Saturday, December 8, 2012

Review - J&W Grill in Chickasha

(Chickasha, OK) - How is it that we've never heard of this place before? How has the name never come up during chats with other burger connoisseurs when the topic of best out-of-the-way independent greazy spoons has come up? Seriously -- we need to know.

What you've got here is the classic, small-town diner serving up a simple menu. On the menu is the obligatory Oklahoma onion burger. We don't eat onion burgers -- the depression being over and all it just isn't our thing -- but they got 'em. And there are also full-beef burgers on the menu. No real need to stretch that beef as far as it will go -- even if there's still the onion burger craving which we do NOT begrudge. Have at it!

The fries are fresh-cut -- which we didn't necessarily expect. It was a nice surprise. We were prepared for some flash-frozen shoestrings and those would've been fine. Love fresh cut fries and these were greasy and good. We'd recommend a blanching before opening to make them crispy and less greasy -- but we realize that can be a hassle and it's not like this place some gourmet hipster destination. This is real heartland food for real people.

Which brings us to the burgers. They are served in the smash burger style that will be familiar to patrons of such fast-food joints like Culver's, Steak N Shake, Freddie's and to a lesser extent, SmashBurger. But where the aforementioned are all decent-to-great burgers -- these at J&W are bigger and juicy in the middle and caramelized to crunchy on the edges. Simple. Awesome!

In short, the burgers here are everything we optimistically expected when we stopped on a whim to eat -- and more. Figured they'd be good, old-fashioned diner burgers with good, old-fashioned diner fries. But it was all many steps past that. What a pleasant surprise. If you should find yourself in the charming City of Chickasha -- this place is HIGHLY recommended.

***Update (Thanks to Mr. John Peterson -- and we verified with another burger mongering visit) it's no longer a cash establishment. They take major cards -- mostly. As far as American Express; if you're coming here you can leave home without it.

-- Rufus

J & W Grill on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Grillin' & Chillin'

(Sand Springs, OK) - It was mostly cloudy and a bit windy today in this suburb of Tulsa as we gathered for the first annual Grillin' & Chillin' BBQ Cookoff presented by the local chamber of commerce. Sand Springs is situated along the Arkansas River -- which for some reason is mostly just a dry river bed. So there was plenty of sand but not much in the way of springs.

A few words about the people putting on this show. Very impressive. They bent over backwards to make the first year memorable in all the good ways. We'd heard from our contact at another first-rate competition that these folks had been up there shadowing them and the buzz was good. Proved to be true. 

They picked up all the good habits and made this the sort of event a judge looks forward to attending. They took all the seemingly small, inconsequential issues and made them important. Word from the cooks is that it was similar for them. In fact one high-ranking cook was overheard to say they like to smoke at these first year shows because it can help make them. And when they get in early they always know which ones are the best when it's time to decide when and where to return.

Judging was interesting because a fine coat of dust was blowing into the tent all day long. Coated everything. A sampling plate sitting on a table for five minutes would have a fine coat on it. So that means the crackers were dusty. The meat was dusty. The judges were dusty. Everything. Perhaps a grassy spot for the tent would help -- or spray down the dusty bits before hand with a firehose. Not enough to make mud but enough to still the dust. But that is a very minor complaint and the only one we can must. Carol and Merl Whitebrook did a fine job, as always, overseeing the event and Mary Eubanks and her crew are to be applauded heartily. It can only go up from here and here is already very high in our regards.

P.S. We crashed and totaled a car on the way home. A Volvo no less. That sucked. Still glad we went.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Firelake BBQ Cookoff

(Shawnee, OK) - This was the first one -- a new competition put on by the Citizen Potawatomi Nation on their impressive grounds about halfway between the downtown areas of the neighboring Oklahoma towns of Shawnee and Tecumseh. Clearly they had hoped for it to be a much larger event that would include music, vendors and a whole bunch of cool cars. But then it rained. In the middle of a drought. And so the best laid plans went awry and a lot of hard work was for naught. But hey -- they still pulled off a fine barbecue competition and that is nothing to sneeze at.

It started out as just a single voice in the wilderness. In other words it showed up on the KCBS events page with little fanfare and a misspelled email address. A couple of phone calls and a little research yielded the email address of the organizer -- an already busy but still friendly man named Jason Boyce. He'd be the contact henceforth and was present for judging so we could all shake his hand and thank him for his hard work and for having us. We heard more as the year progressed and were then approached as we cooked in Norman in July and handed a flyer. Cool. 

