June 2006

Monday 26, June 2006

Stephanie Wilson – The Slabs Barbecue Team

podcast icon Stephanie works at the Kansas City Barbeque Society office.   She also cooks on one of the top competition barbeque teams in the country. In addition to all of this she is a regular poster to the BBQ Forum.

40:29 minutes

I set out about a week before my first contest of the year, Carmel, IN to write about the dreaded sophomore season.  I had lots of talk about worries and trepidations, concerns, and how my own expectations might not be fulfilled.  Things got busy, I didn’t get to finish the article, and the first contest came and went. 


Sure enough I was kicked square in the teeth with the reality I didn’t want admit prior to the contest…I just might not do as well as I think I should.  Yep, we had our worst performance since our very first contest.  Chicken was OK, Ribs were OK, Pork just didn’t come together, and brisket, it was like I’d never seen one before.  Have you ever cooked a brisket so much that when you go to pick it up it just crumbles in your fingers?  It disintegrated right there in my finger tips.  I had to make slices about as thick as a politician’s head.  The taste wasn’t bad, but knowing how judges have a tendency to eat with their eyes first, I knew I was doomed. 

I really didn’t want to walk to the awards ceremony that day.  But I did.  As we were walking up, I looked at my wife and told her we were going “oh-fer-four” today.  Just a feeling I had.  And no there’s no “feel good” story about how bad I thought our food was, but the judges didn’t see it that way.  Our food wasn’t great that day, and the judges let me know it!

That day was another Newbie experience in the books.  After spending a year of making constant improvements, we were relegated to the middle of the pack.  Humbling?  Yes.  Deserved?  Absolutely.  Discouraging?  A little bit.  A wake up call?  No doubt about it.

I tried coming up with excuses for our poor showing, but what it came down to was we just didn’t prepare, cook, and serve the best food we could.  I never quite hit the BBQ stride that day.  I felt one step behind where I should be.  I felt too busy.  I felt cheated that I wasn’t able to visit my buddies as much as I would have liked, or sit in a chair with my feet up and relax.

In spite of this, there were the midnight strolls.  The chatting with new and old buddies.  Catching up with the guys from Hoosier Hogs who were instrumental in getting me started in this game.  Learning about some new pits that I had my eyes on.  The teasing I got from my neighbors when they saw the crowd gathering to watch me trim chicken on Friday night like I was some sort of cooking show host or something.  There was sitting around with my teammates, sipping our midnight spirits, and enjoying the cool evening air.  The smell of BBQ everywhere.  The sounds of doors banging.  The laughter echoing through the night.  It was great seeing my oldest daughter’s face light up as she received well deserved praise from my fellow competitors after showing off her first attempt at making chicken thighs (which turned out very good I might add).  The allures of what competition BBQ is all about were all there that weekend.

So come 4:00p on Saturday, knowing my fate, I made that walk up to stage area anyway.  They announced the chicken winners, I of course wasn’t called, and that was the only category I even had a chance in.  Ribs and Pork and Brisket prizes were awarded.  Some familiar names got called up, some new comers also.  They announced the reserve grand champion and I let out a cheer as genuine as they come.  At the Carmel contest last year, I got my first calls ever, and at the end I can remember Fred from Hoosier Hogs being genuinely, enthusiastically, thrilled that I got those calls.  It was time for me to reciprocate, and it just came naturally.  I was thrilled to see these two guys marching up there.  Grand Champion that day went to Ulcer Acres…another one of the teams that was so instrumental in getting me started.  Again, with no feigned enthusiasm, just an authentic feeling of jubilation, I cheered as Randy, in his red shirt / overall uniform, sauntered up to receive the prize he and Marla deserved.

Was it being a good sport, no, it’s much deeper than that.  It was a genuine happiness for these folks I respect, admire, and call friends. 

The Sophmore season.  I can tell it’ll be difficult to accept results that are merely mediocre, especially having sniffed the bigger rewards that are out there.  But that sophomore season also brings more familiar faces.  There is more camaraderie with old and new buddies.   More chances to cheer for them.  More chances for them to cheer you. 

As I prepare for my second contest of the season, those feelings of trepidation have subsided.  Any cockiness that was present has been whittled down to subdued confidence.  Mistakes that were made were noted and not to be repeated (like cooking a brisket to the point where it crumbles…dummy!). 

Some teams have had their start of the season and are in full stride.  I’m just now getting my season rolled into high gear.  It should be fun seeing what other Newbie lessons I’ll learn during this sophomore season. 

Hope to see you out there soon. 

