Monday, December 24, 2007

Part 5- Spring has sprung 2007

Tall Boy joins the team

The first thing we needed was a cooker. I had pretty much decided on an upright, box type, charcoal burner. I found as I poked around for info that there are as many opinions about cookers and fuels as there are cooks. Many are very passionate about the topic to the point of accusing others of being illegal, or at the very least, “not really BBQing”.

The stick burners use mainly wood for fuel, many opting for the offset or horizontal type units. It is just my opinion, but it always seems to me that the wood burning guys are always fooling with their cookers to maintain a steady temperature. Looks like a lot of work to me but it appears that those fellows are enjoying playing with the fire.

Pellet burners or pellet poopers as they are known, use wood pellets of various flavors added to the firebox with an auger type setup. The pellets are similar to those burned in home pellet stoves. You also have folks that use ceramic cookers like the Big Green Egg. These cookers look very interesting, but to me, they would present a transportation problem to and from contests.

I have observed many spirited discussions during my time spent on BBQ forums as to the pros and cons of these and many other types of cookers. My personal thought is no matter what cooker you choose, the important thing is to learn the unit and how it cooks, with consideration given to what you as a cook want to do with the unit. I was looking for something that would hold a fire with not a lot of tending to allow for at least a couple of hours of sleep at a contest. Ease of transportation was also a factor I needed to take into account, as well as space to be able to hold all of the meat we would need to cook for a BBQ contest. A secondary consideration was the use of the cooker for some of the catering gigs that I was beginning to pick up.

I had a long running post on several BBQ forums looking for a used Backwoods Competitor. I had a few responses, but most of the time they were too far away. Once I nearly had one bought, but the seller changed his mind at the last minute. One thing I noticed during my search, folks do not part with their Backwoods cookers very often, which must tell you something.

At one point, I was considering a Caldera Del Fuego. It is made by the BB Guru guys. I called the shop and contacted Shotgun Fred Pirkle. I spoke at length with him about the Del Fuego and the Tall Boy another model made by his company. After passing on the used Del Fuego and considering the weight of the Competitor, I thought about ordering a Tall Boy. A local BBQ store, Ribinit, was a dealer for Freds products and would lend me a Tall boy for a test cook. I made the arrangements and picked up the cooker for a test drive.

After reading the manual and the information on the web site I was ready to go. I lit up the charcoal pan, tossed in the pork butt, and let the smoke roll. With a few minor adjustments, the cook went off well and I was pleased with the performance of the cooker. The best part was the weight of the cooker, the Tall Boy weighed in at 85 lbs while the Competitor was around 350 lbs. This would make a big difference in the ease that the unit moved. At this time, I still had not decided on how we were going to move the team and equipment to the contests. A 350 lb cooker would require some thought on transportation issues. With all this in mind, and the huge clock on the wall ticking towards springtime I went ahead in late January 2007 and ordered a new Caldera Tall Boy, this unit came with the BBQ Guru and the larger firebox that I wanted.

The Guru is a system designed and sold by the BBQ Guru guys that also make the Tall Boy cooker. It is a temperature control system used to maintain a consistent, steady and long burn from your fuel source. Just what the Doctor ordered. The Guru team have made their units adaptable to many makes and designs of cookers and they are becoming increasingly poplar on the BBQ circuit.

By early February, I got the call from Fred that the cooker was ready. Mike and I drove up to the BBQ Guru in Warminster PA to pick up the cooker. When we arrived, Fred and BBQ Bob Trudnak greeted us as they both spend time going over the cooker and its operation and answering any question that we had. We listened about the cookers functions and nibbled on jerky made by Fred in his Tall Boy. After purchasing several needed extras and saying our goodbyes and thanks to Fred and Bob, Mike and I were south bound with the new cooker in the back of the Tahoe, I could not wait to fire it up.

Throughout the winter and into early spring I was making lists and checking them twice. Trying to gather up what I thought I would need to enter a competition. I had an enclosed trailer that we were using to haul goose decoys around in, that would work as a cook trailer. Things were coming together. All the while, I was cooking whenever I could on the new Tall Boy. I was getting a pretty long and consistent burn, although, I still had to fiddle with it at times.

As spring approached, I looked over the event list and tried to figure what contests we would enter for the upcoming season. A new contest in Landover Maryland in May looked like a great starter contest for our team. The location was close, about an hours drive, this would give us a good chance for a shake down run. The Bel Air BBQ Bash was a local contest, about 15 minutes from base, so we would try and enter here. New Holland was a lot of fun, but hard to get in, we applied, and were put on the waiting list. I had read many good things about the contest at Dover Delaware, this would be in October and be a good way to end our first season of competition. The season was set, we would cook four contests and see what happens, if nothing else, we would get together 4 times over the summer and have a little fun! I could not wait.

In early spring, Mike and I traveled up to Meadow Creek BBQ in New Holland to attend the KCBS judging class. We wanted to see what exactly the judges were looking for when they taste our food and we hoped to learn some of the contest rules. The folks at Meadow Creek did a great job with the class and the KCBS reps explained the process in detail. When we left, both Mike and I were certified KCBS judges. We both said that we would like to judge a contest at some time in the future.

Steve and his Dad were cooking in the contest in Salisbury Maryland in April and he said I could tag along. He also offered to let me cook the chefs’ choice contest on Friday night. The weekend for the contest arrived and I loaded my truck with all the necessities and headed to Salisbury. At least this time I knew what to expect and planned accordingly, sleeping bag, pillow, Ibuprofen, etc. I planned to cook BBQ shrimp for the Friday night contest and would use the turn in box provided. Steve let me go to the cooks meeting in his place and pick up the boxes.

As the chefs’ choice turn in time approached, I could see some of the other teams carrying platters and fancy plates towards the judges tent, wow, my 24 BBQed shrimp in a bed of lettuce was in serious trouble. Team IQUE was the winner with a submission of crab cake and bacon wrapped filet mignon on a huge serving platter, mark that down as another lesson learned.

I helped Steve with the regular prep work and wondered around talking to the other teams. Dave was there whom I had not seen since Bel Air. He was cooking with his regular team IQUE, and it was nice seeing him again. Steve and I stopped by the Lunchmeat site. He introduced me around and they offered us some of their taco type dip they had prepared in a cast iron pan, I believe it was called “dam dip”. Whatever it was called, that stuff was really good. They were nice enough to share with me the basics they had used to prepare the dish and I made a mental note to give that one a try in the future.

The weather was great this weekend, which was a real change of pace, as many of the contestants from years past told stories of how hard it had rained for the past two years. This year it was very sunny and warm during the day, short sleeve weather, although it did get a little chilly during the night, but after all, it was only April.

Team Agave got two calls on Saturday and Steve insisted that I go with Dale to except the brisket trophy. This would be my first “walk” at a regular KCBS contest and even though I was just the pot washer, I gotta tell you it was really cool. Hearing the teams name called and walking up to except recognition from the contest organizers and also the genuine congratulations from the other cooks, wow, as it was once said in a beer commercial I think, “It don’t get no better than this.” Hmmmmm, well maybe it could, if I could get a call for something I cooked at one of these contests, now that would be doing something!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hey hey hey