He had us set up in a comfortable reunion room next to the RV camping sites that would serve as cook sites. Plenty of room for everyone to spread out. Clara and Jonathan Williams served as reps and were glad to be back in the area. They hadn't been down since serving as reps for the Tecumseh event that was on hiatus this year (but happily is back on the calendar to return next year). So judges parking was set up over by the tribal grocery store -- other side of a field and bridge over a small creek. That would have been fine on a normal day but made for an adventure in the rain. No pavement but plenty of muddy holes to step in. Since there were no cars to be shown it would have been great if we could have parked in their spots -- they were still empty when judging was finished and we left.

Food was good, by and large, for an event with just 25 teams. It would appear that it served as a warm-up event for a few very successful teams headed for the American Royal just a week away. The top three overall finishers were all headed for the invitational (and open) contests in Kansas City if we're not mistaken. Alas there were some other less experienced and less capable teams on hand too. I would swear that one of the pieces of brisket we were given was boiled. It was gray and rubbery and flavorless with some gelatinous fat clinging to the bottom. There were only four tables (24 judges for 25 teams) and at our table we heard another had gotten a box of gray chicken breasts (!) with kale and  scallions as garnish -- double no-no. Word is the reps went out to explain the DQ to the team and saw ribs boiling on the smoker. Nothing against rules in that but it seems like a waste of time, effort and money.

Oh, yeah, and don't let us forget the food poisoning. Can't trace it back -- that's impossible -- but we suspect someone wasn't practicing food safety techniques on the chicken. There were several of us at the table that ate a bunch of a few pieces of chicken because it was pretty tasty. Some had some cramping. Another had full on explosive from both ends along with fever, chills and body aches. Outstanding. Lesson learned -- just taste the chicken. Don't ever eat it all. Ever. EVVVVER. Still -- can't wait to go back next year as this is an event with the potential to be something great.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Art of BBQ

(Tulsa) - Here is an example of how not  to run a BBQ competition -- at least from the perspective of a judge who will not go through that again.

It all starts with the application process -- two parter -- the email and then the actual "application". All of this is done but with very little initial acknowledgement. There is the waiting -- Mr. Petty told us it's the hardest part and in most cases he's right. In the case of this contest it lasts from the initial contact all the way until two weeks before the date of judging. That's when the confirmation email comes -- or doesn't.

We all know and have all implicitly agreed that organizers may organize as they see fit. It's just the lay of the land and if they choose to do it badly then we, as judges, have two choices. We can either just grin and bear it or we can decide not to attend that particular event in the future. And if enough judges are of a like mind then they will either have a high non-CBJ percentage (and ultimately fail) or they will change the way they do business. This is another unwritten yet implicit agreement in the organizer-judge relationship. We cannot complain about it -- but we can blog about it.

It was the same last year with this one even though we didn't realize it until it was almost upon us. The confirmation came last year as well with two weeks to go. Evidently they want experience in judges. They take all applications until it is upon them and then pick the most experienced judges from the lot. And it worked -- there were a lot of masters in the room and it seemed as if very few had under 15 contests. Don't think there were any under 10.

The judging venue
Last year it was at ONEOK Field but apparently the custodians of that facility didn't want the event back. It was moved to a bar in the Blue Dome District -- which apparently decided it the last minute that it didn't want to be involved either. It was moved across the street into a vacant building at 1st and Elgin across from McNellie's. Cool building. The fellow said it was for sale but he didn't say how much. It's probably a lot.

Judges parking was set aside -- it said so right in the emailed info packet. Didn't say anything about how that cat was going to charge us 5 dollars. Yeah, it's just 5 dollars. But after spending $75 in gas for the round trip it seems like free parking is a reasonable expectation. Doesn't it? 

They guy who charged us to park is in that truck
Karen and Ralph are always game and willing to roll with the punches. Today would be no different and they did an outstanding job. We're told there is some turnover with regards to reps at this contest and it doesn't surprise us. It'll be interesting to see how long even-tempered and affable folks like the Williamses stick with Art of BBQ.

The food -- it was mostly pretty good. Above average even. Tulsa is not a difficult place to get to and so it draws cooks many of whom are already living nearby.

