Monday, May 14, 2012

Some thoughts on the dirty bird…


 The world of a KCBS competition cook revolves around the four main meats. Sure, at times there are a few ancillary categories which we cook, but for the most part, we spend a good deal of our awake or at least semi-conscious hours thinking about what we can do to improve or get an edge when it comes to the main four. Chicken, ribs, pork and brisket, it’s just what we do.

As many of you are already painfully aware, I spend an inordinate amount of time pondering the why’s and wherefores regarding my feathered friend, the yard-bird. I have a previously self-admitted problem for which I have sought professional help. I spend more time contemplating and practicing my chicken attack than on the rest of the other three meats combined. At a contest, my chicken prep is the most time consuming. When asked to pontificate, chicken is my topic of choice. While cooking our last contest, out of 114 teams my prized and time consuming poultry submission finished a stellar 102nd. Help me, I have fallen and I can’t get up.

 For me, as well as many other competition pitmasters, chicken is a dirty word. In my humble opinion, one of the main reasons consistency in this category is so elusive, is it is next to impossible to look at a piece of chicken and be able to determine how it will cook. Most cooks can look at a brisket, a pork butt or a rack of ribs and judging by the fat color, content, and a few other things can determine if it will be a decent final product. Chicken….not so much, you look at a piece of chicken on a cutting board, it just lays there like a slug, it says nothing to you. Let’s face it, when buying chicken; most times it is a crap shoot. A pack of 10 thighs, could have theoretically have come from 10 different birds, all having slightly different characteristics regarding their meat, especially once they have been cooked. From the same pack, I have gotten thighs that are so large they must have come from some type of pterodactyl and some so small they look as though they were from a sparrow, nonsensical. I have even prepared two breasts from the same pack for my wife and I for dinner, one has been tender, the other tuff, they looked identical. Flummoxed I tell you.

 Even when you taste your chicken on contest morning, if you pick up a thigh and take a bite, how can you be sure those 6 thighs going in the box are going to eat like your tester, you can’t, hope is your only chance. I have even considered trying all my cooked thighs with a small bite, then putting the 6 best tasting specimens into the box, bite mark and all. I checked, there is no rule against putting a half-eaten piece of chicken into the box, as long as there is enough for 6 right? Of course, I am exaggerating here, but you get the point.

 I know some will say I need to use steroid free, organic or free range chicken for my contest cooks, they are of higher quality, tastier, and they are supposed to have a better pedigree. Believe me, I have tried them all. I once drove 100 miles one way to buy chicken from a guy who claimed his birds dinned only on the finest grains, lived in climate controlled condos all with free internet access and a swimming pool, listened to symphony music and were forbidden from watching Jerry Springer, Judge Judy and all other daytime TV gems. Additionally, these birds were read to every night before bedtime, and I am talking Moby Dick, Tom Sawyer, Little Woman, the classics. These were some highbrow and sophisticated birds, definitely higher quality, from different strata, maybe I could taste a slight difference, but the judges surely did not.

 The proof for my hypothesis is in the chicken pudding so to speak. Look at the contest results week to week. This week’s first place chicken walker could be a mid-packer next week, or even worse. Certainly, this can and does occur occasionally in the other three meats, but it is my contention in chicken, it happens more often. It would be my guess, if a team wins chicken today, when they cook it tomorrow, they are pretty much going to do the same things, but again, I do not have any studies to back me up, it is pure conjecture. Hot chicken methods come and go, much to the dismay and frustration of a many a competition cook. There is just no consistency. If you are asking me who is to blame, I say blame the chicken, the damned chicken, at least that is what my therapist says I should do.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Waistlines and winning…is there a connection?

A scientific study?

Now before anyone gets into an uproar and accuses me of attacking those that might be considered “waistline challenged” I assure you, there is very little that would be considered scientific about my studies. For the most part, it is pure conjecture and hocus pocus just like most of my written words are that appear here and there each month. If my words offend anyone, I apologize in advance. There, that should take care of any possible lawsuits. If my words this month have not offended you, please be patient, eventually they will, just give them time.

Now back to the topic, waistlines and winning. It is no secret that many competition barbecue cooks are a notch or two above an extra large in size, just look around. I ask you, where else can a XXX guy with a funny hat, who wears croc’s with socks, has stains on his shirt AND pig suspenders go and feel comfortable BESIDES a barbecue contest? I know the answer already because I am describing myself of course.

I know this answer because, without thinking, I have driven to the grocery store while at a contest without regard to my appearance, in full contest regalia. To say I received a look or two would be a gross understatement. You would think I would at least have had enough sense to remove my hat before becoming a public spectacle. The last time this occurred, while in the checkout line, I overheard a mother whisper to her young child, “you see that man Joey? That is why your Father and I want you to go to collage.” Well, at least I did some good; perhaps the young lad would be motivated by my slightly unkempt, portly, disheveled and comedic appearance and move ahead with an expedited plan of higher learning along with a life-time membership in his local gym.

As of this writing, the completed results of my study are still being reviewed by the board, at this time; the results are not yet conclusive. I am however at liberty to tell you that I think I am onto something, perhaps something earth shattering. I am not talking Nobel Prize winner, yet, let’s wait and see.

