BBQ Bravado

By, Jim Knepper

There’s NO shortage of it out there these days and it has been amplified by media attention to our art form and it’s most visible purveyors…competitors.  No doubt that in Meat Rakeorder to take a long, laborious task and make it palatable to TV audiences, there has to be drama, conflict and even occasionally resolution, afterall that’s how TV goes.  It’s also present in the Competition Circuit in no short supply…as it should be.  Afterall, if you’re going to compete, you ought to be doing it to win, hence the purpose of competition.  It’s also increasingly become present among folks who cook BBQ as a business either full or part time and sometimes it’s backed up by the products, others it isn’t.

I am writing this post not to lecture anyone on how to behave as they pursue their love of creating great BBQ nor am I taking a position of me being any better than anyone else, I am instead examining this ‘bravado’ from the perspective of a guy who thinks that the BEST thing about BBQ (next to eating it) are the people who produce it!  Reason for this observation is that recently I’ve connected with some great folks on all ends of the BBQ spectrum via our various social media outlets and have been reminded again just how good BBQ people are in general.  From farmers to butchers and other Pitmasters, large production operations and small outlets of various packaged BBQ products, even BBQ Restaurant and Catering owners who are committed as can be to their art form.

If you’ve never been to a BBQ Competition and you are a fan of the product, I would suggest that you take some time this year and go to one!  You can find one near you on Sam's Tour Richmond 2the Kansas City BBQ Society’s website ( and when you go there are a few things you should know.  First of all, there are VERY FEW competitions that will allow the teams to provide you with ‘samples’, primarily because of Health Codes and liability, so you can ask, but don’t be surprised when a team can’t let you taste their goods.  Also, you should know that Friday evening and early Saturday morning are the best times to interact with the teams.  By mid morning on Saturday, things are getting busy and Pitmasters and crew are finishing up ‘turn in boxes’ so they have a pretty focused effort underway.  I think that you’ll find that the folks who compete are in general, a great group of people that are more than willing to answer questions and provide tips.

Another great byproduct of the increasing popularity of BBQ is the amount of folks who are getting ‘into’ the BBQ Business.  From full and quick service restaurants to roadside Roll TideBBQ ‘shacks’ there are LOTS of outlets for authentic smoked BBQ products these days and you should support as many of them as you can if you’re a true fan.  Sure, there will be those you like more than others and you’ll most likely even have a favorite, but every Pitmaster’s got their own twist and signature taste and BBQ isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ proposition.  There are many ways to get to that finished product and the more you cook the better you get.  In my humble opinion there’s too much ‘mine is better than so and so’s’ in our market place, worse there’s never really any need for openly trashing a place that you don’t like as a way of supporting the place (or places) that you do like…it doesn’t really serve any purpose and I think subverts the history of BBQ which is a very communal art.

Lastly (because no one wants to spend their whole Monday morning reading my thoughts) I would say that if you’ve got a local butcher or a farm in your area that pays Embroidered GQ4U Logoclose attention to how they raise their animals or even raises ‘heritage’ breeds of proteins, you should do all that you can to support them.  It’s not only helping the BBQ community to thrive by increasing the availability of product, it’s healthier!  I read somewhere recently that if you buy pre-packaged hamburger meat in a super-store, you could be getting meat from >150 cows in every burger!  You won’t find that at your local butcher or local farmer’s market and it keeps the money you spend in your community.

So, while there is NO shortage of bravado out there in the BBQ world about how mine is better than so-and-so’s or you don’t know what you’re doing if you don’t use MY techniques, there are far more folks in the BBQ community that are willing to commit to their art and their customers.  They talk mostly about their own product and Tuffy and Jimpassionately about where their proteins come from and how they prep and cook them, not about their competitors.  We support each other and we do far better together than we do individually it’s not such a crazy concept.  It’s good to be proud of your BBQ and if there’s a spot you don’t like, don’t go back.  As for the competition circuit, it’s ultimately up to six judges who’ve spent a lot of time learning how to judge and tasting all kinds of different BBQ.  Not everyone wins every time because the palates of the judges changes from competition to competition and table to table and that’s a good thing!

Don’t let the BBQ Bravado throw you off, there are a TON of good people in BBQ and I would say that if you’re interested in consuming, cooking or competing…go out and get some, you’ll find a bunch of great people and a growing number of them making great product!  Of course, I’m always available to ‘talk BBQ’ and we do teach classes, do catering and more!  Visit us at or give us a call at 717-254-1937 to learn more about GreatQ4U! – Thanks for reading along and have a GREAT Monday!


What’s the BEST Smoker for Me?

By, Jim Knepper

I get asked this a LOT and while I do have a ‘standard’ response…it would be reckless for me to not point out that our new retail shop sells Primo Ceramic Grill/Smokers Primo Kamodo Grill(which I believe to be the most versatile outdoor cooking ‘system’ available) and will soon be stocking Pit Barrel Smokers (<$300 with all you need to start cooking)!  That said, this is again somewhat of a ‘trap’ question because every BBQ person’s got their own opinions and mine is just one in a cacophony of them.

So, what is the best smoker for you?  One that you USE!  Doesn’t matter what your budget or whether you use wood, charcoal or pellets, how fancy or ‘high tech’ it is or if you made it out of an old 55 gallon drum, if you use it and enjoy doing so, it’s the best smoker for you.  BBQ is a primal concept and as long as you’ve got a fire and the ability to regulate the temperature in the chamber, you’re set!

