I cooked two briskets on December 13th. Right now I’m in Tennessee for the holidays and having some bbq withdrawal. As I sit here in 30 degree weather with spitting snow, I know there a lot of other folks in the same boat.
I use Certified Angus Brisket weighing about 13 pounds and a cooker temperature ranging from 200 – 250 degrees. I start them cooking fat side up and flip them to fat side down after 3 hours. I wrap the brisket in aluminum foil after it reaches 165 degrees internal temperature, or after 5 hours (whichever comes first). I cook my brisket to 198 degrees and let it rest in an Igloo cooler for at least 1 hour prior to slicing and serving.
I was looking through some old papers today and came across some notes I had taken in 2002 while talking to a restaurant consultant from Texas who claimed to have been in the bbq business for the past 10-years.
As I recall it, the gentleman and his wife opened a 30-seat restaurant in a portable building in a town of 7,000 people. He explained that he had an electric smoker that used wood chips for smoke generation/flavor, a couple of steam tables and a soda fountain. The business was basically a two person operation with a drive-thru window and consisted largely of carry-out orders from working families on their way home from work in a larger community nearby.
He said that the bbq restaurant generated gross revenues of $100,000+ per year and a 70% profit margin. I am guessing that he owned the land previously or at least wasn’t paying much rent for the land, although he did not clarify that point.
As a part of his services, he would offer bbq consulting in starting a restaurant for anyone willing to enter into a consulting agreement with him in return for $25,000. The $25,000 purchased three weeks of on-site start-up consulting and 12-months of telephone consultation.
I did not take him up on the offer, but I often wished I lived a little closer to Texas so that I could visit his restaurant and check it out. It sounds like a barbecuer’s “dream” situation.
The cynic in me though, wonders if this story is true or not. Funny thing…I wasn’t willing to risk $25,000 to find out.
A few years ago while competing in a barbecue event in Arcadia, Florida the unthinkable happened while preparing our chicken turn-in box. We prepared fantastic turn-in samples and were sure we had a good chance to win, but after placing the samples in the box and closing it I discovered that our box had been damaged.
I froze for a few seconds and wasn’t sure what to do next. Should I turn in the sample anyway and take a chance that the box would be disqualified? Should I throw in the towel for the chicken category and start preparing for the rib turn-in?
It was only a few minutes before turn-in time and I decided to take the box to the turn-in table. Once there I approached the official at the table and showed her the damaged box. I asked if the damaged box would be a problem, assuming it would, and she agreed. She gave me an ultimatum. Turn-in the box and be disqualified or put the chicken samples into a new box within the next two minutes and turn it in before the cut-off time.
She handed me a new box. I didn’t have any of the usual tools we use to prepare our boxes, but I transferred the chicken into the new box and turned it in.
The new box was not well prepared and was not nearly as “put together” as the original. The chicken wasn’t perfectly straight. We use a very sticky barbecue sauce for chicken and transferring it left a lot of smudges and smears on the sides of the box. The sauce wasn’t evenly distributed on the individual pieces of chicken any longer either. I figured it was at best a 10th place chicken entry.
Later on at the awards ceremony we were pleasantly surprised with a 5th place finish in the chicken category. I was convinced more than ever that if we finished 5th with a mediocre box, we were a shoe-in to win with the original box, but we were thrilled with 5th considering the circumstances we had to overcome. The entire episode might have been avoidable if we’d only looked at the boxes earlier in the day.
We’ve learned many lessons about barbecue competitions. Anything can and will happen when you least expect it. At another event, a strong gust of wind blew the canopy completely off the cooking site of our neighboring competitor just as he was preparing to slice his ribs for turn-in. It didn’t faze him. He went right along slicing the ribs and ended up with a top three finish in the rib category.
The moral of this story? Never give up. Keep on trucking full steam ahead. In the end, the outcome just might surprise you.
Like many barbecuers, I mix a little honey into almost all the store bought bbq sauce I use. Eating locally grown honey provides some excellent health benefits such as immunity to certain types of local allergies. Buying local honey is usually better than the commercially grown honey available in the big grocery stores.
We’re lucky that we know our honey suppliers personally. I encourage anyone that eats honey to get to know the producers and only buy from reputable and verifiable sources. I avoid imported honey or non-local honey because you just never know about the environment the honey was raised in. The local environment the bees live in definitely affects the quality of the honey produced.
Our honey comes from a rural farm in Coffee County, Tennessee. The hives are situated next to fields of clover hay and near a spring fed stream with crystal-clear water. The picture of my brother-in-law, nephew and his friend working with one of the hives that produce our honey.
Local honey costs more than the imported stuff, but it’s worth every penny.