Ultimately it was a positive experience because of the fellow judges and the good food and the cool reps. Not gonna do it again though. They can have their Art of BBQ. We're gonna find a different place to judge that weekend.


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Bedford Blues & BBQ Festival

(Bedford, TX) - There was a time back when we were denizens of the FW-D Metroplex that we would attend the Bedford Blues Fest. They held it south of the busy Airport Freeway on a big patch of lawn by the hospital. Admission was free and the lineups were impressive if not always strictly blues. Attendees were as likely to be treated to a set from landmark Texas Americana acts like Joe Ely as we were sock-knocking sets by legends like Buddy Guy.


At some point while we weren't paying attention they added the barbecue component -- and in the process turned a great festival in an otherwise beautiful but largely nondescript Fort Worth suburb -- into something legendary. Bedford is mostly just lumped in as "one of the mid-cities" or as "part of the H-E-B" or more specifically considered the more affluent big-brother of those three that also include Hurst and Euless. They are all good towns but this Labor Day event has got to be the envy of the three which are so often overlooked as Arlington's big attractions (Six Flags over Texas, Jerryworld, The Ballpark) steal the spotlight shining on Tarrant County's other city.

The festival is clearly a priority for the chamber and other civic boosters in Bedford. This is evident in the way the event is run. No detail is overlooked and to the outside observer it always seems to go off without a hitch. If only they could make Labor Day in Texas a little cooler.

This is not an issue for the barbecue judges. We park close and have been situated the past two years in the "old" library. Old is the term they use as the city has evidently built a new library that must be one of the finer facilities in Texas. Because we can think of dozens of communities, including our own, that would jump through flaming hoops to get our library up to the level of Bedford's "old" library.


Now a few words about the folks who handle the judging. If there is anyone out there who organizes a competition or is thinking about it and wants to learn how to run a successful show -- look no further. At no point in the process -- from signup to day of -- that prospective judges don't know exactly where they stand and are not treated like a truly valuable part of the process. It is really almost difficult to believe. The disparity between this event and others is so mindbogglingly vast.

To that end we would like to take this opportunity to call out by name Bedford's Wendy Hartnett and her team as well as the always-great reps Karen and Ralph Williams (the curmudgeonly Mike Lake stepped up to help rep at the last minute this year when the teams topped 50). All of you make this the best run event on the circuit -- at least that we've encountered so far. Cheers to all of you.

If only the food had lived up to the rest of it. Indeed. We'd heard that the BBQ Pitmasters  television show was producing the Texas episode for the upcoming season at Bedford on the Saturday before the main competition on Sunday. Between that and the indubitably high quality of the food in '11 we figured we were in for some fine eating. Imagine our surprise when most of it was just not that good. There were some real bright spots (could these have been entries from the celeb cooks like Canada's Diva Q?) but the barbecue this year in Bedford was overwhelmingly underwhelming. Some of it was actually just plain ol' not very good. 

This was very surprising at a competition of this stature -- one big enough to draw the attention of and serve as a venue for a national television show. We left thinking to ourselves that if we deign to cook again it will probably be there. The prize money is good and if the competition remains at that level it won't be to hard to get calls.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Review - Eischen's Bar in Okarche

(Okarche, OK) - Still another week until we get back to the judging table so we continue our forays into Reviewing Other Foods. This week finds us in Okarche, Oklahoma at the world famous Eischen's Bar (est. 1896 - self-proclaimed oldest in Oklahoma).

We've read a lot of reviews on this place and it seems time to offer a little objectivity (at least as we see it) -- so let's start by answering some frequently asked quesitons:
  • It true what they say about the table competition? Yes.
  • Is it true they only take cash? Mostly - I think they'll take a check but no plastic.
  • Is the wait really that long? Yep, at least when they're busy.
  • Is the help really that rude? They are busy - so not real chatty.
  • Is it expensive? Mindbogglingly.
  • Is the chicken good? No. It is great.
  • Is it worth the trip? Yes.
Eischen's is an Oklahoma rite of passage. It is as The Salt Lick BBQ in Austin is to Texans. That analogy further holds true in that it is more of an overall theme park type experience than it is a trip to get some grub. At the Salt Lick it's best to bring a cooler full of beer to enjoy during the afternoon wait for a table while that guy sits over there with his acoustic guitar singing a mix of Jerry Jeff, George Strait and Eagles tunes.

