Tag Archive: burnt ends

  1. Jerry Stephenson, Pitmaster of Redneck Scientific Opens The Redneck BBQ Lab

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

    Time to eat!

    I know we’ve all dreamed about it…or to some had nightmares.  What is “it?”  Taking that plunge from competition barbecue and/or barbecue catering to opening your very own barbecue joint!  Well, Jerry Stephenson of Redneck Scientific fame (yeah, the team that finished fourth overall in KCBS in 2016!), took the plunge in January!  Jerry opened The Redneck BBQ Lab in Benson, North Carolina.

    An impressive line-up of trophies for sure!

    I happened to be not-too-far away from Jerry’s restaurant the first week he opened visiting some friends to attend a Tarheel/Syracuse basketball game and we decided to stop in for lunch the day after the game.  The Redneck BBQ Lab is nestled in next to a gas station in a busy intersection on highway 210, just off of interstate 40.

    You can’t miss the The Redneck BBQ Lab!

    The first thing you notice pulling in is the big painted logo on the side of the building.  The rumor is that this impressive visual landmark was hand crafted by the Sean Manley, aka, “The Guv,” Jerry’s brother-in-law and husband of Roxanne Manley, Jerry’s secret weapon on the barbecue trail!  The front of the joint is equally impressive with a bold series of words that make you want to see what’s inside…PROVEN. WINNING. COMPETITION. BBQ!  The interior has a homey look with wood grain throughout and a country feel as local, historic pictures and signs with country slogans adorn the walls on your way to the counter.  The other thing you can’t help but notice is the trophy shelf that sits right above the windows to the food service line where your order is plated.  This trophy case is flat out impressive and I couldn’t help but look up and wonder about the times I’ve competed against Jerry and Roxanne and think of all the times they whipped my ass!

    Lucky to grab a snapshot of Jerry while he was still relatively still!

    After a handshake and some pleasantries with Jerry, he was off to run an errand as busy restauranteurs often do.  My buddies and I decided to get a sampling of several barbecue meats that included smoked spare ribs, pulled pork, and brisket burnts ends and slices.  The Redneck Barbecue Lab only sells burnt ends on certain days, and we were glad we hit the right one!  Our sides included local collards and the jalapeno mac ‘n cheese.  As a competition barbecue cook, sometimes our opinions are flawed when it comes to restaurant barbecue.  But I can tell you confidently, Jerry is doing it right!  The brisket was perfectly smoked and tender as a mother’s love.  The pulled pork was true to this region and succulent with great mouth feel.  The burnt ends literally melted in your mouth.  The spare ribs were done just right…not overcooked and falling off the bone, but just the right doneness to give you a great bite and chew.  The impressiveness didn’t stop there.  The collards and mac were among the best I’ve dug in to as well.

    Brisket, ribs, pork, mac, and collards were the order of the day!

    Perhaps what’s most impressive about The Redneck BBQ Lab however, is the people.  Our service was quick, friendly, and with the southern charm that always makes me come back to these parts!  The joint is just that…a joint.  It’s not a big place and if you want to be sure to get some tasty ‘que, you better get there early.  As with all of the best BBQ hotspots I’ve found, they sell a finite amount and when they’re sold out, that’s it!

    All in all, it was a great experience and the food was killer.  It’s right off 40 and not too far off of 95.  If you get a chance, go, you won’t be disappointed.  Jerry and his team are doing it right.  I will be back for sure the first chance I get!

    Have you eaten great barbecue at a Mid-Atlantic barbecue joint lately?  Tell us about it and we’ll feature other restaurants in the newsletter and the MABA website.  Just email your review/story to me at brnwlr@aol.com.

    Impressive crowds flock to the The Lab!
  2. What’s In The Box?

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    Image of Brad Pitt from the movie Se7en with the caption, "What's in the Box."By Bill Jones, MABA Board Member and KCBS Master Judge, Table Captain, & Life Member

    Last issue we talked about the National BBQ Conference and what a panel of some of the top cooks in America tried to help teams understand. Quite simply – you hurt yourself more by putting less-than-stellar product in your box then it would be to have it in there over concern a judge may be expecting to see a certain cut offered.

