Learning to Cook Smoked BBQ At Home

It’s not as difficult as it may seem to learn how to make your own, wood smoked BBQ at home!  Nor is it an expensive technique to learn, although it can become a ‘habit’ and we all know that they can get expensive as we progress with our skills!  In fact, Jim’s alwaysGQ4U! Competition BBQ heard saying that ‘BBQ is easy to learn to do, but takes a lifetime to master’!  So, perhaps all you need to get started is some basic information about equipment and meat selection and the process itself!  Perhaps you’re already equipped to cook indirect using the low and slow technique, but you need to dial in your skills a bit?  What about cooking the ‘whole hog’…a popular concept on the BBQ TV shows and not too tough to do at home with a small hog!

No matter your interest, as the Catering season begins to wind down, the BBQ Classes begin to crank up here at GreatQ4U!  We’ve already scheduled September dates for our ‘BBQ101‘ and ‘BBQ 201’ as well as our ‘Whole Hog’ and ‘BBQ Business’ classes, they can be found on our website: www.greatq4u.com/BBQ_Classes.html where by choosing the ‘Pay Now’ option under each class, you can sign up and save your spot as they are limited attendance events!  If those dates don’t work for you, we should have October dates up by the end of cropped-butts.jpgthis week!  In addition to the ‘Master Class’ series of programs, we will also be scheduling ‘Wednesday Night Workshops’ where in 3 hours, we will cover basic BBQ Recipes; preparation, cooking and best of all tasting!  So…stay tuned to the Website or our FaceBook page for more details!

Why learn to BBQ in the Fall?  Well, you can browse back through years of posts here on the Blog to read Jim’s thoughts on BBQ in the cooler months and how it’s even BETTER!  We believe strongly that BBQ is not just for the Summer months and that the cooler cropped-alabama-ribs.jpgtemps of the Fall and Winter lend themselves to some AWESOME product!  SO…check out the classes and save your spot soon, we would LOVE to have you join us at the shop in Mechanicsburg, PA!  We’ve structured the BBQ101 and 201 classes so that you can take a whole weekend and learn all four types of meat cooked in Kansas City BBQ Society sanctioned competitions!  Again, the classes are available to sign up for on the site: www.greatq4u.com/BBQ_Classes.html

For more information, feel free to e-mail Jim: Jim@GreatQ4U.com – Thanks for reading along and we hope you make this an AWESOME week!

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 (www.kcbs.us) 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 www.GreatQ4U.com 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 (www.KCBS.us) and the National BBQ Association (www.nbbqa.org) and then move onto your local or regional BBQ organization…here in PA we are fortunate to have the Mid-Atlantic BBQ Association (www.mabbqa.com) and there are TONS of online forums like the BBQ Brethren, a great group of helpful and committed enthusiasts (www.bbq-brethren.com) and the BBQ Backyard (www.bbqbackyard.com) 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 www.GreatQ4U.com and only a phone call (717-254-1937) or E-Mail: Jim@GreatQ4U.com away! – Smoke on and have a GREAT weekend! 🙂 – jak

Want to Learn How to Do ‘Real Deal’ BBQ?

Well then, we can hook you up!  We’ve still got space in our early Spring and Summer BBQ Classes that will be taught at our shop in Mechanicsburg, PA and we would LOVE to have you!  After a somewhat rocky start with the cancellation of our January classes due to the first of several ‘Snowpocalypses’ and a sub zero cold snap that would have made teaching impractical if not unworthy of the investment, we have got things in gear now!

We are offering courses that range from Basic to Advanced, Whole Hog and even how to start and successfully operate your own BBQ Business either as a Part-Time or Full-Time venture.  Our cooking classes will not focus on how to cook ‘Competition BBQ’ although Chef is a 15+ year member of the Kansas City BBQ Society and a Certified BBQ Judge.  Our reason is that we sell Primo Grills and Smokers which are geared to the home cook AND there are far more folks who cook BBQ at home than to compete.  BUT…if you’re interested in learning how to compete on the ‘BBQ Circuit’, we’ve got LOTS of friends across the country that ARE teaching Competition classes and we can hook you up, just let us know when and where you’re available and we’ll look for a class that meets your needs.

Our Basic BBQ Class will cover everything that the home cook needs to know about cooking BBQ ‘Low & Slow’ over wood or coal.  What cuts to use, how to prepare them, equipment needs and considerations, making spice rubs and sauces and more.  Advanced BBQ will build on those blocks and further explore anatomy, butchery, preparation (including injections and cures), exploration of various time and temperature control devices and different types of smokers and more.  Whole Hog will cover how to source, prepare, season, cook and serve the whole hog at home.  We will cook three hogs total, two by different methods: Indirect smoking and Indirect, Top down roasting in an insulated cooking chamber.  The third hog will be butchered and students will have a chance to see and understand the anatomy and techniques to break down a hog then how to cook each component.

If you’re interested in starting a BBQ Business and can’t make it to the class, we can come to you as full service Hospitality Consultants.  If you’ve already got a business and need help with anything from food costs and profit margins to web site design and development or SEO…we can help you with that too!  We approach every consulting customer as an individual and don’t use any ‘cookie cutter’ solutions!  We listen carefully, watch operation and administration and offer objective advice that will help to improve your operation.

