Saturday, May 26, 2012

Rhythm Q's & Blues Contest in Edmond

(Edmond, OK) - This was the second annual meaning we have judged the entire run of this particular contest. From the looks of things there has been considerable growth going back to its humble beginnings lo so many year... um... months ago. More teams, more cars, more vendors, more music and best of all more visitors strolling through the green and cool Hafer Park. 

Managed to get pulled over while parked!

I can't really offer enough compliments to the wife & husband team that organizes this contest and I think it shows in the teams that show up. And in the judges that want to. The lines of communication are open and it is a great time. The whole day ran smooth as silk (shout out to reps Michael "Long Cold" Winter and Larry "Edmond -- You're On The Air!" King for that) and the food was -- well it was a crapshoot. 

There were a few first timers cooking so it seemed at our table we got great chicken and ribs and the pork and brisket were hit-or-miss. Heard it was vice-versa at other tables. Butcher took another Grand Championship here today and a tip of the cap to them and to 4 Legs Up BBQ for the Reserve. Great food from these teams and a bunch of others.

Just before that one tipped over with someone inside!

Review - Bedlam BBQ in Oklahoma City

(Oklahoma City) - This popular establishment (we assume this on account of the expansion that's been taking place for awhile) has an unlikely location off Lincoln Boulevard north of the statehouse and just a little south of I-44 in OKC. They are serving up some finely crafted barbecue that mostly just wants for a little more smoke.

The place is decorated, as one might expect, with a plethora of crapola* on the walls pertaining to OU and OSU. There's also something of a Cowboys and Indians motif -- ostensibly owing to the history of the state. Not unattractive and pretty much at home in a barbecue establishment.

On our recent visit we tried the three meat plate with sliced brisket, pulled pork and ribs. 

The brisket is sliced thick. It quickly became apparent that the reason for this is that it pretty much falls apart when it is touched. While not ideal it certainly doesn't detract from the flavor of the meat -- and there is some good flavor. Not quite smoky enough four our taste but its there in moist and lean chunks of beef. There are two sauces offered -- the standard is on the table and there's a "hot" in the red squirt bottles up by the silverware and soda fountain. Both compliment nicely the beef and only need to be used sparingly.

The pork was not  overcooked. Done perfectly -- actually pulled -- it was tasty long grains of delicious and moist pork. Some of the better pulled pork we've tasted west of Arkansas outside of a contest.

The ribs were  overcooked -- but they were still darn tasty. Nice smoke on there and moist too. The bone pulls out with no effort leaving a very long rib to dip in the sauce (again, only sparingly because these are pretty tasty ribs). Our only issue was, again, membrane left on.

Was there a meeting of the International Barbecue Restaurant Owners Association where they all took a vote and decided they were just leaving it on forevermore? Or are they just lazy? It's not that difficult and it does matter. Competition cooks know it matters -- rarely do you see the membrane on competition ribs because cooks know if they leave it on it could cost them a category or even a grand championship.

Sides -- if you must know (this is a meat blog after all) are fine. Arby's style curly fries taste okay when dunked in the BBQ sauce and the mac'n'chee is actually pretty outstanding. Can't speak to the beans -- skipped them on account of we figured there may be onions in there.

We found it interesting walking out the back door that Bedlam is spending some serious capital on a large patio/garden area out in the back. When finished it will be a beautiful urban oasis for barbecue al fresco  and drinks on pleasant spring/autumn afternoons and evenings.

The bottom line with Bedlam is that it is serving some of the finer 'que in the OKC metro. We went in with cautious expectations after reading some reviews and talking to some locals. Happy to report that our experience was well above satisfactory and we will gladly eat there again. May even give the beans a shot.


*not a pejorative -- merely a term to describe the decorations in any given restaurant.

Bedlam Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 19, 2012

South Grand Lake BBQ Cookoff

(Langley, OK) - Three and a half hours each way to get to this set of ballfields up the hill from the Pensacola Dam. That'd be the New Deal Era dam that is over a mile across and the first hydroelectric project in the state of Oklahoma. The dam that is responsible for Grand Lake O'The Cherokees. The very first feather in the cap of the perpetually crooked Grand River Dam Authority. 

It is here that we came upon the South Grand Lake Lions Club BBQ Cookoff.

Tip of the cap to the organizers for a great event with some top-notch teams. Short three judges so several had to pull double duty as table captains/judges -- they didn't seem to mind. 

A lot of familiar faces here and the guy who is the voice on the CD for judges and table captains meetings was there. Turns out he is a CBJ and was even called up to administer the oath prior to judging. Good to know it is one of us on that CD.