My study is based on the fact that, as many of you know, I am a bit long in the waistline and have been for most of my adult life. A continual struggle for which I am sad to say, little real progress has been made. I am much more in tuned with the waistline side of this discussion, because, again as many of you know, I don’t spend an extraordinary amount of time in the barbecue winners circle these days. Most of my observations have been made from the peanut gallery.

While mulling over my daily battle with the scale I determined that perhaps another approach was in order, a different perspective so to speak. Then it hit me, what I needed was some height. Loosing weight has been a huge struggle, getting taller has got to be easier doesn’t it? A quick check of a Googled height/weight chart tells me that based on my current poundage; I only need to be 7’4” or so. (I am estimated on the short side here for obvious reasons) My current height is 5”10” and that is wearing thick socks, I realize have some work to do.

While I was on Google, I figured I would search for a product that would help me in my task. A quick check around the net finds a plethora of products which will help things increase in length, although most are only available from off-shore vendors, I figured, what the heck, it was worth a try.

I ordered and received a couple of lengthening creams. I have been rubbing them regularly on my feet and head in my mission to increase my height. After reading the supplied instructions, I discovered most are not designed for the duty I had in mind. To prevent further embarrassment on my part, I won’t bore you with a lengthy explanation of their intended use.

I am sad to report, as of today, there has been no noticeable increase in stature; in fact, my wife says I am loosing length, although my measurements would say otherwise. It is apparent that more research is needed. The quest will continue, of that, you can be certain. In the outside chance the magical creams I have ordered fail to increase my height or length, depending upon how you look at it, I guess I will be forced to re-engage in the daily battle of the scale. In comparison that will be the easy part, getting into the winners circle a little more often, that, my friends, is where the challenge lies.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Okay, so you don’t want to toss the bums out…..

If we let them stay, let’s see how dedicated they really are.

Caution: This is not a BBQ blog post,it is political, remember, you have been warned.

So this week here in Maryland we are celebrating Senator Barbra Mikulski, she is being recognized as the longest sitting woman in the US Senate. She has been a member of Congress since 1976, 36 years if my arithmetic is correct. (when is the last time you heard the word Arithmetic?) My question is why? Why are we celebrating a person that has been on the public dole for this many years?

I know, I know, I have many friends from above the isle that say folks like Ms Mikulski are dedicated public servants. I say from above the isle, because in my view they are from neither the left nor the right, they must be from outer space, you know, above the isle.

First off, I believe using the word public servant to describe any of our current crop of blood sucking, self pocket lining, scheming, philandering and conniving politicians in my view is blasphemy. If you ask me our men and woman in the armed forces, firefighters, police officers, correctional officers, these are our true public servants. To lump politicians under the same tent as these fine folks is an abomination.

Most of the current crop of alleged public servants down the beltway in DC would run, not walk, the other way when faced with what these folks deal with on a daily basis. With just the least mention of the word trouble or danger you’d better stand clear because most politicos will be dashing away from the scene as if someone just announced early voting was open and there was no one around making sure people only voted once. In other words, it would be a stampede.

I have to tell you, when I hear one of these career politicians or their defenders on TV talking about how elected officials are dedicated to serving the public, their work is not done, they only care about the less fortunate, I want to vomit. Come on folks, who is buying this stuff? Does anyone out there think that these people spend millions of dollars to get a job, then hang onto it for as long as possible for any other reason than lining their own pockets?

What kills me even more is when one of them passes away, many times, they try to slide the guys wife into the spot. I guess the thinking here is the deceased guy cared so much for the down trodden, well, his wife must care to, lets give a family member the job. Makes sense to me. No folks, the only reason these folks want the jobs in Washington is for the money, power and influence. Period. They have wriggled and wrangled the rules and regulations in such a way THEY are the only ones who benefit.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have seen plenty of people over the years who are really concerned about helping others and serving the greater good. What I have found is our great Country is just loaded with these folks both in the work force as well as on a volunteer level. People who can really be considered public servants are not in it for the money, they are mostly doing it for the feeling of satisfaction they get just by helping another fellow human being. You don’t believe me, just ask them or the people they serve.

So in order to appease my fine friends from the above the isle I have come to offer a compromise of sorts to help put this issue of term limits to rest once and for all, an olive branch so to speak Who ever said I wasn’t agreeable and amicable and not willing to compromise will have to recant, although, I do have one little stipulation. If you are going to let these alleged dedicated people serve for decade after decade because they do such good work and care only for the people, we are going to have to put a small little codicil into place just to assure they are genuine. Not that I have any doubt you understand.

I here by propose that all newly elected members of Congress must declare upon taking their oath of office, their entire net worth. This figure would be recorded next to their name. Upon leaving office, the GAO would calculate their years of service. The beginning net worth figure would be allowed to increase each year they have served by a percentage based on whatever the gang on the Potomac decided was the cost of living increase given to folks on Social Security that year. If a 2% cost of living raise was afforded, the dedicated public servant (and I use the term loosely) would be able to increase his net worth by 2% for that year, no more. Any monies accumulated above this figure by those so interested in serving and helping the underprivileged would be returned to the coffers to help offset the Nation Debt, a win win.