At Eischen's they serve beer (bottles and draught but strictly of the 3.2 ABW variety) and the music is piped in classic rock (and a pretty good mix of it -- not just limited to the really tired stuff) but the wait is just as long. The difference is no lawn to sit on. Everyone stands and waits until someone gets up and then the mad dash is on for the open table. At that point the wait for chicken can stretch up to 2 hours when they are really busy.

But they will keep bringing the beer so folks that show up with patient friends -- all expecting to wait awhile and have time to visit -- will enjoy the experience. And all will be really happy when he shows up with big baskets of chicken.

Yes. The food. Is it the best chicken you've ever had? No. The chicken you're grandma used to fry up on Sundays in her old cast iron skillet was better than this. You're mama might even have topped this regularly. Babes in the Metroplex has better chicken. But with all of that said this is still some outstanding fried chicken. Crispy and not greazy -- it's deep fried in the same simple mix and fashion that was used three generations ago by the grandaddy of the Eischen boys that still own the place. The place is more restaurant now than bar but they never changed the recipe (for more info on that see their episode of Triple D on which they got a "Winner winner chicken dinner").

 The okra got thumbs up around our table. Onions, pickles and white bread comes with it. They have BBQ beef and roast beef sandwiches (don't know -- didn't get them) and ballgame nachos ($6 without the "homemade" chili). All of that could be very good but we went for the legendary chicken.

If you are in central Oklahoma and have time to kill or if someone says "You gotta..." then you should. Just go knowing what to expect and be prepared to deal with it. If you do you'll enjoy the experience and you'll love the chicken and the okra. As for us -- we wouldn't mind trying the chili. One of these days.

Eischen's Bar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Review - Juan del Fuego in Norman

(Norman, OK) - As we wait for the fall session of Barbecue Competition Season to fire up again we are holding forth on visits some non-barbecue places of note. Juan's is absolutely worthy of such.

We have frequent occasion to travel I-35 and have discovered ourselves making a habit of stopping in the pleasant tree-lined All-American college town of Norman (location of our sweet People's Choice 1st Place Pork Shoulder victory) to eat at this hidden gem of a spot. Yes, it's a BBQ blog. But it can't be smoked meat three meals a day EVERY day. Occasionally the palate must be cleansed, if nothing else, for the sake of perspective. Our experience dictates this is an excellent place to do just that. Besides - it is summer and it's hard to find a contest to judge anywhere near the South Plains so we've time on our hands and we've empty stomachs.

First a little back story. The namesake is one Juan Herrera whose first 15 minutes (we believe there are more to come) came as the "floor show" a couple miles to the east at the venerable, 110+ year old Diner during an episode of Diners, Drive-ins & Dives on the Food Network. While owner Mark Amspacher (deservedly) hogged the glory with Guy Fieri it was Juan in the background doing all the work. The community lost a well-loved and affable character a little more than a year after that episode aired when Mark died.

The Diner soldiers on under the eye of his family and long-time employees. We've been once since then and it is still crowded and the food is still great. The only thing we noticed missing was Juan - the Eddie Van Halen of the flattop. Asking around a bit we learned that after nearly two decades (for whatever reason - and we've heard a few) he left The Diner. Juan found a spot in a largely overlooked but tidy strip mall next to a Sam's Club on the west side of Norman, a stone's throw from I-35, and set up shop amidst comfortable tables in a bright and airy room adorned with pressed tin and images of the unibrowed countenance of Frida Kahlo.

The floor show remains. Juan is used to people watching him work his magic, he knows he's good, and he likes for us to watch. A spot at the counter is a box seat for excellence in short-order cheffery. This master is turning out the best food of his career and he's doing it his way and this time around HE is the boss.

If we've learned one thing about eating here it's that it is pretty much impossible to go wrong. The menu includes standard American breakfasts, Tex-Mex lunches, vice-versa and a number of hybrids. Best as we can tell (it'd be wrong to stop Juan and ask him when he's that busy) everything that can be home made from scratch is. For fans of The Diner's legendary flapjacks - good news - you can get 'em here too even if Marks two-time state champion chili didn't make the trip down Main Street (I would guess that is a function of Juan's respect for Mark's legacy - because you KNOW he knows the recipe by heart).