It was a pleasant day for a cookoff with a nice breeze bordering on wind that we couldn't really feel in the tent which was enclosed on all 4 sides except for the opening that served as the door. 

Congratulations to Caveman Cuisine for their Grand Champion effort as well as to Hardway BBQ for RGC. Big ups again to Butcher who always put in a solid effort as well as to Sizzlin' Bones and Tornadic BBQ -- two teams that consist of good folks we are as likely to see in the judging tent as in a cook space.

Other notes:

  • The Oklahoma KCBS Judges website is so popular it is going national. Webmaster Brett has also put together a Facebook page -- a pat on the back to him for such a good job on this useful site (Brett also cooks for Tornadic).
  • Norman's Smokin' Up a Storm competition in July benefiting the Regional Foodbank of Oklahoma is actively recruiting teams. They've got around 20 but are hoping for as many as 50 teams and as an incentive is touting the air conditioned cooks lounge and cooks-only running water restroom facilities. It is a great cause and should be a great competition.
  • Judging was conducted with the old  KCBS scorecards -- pretty cool. "Wh. Animal" must have been for past contests using whole hog and what have you ("everything from the rooter to the tooter").
Notice all of the categories -- as opposed to just 5 and Other ____
  • Security was brought in from Disney. It's a long way, sure, but only the best.
A Mickey Mouse department?

The teams set up in a verdant baseball field uphill from the dam
Next week it is on to Edmond, Oklahoma and after that a visit to sample the highly-touted brisket at Franklin BBQ in Austin. Many trusted palates have proclaimed it the best brisket in the world. The pics would seem to bear that out -- stay tuned and we will post some of our own along with our thoughts on this highly sought after meat.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Organizer fail

(The Plains) -- It would appear that poor competition organization will be a topic revisited on a relatively frequent basis on this blog -- at least for the foreseeable future. The latest organizer to fall down on the job is the Claremore Reveille Rotary Club with their Boots & BBQ Festival at Will Rogers Downs.

We didn't judge this competition. We attempted first contact with the organizers on 10/17/11 -- shortly after the event was posted on the KCBS website. It was received and acknowledged which is a great start to the process:

"I have forwarded your message to Steve Gragert who will again be responsible for the judging and judges.  Thank you for your interest
Richard Mosier"

Unfortunately that was the first and last communication received from the organizers. Steve Gragert never got in touch. He never replied to followup emails. Actually, to ask a valid question, if Mr. Gragert is "responsible for the judging and judges" then why is he not the one listed as the judges contact on the KCBS website?

So there was no trip to Claremore. Not for us anyway. We do know another organizer who made the trip up to meet with Reps, Judges and Teams. He had heard Claremore boast of a very respectable 50 team lineup which would make it worth his while to travel 2+ hours each way. He was disappointed to arrive and learn that they actually didn't make the 30 team mark. Further, the teams that were there were teams he'd already talked to for the most part (and to Claremore's credit some of them are excellent teams).

Only 29 teams explains why they didn't need judges. It doesn't excuse them from contacting judges to thank them for inquiring and explaining that our services would not be required this year as opposed to just letting us wonder. Do they owe us that email? No. But it's a common courtesy type of thing. Sort of like if I were confirmed to judge and then couldn't I would inform them with as much advance notice as possible to seat a different judge.

Each letter in the KCBS acronym, by definition, stands for a word. We are part of a society -- what say we act like it and be a little more courteous?


UPDATE: It was explained to us that the Claremore organizers use judges from prior years. Fine. We can respect that. We still say they can at least practice enough courtesy as to tell us as much. It doesn't take much time nor effort, it's free and it helps foster goodwill.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Review - Wild Horse Mountain Bar-B-Que in Sallisaw

Searching for the good stuff a little ways off the beaten path -- and finding something unexpected.

(Sallisaw, OK) -- We had some business to attend to in Little Rock which meant we had to forfeit our spot at the judging table at the extravaganza of a competition in Bixby today. Mixed feelings on that. On one hand this has grown to be a bigtime competition. Nearly 100 teams and a stop on the Kingsford and Reser's tours. Beautiful setting next to the Arkansas River in Washington Irving Park. Well run show with great organizers and at least one set of wonderful Reps. 

But on the other hand they make judges pay to park -- even if they will be spending three hours and $60 in gas getting there and back home. And any experienced judge can tell you that the more cooks in a competition the more likely it is that there will be plenty of -- hate to say bad meat -- meat of questionable merit.  So it evens out and we are road-tripping instead.

