Dusting off the Competition BBQ skils

So Flatlander BBQ is finally competing in our first BBQ competition in 2012 this weekend in Kingston, RI at the South County Balloon Fest.  How did we spend our week prepping…well one of us survived a 3 day FDA audit and the other one traveled a little over 2,000 miles to Boston and then onto Chicago for focus groups.  At the BBQ competition, we will be competing against some very well know and winning teams including Pork Barrel BBQ, Cancer Sucks Chicago, Smokin' Hoggz and Lakeside Smokers.  Smokin' Hoggz and Lakeside Smokers are currently 1 and 2 in the NEBS(New England BBQ Society) team of the year competition. 

We have tried to stay on top of our skills (so to speak) in the off season by BBQing for friends and family multiple times.  We have also decided to use our own homemade BBQ sauce this season and see how we fair with it – wish us luck!

Follow us this weekend on the new Flatlander BBQ twitter account or on my facebook page.



Flatlander BBQ is now on Twitter

Follow us next weekend at the Norwalk, CT BBQ festival under @FlatlanderBBQ.


Flatlander BBQ throws their hats into the Competition BBQ Circuit

Hello All and thanks for wandering over to read our BBQ blog.  While Derek is typically the blogger in the family I thought it might be fun for me (the Pit Mistress) to take over the blog for our competition BBQ team – Flatlander BBQ.  No you haven't missed anything…we are finally competing this year and so far have done 4 competitions!  Nothing like jumping in with both feet :).  I thought for the inaugural blog I would catch you up on our first season on the competition BBQ circuit.

On May 7the we competed in the Rose City BBQ Cook Off at Dodd Stadium in Norwich, CT.  Being our first competition we choose to do a one day event that was a grilling/smoking combination and not your typical KCBS (Kansas City BBQ Society) competition.  This would allow us to get our feet wet figuring out what types of equipment we need and if we could handle the turn-ins without messing anything up.  The categories for this competition were Chef's Choice, Chicken, Sausage and Pork and our teammates were my family (Dave, Mary Pat, Emily, Jenn and Chris).  Our teammates were a huge help but they quickly figured out that there is a lot of hurry up and waiting and that if it pours buckets while you are making a turn in box you use your body as a shield to keep it dry.  For our entries we made Derek's BBQ chicken, Smoked Sausage, Pork Chops with a Molasses Coffee Sauce and for Chef's Choice made an amazing steak sandwich (I will post the recipe for this in another post since I need to share the love with you all).  There were 18 teams which competed and our goal was not to come in dead last…..which we achieved!  We placed 15th overall with a score of 537.71.  The rest of our scores were as follows:  Chef's Choice – 13th place and a score of 142.29, Chicken – 14th place and a score of 140.00, Sausage – 14th place and a score of 125.71, and Pork – 16th place and a score of 129.71.  

For our second competition we choose the Cape Cod BBQ Championship at Peter's Pond Campground in Sandwich, MA the weekend of June 10th.  For this competition we were competing in the standard KCBS categories of Chicken, Pork Ribs, Pulled Pork and Brisket plus another "anything but" category where you could cook anything but the before mentioned meats.  Our team members for this competition were my sisters Jenn, Kaitlyn, Emily and Chris and boy were they troopers as it was cold and rainy all weekend long and Derek and I still did not know exactly what we were doing.  Jenn and Chris were amazing runners for everything we needed that weekend, Kaitlyn pitched in wherever she could and Emily is our turn in gal.  For the "anything but" category we again made the Steak sandwich but did not rank in the top 10.  On Sunday, we thought all of our KCBS entries tasted good and we were happy with what we have done  except for our brisket (which we knew was over cooked) but still the goal was not to come in last.  Boy were we surprised with how well we did!  There were 35 teams competing and we scored as follows:  Chicken – 5th place with a score of 158.29, Ribs – 2nd place with a score of 164.00, Pulled Pork – 11th place with a score of 153.71and Brisket – 34th place with a score of 125.71 for an over al placement of 16th!  Flatlander BBQ was ecstatic and now the proud owners of a lovely chicken and pig trophy. 

