Date: April 28, 2012
Location: Leighton Buzzard
Activity: Download of Dr BBQs Competition BBQ techniques into my brain.
Dr BBQ (not a real doctor; real name, Ray) is a veteran of the competition BBQ scene in the US, and a judge at Grillstock where we’re competing this year (King of the Grill), so when we heard that he was giving a competition BBQ class in the UK, we pre-ordered a ticket.
Before the big day, we all received the following letter from the man himself;
This class is all about cooking and winning an American style BBQ contest. The most popular are sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society, or KCBS so that is primarily what I will be discussing. These are also the rules that are used at the Jack Daniel’s World Championship with two minor changes that will be addressed during the class. There are four categories that count towards the Grand Championship. Chicken, Pork Ribs, Pork Shoulder, and Beef Brisket. For each category the team will turn in one styro box that contains at least six separate pieces. (At the Jack they change this to seven pieces and require both white and dark chicken) The only thing that can be in the box besides the meat are leaves of green lettuce, parsley (flat or curly) and cilantro.
Working within these rules I will show you what the top teams in the US are doing to score high. You may be surprised to find that it’s not all about traditional BBQ cooking methods. This class is all about winning. I have been cooking in American BBQ contests for well over 20 years and I’ve won hundreds of awards so I know what I’m talking about. I won two contests in 2011 and I’m already qualified for the 2012 American Royal as well as the Jack Daniel’s draw. Are you? Then get ready to learn the truth about how to win by a guy who’s won a lot.
Due to the one day schedule I will do all of the cooking. We’ll have pork and brisket started when you arrive but we’ll also have fresh pork and brisket so I can show you exactly what I did to prepare those meats for the cooker. The ribs and chicken will all be done live during the class and a few lucky attendees might even get their hands dirty. I will supply all the sauces, rubs, and injections and tell you exactly where to get them.
It was an early start for a Saturday morning – not early up but early out, 7:30 in the car to Leighton Buzzard, during the wettest, coldest April since records began. At the venue John Hargate of BBQ Shack was there with a pair of his old offsets, and generally the class was standing around a load of smokers shivering.
We had John’s large Cactus Jack with the upright and his small Oklahoma Joe, and a pair of Pro Q Excel 20’s courtesy of Dr Sweetsmoke (also not a doctor, real name Al). We also had an FEC 100, a pellet smoker I know well having competed with it at the Royal with the British BBQ Society (now the IBQN), and cooked all of Barbecoa’s 64 pork shoulders on overnight at Feastival 2011 (well, loaded into and pushed the button on). The overnight stuff we’d be eating and having explained (pork butt and brisket) had been going on this since 10pm the previous evening. Finally, a pair of GMG pellet smokers were there, plus the managing director of the American BBQ Company who had helpfully brought the pellet cookers along. At 9am, smoke was chuffing out of everything, which is always a good backdrop for competition talk.
Inside the masonic hall a classroom was laid out, with a stainless steel table at the front and 30 chairs and desks. We sat down and Ray came out about 9:30 and started talking. He basically didn’t stop until 4:30pm.
The class was not a “how to BBQ” class. The class contained no hands-on work for students, no learning how to cut or prepare the meats. Ray did all the knife work and Al assisted, doing most of the cooking and all of the tending of the cookers. Instead the class was a straight download of all of Ray’s technique for competing. He explained everything he does to the four main categories for a competition, his opinions on different methods and techniques, some history behind the KCBS and why you “must” do things a certain way if you want to win. While there are definitely great reasons to have a more hands-on class, this was a “how to win a competition” class. Or at least, how to win a KCBS competition. Ironically while Ray is a judge at Grillstock, its the IBQN season competitors that will have benefited most from this class as its run to rules that closely resemble KCBS rules.
I’m pretty happy about the focus of the class, as its really what I wanted to learn. I took 10 pages of notes, but I’m not going to reproduce them here. That information is between me and the BBQ Fanatics championship BBQ team! I picked up a load of stuff; some things were grist for the mill; we have new things to try out. Some things validated what we already knew. Honestly with 2 years of BBQS/IBQN competitions under our belts and a few decades of obsession between us, we are 90% of the way there, but having someone spill all their techniques to you, including the reasons behind them, was really useful.
It was particularly good to hear an American admit what we’d thought for a long time, that some of the food you are compelled to make just isn’t right. You wouldn’t cook this for your friends for dinner. Chicken boiled in margarine is not BBQ.
Overall it was really worthwhile. Even if it’d just been a day in the rain concentrating on BBQ pre-season that would have been pretty good, but the content was really useful too. I would like to see a class in the UK that takes competitors through doing it themselves – I’d take part in that and think it would be applicable to more people. But this was great for me, really worthwhile and a massive download of information from a veteran competitor.
So to answer questions I’ve been asked; would I recommend it to a fellow competitor? Definitely. Would I recommend it to someone looking to make their backyard BBQ better? No. Was it worth £200? To my team, yes. John and Simon from BBQ Shack were there and they have more points under their belts than anyone else in the UK. They seemed to get a lot out of it too. All in all this was a great intro to the UK BBQ season. It starts in only a few weeks – May 26! Can’t wait.
Ray swears he didn’t hold anything back, and he certainly exhausted all questions. So thanks again Ray, and I hope our BBQ does well with you when you’re judging us at Grillstock!
Here’s some photos of the event.
Explaining the St Louis cut – preaching to the choir with Neil from Pitt Cue Co!
That St. Louis cut.
Pointing out the money muscle.
Brandishing partially cooked ribs.
Presentation on the pork. These are a lot drier (saucing wise) than I’ve been taught to produce at the IBQN, and very tasty, but then every region of judge is different. Note the moulded pulled pork mound at the top, apparently a violation of KCBS rules that’s ignored as a matter of course on the US circuit. I haven’t tested that in the UK! If Ed could chime in with a verdict here that’d be good…
A dedicated brisket slicing knife is essential.
Brisket presentation, a bit taxed by the class.
Ribs on the GMG pellet cooker. Having not eaten food from a pellet cooker since the Royal, I must say that despite how much I disagree with them, I do like the food.
Finished ribs. They were overcooked in my opinion, but then I do have strong opinions on the cookedness of ribs.