A win win because we would be reducing the debt with the help of the very folks that created the debt in the first place. After all, why should we the taxpayers be the only ones charged with the task? The second win would be, and you can bet your bottom dollar on this one, we’d see more than a 1 or 2% cost of living adjustment each year if it was driving what Congress was able to steal, I mean earn while in office. Guaranteed.

If these people are so dedicated to serving the greater good as they allege this set up shouldn’t be a problem. I reiterate, look around you, look at the people that are really helping others in hospitals and soup kitchens. They really aren’t in it for the money, THEY ARE in it for the greater good, these folks are real life public servants. Not to be confused with those knuckleheads in Washington jetting over our heads and racing past us in big SUV’s with a police escort because they are much to busy or important to wait in traffic like the rest of us worker bees. In my humble opinion, implementation of this plan, which of course is a complete pipe dream on my part, would certainly separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to the character of our beloved elected officials.

It is a well know fact that most members of Congress come to Washington already in pretty good financial shape. The majority, especially from the Senate side, leave (or are carried out) as millionaires and billionaires. So I think the chances that Congress will adopt my proposal is about as good as me winning the starring role on the next season of The Bachelor. That would be of course, IF I was single and IF I was good looking and IF I was 30 years younger, none of which seems to be the case for sure. Asking Congressmen to serve without huge financial gain sounds like a great idea to me, I don’t understand why they wouldn’t support my proposal, because, after all, they aren’t in it for the money or are they?

Saturday, March 10, 2012


A test drive of sorts

Mike Fay is the President of the Mid Atlantic Barbecue Association. He is also the pit master for his own barbecue team Aporkalypse Now. In his spare time, he cooks with Jack’s Old South BBQ Team. When he is not cooking BBQ, he is thinking BBQ. So it is of no surprise to me that when he contacted the folks at Wusthof knifes with an idea he had for developing a knife for use by competition BBQ teams, they were more than receptive.

When Mike asked me to test drive the new knife I was a bit apprehensive as I am a self proclaimed electric knife kind of guy. I will freely admit, anytime I need to slice, if possible the Cuisinart is coming out. So what I am saying here is the test is being conducted by a manual slicer challenged person or MSCP for short. I guess in today’s politically correct world it is still ok to refer to one as slicer challenged, if not, I apologize in advance for any of you who may be offended. For those that are not offended, just give me a minute, I’ll get around to you sooner or later.

First few tidbits from the designer, the knife is “34cm (14inch) long thin bladed slider 54mm deep at the heel with a radius cutting edge hollow ground to reduce drag. The advantage to the radius is that the whole blade edge isn’t engaging the object to be sliced at the same time allowing for even less drag, yet still making a continuous cut with no saw markings.”

Mike goes on to say, “The other plus to the radius design on the blade is that when you make a draw cut (pull the blade toward you) the physiology of your arm causes your elbow to lift up, causing you to change the angle of attack of the blade. On a straight traditional slicer you either end up cutting with the very tip of the blade or break your wrist to allow the blade to remain flat, reducing your leverage. The radius blade allows you to maintain maximum leverage by not having to break your wrist while the cutting edge still tracks parallel to the food.”

I don’t know about all of that arm tracking and angle of attack on the meat but here is what I do know. I cooked a brisket flat and pork butt to act as test specimens for my scientific experimentation. I first tried my hand with the brisket. Keeping in mind I am self admitted MSCP. I was able to slice the brisket into various thicknesses with one draw of the knife, from very thin to, as contest cuts go, very thick. Mike had told me the knife was designed to cut on the draw, not going forward.

I did find it necessary to hold my thumb in the vicinity of the cut on the side of the meat closest to my body to avoid tearing the bark. I found with a little practice, I was able to produce slices of even thickness, all with just on stroke, just like he said. The same held true when I cut the pork. I first sliced the money muscle, then a few other choice muscles, all with similar results.

Being from Maryland and a proponent of pit beef sandwiches I thought what the heck, why not give the blade a go on a nice hunk of pit cooked top round. Years ago, at the numerous “Bull Roasts” held around the State, the ONLY way to slice the beef was with a blade. Knife skills were needed to get thin slices and those using an electric meat slicer were thought to be serving lesser product. In the past 15-20 years most pit beef cookers have all went to deli slicers. With this move knife skills for most went away as well.

I am happy to report the “Big Meat Slicer” tore through the top round like a champ. The knife turned out mound after mound of prime sandwich slices. That is, once I got the hang of it. After using the product for a day or two it seemed even I, a known MSCP, could slice meat like the butchers of yesteryear. That is really saying something, about the knife I mean.

Overall, the knife performed as advertised if not better in my humble opinion. With a little practice, even I was able to turn out a decent slice, time after time. My only suggestion would be to include in the accompanying paperwork some instruction noting the knife is designed to cut on the back stroke. If you purchase one, be sure to add an order for a large sized blade cover, chances are, you won’t have anything large enough in your current knife bag, this thing is the Ultimate Big Meat Slicer for sure.

Wusthof Ultimate Big Meat Slicer
Available at