Our third competition was a bit of a unique experience as we were asked to compete in the Safeway National Capital BBQ Battle with Green Mountain Coffee as our sponsor.  The challenge was to BBQ with coffee in all of our rubs and sauces which meant not using any of our regular "recipes".  Derek's co-worker's from Green Mountain Coffee (Roger, Kristen, Tyler, Chris and Janell from Brand Connections) were our teammates and they did a great job even though they were sometimes stuck with the most unglamourous jobs of dumping dirty water, getting clean water and washing dishes.  We used Brew Over Ice K-cups on all of the standard KCBS entries of Chicken, Pork Ribs, Pork and Brisket in both the sauce and the rubs.  The sauce was made on site using Nantucket Blend iced k-cups which was different since we usually do not make sauce on the fly.  However, it tasted so good that we ended up using it on almost all the entries and even sampled it to Grilling with Rich, who is a grilling blogger in the DC area.  Besides drinking a ton of coffee and making some great tasting BBQ, Derek got to meet one of the founders of the KCBS…he was thrilled when she said that she liked his sauce.  Here is a run down of our entries: 

Chicken: Rub featuring unbrewed iced Half n Half Iced Tea K-cups, Jalopeno Natucket BBQ Sauce and Coffee BBQ Sauce using iced Nantucket K-cups

Brisket: Rub featuring unbrewed iced Nantucket K-cups, Coffee BBQ Sauce using iced Nantucket K-cups

Ribs: Rub featuring unbrewed Sweet Southern Tea iced K-cup, Sauce – same as above

Pork Shoulder: Rub featuring unbrewed iced Nantucket K-cups, Sauce – same as above

We were pleased with all of our finished product and all we wanted was to not come in last since we were competing against some of the most well known professional BBQ competitors in the Nation!  Turns out that Flatlander BBQ can hold there own! 41 teams competed and we placed 17th in pulled pork (155.43), 13th in chicken (156.00), 10th in brisket (156.57) (big improvement from the competition on Cape Cod!) and 3rd in ribs (169.71). Yes folks you read that right! This equals a 9th place finish overall (637.71) and needless to say we were thrilled.
On the way back from picking up our 3rd place trophy for the ribs, Derek was congratulated by the winningest competitor in the circuit Myron Mixon….again he was thrilled and we came home with a metal pig trophy.  Since we were sponsored by Green Mountain Coffee we donated the $500 that we won for 3rd place ribs to The Boys and Girls Club of Washington DC and they posted the recipes for the entries on their blog Brewing a Better BBQ with Coffee and Tea

For our 4th competition we went to Fryeburg, ME on the weekend of July 22nd to the Western Maine BBQ Festival.  This was a first year competition and we were first year competitors so we thought it would be a good match.  It was held on the Fryeburg Fairgrounds which turned out to be a great spot for a BBQ competition.  There was a grilling competition on Saturday and the KCBS BBQ competition on Sunday but we choose only to compete in the BBQ competition.  Our teammates for this one were Dave, Emily, Kristen, Peter, Laura and Bella and again we don't know what we would do without them all.  Dave helped with logistics and prepping, Emily was the turn-in gal, Kristen and the Rinck's supplied breakfast both days and helped out wherever they were needed.  While we felt really good about our competition entries (and Peter said they were the best ribs he had ever eaten) we only had a fair day overall (there were 38 teams) and scored as follows:  Chicken – 31st place with a score of 142.29, Ribs – 4th place with a score of 165.14, Pulled Pork – 30th with a score of 141.71, Brisket – 19th with a score of 147.43 and 23rd overall with a score of 596.57. 


Therefore…..Flatlander BBQ is nursing their bruised egos and have registered to compete at The BBQ Pit at the Norwalk Oyster Festival in Norwalk, CT on the weekend of September 10th.  So stay tuned and I promise for future posts to be funnier and shorter :). 



uGo Flame Disk

I'm a believer in barbecuing over pure lump hardwood charcoal or just good 'ol wood.  However, I understand why some people like cooking with gas – it is quick to light, and easy to clean.  However, it isn't really that portable, and the design of a lot of gas grills takes away from the smokey taste that comes from juices falling right on the heat source. 

Interesting compromise: Flame Disk from uGo.  It is an aluminum pan filled with solid ethanol…  if nothing else, I"d be curious to try it for curiosity's sake.


