Our barbeque was far better than “ok,” but I have to admit it’s a nice headline in the Tribune tonight. Truth be told, we came in 47th out of 50 teams*. Still, and I feel like I know what I’m talking about here: our barbeque was goooood. The thing is, Kansas City Barbeque Society judges are looking for very specific things in terms of presentation, tenderness and flavor. That’s fine – I judged two years ago – and ours obviously did not conform to that ideal very well. But when we sat down after our last turn-in we were proud with how we’d done. Ryan and I, the friends and family that stopped by, everyone loved it (especially the brisket). And we had a blast.
We’ll be back next year, if only to aim for #46.
Roots ’N Blues ’N sort of OK barbecue
“Avoid last place, and have a good time,” I had said. The student reporter had asked about our philosophy — how we were going to measure success — going into the Roots ’N Blues ’N BBQ contest the next day.
My team consisted of myself and a friend, and we were both amateurs in the field of competitive barbecue. I knew other teams would be coming in from across the Midwest for the event, and many were at least semiprofessional. Between the two of us, my friend and I had made brisket — one of the four required meats — precisely zero times before. We’d be winging it.
“How much of this fat should we trim off?” my partner asked, standing over a large Missouri Legacy Beef brisket. It was generously marbled, but a sizable section of tough fat on one portion of the point seemed a bit excessive. We trimmed that back a bit, flipped the brisket over and scored the fat cap on the other side deeply, then rubbed it with our dry rub and set it in the cooler until its appointed cooking time.
Along with not bringing up the rear, simply having fun seemed a worthy and attainable goal for a team of competent home cooks with no competitive barbecue history. Our location on Fourth Street across from Flat Branch Park was — for better or for worse — right in the middle of the action. Music drifted across the street from the stage day and night; the finish line for the 10K and half-marathon races was but feet from our smokers. Having prepped for the main event Saturday, a steady stream of friends and family stopped by Friday night for a place to rest festival-wearied feet, wish us well and maybe finagle a chicken thigh or brat.
So we were feeling pretty good about things as we crawled into the tent after midnight. The brisket was on. I would add two Boston butts at 1:30 a.m. and then start ribs as the sun came up. After that, we’d have two smokers going full bore until the time we turned the food into the judges, beginning at noon.
The first entry to turn in was chicken. We’d rubbed with Spicewine Ironworks’ Hen and Hog Dust and inserted a pat of butter beneath the skin before smoking for almost three hours. The skin had crisped up and turned a deep golden brown; the meat looked moist and tender. Not too bad, we decided, and I raced six samples to the judges’ tent.
Our ribs had developed a decent bark, and if they weren’t exactly fall-off-the-bone tender, they were within striking distance and tasted great. Third came pulled pork. Mixed with a little extra dry rub and a few shakes of salt, it was restaurant-caliber as well, we agreed. I walked to the judges’ tent with head high: We were not embarrassing ourselves here.
The final meat to turn in was brisket, the most notoriously fickle of all. We were nervous, but as I sliced a few pieces out of the middle, I could see the scored fat had done its job — the brisket was juicy, with just enough fat left to keep things that way until judging. The flavor, with just a hint of cayenne heat, was fantastic. We were done, and there was nothing left but the judging.
That’s where “avoid last place” comes into play. We did, but just barely. Each of our entries had one or more flaws that doomed them next to those of our more-experienced counterparts. Our best result — 34th place out of 50 — was for brisket. We’d set the bar admittedly low, but cleared it … and left plenty of room for improvement in 2011.
Scott Rowson lives and eats in Columbia and writes about it at showmeeats.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* – One extra fun note is that the #50 team didn’t show up and #49 failed to turn in half of their meats. We beat exactly one team that showed up and did what they were supposed to do. Ouch.