Most of the meals come with potatoes: home fries with onions, fries or hash browns (the latter two not fresh made but rather SYSCO specials - fine though). The house-made chorizo is loose and carmelized a touch on the flattop and just spicy enough to get it done without scaring away the timid or meek. There are three sauces: verde, ranchero and red -- all are Juan's own creations and they are outstanding. When Juan cooks eggs he gets them just right and when he puts them over easy on a pair of pork tamales covered in red it is sublime. The tamales boast a generous 1:1 pork to masa ratio and have to be some of the finest anywhere north of Texas.

This blog is to be continued with more photos and more food -- as we eat it. Stay tuned and check back often!

Juan Del Fuego on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Review - Bacon Explosion

(The Plains) - It's the mid-season hiatus in the south. Not much doing between early June and September. So, emboldened by our success in Norman and not motivated enough to trek out into the heat to find a good 'cue joint we decided to do something we've been curious about for some time. The meat fattie they call the Bacon Explosion.

We had a feeling. We suspected. But all of the reviews we read disabused us of the notion that it would just be unexciting bacon and sausage flavored only by rub and sauce. They were wrong. We used the best bacon, freshly ground sausage and Butchers run and sauce (our favorites). The finished product looked just like the pictures on the website. It was not bad. Just disappointing.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Review - Dickey's BBQ Pit

(The Plains) - Not gonna say which Dickey's this was (it rhymes with Mormon Smokelahoma). Doesn't matter. All that matters is that first impressions of a decade ago were spot on. We love our dog too much to feed him what we didn't eat -- which was pretty much all of it.

Dickey's has it's roots in Dallas. This should be Red Flag Number One on account of good barbecue doesn't come from Dallas. We know the Sonny Bryan's faithful will dispute that -- and we have found Sonny's to be passable on good days as long as its from the original over there off the Harry Hines Hooker Highway -- but it is a fact. As a general rule the people of Dallas hold themselves in too high regard to do the dirty work involved in producing good smoked meat. Don't blame us -- blame Dallas.

Anyhow, sometime in the '90s this company decided to franchise and since then it has spread, inexplicably, like a cancer outward from Dallas and now apparently has locations in 41 of the Lower 48. Wow. They built a kingdom on horrible barbecue.

It wasn't until around aught-one that we first had the misfortune to darken the door of a Dickey's right there in their hometown of Dallas. Okay actually it was 30 miles away in Arlington but for the purposes of our brutal review here we'll make it Dallas. We earned that creative license by avoiding enough Dickey's locations in Dallas through the years. The meat didn't have any smoke to it. The sauce was a runny, bitter tomato sauce with some sodium nitrate added to its dirty dishwater wang. And they didn't serve pulled pork (not many Texas places did at the time -- holla Sonny!). But eventually they started serving pork -- but it was not good.

Now, here we are ten year's later at a franchise location far away and, lo and behold, they are able to perfectly re-create the recipes held so dear for so long by the Dallas Dickeys. Condolences.


P.S. On the upside they proudly stick people with these ugly yellow plastic refill cups to buy their loyalty. I'm grateful for this because when I see somebody with one of them I know not to bother talking barbecue with that person.

Dickey's Barbecue Pit on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Smokin' Up a Storm Charity BBQ Challenge in Norman

(Norman, OK) - There comes a time in every judge's career, if that judge wishes to be a Master  Certified Barbecue Judge, that he or she must actually compete. Most judges scout out a team and approach them with caution and ask if they can help out at an upcoming contest. Cooks -- being generally kind and friendly  sorts -- will more often than not say yes. Even if it is to just get somebody to lug wood and stay up to monitor thermometer readings.

We are at the halfway point on our journey to Master status and we figured it was as good a time as any to get the cooking requirement out of the way. But we thought -- why cook with another team when we have all the equipment we need to compete on our own? Unable to find a good answer to that question we decided to go for it. Not only to compete -- but to compete against a huge  field in Norman and against some of the top teams in the nation. Not some small contest where finishing in the money was mostly a matter of odds -- but with half a hundred other teams including the current Top Ranked Team in the USA: Butcher BBQ out of Chandler, OK. It was a decision we would never question (okay -- maybe just briefly) as we went off in pursuit of our first (and last) Grand Championship.