That said, there are of course a number of factors that make it easier or harder to PBCachieve a consistent temperature in the cooking chamber such as: insulation, air flow (very important), convection and knowledge of the ‘zones’ in your particular smoker.  Much of this can be accomplished with practice and/or some easy to do home modifications.  Less expensive or home made smokers may require a bit more attention, but they can still get the job done!

Alas, it seems a bit of a cop out on a Friday, but just like anything else that you own, the best is the one that you use the most and the more you use your smoker, the better you’ll get.  Smoking adds a whole new dimension to the iGrill 1flavor profiles of just about any food and it’s a worthy endeavor for just about any foodie or home chef.  If you need online resources, there are a LOT of them.  My perennial suggestions are to begin with the Kansas City BBQ Society ( and the National BBQ Association ( and then move onto your local or regional BBQ organization…here in PA we are fortunate to have the Mid-Atlantic BBQ Association ( and there are TONS of online forums like the BBQ Brethren, a great group of helpful and committed enthusiasts ( and the BBQ Backyard ( just to name a few.  You’ll find that folks are for the most part, welcoming and more than willing to share information and answer questions!

Of course, if you ever need help or advice, we are online at and only a phone call (717-254-1937) or E-Mail: away! – Smoke on and have a GREAT weekend! 🙂 – jak

Looking for insight about Eggs…and NOT the Easter variety either!

For those readers of the Blog who use or know people that use Big Green Eggs or any other style of ceramic Kamado smoker/grill, I’d love to hear a bit more about them.  I’ve not used this type of smoker before and am planning on getting one for the house this year, but have a few questions about them, ie: Best fuel to use? Cooking times and techniques, etc.  I know that they have legions of happy and devoted fans…I believe that they are referred to as ‘Eggheads’! 

Not that I haven’t had a chance to see them in action at competitions or to speak with their operators during the events, but that’s not the best place to get an in depth evaluation and primer on usage!  I have seen many other types of Kamado’s as well and am wondering if anyone might have feedback about them too!  I’d be most appreciative for your help here…you can reach me during the week in the offiice at 717-254-1937 or by e-mail at!

Thanks in advance for you assistance! – jak

What kind of smoker should I get???

Boy, we hear this question pretty frequently when we are at competitions or doing demos/classes for folks and the problem is…there’s no one right answer!  My smart-alek immediate response typically is; ‘One that you’re gonna’ use!’, which besides being vague is pretty accurate!  Again, this is a question that I would suggest doing some research about before pulling the trigger.  Our choice are Traeger grills which are pellet smokers.  We made this choice for several reasons, some of which are the fact that they WERE made in USA, out in the great Pacific Northwest. (Sadly, I’m told that in order to meet an increased demand for national distribution, they have sent production off shore on their residential products, but then again…who hasn’t these days?)  Other reasons for choosing the pellet smokers were the fact that temperature control is a bit easier.  I know LOTS of folks who will go on and on about the fact that if they set their temperature selector to 225, it doesn’t stay at 225…but it IS a live fire that we’re talking about and just because it’s got a thermostat doesn’t mean that you can set it and forget it…that’s not what smoking BBQ is all about!  In our experience, once you learn a few tricks they are pretty easy to keep an even temp in.  In fact our COM-200, which is the big trailer that can cook 4 hogs at a time if you place them right, once it’s up to temp it has more even heat than the fancy schmancy commercial oven in our home!  Another reason for the Traeger’s is that the way their fire pots work creates a natural convection in the oven, again….more even heat.  Finally, a big consideration for us is that we can get the same smoke EVERY time…4 scoops Hickory/2 scoops Apple – 3 scoops hickory/2 scoops Mesquite/1 scoop oak…etc.  Pellets are all ‘food grade’ and contain 100% wood….no fillers or glue or any of that other crap that non-pellet people will tell you is in there!  BUT, this is what’s right for US…what’s righ for YOU might be something entirely different.

Think first about what you’d like to do with you smoker?  How often are you going to use it?  What are you planning on cooking on it?  How much room have you got?  Do you have a strong back?  (Some of them are pretty darned heavy!)  Can you get a reliable supply of split wood or do you prefer charcoal?  If you’re looking to ‘cold smoke’ fish, cheese, jerky and stuff like that…you’ll need an entirely different kind of smoker!  There are some GREAT manufacturers out there and all of them will be happy to tell you how good their products would look in your yard, you just need to pick something that won’t intimidate you and that you’ll use!  After all the only way to get REALLY good at BBQ is to cook BBQ!  It’ll make you friends and put smiles on your family’s faces…not to mention it’s fun!  Like fishing, it can be learned pretty quickly, but takes a lifetime to master!

I would suggest doing some online homework, attending a BBQ competition and asking folks about their smokers, if you’ve got a local BBQ shop…stop by and have lunch, then ask them!  Use as many resources as you can so that you wind up with the right smoker for the kind of cooking that you’d like to do!  You can always call us at 717-254-1937 and we’ll be happy to help…Lunchtime and Dinner are a bit busy, but morning and mid-afternoon are good times to call!  Meanwhile, here are a few resources for different types of smokers for you to peruse:

Wood Fired: ; (my favorite, and Dave KNOWS smokers!) ;

Pellet Smokers: (disappointing move to offshore production aside…good smokers!) ; (incredibly knowledgable about all things pellet)

Charcoal Smokers: ; 

Hope you find these helpful!  Stay warm and keep on smokin’! – jak