Friday, February 12, 2010

Crawling in Memphis......

I'm sure most people have heard the song "Walking in Memphis" by Marc Cohn. It's about spirituality and embracing a wonderful magical place. Although Marc went there with musical inspiritaions he ended up with a spiritual awakening. In Memphis there is something for everyone and my reason was Barbecue. For many year's Memphis has been recognized not only for it's music but for it's Barbecue. Being from Texas we are always being asked what we think of the other BBQ Regions. Until now I have never been able to answer that question.

For the past several month's and even more so in my mind for the past several years, I have been planning the ultimate trip to Memphis. I have always wanted to go to Memphis but did not know when , how, or who I would go with. Last year the NBBQA presented the opportunity and a reason for me to go. They selected Memphis as the host city for their 2010 Conference. Who not better to go with then my dear friends Danielle, Kelly, Joey, and Dave. Everything began coming together for me so we spent the next several month's planning it all out.

Once we all arrived in Memphis our inspirations for some good bbq barbecue fell by the way side and the spiritual energy that we felt in Texas was once again present. We all took something away from the conference and once again things continued to happen that you just cant plan.

It was another great conference and it was amazing to finally touch, taste, and feel all the barbecue that I have been reading about. The food itself does not hold a candle in my opinion to what Texas has to offer but the people and atmosphere of Memphis is what makes their BBQ so special. Of all the memories that I will take away from Memphis the best part was once again being able to spend time with everyone in our group and to finally come face to face with so many people that I deeply respect.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

One For The Books......

A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from a friend about a girl named Amanda Field. I usually delete e-mails of this nature but something about this e-mail set forth a chain of events that I will never forget for the rest of my life. I had never met Amanda, however the e-mail I read reminded me of my own family and how precious life truly is. Amanda is a working mother with a young son who just found out that she's going to have to have a liver transplant. Due to factors beyond her control Amanda's insurance company is requiring her to pay $215,500.00 up front to be put on the transplant list to receive a new liver. This really angered me, so much so that I brought this to the attention of our newly chartered Midland North Rotary Club. I am somewhat new to Rotary and was nominated to serve as Vice President of our club this year and thought some how, some way, we needed to help her raise money to give this young mother and her family a chance to have a normal life together.

I proposed a BBQ fundraiser to our club and they graciously accepted. I have never done this before but I know that when were blessed with certain talents they can be put into motion when we least expect them to. I sent out a few e-mails to my contact list and before I knew it we had orders for 13 briskets and 12 racks of ribs. I volunteered our home as our station and the weekend of Nov 9th myself, and two other people from our club began the difficult task of cooking our first batch of BBQ. We did this on two pits for 48 hours straight. We also slotted the weekend of the 2oth to try and get more orders. The first cook was a lot of work. I was not prepared though for what lied ahead.

This past weekend I have cooked more BBQ in three days than I have in the past two years. I was not prepared for this but we wound up cooking this go round 38 briskets and 40 racks of ribs. We did this on three pits with the help of two volunteers up through Sunday afternoon and then had 5 more people come out to help. So far by doing this we have raised $6,300.00 for Amanda. Were donating the cost of the food from our club and 100% of the proceeds are being put into a special account for Amanda and her medical needs.

I am not sure how to explain how this feel's however I'm going to be honest in saying that I have a whole new respect for folk's who do this full time. It was extremely difficult to not want to take each individual rack of ribs and each individual brisket and to trim them like I would for a competition. We pulled membranes on ribs and trimmed some on briskets but not to the extent that I'd like to have done. Cooking barbecue for the masses is a lot different than you might think. First because you have so much difference in weight on briskets when buying by the case and second because you know in the back of your mind that you'd like to do a lot more to that brisket/rack of ribs than your actually getting to do with it. I don't like cutting corners but sometimes you have to do what's required of the situation when your up against time and cold weather conditions.

This will be an unforgettable experience. I was very happy to do it but there's something about cooking that just feel's different now. I'm not sure what it is, but the urge to open up my restaurant isn't what it used to be. I have set some more goal's for next year that I'd like to achieve and will hopefully keep building upon my experiences with barbecue and the friends I've made from it in the years to come. I've probably come to the realization that it's not really the barbecue itself that I like so much it's just the great things that happens every time I get around it. I think that's why it will always be a part of me.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Daddy D'z Barbecue......Atlanta, GA

It's not everyday that people from Texas get a chance to eat real southern style barbecue. Having just got back from Atlanta I can assure you that Texas barbecue is anything but "Southern Style". Although Georgia is not as well known for it's barbecue as it's neighbors from the Carolina's and Tennessee it boast's some great barbecue nonetheless. Unfortunately while we didn't have enough time to check out Atlanta's barbecue scene we did get to visit a special place called Daddy D'z.