SO…for more info about our BBQ classes, visit our web page at: www.greatq4u.com/BBQ_Classes.html or if you’d like more info about our Hospitality Consulting visit: http://www.greatq4u.com/Hospitality_Consulting.html OR if you’d just like to talk “Q”…you can call us: 717-254-1937 or E-Mail me: Jim@GreatQ4U.com

Friggin’ Frozen Fingers Fog…

…I couldn’t think of a word for ‘brain’ or ‘mind’ that began with “F”…so I deployed the old dot, dot, dot trick!  Probably yet another thing that they don’t teach in Journalism school or some form of poor Blog etiquette, but that’s why I cook BBQ for a living and don’t write for the New Yorker!

So, with frozen fingers in mind and work to do before the next big storm gets here, PBCbrevity will be the order of the day.  Just wanted to let folks know some of the plans we’ve got coming up for the warmer weather at ‘Station Q’ in Mechanicsburg, PA.  In addition to the awesome deals that we have on Primo Grills/Smokers right now…we are PROUD to announce that we will be adding the affordable, versatile Pit Barrel Cookers (pitbarrelcooker.com) to our Retail Shop SOON!  In keeping with our commitment to ‘Made in the USA’, this cooker is not only All American, it’s a Veteran Owned Company!  Priced under $300 and well built from the ground up, these awesome Primo OVAL XL Grillgrill/smokers can do a LOT!  Look for them in March or pre-order yours today!  We’ve got the absolute lowest prices of the year on our In-Stock Primo Ceramic Grill/Smokers and with a wide selection at the shop ready for immediate delivery, we can hook you up today!  We’re available to show off the Primo’s by Appointment at your convenience, just give us a call at 717-254-1937 or visit us online: www.BuyAPrimo.com!

As the Spring thaw approaches, we’ve got openings in our April BBQ Classes and still a few spots left in our Whole Hog Class on April 5th!  Focused on the ‘home cook’ we will Suckling Hogdemonstrate two different cooking methods while covering all the bases about whole hog cooking.  From sourcing, prepping, anatomy, seasoning and serving…you’ll get TONS of knowledge and a full belly at this class.  All for $275 per person…register on the website (http://www.greatq4u.com/BBQ_Classes.html) or call us to save your spot.

Don’t have the time or cash to commit to a class just now? No Problem!  We will be offering our ‘Boys Night Out’ on Wednesdays in the Spring and Summer months!  Every Station Qweek we will fire up a Primo and cook some tasty treats, have some comfortable seating available and cover one specific topic that relates to BBQ in some way, shape or form.  BYOB and prepare to get some knowledge and great food for free all while seeing the AWESOME Primo Grills in action!  From basic butchering and knife skills to making Rubs, Mops and Sauces and more, we’ll spend a few hours of cooking, conversing and learning…all for FREE! – We will limit the attendance to 15 folks and require Pre-Registration, but other than that it will be a great time for all!

Speaking of Primo Ceramic Grill/Smokers…we will also be offering folks who purchase their Primo from us the chance to host ‘Primo Parties’!  What’s that?  It’s a chance for you to invite up to 10 friends over to your place to show off your new Primo and it’s incredible versatility and capability while letting us bring the food and help however much you’d like with the cooking!  If any of your party guests buys a Primo from us, you get a $50 GQ4U! Gift Card for every one sold!

SEE…the friggin’ snow hasn’t frozen our brains…yet!  Catering schedule is filling up fast and I’ve already had to break the bad news to several potential customers…don’t like it, but we’re not a big resort…we are a small, local business and plan on keeping it that way!  SO…if you have an event this year and you’d like GreatQ4U! to cater it…BOOK SOON to save your spot!

Thanks for reading along and stay warm! – jak

New Week, New Opportunities!

By, Jim Knepper

As we begin the unofficial start of ‘booking season’ for the Catering side of the business, I can’t help but think of all the changes that we’ve been through in the past 10 years as a Company.  How much the local marketplace, the economy and the gear that we use to get the job done has changed.  Some for the better, some not-so-much, but change nonetheless is inevitable.

We begin this season with quite a few big changes in our business.  We continue to focus on providing the best wood-smoked meats and hand made sides that we possibly can, but our minds, hearts and menus have been open wide to accommodate tastes of all types.  We continue to offer our ‘Chuckwagon Style’ parties that allow us to provide a Station Qfun, interactive and tasty meal experience by cooking in cast iron over open fires and with charcoal.  All the while replicating the methods and tastes of the American pioneer as they headed into the great western expanses of this country.  We’ve added the unique ability to ‘respond’ to your party in an Antique Fire Truck with everything we need to set up, cook for and clean up after an awesome 5-Alarm event for you and your guests!  Turns out that just about everybody loves Fire Trucks and they certainly make for an entertaining party…fully equipped with CO2 dispensing systems, Flat Screen TV’s with Satellite and Gaming systems too!  We’ve expanded our menus and so much more and are ready to help make your next party a success.