For those that aren’t familar with the level detail that goes into preparing for a bbq contest, I wanted to share the schedule we use to ensure that our contest entries are ready for the judges on time. The schedule below is a guideline we use at KCBS contests. Like any schedule, it’s a guideline and not necessarily the exact step-by-step method we might use, but it’s very close.
12:00 Prep Meat
2:00 Purchase Ice
4:00 Attend Cook’s Meeting
5:00 Eat Supper
6:00 Get some rest
10:30 Start cooker
12:15 Begin Cooking Briskets
1:15 Begin Cooking Pork Butts
3:00 Spray Apple Juice on Briskets
4:00 Spray Apple Juice on Briskets
5:00 Spray Apple Juice on Briskets
6:45 Light Fire for Backwoods to Cook Chicken
6:00 Wrap Butts at 160-165 degrees (5 hours max)
6:15 Wrap Brisket at 165-170 degrees (6 hours max)
7:40 Begin Cooking Ribs
8:30 Prepare Lettuce and Parsley for Turn-in Boxes
9:10 Foil ribs (w/juice, meat side down)
9:15 Begin Cooking 12 chicken Thighs (biggest)
9:30 Begin Cooking 12 chicken Thighs (smallest)
10:15 Turn ribs meat side up, add dark brown sugar in foil
11:00 Sauce Chicken Thighs (target temp is 150 degrees)
11:10 Check ribs for doneness
11:15 Heat Rib Sauce
11:30 Unfoil ribs and sauce, low heat
11:45 Prep Chicken Turn-in Box
11:50 Sauce Ribs
12:00 Turn-in Chicken
12:10 Heat Brisket Sauce
12:15 Slice Ribs and Prepare Rib Turn-in Box
12:20 Make Pork Butt Sauce
12:30 Turn-in Ribs
12:45 Prep Pork Butt Turn-in Box
1:00 Turn-in Pork Butts
1:15 Prep Brisket Turn-in Box
1:30 Turn-in Brisket
2:00 Pack and Load to prepare for returning home
The secrets to juicy and tender barbecue have been closely guarded for many, many years and the art of barbecue has been handed down from father to son and treated as family heirlooms. The rising popularity of the Internet during the past decade has changed the culture of barbecue forever.
In the southeastern region of the country, barbecue usually referred to whole hogs cooked slowly over a fire of coals. Families often had their own recipes for rubs and sauces to go along with their favorite woods for smoking. Gaining access to these secrets wasn’t always easy. Good barbecue recipes were a source of family pride.
When I moved to Dickson, TN from Missouri in 1992, I was invited to help out with a family barbecue. I arrived at about 6 p.m. on Friday evening to find a hog roasting on chicken wire stretched over a metal bed frame. The cooks took turns roasting various meats including ducks, rabbits, and chickens throughout most of the night. There was a lot of conversation, some beer drinking, and a lot of work tending the fire. Periodically they would dab a vinegar marinade mixture on the hog.
After relocating to Florida in 2001, I rediscovered barbecue again. While searching the Internet for grilling tips and a recipe for pulled pork, I found Barbecuen.com and TheBBQForum.com. These websites reopened my eyes and ears to barbecue. About this same time, Food Network started airing various programs featuring barbecue restaurants, festivals, and contests.
A couple of years later, I discovered HomeBBQ.com and met up with Kevin. After a sharing a few e-mails and a couple of cell phone conversations, I drove to Kevin’s to help him break in a brand new Lang reverse flow offset smoker. I attended KCBS events with Kevin and Clara in Brooksville and Lakeland, FL and a few FBA events including the big contest in Sebring, FL. I struck out on my own at the Okeechobee, FL contest and got my first category win at the FBA event in Arcadia, FL in the chicken category. I’ve been preparing my own style of barbecue ever since.
I’ve cooked in KCBS events in Florida, Tennessee, Michigan, and Indiana since those early contest days and I’ve have competed against some of the best teams in the country holding my own with consistent top five overall finishes and several category wins. I’ve started my own web blog about barbecue to help others get started in the hobby and started selling my own spice rub on my personal web site.
Before the Internet Age, my learning curve would have been much, much steeper. However, for those seeking how-to barbecue information these days, championship recipes and techniques are only a few mouse clicks away. For $240, you can order a Weber Smokey Mountain from Amazon.com and have it delivered to your door step. You can spend some time reading the articles and forums and watching videos at VirtualWeberBullet.com or YouTube.com and learn how to use it effectively. There are numerous discussion groups and Forums that will answer any questions you have about specific cuts of meat or specific recipes you want to try out.
HomeBBQ.com is just another example of the vast amount of information provided on the World Wide Web for those that seek it out. I’m honored to have been invited to contribute to the collection of articles and discussions on this site. If you have questions about barbecue or suggestions for future articles, please let me know.