Joey Mac

I was struck by a recent string posted on the BBQ Forum started by Odis or “The Pork Jesters”.  In summary he found his wife’s Smoky Angel Pin in her purse.  But in one of life’s harsh realities, she had fallen victim to cancer 17 months prior.  Odis’ account of finding this precious memento struck a cord in many, including myself.   I’ve never met Odis, but by sharing this moment in his life with us, we couldn’t help but draw a little close to him, our friends, and our own families.

Got me to thinking about BBQ again and why we do this.  The question comes up often.  I’ll go to my grave believing in deepest of my heart that it’s about sharing.  Sharing our talents and our passion for this truly American Cuisine.  Whether its cooking for a bunch of soldiers returning from their duty and their families or if its raising money for a cause, whatever that cause may be, to feeding hungry volunteers of clean up efforts, to pitching in to feed refugees, a word that’s not supposed to be used when referring to our fellow American citizens, from a string of nasty hurricanes.  Across to board, we’re a generous folk.  With our time, our advice, our opinions, our monies, our talents.  We share.

The BBQ crowd is a diverse one.  We are urban dwellers, farmers, wealthy folks, folks barely making ends meet, outgoing charismatic types to quiet introverts, polished to burly, but we all have that common bond…a passion for BBQ…which ultimately translates to a desire to share.  Maybe that’s why we feel so comfortable with each other at competitions.  But its not just at competitions, it’s where ever the smokers are out, its where ever people have gathered for some Q.  We BBQers haven’t cornered the market on generosity, other folks who have never cooked anything resembling BBQ have demonstrated unbelievable generosity, but there is definitely a common bond between us.  A bond of understanding of how to go about being “good people”. 

So many of us silently step out to help others, not for recognition, not for accolades, not for anything other than we know what’s right.  How many times have you given a slab of ribs or a plate of pork to a neighbor who was have a rough go of it?  Sure it’s kind of a Mayberry type gesture, but what’s wrong with a little of that wholesomeness?  We like helping folks, we live to share, and the only thing we really crave in the end is to be able to do it again, and maybe a simple little “thanks”.  Nobody is craving awards, we don’t seek out toasts and glasses raised in our honor.  We’re a proud folk, we like to boast…about our BBQ…not our actions.  They speak for themselves. 

So Odis, Thanks.  I think, no I know, you understand how much goes into that one little word! 

Joey Mac

He may be familiar to you from posts under his team’s name– The Pork Jesters (TPJ), or because of his quick wit, straightforward style or his willingness to share recipes, tips and ideas. He started posting on the Forum about 7 years ago and the thing that has struck me most about Odis has been his openness through the inevitable tragedies of life, his love of family, and his ability to pull himself back off the pavement and stay passionate about life, love and cooking. He even reached out to me about my mother’s battle with Cancer while trying to make sense of the loss of his wife. It meant alot to me, and tells me the kind of guy he is. Thanks, Odis.

Odis with his favorite pit

Odis Wilkinson – The Pork Jesters on The Forum and I’m sure a lot of other names are circulating for me.

Where from and/or where do you currently live?
If you really want to know “where from” my family has been traced back to Belfast Ireland then to the Jamestown Colony in 1760. I am originally from Yazoo City, Mississippi and am now living in Vicksburg, Mississippi. I just can’t leave the Mississippi Delta so I reckon Willie Morris was right when he said, as I was mixing his scotch and waters one night, “The Mississippi Delta always calls its people home, that’s the Delta voodoo.” Maybe there is a team name here, Delta Voodoo Smokers. Yep that’s the next name for a team.

Married, kids, etc…?
Recent widower so I reckon I’m single. I have two boys, 7 and 4. Both like bbq and grilled foods. They say it just tastes better and I have to agree.

Sales Manager for a precious metals material sciences company with headquarters in Albuquerque, New Mexico. My territory is the Eastern US seaboard, Mexico, and Brazil.

# of pits and what are they?
Stumps GF223 and a Cajun Grill w/ smoker box.

Have you ever made your own pit, if so, how many and what styles?
No, but I have helped fabricate a couple of behemoths. I have a design for an insulated “offset” that I hope to build this summer. I really like cooking on an offset style cooker but have never had room to park one so verticals have been my choice from necessity. I have just bought a house with a large yard so I can start putting out southern yard art. Isn’t a large, trailered bbq pit southern yard art?