    In looking back over my time as a KCBS judge, I have seen some very, very, beautiful boxes. And many of them were NOT the same ole same ole muffin tin chicken or brisket with burnt ends.  Some went way off the BBQ standard. I do not know if the team just wanted to see what it would score and maybe it be the next Myron Mixon muffin tin chicken idea or maybe they were a new team and this is what they thought would score well.

    So keep in mind, I cannot say what my other judges scored the boxes/ideas below. I can only say it does not for me, and the majority of the judges, have to be the same ole boxes.

    Chicken – Breast meat slices, flats and/or drummettes – seeing more and more legs these days,  saw a whole chicken one time – two legs, two breasts, twp thighs, and two wings. Talk about a heavy and a tight box!  All have their own concerns. Breast meat can dry out quickly. Legs can have the skin pulled up in a lollipop look or left on the bone.  A recent box was thigh and leg still connected and had grill marks on the skin.  Taste and tenderness were BOTH excellent. My favorite box I ever saw was smoked drummies and flats. Drummettes and flats lined up like little soldiers in four rows. They had a great color to them and they just popped in the box.  At the same contest, a thigh was turned in with what I could best describe as thick gooey black roofing tar ¼” thick on it. No one looked forward to tasting that entry and it scored very poorly.

    Ribs – Over sauced as mentioned in the previous article is an issue for more and more judges. Ribs don’t have to be dry, just not 3/8” thick gloppy sauce.  We as judges keep seeing teams on Facebook or The BBQ Brethren commenting on “it’s not a greens contest” or in this case ”it’s not a sauce contest.”  But teams fail to follow that same advice and cut back on the sauce to let the meat shine.  One of my worst boxes I ever judged was NOT over sauced…just overcooked! Burnt in fact, so bad the bones were popping through the crusty, petrified, burnt meat. That was bad enough but the team looked to have at the last second thrown the bones in the box and ran, and then fell on their way to turn in.  The even funnier thing was there were only 5 bones in the box. As bad as those five were we all wondered how bad bone number six was that the team chose not to include it?

    Pork – LOVED a box I had once which had three meat selections in it with three different sauces applied. The NC chopped look had a NC vinegar based sauce on it. The money muscle was a Memphis flavor and the pulled meat was Kansas City flavored.  We normally, as routine, see the same flavor on all the meat in the box and that’s fine too. I just thought that team went above and beyond and their selections fit the meat itself. I rewarded them for that choice.

    Brisket – And this is the one I hear teams comment on more than anything else. “If we don’t put burnt ends in the box the judges are going to score us down.”  Yes I am sure there are a few poor judges who may be doing so. I cannot say as I, myself, have never done so. Nor have I ever heard a judge at a table I was judging or table captaining say so.  I myself want your best. Unfortunately this is the one category I seem to fill out more comments about one of the two included entrees the team hurt themselves by including. KCBS does not tell us how to score when the slice is a 9 – 9 for taste and tenderness and the burnt end is a 3 – 3. So we are left with averaging or choosing to weigh a bit higher that the excellent outweighed the poor, or visa versa.

    Know that sometimes your cook just did not go as planned and sometimes you have to turn in what you have and hope for the best.   Just don’t over think it. KISS comes to mind.

    Good luck to each of you and I hope this will be of some help.

    Bill Jones


  3. Pitmaster Tip of the Month

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    “Tender, then Tasty!”

    By Stephanie West, MABA Vice-President and “The Neck” Pitmaster for Team 270 Smokers

    A beautiful brisket box from 270 Smokers!
    A beautiful brisket box from 270 Smokers!

    For years, I couldn’t walk out of a BBQ store without a half dozen bottles of the latest rubs and sauces. No doubt, with just a tweak of this or that (or as we jokingly say “Blues Hog plus….”), we could surely hit on just the right flavor profile to win over those 6 judges! How easily I was distracted by “hope in a bottle!”

    The fact is, our time is better spent focusing on tenderness (even though it’s a mathematical contradiction with the KCBS scoring system). After 21 comps in 2015, our team is convinced that judges nationwide are much more consistent in their interpretation and scoring of “tenderness” than they are in “taste”. And they have a hard time getting beyond a lapse in “tenderness”, no matter how tasty your super special secret rub and sauce may be! Great sauce on tough meat seems like putting lipstick on a pig–a diversion that is usually fairly pointless!