Daddy D'z was really not our first choice for barbecue. We had tried the night before to go to Famous Daves only to find out that all of their Atlanta locations had just recently closed down. We went ahead and decided that we would wait until Saturday to try again for barbecue and wound up grabbing a hot dog at the Braves game instead. We had decided that if we were going to eat barbecue we wanted to find someplace good with a pretty solid reputation. Daddy D's was just the place. They have had a long history of serving barbecue in Atlanta and have been featured in USA Today, The New York Times, The Rolling Stones Magazine, and claim to be Atlanta's only restaurant to be featured on the "Food Network".

Upon arriving at Daddy D'z one of the first things you notice is the appearance of the restaurant. I would definitely call this place a BBQ joint rather that your typical BBQ restaurant. The outside has been painted to reflect a bluesy type of atmosphere.

Once we entered Daddy D's we were greeted by the owner who's been there for 17 years. His name is Ron Newman and he's a Chicago native. He brought us out a sample of ribs which were great in flavor but were really not that comparable to some of the ribs you will find on the competition circuit. I know it's harder cooking for the masses but you would think that if this place had been voted as "Best Barbecue in Atlanta" that they might have been a little better.

My father ordered the rib plate and I had the sampler platter. Both were served on throw away plastic plates. The rib plate comes with 4 ribs that come out completely covered in BBQ sauce. They had a great smoke flavor but were a little on the dry side. I had ordered the sampler platter wanting to try a little more items off the menu, however for some reason all they brought me was just the sandwich. They forgot to bring me the 2 ribs it comes with as well as the fried pork wraps. On the sandwich I was given a choice of either brisket or pork. I wanted to try the brisket but it more less tasted like stringy roast beef with lot's of barbecue sauce. I only ate a portion of it and rounded out the meal with side orders of mac and cheese and fried zucchini. I also tried a few bites of the Brunswick stew that he brought out for us to sample. This was probably some of the best stew that I have ever eaten.

One thing I try to do in every barbecue restaurant I get to, is to at least visit with the owner a little, to learn a little bit about them and about their barbecue. I learned here that they cook with hickory and like to do it low and slow. I was also awarded a pass behind the kitchen and got to see how it's all done behind the scenes. Overall this was a great place for BBQ. Although the new guy's from Fox Brothers in Atlanta were just featured by MSN as one of the nations top 10 best barbecue joints in the country I think Daddy D'z has more of a southern feel to it and a lot more authenticity.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Bedford Labor Day Blues and BBQ Festival Cont......

It's not everyday that you can find a KCBS contest in Texas. In fact the Bedford Labor Day Blues and BBQ Festival is the very first KCBS contest ever to take place in TX and we were glad to be a part of it. Although the Bedford Labor Day Bluesfest has been around for a few years this was their very first year to incorporate a contest and they did a wonderful job of putting this together.

We pulled out of Midland a little after 11:00 Friday morning one hour behind our scheduled departure time of 10:00. After about four hours on the road we came up to an accident that had made me nervous the rest of the way in. A White Chevrolet Crew Cab was in the median and had apparently rolled about a $ 15,000 BBQ Pit that he was pulling behind him. I wanted to stop and give him a hand but there were others assisting and traffic was getting really bad coming into Weatherford. I have never seen anyone lose a pit in tow. I would caution anyone who pulls a BBQ pit to make sure all bearings are greased, tires are good shape and it's properly attached at the hitch. One mistake could mean disaster really quick. It's a good thing no one was injured.

We arrived in Bedford shortly after 4:00 PM, set up our cooking area and spent the rest of the evening with my sister in Dallas. We returned on Saturday and began to scope out the competition. I have cooked several contests this year but none as competitive as this one. I immediately recognized several teams from Texas and a few others that have dominated the KCBS circuit this year. We knew this was going to be a hard contest and after talking with some of the teams realized that we were cooking at a much higher level of competition than what we had previously thought.

For the most part Saturday evening went by pretty fast. My sister and Lance brought the kids by for some hamburgers and we spent the rest of the evening partying with our neighbors Hard Wood Barbecue. These guy's are a class act. They really know how to do it up right and had invited all of thier friends and family out to the cook-off. I think there were over one hundred people at thier campsite by the end of the night. They are a local team from the Metroplex who gets together when they can to have a good time, cook some great Barbecue, and likes to spend the fruits of their labor on having fun and showing others how to have a great time. After 11:00 rolled around quit time was enforced and the party shortly began to come to an end. I took Patty to the hotel and returned for a long night of prepping, cooking, building turn in boxes and trying to remember each and every little step of what needed to be done.