Aerial veiw of Wild Horse Mountain Bar-B-Que in case  you're coming by helicopter
Road trips are what one makes of them and we like to make them fun. One of the big elements in that is searching out those barbecue joints that are off the beaten path or legendary around town (whatever town) even if the place is essentially unheard of anywhere else. It is that line of thinking that landed us in the gravel parking lot of the Wild Horse Mountain Bar-B-Que off of U.S. 59 a little south of I-40 outside of Sallisaw, Oklahoma.

It's not the easiest place to find as many smartphone searches will direct you to the center of Sallisaw. It most assuredly is not there. Its past the outskirts and even then requires a sharp left turn off the main highway and onto Wild Horse BBQ Lane to get there. Just keep eyes peeled and look for all the cars off to the left just before the road curves west. Yep -- that's it.

Gonna be a lot of cars -- for a reason

This is the number of cars in the middle of the afternoon so I can only imagine how it looks on a Friday or Saturday evening. In fact the smallish main dining room fills up quickly too so it's easy to find ones self in the alternate dining room. In there with a bunch of curious stuff on the walls including yellowed newspaper articles, funny signs and what may or may not be an autograph from former national championship winning Clemson/Arkansas head football coach Danny Ford.

Danny Ford? Maybe not the coach but the banker

Pull up and the smoke is there. Beautiful smelling smoke a harbinger of the wondrous meats that must lay just inside those doors. Hmmm. There's probably going to be a line but it moves fairly quickly. Folks here are about as friendly as they can be (staff and customers alike) and the menu is not that big to begin with.

The place has found the top of a few lists.

Actually that is something of an issue for some 'cue fans. Brisket, check. Ribs, check. Sausage, well -- apparently that's a recent addition and apparently it is a jalapeno hot link. Beans, check. But that's pretty much it. Pork fans need not apply here because they ain't none. Which means they don't need slaw. Potato chips are clipped to the wall so there's that.

Prices are good. Very good. Folks can walk in and get a brisket dinner for under 8 bucks. That's brisket, beans and a bun. Now they don't promise to pile it high here and we reckon the reason for that is, in our experience, anyone who says they pile it high usually does not pile it high. Wild Horse piles it high. Thinly sliced meat piled up on that plate. There is some heft to it. Nice.

Brisket dinner. That is a jumbo bun. Lotta good meat there, Bubba.

The meat itself -- well -- it is good. Clearly it has cooked for a good, long time because that fat has rendered down to become a delectable part of the brisket. Something to be savored instead of removed like at so many other places situated closer to the main road where a diner has to cut it off to even begin to enjoy the meal. Here's the thing though -- there isn't a lot of smoke flavor to be tasted. Given the smell on the way in we expected a deep smokiness that we'd still smell on our clothes hours down the road. It wasn't there but you know what? It doesn't matter. This beef is so tender and moist that we really didn't miss the smoke. It was like a finely cooked roast beef. Meat that many restaurants attempt to prepare using far easier cuts to cook than brisket. So this is an accomplishment in itself. I would get it again in a minute.

Not on the menu -- but they might accommodate you if you ask. We didn't.

On our visit they temporarily ran out of ribs so there was no combo to be had. Fortunately there was time to buy a single rib to try before leaving. And there  is that smoke. It's on the ribs! Big ol' hunk of loin at the end of that rib is so gooood. Unfortunately the rest of the rib puts up a fight -- difficult to get that meat (and copious fat) off the bone. Gonna have to call it a wash on the ribs -- some of it great some of it not.

The beans are peppery with maybe some chili powder in there and some meat and, yeah, onions. In fact they pollute the sauce with onions too. Puree those onions in the sauce, folks. Puree everything in that sauce. It's sauce, not peanut butter -- we don't need chunky. Personal preference? Yeah, but that don't mean we are wrong. 

The alternate dining room. Lattice work obscures the people in the main area.

A final note on the sauce -- it doesn't have a great deal of flavor so it complements the meat nicely but is not a necessary addition to enjoy it. In fact it may detract from that brisket which would be outstanding with a cup of au jus.  The sauce here comes in Hot, Medium and Mild. They say the mild is baby sauce and I don't think they mean it is sauce from babies. Or to serve babies in. But rather a baby could eat it. I'd argue this is also true with the medium which had no discernible heat. The "hot" had a little bit of a kick toward the back but nothing major -- if you like some spice don't be afraid of the hot at Wild Horse. Be afraid of the onions (yeah, I know, it's a losing battle but it is still one that I choose to fight).


Wild Horse Mountain Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon