Tag Archive: Aporkalypse Now

  1. Tip From the Pros by Mark Gibbs

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    by Mark Gibbs, Pitmaster of The Checkered Flag 500 BBQ

    Mug Shot Mark Gibbs
    Pitmaster Mark Gibbs

    The Checkered Flag 500 BBQ has hit a nice stride this year.  People have asked, “What has changed?”   When are you going to have a class (self-serving plug my first class is September 2nd and 3rd and there are still spaces available!)  But seriously, much of the success can be attributed to finding consistency from week-to-week and producing as close to the same product as possible as a result of simple, repeatable, proven processes.  There is an old saying, “the cream always rises to the top”.  I have heard that for years in both business and in sports.  I really saw that saying in action in the BBQ world here in the Mid-Atlantic region.  How is it that the same teams can always be found at the top of the results list week after week?  3 Eyz BBQ, winners of many contests and numerous MABA ToY honors are always right there every week.  4:20Q, Aporkalypse Now, Old Virginia Smoke, Lo & Slo and too many others to name are always right there even if they have taken a few weeks off.  I wondered what they did to always produce winning results and here are my thoughts and observations that I have put in place in my own competition BBQ program.

    1. Repetition of a GOOD process results in consistency.  When you find a process that works with a meat category, write it down!  Put it in a spreadsheet and commit that process to memory.  Successful teams did not start out cooking all 4 meats great.  Most conquered one meat and repeated the process of finding that success with the other categories.
    2. Remember to do all of the “little things” consistently. Little things might be as simple as setting up your work area at the same time at each comp, loading your pit with fuel at the same time or lighting your pit at the same time.  I noticed that successful pit masters could be in the midst of a conversation with me and just say out of the blue, “gotta run….I have to do something back at my site.”  I realized I could set a clock to some of these guys doing the little steps each week.  I try to do all of those things I mentioned above and more at the same time each week.  That includes something as simple as tearing aluminum foil for everything on Friday after I trim meats.  Consistent prep practices are your friend!
    3. Have you ever asked a top competition BBQ team how they did before awards and they respond with, “well, we hit all of our marks, so we will see”? Those guys just told you that they did everything according to a preset timeline that they repeat on a weekly basis.  When a team can do that with a proven process, they will be successful more often than not.  For me, hitting my marks is not like KCBS turn-in times.  There is no five minutes before the mark and five minutes after that mark.  If 3am is the time to put meat on the pit, that is my mark and I shoot for it every time.  As a solo cook, you will rarely hear me say I hit my marks because it sounds self-serving, but teams with multiple members that are successful set and hit marks like a well-timed dance routine.
    4. Don’t be afraid to measure rubs, sauces and wrap ingredients (honey, sugar, agave, butter, etc.) until you find the process that works for you. I was a baker for a lot of years.  Commercial baking uses formulas, not recipes to make breads and sweets.  Recipes have room for change and are open to interpretation.  Formulas are more precise.  Competition BBQ results can hinge on a little bit of this or that in the wrong place making a big difference in your final product.  Use shaker cups and measuring cups when measuring out sauces, injections and rubs.  A sauce or rub mix is a formula, not a recipe!  Be precise!  Once you find the right combination, you may stick with those cups and bottles or you may be confident enough to shoot from the hip and measure by eye.  I don’t recommend that, but I am guilty of it sometimes.
    5. Write down what processes worked or did not work on the back of the KCBS scoresheet that you get from a contest. Keep your contest results in a binder or folder and refer back to them when going to contests at those same venues or geographic areas.  There is no substitute for experience at a contest and as the pit master, you have a wealth of information at your disposal after you have some contests under your belt.  If the judges liked that hickory-habanero mint jelly combination on your chicken at the Sons of Italy Competition in New York City, write it down because you probably will not remember that next year!
    6. My final though is that looking back on my 76 competitions at the time I am writing this article I thought that my first GC would never happen. Three years into my competition BBQ career and no GC’s.  I had category wins and a couple of RGC’s but I never saw my name at the top of the list.  Well, financial advisor Dave Ramsey says, “Nothing happens without focus.  Don’t try to do everything at once.  Take it one step at a time!”  Rarely does a new team or a team that does not compete much have a run of GC’s or top calls.  It happens, but it is rare to see it.  Focus on your competition program one step at a time.  Build on successful processes, repeat them, learn from them and watch your competition program step up to new levels!

    Most importantly have fun!  That is what the sport of competition BBQ is about first and foremost.  Success will follow if you keep it fun!  I look forward to seeing you all on the BBQ trail soon!

  2. Interview With the Champs

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    by Brian Walrath, MABA Board Member and Pitmaster for Brown Liquor BBQ

    Picture of Aporkalypse Now with trophies
    Aporkalypse Now takes home the big hardware and invitation to “The Jack” in DC!