This is probably a good time to mention the weather. If you've ever looked at the KCBS events page for states like Oklahoma you've probably noticed a conspicuous dearth of events between November and March. Winter, right? The "off season" in the world of barbecue (whether we agree with it or not). You've also noticed, no doubt, that ain't nothing happening between early June and September. That is on account of the ubiquitous 100° temperatures commonly experienced in the region this time of year. But they got lucky in Norman because the high on Friday was only in the upper 90s. Saturday was a balmy 104 but it was a pleasant Friday night anyway -- after the sun went down.

The sun sets over the Cleveland County Fairgrounds in Norman, Oklahoma

We know all of this because cooks that don't have the fancy auto-cookers (like us) stay up all night monitoring temperature. First thing we did after seeing the kids off following the Champions of Tomorrow competition was kick the tires and light the fires to get up to temp for the brisket we'd throw on at 10 p.m. Having recently eaten the barbecue equivalent of manna at Franklin BBQ in Austin -- and having read everything we could find about the guy and his technique -- we had visions of serving the judges some brisket like that. We figured something even close would be money in the bank and was reasonably confident we could reproduce and as chief cook went in pretty confident the other fellows would share that vision.

With a local cover band belting out Skynyrd and Petty tunes we went to work trimming the fat on that brisket. Wanted to get that cap down to where there was just enough to render into the meat but not so much as to ruin the eating experience. The man says he uses half salt and half pepper over post oak and so did we. It went on farthest from the heat in our big, competition-grade horizontal offset rig. Yep -- just the one. Hey. We're cooking to get our requirement in. If we win anything it's gravy. All we need is one to get enough meat to feed judges and this is a damned fine looking brisket from the local meat cutter.

A few hours later we'd follow that with, count 'em, FIVE pork butts. Two of our own and three from the organizers for their Sponsor's Choice contest. This was to be a people's choice type event but due to oppressive and ridiculous local ordinances the folks participating had to be referred to as Sponsors. This is because the teams cooking for them don't have vendor's licenses and those are required in order to serve BBQ to the public in exchange for money. Not money that we'd keep but that would go to the Food Bank to help feed the truly hungry. Which is why we volunteered -- we really like that charity no matter what city it is in. But I digress. The rub for the butts was a super secret rub that I'm going to share with you right here. If you go to the Dollar Tree you'll see a small plastic container of something called Memphis Barbecue Rub. That's the secret. It's a dollar. And it is outstanding.

Let the person who hasn't rubbed their pork at 3 a.m. cast the first stone

Once all that was on the big smoker we had time to kick back and, since it was now quiet time, talk amongst ourselves in lowered voices over some cold PBR. We were situated next to a buddy who splits his time about 50/50 between cooking and judging. He tried to climb up in his air-conditioned rig and get a nap but eventually came out admitting he couldn't sleep because we were outside having a good time pulling an all-nighter. So we talked 'cue and we talked sports and we talked weather and we talked some more 'cue. As oh-five-hundred approached we began to pre-hydrate, first with coffee as a pick-us-up and then with water and gatorade. It was time to get the Smokenator hot for the ribs and as the sun came up and the rooster crowed it was evident today would be a hot one.

The sun also rises -- over the smoker and the portapots

Ribs were on by 6. Didn't know there were three slabs in the pack but there were. After membrane removal nobody felt like turning those spares into St. Louis cut -- so we didn't. In hindsight that was probably the biggest mistake of the whole experience. More on that further down the page.

Chicken went into a roasting pan of Parkay and bacon fat at 10 a.m. and 24 thighs that needed three hours of Thursday Night Processing -- not gonna happen. We've had drumsticks hit our judge's plate before and we liked them just fine. After a practice run the week before we felt we could at least score some solid 8s and 9s in chicken with that method on the drums.

First up at 11 was the Sponsor's Choice turn in. We pulled one of the butts and it was butter. It pulled so beautifully and had gorgeous bark. Tasted just great. Second butt -- not as easy but still great. Third but wouldn't pull -- wouldn't even cut very easily. It was tasty as could be and cooked to the perfect temperature but basically just rubber. Uh-oh. We needed to turn in three pans with a butt in each pan for this. One of our own butts had to take one for the team. Pulled it and submitted all three to the Sponsor's tent and only 5 minutes late (not like they were going to DQ us -- it was their  meat -- mostly). Now we were down to a single pork butt so it was gonna have to be good. We pulled it and wrapped it in foil and towels and put it in one of those hot bags which then went into the cooler next to the identically wrapped brisket. 

