How to stay competitive at KCBS BBQ Contests?!

I end the title of this post with both a question mark and an exclamation point because, this could be either a question or an instructive statement!  Although, for the purpose of this blog and because of its writers stubborn BBQ methodology, it will have to remain a question and we’ll simply explore the statement side of it.  I say this because, while finishing in a respective spot or two since beginning our active Competition Team…GreatQ4U! has yet to win top honors.  Now, as with everything there is a reason for this and because I am ME and not a politician, my take can appear to some to be unvarnished, uninformed or downright skeptical…but it IS my opinion and I’ll stick to it!

Here’s what I think has kept us from creeping higher up on the winner’s board: First of all, we simply don’t get a chance to compete as much as we’d like!  When this whole odyssey began, the plan was to compete…then the Catering orders began to roll in.  We found ourselves in the fortunate position of providing authentic, wood-smoked, Carolina Style BBQ to lots of our friends and neighbors with similar tastes here in Central PA.  Now, I am not complaining at all about this, just pointing it out…in fact it’s always GREAT to meet folks who like the “Q” the way we prepare it.  This leads me to my next observation which is; ‘the way we prepare it!’, starting with our sauce, Hoover the Hound’s Southern Fusion Sauce!  You see, I know that Vinegar sauces typically don’t win competitions…o’h they have their fans and occasionally you’ll be lucky enough to have a few of them at the judges table when competing, but by and large…they just don’t win.  SO…I embarked on a 5 year ‘adventure’ in sauce creation trying to fuse a traditional ‘Carolina Red’ sauce with the thicker ‘Kansas City’ sauces that tend to have a fair amount of sweet to ’em and Hoover’s sauce emerged as the winning combination!  It’s still a bit ‘vinegary’ and it’s got a small bite to it, but we like it and so do our clients!  Finally, and I have made a few concessions here…we cook for competition the same way that we cook for folks who pay good money for our products!  Our first year competing, this meant that despite knowing that everyone on the circuit was cooking Chicken Thighs…I cooked whole Chicken, ’cause that’s how we do it!  O’h, I was warned by fellow competitors that no matter how pretty I made it in the turn-in box, I would take a hit for cooking whole chicken…they were right…dead last!  (Damn good chicken, though!)

Not to cast any dispersion on the folks who compete on a regular basis and have it ‘dialed in’ so that they see hardware consistently…I am truly impressed with their talent and devotion to that kinda’ “Q”!  We, on the other hand, know that our home along South Mountain sits a few clicks north of the Mason Dixon line, but our “Q” is inspired almost entirely by the true champions (in my book) of all those shacks in North Carolina who are cranking it out on a daily basis for their legions of followers!  We choose similar meats, prepare them in similar ways and smoke it ‘low & slow’ over mostly Hickory wood.  I don’t use any injections, just the time and temperature of the smoker, flavor of well chosen, appropriately fat capped meats and application of just the right amount of our rubs and sauces!  See, I am and always have been of the opinion that BBQ comes from the meat and smoke…not the sauce! (which should simply enhance it!)

Now, I know that not everyone agrees with me about these things and as we gear up for a busier competition season than usual, I’d love to hear your thoughts, critiques and suggestions.  Just send ’em on in and join the crowd, you are more than welcome here!  So until next time…keep smokin’! – jak

Thanks John Prine!

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