    Aporkalypse Now of Springfield, VA recently took top honors at the Giant National Capital BBQ Battle on the streets of Washington, DC.  This is Aporkalypse Now’s second DC BBQ Battle win in a row and that comes with an automatic entry into the prestigious Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue in October.  Mike Fay, former MABA President and Pitmaster for Aporkalypse Now was kind enough to answer a bunch of questions for this edition of Interview with the Champs! Mike has been involved in competition barbecue quite a while and heavily involved and knowledgeable about competition barbecue in the Mid-Atlantic region.  When he talks, most folks listen…enjoy his unique perspective below and get to know the rest of the team below…thanks Mike!

    Congratulations on your recent win in Washington DC at the Giant National Capital BBQ Battle.  How did it feel to go home with the Grand Championship?

    Mike Fay, Aporkalypse Now:
    Thanks, winning the DC BBQ Battle is a great feeling; not only is it an automatic entry to The Jack Daniels Invitational but it’s a win against a top field of competitors in a great setting. Winning it for the second year in a row made it that much more special.

    How did your cook go…did you feel confident heading to awards?
    MF, AN:
    We thought we hit all our marks but as we all know, it’s anyone’s game once it goes into the tent. With the field we were competing against confidence was…medium. Our chicken has been consistent this year, I liked the ribs but though they might be on the dry side, pork was good, and we thought the brisket was superior.  But you just never know; I’ve quit trying to predict the future.

    Tell us a little about your team and teammates, where you’re from, how long you’ve been cooking.
    MF, AN:
    I started Aporkalypse Now 5 years ago based out of Springfield, Virginia. We have an eclectic group with members from Northern Virginia (myself and Dennis) Havre De Grace, MD (Don) and New York City (Todd). We’ve been cooking together for the last three years and it’s become a very strong unit.

    I’ve been cooking for fun for a long time and didn’t get into competitions until I joined MABA. I’ve always had a competitive streak and been drawn to the “science-y” side of cooking, so those two assets have really helped. In the ‘it’s a small world’ category, I met Don through the competition circuit, yet he went to high school with my cousin. Don’s been with me for three years and it’s a great match. I met Todd when I was up in New York City cooking with Myron Mixon (there’s a whole newsletter’s worth of stories there) and he’s become the Aporkalypse Now road warrior traveling from NYC all over the country just to meet up and cook with us. Dennis is the “kid” of the group; he was interested and wanted to come and “just watch” one weekend. He never left and has cemented himself firmly in our team. I’m grateful to have all of them.

    Picture of team Aporkalypse Now
    Don, Mike, Todd, and Dennis…team Aporkalypse Now!

    What kind of equipment and set do you have?
    MF, AN:
    We cook out of a 26 foot porch trailer with two Myron Mixon Vulcan V33’s on the back. Having two identical cookers allows us a lot of flexibility.

    How many GCs is this for your Aporkalypse Now?
    MF, AN:
    I believe this was number 16.

    What makes Aporkalypse Now different or unique?
    MF, AN:
    Tough question. We work hard to be as consistent as possible in everything we do when we cook a competition, almost to the point of obsession I suppose. Unique? We use a platoon philosophy where everyone on the team knows and can perform every task. This allows us a lot of flexibility when it comes to doing other things at comps while still keeping our eye on the prize.

    You’ve been a very successful competition team for a few years now…can you share a couple of your favorite experiences out on the circuit?
    MF, AN:
    Want me to tell stories out of school eh? Winning DC back-to-back has to be right up there. We traveled down to Florida for two invitationals this past winter. Smokin’ at the Track in Homestead and the Sonny’s Invitational in Orlando. These were both great experiences. Of course favorite experiences have to include being invited to and participating in “The Jack”, especially last year when we were accompanied by our friend Dillon Booth. I think we aged his mother 10 years with some of the shenanigans that went on.

    I enjoy chatting with you about barbecue for many reasons, but mostly because of your wealth of knowledge and experience.  How do you feel about the current state of barbecue and where do you see it going in the next couple, 5, 10 years?
    MF, AN:
    I think the competitive BBQ scene will be very different in the next couple of years:

    Bigger and more People’s choice contests
    Events are looking for ways to draw the public in and allow them to participate and interact with the teams like they see on TV. I predict that more and more events will try and go the route that the Mohegan Sun competition has gone regarding a semi-vending format; the competitions in Fredericksburg, VA and Woodstock, VA are almost there now. Fans want that interactive experience and teams need to be prepared to participate on some level. Watch out for the SCA (Steak Cookoff Association). Steak cookoffs are rapidly growing in popularity due to their short duration and visual appeal to the public. I see more and more events going to a Saturday-Sunday format with steak and grilling events on Saturdays. We should all start practicing now.