Now We’re Cooking

It has been three years since I got certified as a KCBS Barbecue Judge, and I’ve judged about 15 contests at this point.  It has also been about four or five years since I discovered the world of competitive barbecue and thought about starting up a team.  I started this blog pretty much as a record of my efforts to do that, and while it has been slow going (six months since my last post…), this past weekend was a major milestone for me.

I had the great opportunity to mentor with the iQue barbecue team, which provided me with the final bridge to connecting my home cooking skills with cooking in a competition.  Combined with the knowledge gained from classes given by the Yankee Barbecue and I Smell Smoke teams, I’ve had the opportunity to learn from some of the best barbecue teams in the Northeast, and from teams that have done well in major national competitions like the American Royal and Jack Daniels Invitational.  The tips and tricks I’ve learned there – not just for cooking, but for the "process" of competiting, which involves not only cooking, but having all the equipment and tools you need, and making sure entries arrive to the judges as hot and clean as the way you intended them to arrive.

I look forward to assembling my team and equipment in the next year and starting to try to my own hand at competing and maybe helping another established team when they need a helping hand.


Pulled Pork Supreme

Part of the criticism levied against Certified Barbecue Judges who don’t cook competitively (as I do) that we don’t know what it is like to cook all night, dealing with the elements, and not be sure how things will turn out.   To them I say: "ppppplllllbbbtttt." (that is supposed to be a raspberry noise btw)

Back in mid-November, we had a group of friends over to watch the Patriots game and for the food, I prepared two 7.5 lb pork shoulders.  The process took nearly 24 hours, starting with brining the pork with a basic light brine mixed with Goya Chipotle Mojo that I injected into the meat and let soak for a few hours.  Then I slathered the meat with a mustard sauce slather and covered it with a nice, slightly spicy and very flavorful rub.  That marinated for a few hours, and then about an hour before putting it on the smoker, I took it out of the fridge and let the temp come up a little bit.  The pork went on fairly late at night, and through the night either myself or my girlfriend got up every hour and a half to put more charcoal on the fire, spray the meat with apple juice/cider vinegar/Worcestershire sauce mix, and make sure things were going according to plan.

For the first time, I used sand in the the drip pans of my horizontal smoker, which helped with maintaining the temperature during the cold night. For fuel, I used a combination of Royal Oak chunk charcoal and a mix of large apple, mesquite and hickory wood chunks. 

After about 8 hours on the fire, I wrapped it in foil and kept the temp a little lower.  After a total over 12 hours of cooking, the meat came off and I pulled it apart, which required no effort at all.  The bone came right out, all the fat was completely rendered out, leaving the meat tender and juicy with no large chunks of fat, and a great flavorful crust on the outside.  I served it with some Dreamland BBQ sauce and a mustard sauce I made myself.

The pork got rave reviews at the party, but real compliments came the next day at my office, when I brought the leftovers in for everyone to pick at.  It took about an hour for a foil pan’s worth of meat to disappear and I received multiple emails and personal comments from people.  The best one was from a woman who lived in Texas for many years and said it was the best BBQ she had since leaving Texas.

This was the third time doing a pork shoulder and the third time it has come out well, making me feel secure in my abilities to cook it well.  While spending the time doing the shoulder, I decided to try my hand at cooking a small brisket.  Unfortunately, I massively overcooked it, leaving it virtually inedible except for the absolute thickest center part.  However, that part that was edible was quite tasty, tender and surprisingly moist – the rest was just…. well… hard.  LOL


Duraflame Quick Coals Light-A-Bag Charcoal

While attending a recent Patriots pre-season football game, I tailgated for the first time, bringing along a new small charcoal grill and a free bag of Duraflame Quick Coals Light-A-Bag Charcoal that I got through BzzAgent.  As a grilling and barbecue enthusiast, I was looking forward to trying it, though doubtful because of my loyalty to natural chunk charcoal.

The product does what it promises – lights fast and easily… just put the bag on the grill, light the corners and the coals are ready to go after they ash over.  However, I was dissapointed with the charcoal itself, with it not being enough for even a smal square grill (this bag is enough for only a hibachi-sized grill, really, or as a starter for more charcoal), and never getting as hot as it should be for grilling. I piled them up and let them get ashed over and glowing red, but still no "sizzle" for the meat on the grill.