Our website (www.GreatQ4U.com) now features an updated brochure with a few Primo OVAL XL Grillsuggested menus and pricing and we continue to work on the site every day to make it more concise, easy to navigate and informative.  I’ve committed to spending more time GQ4U! Competition BBQon the Blog, not only to pontificate about my thoughts, but to keep our friends and fans up to date about all we’ve got going on.  We are working hard on our Primo Grill and Smoker shop (www.BuyAPrimo.com) and have added a number of BBQ Classes for folks in and around Central PA to learn how to do ‘Que the way we do for customers and competition.  We are offering anyone who purchases a Primo Grill/Smoker from us the chance to host a ‘Primo Party’ (a guy’s version of the ‘Pampered Chef’!) where you invite your friends over and we’ll bring the food and expertise to help you show off your new Primo and it’s versatility while earning bonuses for every friend who chooses to follow in your footsteps and purchase the last grill/smoker they’ll ever need!

SO…as this week begins, I once again thank all the readers of the Blog for following along and promise that if you stay tuned, you’ll find updates, product reviews, instructional videos and much more on these pages in the months to come!  I hope you all have a spectacular week! – jak

A Few Thoughts on Competiton in the BBQ Business

By, Jim Knepper

To be clear about it, I am NOT typing about ‘BBQ Competitions’ which we are BIG fans of and hope to compete in many more of this year than in the past several years combined.  I am thinking about how the ‘BBQ OBR Harrisburg 1013Landscape’ has changed in our little slice of Central PA since I moved here in the early 80’s and specifically since we started cooking ‘Que’ for a living in 2004!

Back THEN, there were few (if ANY) folks in or around Central PA that were actually cooking ‘wood smoked, low & slow’ BBQ in our area.  I recall as do many folks that I grew up with ‘Ricky’s BBQ’ in Carlisle and other than their awesomeness can’t think of anyone doing the kind of ‘Que’ that we still do back then.  There were no shortage of folks doing ‘Chicken BBQ’ over Sam's Tour Richmond 2charcoal with the thin, clear vinegar/butter sprayed on them.  As a volunteer firefighter and EMT, I helped out with my fair share of them and love that kind of cooking, but a wood fire at <200°F for long periods of time yields an entirely different kind of product.

Fast forward until present day and the Central PA market has become saturated with purveyors of ‘BBQ’ and as with ALL kinds of cuisine, each of us has our supporters and detractors…that’s business!  Heck, little old Carlisle’s now got TWO BBQ Restaurants, several folks vending from mobile or semi-mobile locations and LOTS of ‘BBQ Caterers’…they are even trying to figure out the Food Truck scene which will no doubt lead to more innovation in BBQ and other food options for residents!

Speaking of the whole food truck thing brings me to MY point in this particular post.  There is a great deal of hub bub about the Food Trucks and the ‘unfair competition’ that Ribs Going Onthey will present to the ‘Brick and Mortar’ operations.  Some of it coming from surprising sources and much of it fueled by Social Media and Advertising outlets.  I have read MUCH bluster about this place having GREAT BBQ and that place STINKS (or worse) and every time I see that kind of talk, I wonder if it truly benefits ANY of us cooking BBQ?

I understand allegiance to your favorite spot and that BBQ, like many other types of cuisine is a VERY ‘subjective’ experience.  I can even understand the desire for loyal followers of any specific purveyor to be emphatic about their support, but I question if it’s the BEST way to build the market for BBQ in and around Central PA?  As an example, I would suggest taking a look at Austin, Texas where there are TONS of BBQ Spots and unlike around here…MOST of them are quite busy and selling out every day they are open!

What’s the difference?  Well to start with, you see the folks in Texas talking mostly positively about their OWN BBQ and not so much about their competitors.  You also see a market in which, folks take some pride in their ability to go from one BBQ joint to another and make a day out of ‘BBQ Tours’!  Those who are making the BBQ in Texas benefit from a market that has been BORN of GREAT Product first and foremost and then SMART cooperation on the other hand!  Of course there is competition among the vendors, but there’s also cooperation as well.

With ALL of the BBQ vendors in and around Central PA, we could quite easily become DSC_0128a Mid-Atlantic Mecca of Slow Smoked Meats!  We could work together to promote BBQ and build a solid ‘base’ of BBQ lovers who also take pride in their ability to go from place to place and experience the beauty of BBQ…every Pitmaster does it just a bit differently than the others!  Diversity has always been one of the beautiful aspects of BBQ to me and I believe that it should be embraced!

SO…you won’t see me ‘trash talking’ the other BBQ folks around us…instead, you just might see me and my wife patronizing their establishments!  I like to taste different kinds Feeman's BBQof ‘Que’ even more than I like eating my own over and over again!  I think competition is a GOOD thing and would hope that as the number of folks doing BBQ around us continues to increase, perhaps we could work together to build the marketplace and constantly evolve our operations instead of working against each other, which I’ve never had ANY interest in doing!

Just my thoughts on a Hump Day afternoon!  Wondering what y’all think?