    More corporate sponsorships and invitational events.
    We’ve seen two added last year – Smokin’ on the Track and Sonny’s. I’ve been told that Smokin’ on the Track will be back with a more fan-based interactive format with big money and more media opportunities. I think Sonny’s will quickly become one of the premier events in BBQ, partially due to the $68,000 prize pool but also its corporate backing. Rumor is a major sporting goods retailer will be rolling out a Sam’s style ladder tournament in 2017. Mohegan Sun is poised and has the potential to be one of the biggest payouts in BBQ. I wouldn’t be surprised to see BBQ end up in a NASCAR style tiered format where you have big money invitationals and a second tier local “feeder” circuit to qualify teams to go to the “show”, much like the World Food Championships. A lot of this is dependent on KCBS getting its house in order and addressing a number of issues to be able to show that BBQ competitions aren’t 60% skill and 40% luck.

    There will be contraction on a local event level.
    BBQ cooks are smart people. They’re starting to look closer at the benefits of attending one contest over another. There are a number of old established contests that are feeling the pinch of new contests aggressively pursuing teams.  Contests with high entry fees/marginal infrastructure and low payouts are going to be pushed out by newer contests willing to do what it takes to bring in teams.

    Due to this special qualifying GC, what competitions are now added to the 2016 calendar for Aporkalypse Now?
    MF, AN:
    Obviously we will be attending “The Jack” in October. Now that the American Royal is the following weekend, we’re looking at making a 3 contest loop out of it.

    I like to ask in this segment, what tip(s) do you have for competition teams to go from good to great and get that GC call?z
    MF, AN:
    Take my class! Seriously though, it’s all about consistency, refine your process and take a hard look at what you are doing. If you don’t know why you are doing something perhaps it’s something you don’t really need to do. Focus on your cook and drill down your process to where everything comes out the same every time. Ask yourself “Do I really need to do these 15 steps when 5 will get me the same result?”  

    You’ve done a lot for barbecue in the last decade, especially in the Mid-Atlantic…what gives you the most satisfaction from what you see out there today on the circuit?
    MF, AN:
    First and foremost is the friendships I’ve gained. Seeing teams grow and establish themselves as forces on the circuit is right up there too. The camaraderie in BBQ is second to none.

    Any parting shots or comments?
    MF, AN:
    Just looking forward to the rest of this season and many more competitions, Friday night pot lucks, and good luck shots with all our friends.

  3. 2016 Giant National Capital Barbecue Battle – Washington, DC

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    by Mike Fay, MABA Past President and Pitmaster for Aporkalypse Now

    I have that mixed emotional feeling of watching your evil in-law driving off a cliff in your brand new car every time the Giant National Capital BBQ battle comes around. It’s a great event located right down on Pennsylvania Ave between the White House and the Capitol in Washington DC, great prize money and you get to be in front of thousands of folks but this is all countered by the sometimes difficult load in / load out process, no running water, and an odd two day turn in schedule.

    Image of the bbq competition in downtown DC
    The location of the Giant National Capital BBQ Battle on Pennsylvania Avenue is unlike any other event!

    This was Giant’s first year as the major sponsor and they did a tremendous job of raising the bar. Load in was the smoothest yet and the infrastructure was top notch; kudos to Giant. If you’ve ever considered this event but shied away due to the horror stories (they were probably all true) you should reconsider this event in 2017 as most if not all of these issues have been put to bed.

    The event schedule is probably the oddest on the KCBS trail. Not only are turn ins at different times than a normal KCBS event, they are spread out over two days. Add to this the order of turn ins is different and you have quite the challenge. You turn in chicken and brisket at 6 & 6:30pm on Saturday then ribs and pork at Noon and 12:30 on Sunday. This makes for a long weekend.

    Since it’s held DC, MABA had a large turnout, BeerBeQue, 3Eyz, Aporkalypse Now, Serial Griller, Dizzy Pig, Pork Barrel, Redneck Scientific, Black Cat BBQ & Wilbur’s Revenge just to name a few all headed downtown to face off against many of the famous names in BBQ such as Cool Smoke, Jack’s Old South, & Moe Cason.

    Image of MABA teams participating in the National Capital BBQ Battle including Beer B Que, Dizzy Pig, Old Virginia Smoke, and Wilbur's Revenge!
    MABA teams participating in the National Capital BBQ Battle including Beer B Que, Dizzy Pig, Old Virginia Smoke, and Wilbur’s Revenge!

    When the Smoke cleared MABA members did themselves proud with Aporkalypse Now taking the Perdue Chicken Championship and Black Cat BBQ taking top honors in the Smithfield Rib Challenge.

    First place winners:
    Chicken – Aporkalypse Now
    Ribs – Black Cat BBQ
    Pork – Cool Smoke
    Brisket – Historic BBQ
    National Pork Champion – Cool Smoke

    Grand Champion –Aporkalypse Now
    Reserve Grand Champion – Bull Rush BBQ

    Check out the full competition results here.

    Image of champions Aporkalypse Now
    Aporkalypse Now – Grand Champs and heading to the Jack!