Earliest memory of bbqing– is/was your family involved?
My earliest memory of bbq starts in the 70s with political cookouts around Yazoo City. You show up, get fed, and listen to what the candidate(s) have to say. I will be hosting a couple of these this summer during my brother in-law’s campaign for circuit judge.
I really became exposed to real bbq in the early 80s with pig pickins in the Mississippi Delta around Cleveland, Rosedale, and Merigold. In the Delta, the summers are blistering hot and cooled down by an occasional breeze of mostly warm air. At the pickins, pretty women in thin sun dresses would flirt from under huge shade trees with high cotton in the background. Cold beer and whole hog was available to all . . . . . now that has to be what a corner of heaven would look like. Then again it might just be the devil’s temptation, remember Willie Morris.

Favorite thing about bbqing?
The solitude and smell of rendering pork fat at 2:30 AM is the first thing I think of, but my most favorite thing about bbq is the event. Family and friends get together and we devour ribs, pulled pork, chicken with all the fixins and beer. We don’t have to be hungry to eat, we just need an occasion to celebrate. Those occasions are easily produced.

How you found the forum and when (if you can remember)?
I found the Forum in early 1999. In 1997 and 1998 I was editor of a traditional bowhunting magazine and active member of The Leatherwall which was a message board for archers who shot longbows and recurves. The Leatherwall was a tremendous help in learning the art of shooting traditional archery equipment and as I started getting more serious about bbq I went looking for a similar board focusing on bbq. I did a search looking for “bbq message boards” and Whack!!! there was THE forum. I swear I thought I had hit the mother load. Posters like Jim Minion, Shake, Shingleman & Elizabeth Lumpkin helped me get ok good in a very short time. Even with the Forum shortening my learning curve dramatically, it still took over four years before I turned out a butt that I knew was done right.

What was your first pit?
A rusty, but free, 55 gallon barrel/drum that cooked a lot of chicken and ribs in college. This was the early 80s so ribs were still cheap. We thought the ribs were delicious but now I know just how pitiful they were. I tried cooking the butts and picnics but just could not produce a quality product. It would be another 16 years before I could produce decent pulled pork.

First thing you remember cooking (doesn’t have to be bbq)?
Hot dogs, hamburgers, and biscuits.

Favorite bbq woods, charcoal, rub, sauce, etc?
Favorite woods – hickory, peach, pecan and kiln dried hickory axe handles
Charcoal – Nature Glo briquettes and Nature Glo lump

Rub – mine

Sauce – mine

Favorite/best competition memory (where, when, who with, team name, etc….)?
Since The Pork Jesters have only cooked two contests I don’t necessarily have a favorite or best competition memory . . . yet. I can tell you this . . . there is no better bunch of folks to hangout with for a weekend than bbq folks.

Do you eat bbq in restaurants — if so, where, when why?
When I travel, I will eat in bbq restaurants recommended by Forum people. I don’t hesitate to stop at Big Bob Gibson’s in Decatur or Whole Hog Cafe in Little Rock and yes I like Corkys in Memphis.

Favorite record albums, books, TV shows, movie, etc…whatever you want to include.

Music– Tommy Bolin, Roy Buchanan, Hendrix, Bocephus, ZZ Top, Widespread Panic, Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa, Albert King, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters.

Books – The Fountain Head, Atlas Shrugged, Skinny Legs and All, Jitterbug Perfume, Aubrey-Maturin series, Return to Soddom and Gomorrah, J.R.R., and books on history nonfiction.

TV – don’t watch network TV, I prefer to read. Do listen to NPR and Fox News.

Movie – don’t really have a favorite.

Favorite non-BBQ Food to eat and/or cook (or thing you eat most often when not eating bbq)?
What some people might call country vittles like fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, cat head biscuits with a cold slice of tomato in the middle. And then there are Cajun and Creole dishes. I’m not that great yet but I can make passable dishes. I may be southern but don’t give me any #!@$%$#@$%% boiled okra.

Favorite beer, favorite beer to drink w/ food?
I will drink Budweiser from the can, Abita, Chamay, and New Castle Brown Ale. Ok ok I will drink any beer that is in the cooler even if a couple of fish have been keeping them company. After dark though I prefer Pinch scotch, Tito’s vodka, or Jack Daniels all on the rocks.

Favorite BBQ Forum Thread (can include “what’s an abt?” if you want)?
Don’t necessarily have one.

Least Favorite BBQForum Thread (ditto)?
Don’t necessarily have one but there have been a few that I blinked a couple of times before I opened them up.

Do you have a web site and when did you start and why?
No but I would suggest visiting Forum advertisers web pages and purchasing products from them.

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