After a long night of cooking I watched the sun come up and was very tired from the previous night's lack of sleep. I picked Patty up from the hotel just in time to be back for the chicken turn in. I left out a few small steps on the chicken but thought it had great flavor. Some of the pieces had bite through skin while others did not. Ribs came next and have been something of a challenge this year. I used a new product called Texas Pepper Jelly and was amazed at how well it turned out. I think this will be something to incorporate as it made a big difference in overall flavor and appearance. Our next category was pork. Normally this is something I never cook so I decided to try a new recipe from the book Serious Barbecue. It was a little more complicated than what I am used to but had a great flavor. Our last and final category for the day was Brisket. I had been wet aging this Brisket for many weeks and had my first experience cooking a properly wet aged Brisket. The flavor was phenomenal, however it seemed to cook much faster than the Briskets we have cooked this year and came out a little on the dry side. I was pleased with our scores at this competition mainly because this was only our second KCBS competition and the teams we were competing against were some of the best we had ever crossed in one competition. Here's how we ended up:

Overall * 18th of 40
Chicken * 20th of 40
Ribs * 15th of 40
Pork * 17th of 40
Brisket * 22nd of 40

I could not have done this without the help of my wife Patricia. She has been with me every step of the way from my very first Brisket and has really been very supportive and helpfull in our competitions.

Monday, August 31, 2009

This Should Be Interesting......

It's not everyday you check the mail and find out who's entered up in your next bbq contest. I have been following and studying competition barbecue for a number of year's but have only been competing since 2008. Today I recieved my packet in the mail for the upcoming KCBS Labor Day Blues and Barbecue Festival in Bedford and was a little surprised at some of the teams I saw whom have entered this contest. Out of the 40 teams currently entered, 12 of them are in the top 100 of the KCBS standings. Out of those about 5 are in the top 15. It's really going to be an honor to cook next to those guy's considering the amount of teams that are currently ranked this year. That number as it stands today is around 3,660 teams. I have been following many of these teams even though this will be our 2nd time to ever cook KCBS. I have also recognized many other names that are on the leaderboards of the current IBCA standings as well. This is definately going to be an interesting mix of true BBQ talent. I am really excited to see where the cards are going to fall. I will be cooking solo this weekend without the help of my trusted partner and comrade Chris Canon. I have really come to appreciate the value of cooking alongside friends and family. I have cooked alone several times but never in a KCBS comp. This is going to be a totally different ballgame for us that I cant wait to play.

To be continued......

Thursday, August 13, 2009

IBCA Friends of Thunderbird Bay BBQ Cookoff......

Having just recently eaten at some of the best BBQ joints in Texas the day before this comp I was somewhat excited yet a little down that my brisket would probably not compare to what I had just eaten. It's amazing what happens to a perfectly good piece of meat vs another piece of meat that wont render sometimes. It sort of makes you want to just throw it on the ground. That being said I wanted to have a great attitude about this competition as my partner Chris Canon from Midland was coming up to join me in battle in a region thought of by most as one of the hardest places to compete in and around Texas.

I set up Friday after lunch in the park right by the pavilion in the shade and waited on Chris to arrive so we could begin the process of washing the meat etc...Chris arrived shortly after 4:00. We were registered in a matter of minutes and waited for what seemed forever to have the meat inspected. We decided to leave for awhile and came back to a very clean area with our own personal trash cans by our cook-site which was something you dont hardly ever see. We began prepping the briskets and put them in the cambro to season overnight and left for the evening.

We came back Sat morning around 4:00 AM and the first thing I noticed was the water/juice mixture dripping out of the bottom of my cambro. It was still pretty cold yet these are supposed to be airtight so I spent most of the morning distracted by how this could have happened. We fired up the pit and put on the briskets around 5 AM. Our lights had burned out so we worked in the dark getting the chicken cut and prepped. This time I chose to cook with free range chickens instead of the normal already split chickens we normally cook. The ribs went on afterwords and we watched the sun come up drinking coffee and discussing barbecue.

Around 9:00 we figured they would be having a cooks meeting as discussed the night before but found no one. We walked up to a registration table after eating a breakfast burrito made by one of the vendors and found one of the directors who gave us a rule sheet and our boxes and said this will serve as you cooks meeting. Typically these meetings last anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes or even longer yet we were finished almost instantly and left scratching our heads.

