What Do You Do in the Off-Season?
Wondering what others do during the BBQ “off season”, aside from taking classes and practicing their craft with family and friends? Team 270 SMOKERS and team MEAT COMA offer an inside glimpse on what happens at their respective team HQs during the off-season.
Team 270 SMOKERS
By Stephanie West
My first reaction to this topic was to chuckle, “Off-season? What’s that?!” In our early years competing, our 1st event was Memorial Day weekend and the last was mid-October. Now our season starts the 1st weekend of February and it’ll end the 3rd week in December. We’ll travel 25,000 miles in a F350 Dually pulling a 5th wheel (39′ Raptor with dedicated competition kitchen) — typically without a real vacation during the season.
So during the short “off-season”, we have 2 primary goals:
1. Decompress and rejuvenate — mentally and physically. After the last comp of the year, we steal away for a week (2 if we can), preferably in a warmer climate, to hike in the mountains or camp on the beach. After a few days of “a whole lotta nothin'”, and 10 days or so of hiking/walking, we’re in the right frame of mind to re-engage with the world and think about the next season!
Part B to this goal is longer-term, intended to counter the occupational hazards of being BBQ road-warriors (yes, battling “the BBQ physique”). The sugar-laden rubs and sauces and other tasty amenities of a BBQ life – coupled with endless stretches of windshield time – will take it’s toll on most any waistline, let alone knees, hips, backs, etc. Refined sugar and processed foods cause inflammation, increasing the risk for diabetes, heart disease, and brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s. That’s serious stuff. So this is our window to “recalibrate” our habits — dial back our sugar intake (ideally, to less than 20 grams a day) and focus on creating interesting nutrient-dense, fiber-rich foods, moderate portion-sizes, and more exercise for non-comp days. Far from absolute, we just try to be mindful and strike a better balance — “everything in moderation, even moderation!” We have much more stamina, and alot less pain, for the competition season and beyond.
2. Minimize chaos. When Terry takes “a day off”, it is inevitably spent in the toolshop building “stuff to hold our stuff”, gadgets to streamline our cook process, or ways to ease loading up for a trip…in short, to reduce chaos so we can just focus on the ‘q. He is a wealth of ideas on creating better ways to execute BBQ and BBQ-related travel. He keeps a mental list as the season is winding down, and we review what items we truly used in the trailer during the year (aiming to remove anything that wasn’t and consolidate the rest). Last year he created our new burnt ends jig, which really improved rendering our brisket. He also converted the bed rails in the cook bay to hold caddies for our knives, rubs, and supplies – at a push of a button, they’re lifted out of the way or brought down to a readily-accessible height. With that, we shed at least 3 bins that always took up valuable space on the counter. He has at least 10 projects on the slate for this winter. If you see us at a comp, never hesitate to swing by to ask Terry “what’s the latest in your trailer?!” – he’s eager to share ideas that may help another team. And if you left home without a tool, it’s a safe bet that Terry has one that you can use. As we say around our place, “MacGuyver was a rookie!” Indeed.
Team Meat Coma-Off Season Prep
By Amy Overbey
When the idea of co-writing an article about pre-season prep came up, my initial response was to sit back and let others volunteer because as an all tent team we don’t have that much to prep. Then I thought, you know what, we are not the only team on the circuit cooking out of tents. So, I unmuted my phone and said, sure I’ll do it! So here goes…
Whether you are a tent, trailer or a super fancy RV team you have prep to do before every season and before and after every comp. For us, while we are unloading our rented trailer and putting everything back in its rightful home in our garage or kitchen pantry we are taking inventory on things we need to replace, replenish or no longer take with us. Because we do that each and every week we compete, our pre-season “physical” prep is basically done with our end of year unload.
However, that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface on the pre-season prep for us and many other teams. The “mental” prep that comes along with starting a new season may be the most difficult and time consuming process. We started talking about next season the second last season ended. Those talks have come and gone throughout the off season and now with the season looming upon us, we are talking about it constantly. We talk about it amongst our team and with other teams who we have built strong relationships with along this journey. We discuss every aspect of BBQ, from fun to serious and from probable to impossible. For the purposes of this article I will share a few of the biggest topics for us, choosing a comp, cooking tweaks and practice.
First, choosing a comp, simple question right? Wrong, so wrong!!! This used to be easier when we first started because there weren’t that many comps within a reasonable travel distance for us and we typically chose based on travel time. Because we are a tent team, we have to pick up our rented trailer on Friday mornings, pack that trailer, make the drive, unload the trailer, start drinking (errrr I mean setting up and prepping) and then get cooking. We now have a vast selection of amazing comps within our geographic area so this process has gotten increasingly more difficult for us. We now choose based on geography, dates that work for child and dog sitters, our historical performance at an event, who else is doing the comp (we are quite the social team) and finally, cost to enter and payouts. This process is a difficult one each year and one that we spend a lot of time talking and, honestly, best guessing about. We would love to compete more, but just can’t swing it with our schedules. The recent addition of Tier 2 for MABA ToY’s has added an extra layer to this whole thing as we want to compete enough to qualify, but not go over the limit to be back up against the big boys and girls of BBQ.
The next thing we focus on is what things about our cook should be tweaked from last season. First we look at what categories were our best (thanks BBQData.com for making this process so much easier), why were they our best, what should we change, why should we change? Again, being a Tier 2 team impacts this aspect greatly. As such, we only have a small batch of sample data to rely on and we all know that is really not very reliable at all. We try to do the best we can and we talk to other teams and judges to see what they are doing and what worked for them. For some teams this may also include taking a class. We have done that in the past and certainly hope to work more into the mix in the future. This season we have decided to make the most changes to Chicken and Brisket. They have been our 2 best historical performers, but we feel they need to be a bit more consistent and we made changes to Pork and Ribs last year so it’s time. Secret alert…I have always de-boned, removed the skin and continued to scrape all the fat from each and every one of my 18-21 chicken thighs. This process takes me more time than I have and/or care to spend on this activity, on a Wednesday night of comp week, so I will no longer be doing all of that. What am I doing…you will have to wait and see!! (Come on, you didn’t think I was going to tell you…did you??) As for Brisket we are playing with the various ways the meat can be divided prior to, during and after the cook to see if that has any effect on the consistency of the cook time and the end product. It has to right? Right! The real question is, what is that effect and which end product will the judges like most. Only time and turn-ins will tell.
Finally, and this kind of goes hand in hand with the tweaks above, is practice. Practicing these changes is obviously important, but perhaps even more important is who you test the practice on. We already know we cook the best BBQ in our neighborhood and we challenge anyone to come and take that title from us, but that doesn’t seem to equate to cooking the best BBQ at each comp we compete in. So, we have friends from other teams come and try our food and give honest feedback and we are planning to have judges come to taste our practices to provide additional real time feedback. We realize each contest and set of judges will produce a different response, but we feel we can gather some real insights from those who are tasting and cooking this stuff week after week. We also know we are our own biggest fans and certainly worst critics, so we are working hard to take each call or non-call with a grain of salt and keep looking forward to the next comp. We can celebrate our victories and rest on our laurels or sulk in our losses and change it all every week, but what fun or point would any of that be?? The answer is, it wouldn’t and if I have learned anything over our 7 year career in BBQ it is this…if you aren’t having fun while doing this, you are doing something wrong. No off season prep needed for that, just sign up, give it your best and enjoy this upcoming BBQ season with family and friends!!!