I quickly rectified this by putting on three pieces of Royal Oak chunk hardwood.  Those three pieces gave off more heat than all the charcoal briquettes that came out of the the Duraflame bag, burned at least as long, had better smelling smoke, less ash, and they lit almost instantly with the measly heat coming from the duraflame briquettes.

As usual, briquettes continue to dissapoint me.  If you like using them, then the Duraflame Light-a-Bag might be of interest to you, but for me, I’ll stick to my charcoal and chimney starter.


Dry vs. Sauced Ribs

Most "laymen" think of barbecued ribs as being slathered in a sauce of some kind, but for those of us who are die-hard barbecue fans, we know that a truly great barbecued rib doesn’t need sauce – nay, it may be BEST when not covered in a sweet and spicy thick red sauce!

Oh the glories of a dry rubbed rib.  When prepared right, it give the meat a chance to be the shining star – the true center of attention, with the spices providing enough support to make it interesting.  The perfect dry rubbed rib (and in my opinion, the perfect rib, period) will be moist and tender, nearly falling off the bone, but not quite, with a good smoky flavor but not overpowering.  The rub should be interesting and noticeable, but not overwhelming. 

My personal preference leans a bit towards the salty side, with savory flavors such as garlic, onion, celery seed, paprika and chili powder making up the flavor base.  It should be spicy, but not hot, savory but not salty.  The rub should be present in sufficient quantities so that it creates an almost crispy crust – a "bark" – on the outside of the ribs, providing a pleasing light crunch when biting into the meat.

I still enjoy trying a variety of sauces, but when presented with a well-prepared dry-rubbed rib, the sauce should be on the side, serving as a dipping sauce, not slathered on the ribs themselves. 


My Favorite BBQ Web Sites

I get a lot of people asking for information and suggestions on doing better barbecue, and I find myself always searching for the right web links to send them, so I’m putting them out there for their reference and mine:

Lump Charcoal Reviews – http://www.nakedwhiz.com/lump.htm

BBQ Search – http://www.bbqsearch.com/

BBQ Forum – http://www.rbjb.com/rbjb/rbjbboard/

People’s Woods – http://www.peopleswoods.com/

Wicked Good Charcoal – http://www.wickedgoodcharcoal.com/

National Barbecue News – http://www.barbecuenews.com/

Kansas City Barbecue Society – http://www.kcbs.us/

BBQ Galore – http://www.bbqgalore.com/


What is “GOOD” Competition Chicken?

Back in 2004, during my first year of judging the New England Barbecue Competition, I remember having a piece of chicken which was an epiphany.  This was a dry-rubbed chicken thigh perfectly cooked with a great savory spice rub.  The skin was crispy, the meat was tender and juicy, it was cooked perfectly all the way through without falling off the bone or becoming mushy, and it tasted like it had actually been barbecued, not cooked in an oven.  That still stands as the single best piece of chicken I’ve judged since becoming a barbecue judge.

The topic of what is "good chicken" in competition is hotly debated.  Most teams submit chicken thighs – a few will do legs, and only a rare handful will even attempt chicken breast – it dries out too easily.

Thighs are great for barbecuing since they have a lot of flavor and fat, which keeps them from drying out.  However, this also means that they have a lot of fat under the skin which can become rubbery and soggy if not cooked thoroughly.  The new KCBS judging guidelines say to not judge a piece of chicken up or down depending on whether it has skin or not.  I agree with that.  However, a piece of chicken that has good skin will always get higher points from me, since I think it simply has better taste and texture – two of the three things the entry is being judged on. 

What is "good skin"?  It is skin that has been cooked so that at least most of the fat has been rendered out.  Crispy skin is a plus, but simply cooked to the point of tenderness is fine.  "Bad skin" is anything that is fatty, rubbery, and takes away from the taste and texture experience.

However, in the end, the judging isn’t about the skin – its about the meat.  So the biggest complaint I have about many chicken entries is that too many of them taste like they have barely been on a grill or smoker.  I’m not sure how teams manage to cook a piece of chicken over a charcoal or wood flame and not get some smokiness or grill taste in there.  They are juicy, tender and have a nice sauce or rub on them, but they simply don’t taste barbecued.  I’m not looking for something with dark black grill marks, but something that shows and tastes like its been in contact with either an open flame or the grill above an open flame would be great.