    We spent the last six months dialing in how to consistently render a brisket so that slices from the flat drape over our finger and the burnt ends are soft as marshmallows while having no visible fat–not an easy feat–and for the most part, leaving the flavor profile alone (sticking with the flavor rule of “offend no one”). Now, even with variation in the raw meat (marbling, weight, and thickness) from brisket to brisket, we seem to consistently nail tenderness. The result? We’ve shifted our mean brisket score up by 4 points and reduced the spread from +/- 11 pts to +/- 6 pts, meaning, we’re more competitive and more predictable. The journey isn’t done, but we’re on the right path for more calls and more cash!

  4. From the Judges Table

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    What’s in the Box??

    Image of Brad Pitt from the movie Se7en with words, What's in the Box."By Bill Jones, MABA Board Member and KCBS Master Judge, Table Captain, & Life Member

    In the movie, Se7en, you already know what’s in the box, (Spoiler Alert) “her pretty head”. If in a KCBS clamshell for turn in, a totally different set of items and thankfully so. As a judge we anxiously await each and every box to see what’s inside.

    I recently attended the National BBQ Conference in Jacksonville FL. If you ever get a chance to attend one I highly recommend it. Some of the greats of BBQ come and share their passion from marketing sauces, to competing, to selling product, to running a catering business or restaurant. One of the several classes I took this year was titled “Inside the Minds of Competition Cooks and Judges”. Since my wife will sometime ask the same thing – “what were you thinking,” I figured I would attend and maybe see if they could tell me.

    The panel was made up of a few names you may be familiar with – Tuffy Stone, Myron Mixon, Jim Elser, Chris Lilly, Carolyn Wells, and Will Cleaver.

    What I wanted to share with you was a couple of the topics that came up in hopes this may help some of you with your turn-in boxes. If it does, checks can be sent to my home address.

    Sauce. The issue of over saucing meats and presenting sweet on meats was discussed heavily. Cherry flavored brisket is not the way to go. Chicken that is so thick and gooey one needs to take a knife and scrape off the excess before tasting to see even what kind of meat it is. Ribs like candy bars. Pork so sweet dentists are opening offices just for the judges to visit for a cleaning after contests. The entire panel pushed for teams to get back to BBQ. As Tuffy said – “a LITTLE heat and a LITTLE sweet go a long way in limited amounts.”

    Areas of the country. Those that travel know they need to sometimes adjust what they serve in the boxes. Knowing ahead of time what regions of the country look for in taste is crucial to scoring well. However, you must practice that and know what the changes do to your entries. Jim Elser commented on how he changes when he goes to Kansas versus Florida or Arizona. Hard to fault him with that when he has won 7 GCs already this year alone.

    But the best box commentary was this one…one team asked Myron a direct question regarding their burnt ends and they were not scoring well when they included them. After a few back and forth comments and questions with that team and Myron, it became clear that the team had turned in boxes WITHOUT burnt ends and had actually scored higher in those comps. But when they did turn in burnt ends their scores dropped. Now maybe you may see where this is going – that team sure did not. They continued to ask what did they need to do. Myron finally got their attention when he said. “G _ D _ n son, your burnt ends suck, stop putting them in the box”. The whole room erupted. We all know what needed to be done. But that team just did not see it the same way. The old definition of insanity comes to mind – doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.

    As a KCBS Master Judge, I have seen all sorts of things. I have had boxes where I wish the team had only put one item in as that cut were 9s all day long. But they went the extra step and put something else in that just was not good. This past weekend I had two identical brisket entrees – slices and their rendition of burnt ends. Slices would have received 9 and 9 for taste and tenderness. Burnt ends…let’s just say one was a 2 as I had to spit it out (as did two other judges) and the other was a 3 as I was able to get it down. And somehow it stayed down. KCBS does not direct us how to adjust our scores in these cases. So it is left to the judges to mark as they see fit. Those two teams had no chance at Brisket with the scores I gave them, as did my table mates. Had they only given us slices, they might have won, or at least gotten a call.

    And yes, I am well aware of the preconception of judges who expect certain items in the boxes. I will admit there are such judges out there. I will apologize to each of you now for those few judges. In talking with the judges at my tables, I find the overwhelming majority are not those type of judges. So you maybe want to consider only putting your best in the box and letting the chips fall where they may. Because I believe a bad judge who is looking for certain items to be in the box, even if you put what he or she may want to see in the box, is going to kill you on score if it’s not good.

    Good luck to each of you and I hope this will be of some help.