Aluminum foil is a valuable tool for preparing bbq ribs, pork butts, and brisket. When used correctly, it helps improve consistency and predictability in barbecue preparation.
Some might call it a “crutch”, but for me using aluminum foil is a common sense approach to preparing good barbecue. I’m not currently aware of any bbq contest winners that do not use it in abundance. I’m not saying you can’t win without it, but I’d wager that 95% of all bbq contest champions are using it when they prepare their contest meats.
Here are some examples of how I use it:
For ribs…..I slow cook my baby backs for 2 1/2 hours at 225 degrees. Then I wrap them in a double thickness of foil with the meat side down with three ounces of apple juice or grape juice or a mixture of both, for 1 1/2 hours cooking at 250 degrees. After an hour, I remove the foil, brush on my favorite sauce, and cook for 30 or 40 minutes until the meat starts to pull away gently from the bones.
For pork butts or brisket…I slow cook the pork butts and briskets for 5 hours at 225 degrees and wrap in a double thickness of aluminum foil. I cook them until the internal meat temperature reaches 198 degrees as measured with a meat thermometer.
Using a double thickness of foil prevents the rib bones from puncturing the foil and the juice running out. When cooking bigger pieces of meat like briskets and pork butts, there is a lot of juice and aus jous that collects in the foil. A double thickness helps prevent leakage and preserves the juice for basting the meat later on, if desired.
Aluminum foil is also used as an aid to accelerate the cooking process. A pork butt or brisket cooked without using aluminum foil can take two or three hours longer to cook. It also makes a good disposable surface for preparing meats. At contests when water isn’t readily available at my cooksite, I sometimes spread a sheet of foil over my cutting board when injecting the larger cuts of meats. When finished, I simply fold up the foil and throw it away.
How to keep BBQ hot if you’re not quite ready to eat it…use an ice chest/ice cooler. Put some hot water in an empty ice chest, close the lid and let it set for 3 or 4 minutes. Drain the hot water and you’ve got yourself a portable BBQ warmer. We’ve kept pork butts warm this way for 6 or 7 hours.
How to keep your hands clean when cooking BBQ…use powder free latex gloves. They come in packs of 100 at the local Sam’s Club and will keep your hands clean. You’ll maintain good sanitary practices too. Many bbq sanctioning bodies require the use of gloves when preparing contest entries.
How to keep your spouse interested in the BBQ hobby…get him/her involved in it with you. It’s a lot of fun. You meet nice people and it’s something you can do together.
How to keep your BBQ expenses in line with your budget…research all your purchases thoroughly. Make sure your purchase will do what you want it to do BEFORE you purchase it. For example, if you want to learn to cook whole hogs, you probably need to consider a big cooker or if you want to cook 10-15 racks spare ribs every weekend you’re going to need something bigger than a WSM.
How to continually improve your BBQ recipes…keep records of your cooking efforts including cook times, prepping techniques used and especially measurements for sauces or rubs and spices used. When you tweak the recipe for taste, only change one thing at a time–change the cook time, change the rub, change the sauce, but try to avoid completely changing everything all at once. Small changes to your technique and recipes will help you focus on the effects better and you’ll be able to fine tune the product quality more efficiently.
A couple of years ago, I purchased a commercial grade vacuum sealer from Cabela’s.
My wife and I were looking for a solution for storing leftover bbq. I often cook multiple pork butts and multiple briskets, which is a lot of meat for two people. We love the vacuum sealer. Leftover bbq will store for a few days in standard plastic bowls with lids, but more than a few days of storage requires something more substantial. Enter the vacuum sealer solution.
The vacuum sealer extends the storage life of food by withdrawing oxygen that accelerates the deterioriation and hastens the spoilage process in food. After cooking, we just place the remaining meat into a bag of the appropriate size, press a button and a few seconds later we have a professional quality vacuum seal that will store in the freezer or refrigerator with ease.
When we have a craving for bbq, we just pop the bag into a pan of hot water and–presto–we have a bbq meal at our fingertips.
I’ll be the first to warn prospective vacuum sealer shoppers that the CG-15 Commercial Grade Vacuum Sealer is not inexpensive. Ours cost $399.99 and the 15 x 18 size bags were another $45.00, but when you bbq as much as we do…and can’t eat all that you cook in one setting (we often cook 10-15 lbs. of meat at a time), the vacuum sealer is a wise investment.
For the cost conscious bbq cook, Foodsaver makes a more economical line of vacuum sealers that retail for prices in the $100 range. The Foodsaver bags are less expensive as well. I’ve not used a Foodsaver, so I can’t vouch for their effectiveness as compared to the Cabela’s model.