Our first category for the day was chicken. We cooked and split two whole chickens and wound up going with the smaller one. We both thought it was the best we had done this year and made turn in without any problems.

Our second category for the day was ribs. We had a similar experience with our ribs like we had in Enid, OK. Good ribs up until presentation time. It's amazing how quick you can lower your own score with a bad cut but we made the best of it and covered up what we could making turn in with no problems.

Our last and final turn in of the day was brisket. We cooked two Briskets and both had refused to cooperate. Our best one was the biggest one we had on. About 15 minutes before turn in it had only reached 190 degrees. We didn't get it really where we wanted it and didn't get to rest it but it had exceptional flavor. We were right on the cutoff for turn in. The guy behind me was sent back to re-cut his Brisket. I watched closely at their table and he came back with it well past the cut off point.

For the most part this was a great cook-off up until the awards and what I saw happen at the brisket table. Colins Creek recieved calls in each category taking a 6th in Ribs, a 6th in Brisket, and a 9th in Chicken. One thing that took this from a good cook-off to a never go back cook-off was when one of the local teams took a first in every category. Typically this would never bother me except for the fact that it's supposed to be blind judging. All 10th through 2nd place calls were ticket numbers that were called yet for some reason they decided to call their name instead. How would they have any idea or know who's product that was if it was a fair contest ? Another factor that played a part in this is having local judges set up right by the turn in boxes and watching them interact with their local friends who were cooking right after they did a turn in. As much as I like having a positive attitude about barbecue how can you when each and every cook who competed gets up and screams BS and walks out during the Grand Championship only to pack up and leave almost immediately without saying their goodbye's. I think the IBCA board will be hearing about this one and it's unfortunate because not only was this their first year about 90% of the competitors came from parts all over Texas. I am not one to make accusations or have a bad attitude but it's funny how people you don't even know will pull up to your truck while packing up and encourage you to call the IBCA. I just wish Texas would join up with the rest of the world and adopt a judging system that's similar to the one that KCBS uses.

Blacks Barbecue, Lockhart Texas......

The first time I ever had a piece of Blacks Barbecue was on the way out of Lockhart. We had just had our fill of Kreuz Market and were heading out of town when I had the sudden urge to turn around and get some for the road. We came back into town and pulled up into what looked like a time warp. If you are not familiar with Blacks one thing that's very special about them is that they have been in business for over 77 years and have been ran by one family the entire time. It is the oldest family owned barbecue business in Texas. I went in and placed a quick order to go of 1/4 pound of Brisket, a rib and some jalepeno-cheddar sausage. They wrapped it all up in a piece of butcher paper and tin foil and put it in a paper bag. When I was headed out the door I ran into Kent Black whom I'd met in Austin at the National Barbecue Convention and he introduced me to his son Barrett who will one day be taking over. We visited for a while and since the family was waiting in the car I had to cut it short otherwise I could have been there for most of the day. About an hour after leaving Lockhart we decided to compare Blacks to what we had just had at Kreuz and decided to come back through Lockhart on the way home from our vacation just to go back.

Our 3 hour trip back to Lockhart at the end of the week seemed to last forever kind of like a kid around Christmas time. We finally arrived around 4:00 and were greeted by the same smiles and friendly faces that had greeted me just a few day's earlier. As we went in the the first thing you get is your tray and side dishes. Then you come up to a very seasoned cutting board behind the counter which is an actual table of sorts and order your meat where it is cut with a steel knife and fork. You can tell little has changed as this is one of the few places who still do it this way. We ordered 1 1/2 pounds of Brisket, several ribs, and some more jalepeno-cheddar sausage and took a seat. I must admit that the Brisket served at Blacks is bar none the best I have ever had. I have eaten at some really great places and nothing compares to the lasting flavor of their brisket. I know some people believe that salt and pepper create a bland brisket, however the addition of seasoned post oak is better than any combination of rub you could use and has some of the greatest flavor when paired with beef. I have come to believe that many rubs on the market now days have a tendency to actually take away from the meat instead of adding to it and you do not get the genuine actual flavor of what it should taste like otherwise.

After we had finished eating I went up to the counter to purchase some merchandise and was asked to go back through the line to pay. While paying Barrett Black had just walked in through the door and thanked me for coming back through. I told him how much I enjoyed the brisket and their barbecue and with that he proceeded to tell me something that very few people will probably ever know. Although this will not be discussed in this blog I can tell you that going back through that line was one of the biggest lessons in barbecue I have ever had and came at a time which was least expected. I would go one step further to say that what I walked out of their with that day is not any one recipe of sorts but will probably never be printed in any book nor will be found on the internet and can only be experienced at one place.