Also finding itself in the "not gonna happen" category was tweezing parsley. First of all we hate that shi...stuff. At least we hate it in competition barbecue boxes. We use it for cooking at home but when it sticks to the meat it pisses us off. Sometimes we don't get it all off and it affects the taste of the meat -- negatively. We went with regular old green leaf lettuce and it served us fine. Turn in times were coming hot and heavy and there was no time to screw around with vegetation.

Here's what they looked like:

We figured our weakest category was ribs. We hit them with some of Johnny Trigg's secret rub (Weber rub complemented with cayenne and brown sugar) and there was too much pepper. They were pretty spicy and I've seen judges get angry over that. We  liked 'em but figured they wouldn't fare well. The chicken was tasty and just fine. Solid 8s at worst, we figured. The brisket was much closer to Franklin's than we had dared hope -- the burnt ends were smoky black on the outside and juicy on the inside and melted in the mouth. Just like his! But the pork -- oh, lordy the pork. Some of the best we've ever tasted. Right up there with Whole Hog (can't believe I'm saying it but there it is). Couldn't believe we just did that. Gonna win pork!

Turn in is over -- now it's time to tear down and a buddy that was in the Sponsor's tent comes by. He says our strategy on the pork (that will remain a secret) worked -- our jar was full of tickets. Didn't say if he meant fuller than the others or anything but we took it as a good sign.

We didn't win pork. We didn't win brisket. We didn't win chicken or ribs. We didn't finish in the money in a single category. In fact it was so brutal that we actually managed a 4 (bad) in taste from one judge on the brisket! We've never awarded or seen awarded a 4. Wow. Comment cards are rare -- we managed to get them from half  of the judges in one category. They really hated our brisket and now we know why cooks don't like judges. That was good brisket. Well the burnt ends were -- perhaps we should have sampled one of those slices. Doh!

Oddly it was the ribs where we shined. Yep. They loved 'em. 16th out of 48 teams. Scored higher than Butcher, Lotta Bull and both of the teams from the BBQ Pitmasters TV show. Suppose if we'd have cut them down to SLC ribs we'd have been in the money -- maybe Top 3.
BBQ Pitmasters boys from Hot Springs

Scores? Got 'em. Check these out:

Chicken J1-889 J2-777 J3-887 J4-877 J5-767 J6-877 45/48
Ribs     J1-887 J2-898 J3-977 J4-998 J5-999 J6-877 16/48
Pork     J1-888 J2-778 J3-788 J4-877 J5-877 J6-888 41/48
Brisket J1-747 J2-666 J3-786 J4-666 J5-776 J6-787 48/48

Three comment cards on the brisket including Judge 1 who said the 4 was because it tasted burnt. Judges 3 and 5 both said it was tough although 3 did like the smoky flavor. Thanks you for the comment cards, judges. Really. It's your job to call it how you see it and we wouldn't have it any other way -- even if we don't necessarily agree. 3 and 5 went above and beyond to leave cards and it is sincerely appreciated. Which leads me to judges 2 and 4 -- both scored us 6,6,6 -- I would think that merits a card. On that note I'd be curious as to what was on the mind of Chicken Judge 5 for the 6 in flavor but what can ya do?

Overall those scores, when balanced and tallied, are good for a total score of 601.7146 -- or 41st out of 48 teams. So ya ready for the kicker? Here's the kicker. We won  the Sponsor's Choice (pork). By a lot. Nobody was even close. The judges didn't like our pork much at all but The People -- they loved  it. 

5. Q'S YOUR DADDY  111

So there it is. We will consider it a successful outing based on four criteria:
  • We got our cooking requirement in while cooking for ourselves -- the only goal we had   to achieve
  • We scored higher than 4 prominent teams in ribs -- including the reigning #1 team in the nation
  • We KILLED in the people's choice contest
  • We had a great  time doing it -- absolutely a blast
And the cooking requirement from KCBS is a great idea. Every judge needs this perspective and needs it as soon as they can get it. The experience is invaluable and just as cooks will benefit from judging, judges will be better at what they (we) do after cooking.

Hardware, yes -- check, no because it goes to the very worthy Food Bank which is cool.
We haven't been bitten by the bug. It was fun but not as much fun as judging. So we will be back out there on the highways and byways soon. Looks like Texas on Labor Day Weekend. See you out there.