a reason for their distaste or even what they enjoyed about your submission.   Look at the score sheet in front of you, they already have!  That sheet is a record of what every person who scored your food thought about it.  What more do you need?    To do well, you’ll need mostly 8s and 9s across the board.  Do you have that?  Do you have some 8s, but some 4s at the same time?  Rather than moan about not having enough information about how to improve, look to what the numbers are telling you and interpret their message.  It’s not as hard as you think it is.   

 

Practice – This is the most important action to improving your food.  Get comfortable cooking the meat in question.  Focus not just on how TO COOK the meat, but on how the meat IS COOKING.  Observe how the bark changes, observe how tenderness is adjusted. And take notes.   Take meticulous notes.

 

Research – The internet has given us some great tools for assisting here.  Scour archives of BBQ websites.  Add some good BBQ books to your personal library.  Look in non-BBQ places for advice to understand how food cooks.  Go about your quest armed at least with a rudimentary understanding of how and why things do what they do.  Ask trusted sources for their opinions, their critical assessment of your technique.  By trusted I mean people who know the difference between good competition BBQ and just good BBQ.   LISTEN to what other BBQers tell you.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  In Mike Mills book, Peace, Love, and BBQ, he introduces the concept of “tips”.  It’s the little extras that Moms and Grandmas and cooks add when describing HOW they cook.  And they’re not written in the recipe.  He credits Desire Robinson of the Cozy Corner in Memphis of coining the phrase.  He goes on to say: “Good cooks look and listen for tips – even if they can’t get the actual recipe.”  You must learn to listen to what folks are telling, not just hearing the words they speak.  Not so much to repeat or replicate the exact process, but to apply their lessons to the process you’ve chosen. 

 

Refine – After researching and practicing, begin to refine the approach you’re using.  Determine whether it’s your flavor print that needs adjusted or the technique you’re using.  Is the technique you’re using compatible with the cooker you’re using?  Take ribs as an example.  Many people win with loin back ribs, many people win with spares.  Which do you prefer?  Will you use foil or not?  Will you cook at low temperatures, or higher temperatures?  Will you do dry or wet ribs?  Will you spritz or not? 

 

Practice – There is no substitute for this.  You will become your neighbor’s best friend, your workmates’ hero, and the scourge of your family as you practice the same thing over and over.   Before last season, my nemesis was ribs.  From October through April last year, my family got so tired of ribs, they were ready to throw them at me rather than eat them.  But I did get to where I was cooking them with mechanical repetition.  I was consistently getting a similar product.  When I launched my now refined technique at competition, scores improved, but still not as much as I would have liked.  However, now I could make smaller adjustments to get past the point of mediocrity.

 

Another area to practice is presentation.  When I make Q at home, most times I put at least some into a turn in box, sometimes with garnish, sometimes without.  It’s not so much to explore new presentation approaches as it is just becoming more adept at putting food into those tight confines in a prescribed amount of time…and making it look good.  That process should become a mechanical action, rather than a guessing game at 5 minutes before final turn-in.   It may also sound a little silly, but I hone these presentation skills for normal meals as well.  .  From presenting cold pizza or mac-n-cheese with hot dogs for the kids to serving apricot glazed pork tenderloin medallions with green beans and roasted new potatoes to dinner guests.   Try making a bologna sandwich into a gourmet offering. 

 

There are a couple words of caution.  After careful scrutinization of your scores, you need to determine whether a gross overhaul is in order, or just a minor adjustment.  Last place scores are pretty solid indicators for the need to make major adjustments.  But middle of the pack scores, or slightly better, might not necessarily need a complete overhaul.  Sometimes the most prudent thing to do is to be patient and not adjust anything to see how well that flavor profile/technique does at a different contest, with different judges and different table rotations.  You might not be as far off as you thought.

 

And that brings me to yet another method to improve your competition BBQ prowess, taking a competitive cooking class.  There are several offered throughout the year.  Many people who have taken them swear they are the single reason they’ve gone from “also rans”, to forces to be reckoned with at every contest.  I can’t comment on this as I have not been able to work one of these classes into my schedule…yet.  I probably will someday, was looking forward to it this year, but it just didn’t work out.  Because I can’t really comment on how taking a class affects you, I’ve asked a guest to write an article for me.  Hopefully I’ll get that posted in the near future. 

 

In conclusion, remember to:

 

Evaluate

Practice cooking

Research

Practice cooking

Refine

Practice cooking

 

 

And remember, the most important thing about KCBS competitions are, “keep your area clean.”…least that’s what the CD says.  Have fun with all the practice and hopefully scores will start improving, and you start getting those calls to the stage…before me of course ;).    

 

Joey Mac

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