Tag Archive: Mike Fay

  1. The Road Warrior: Lessons from the Edge

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    By Mike Fay, Pitmaster of Aporkalypse Now

    More and more competition teams are moving into trailers and, as with anything changing from one style to another, closes one set of problems and opens up another. We have been traveling with the trailer for the last three years and over that span we have come to rely on a number of trailer-specific products. Here are reviews of two that we have found very useful (we are not, have not, never have been, or will be associated with these particular manufacturers).

    TPMS (Tire Pressure Management System)

    A tire pressure management system monitors the pressure and temperature in your tires. Sounds simple, right? In truth, it really is. While there are a number of systems on the market, the system that we have been using for the last three years is manufactured by Truck Systems Technologies. Not only does it monitor pressure but it also monitors temperature via sensors that screw under the valve stems and report to a small radio remote unit on your dash. This system monitors your tire pressure and temperature in real time and alerts you to over/under pressure or temperature situations before they become critical. A trailer TPMS allows you the time to pull over and stop in the case of the deflating tire before it gets to the point of shredding and ruining the second tire on the side. After using the system for three years and being alerted for things from leaky valve stems to nails in tires it has always alerted us before the situation became critical. A TPMS system costs less than the price of two tires. That’s pretty inexpensive when you’re sitting on the side of the road with a double blow out watching traffic go by at 90 miles an hour. TPMS is worth it in piece of mind if nothing else.

    Here Is a more detailed description of how the system works from the TST website:

    A sensor screws onto the existing valve stem of each tire monitored while the receiver remains within your view in your vehicle. Each sensor has its own individual code that is easily entered into the monitor. This way, the monitor will only recognize and report data from your sensors and no other vehicle’s system. The monitor then highlights a tire and reports tire temperature and pressure. It will rotate around the electronic diagram on the screen and it will report temperature and pressure of each tire monitored approximately every two minutes. The system will immediately focus and report data and alarms will sound and icons will flash on the screen in the event of gradual tire deflation, rapid tire deflation, or elevated tire temperature. The sensors transmit tire pressure and tire temperature to the monitor every two minutes unless a gradual tire deflation, rapid tire deflation, or elevated tire temperature event is encountered. In such a circumstance, the reporting is continuous until tire pressure or tire temperature returns to a normal range. The system reports in PSI, KPa, Fahrenheit, or Celsius at the discretion of the system owner. The system is accurate to 0.73+/- PSI. The sensor operating range of temperature is -40 through 257 degrees Fahrenheit or -40 through 125 degrees centigrade.  Our sensors are operational in heavy rains, snow, high humidity, and wet or icy road conditions. The monitor can adhere to a dashboard AC vent using the bracket provided or you can adhere the monitor to your dash board using Velcro to hold it in place. Most users prefer to Velcro the monitor in place. Also, the 507 system includes a specially designed, windshield-mountable, suction-cup mounting bracket.

    SYGIC Truck navigation app

    As those of us with trailers know, the common GPS apps available for our phones such as Waze, Google maps, Apple maps, Garmin, etc., are all geared for four-wheel passenger vehicles. Many roads, parkways etc. in our travels with trailers are unavailable to us. There is nothing worse than being on a road heading for a competition or catering gig and seeing a sign for a 9’6” bridge clearance ahead with your 10’5” trailer in tow. While there are a number of stand-alone GPS units available for RVs and trucks, most of these run in the $300 to $400 range. As of this year, Sygic has released an app for Android and iPhone that accommodates both RVs and trucks.

    The app has all the features of the more popular navigation apps with the exception that you can toggle between truck, RV, and car. One of the nice features of the app is that it can be run offline as the maps for any particular State are downloaded as needed so you are not constantly chewing up data. The downside is, of course, it takes up a lot of space on your phone or tablet but since space is cheap it’s not a bad trade-off. Not only do you get real-time navigation but real-time traffic is also available as it’s powered by the Tom-Tom system.

    To get started you download the app and then set the parameters for your truck and trailer: weight, number of axles, total length and height. The app will then navigate you based on those parameters, avoiding roads incompatible with your configuration. The nice thing about this app versus a standalone RV GPS unit is that you can toggle between having a trailer and not having a trailer.

    We have used the app to navigate us up in New England and down through the eastern seaboard and so far, we haven’t ended up anywhere we shouldn’t be. The app does have its quirks; it’s obvious the voice system was not designed with English as its first language so you may find some of the grammar and pronunciations different. We have experienced a few crashes where the app has simply gone away but re-initializing it brought us right back on track.

    If you drive a trailer or an RV and don’t want to spend the money for a dedicated GPS unit, this app is not a bad alternative.

  2. Knifeworks 101

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    This is the first in a multi-part series on knife education by Mike Fay, MABA Past President and Pitmaster for Aporkalypse Now.

    Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 2.15.40 PMThe cook’s knife.  No tool is as simple yet so complex. When you boil it down it’s nothing more than a shaped sheet of material with a handle that has had an edge put on it. From there we have evolved into an almost infinite combination of blade and handle shapes, materials and edge types yet it always comes back to two things; comfort and sharpness. We’ll explore blade and handle type in a future article but for this article we’ll explore the question I get asked the most. “What’s the difference between honing and sharpening?”

    To answer this we need to understand what makes a knife sharp. A knife blade is a piece of material (in this article we’re using steel) that has been ground to a point on its edge; usually at a specific angle based on the type of steel used and the manufacturer’s preference.

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    Looking at an illustration of the very tip of the blade (the cutting edge) shows that edges are usually expressed in degrees from center for half the blade (one edge), in this example this blade has an 18 degree edge.

    While the edge of a knife looks like a smooth surface, it’s really a series of microscopic teeth very similar to a saw. The size of these teeth is governed by many factors: the type and hardness of steel and the amount of polish on the edge. Softer steels have larger teeth while harder (and more brittle) steels have smaller teeth.

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    Remember that these teeth are very small and exist on the very tip of the edge as seen in the illustration above.

    When we cut with a knife those small teeth bend, flex and roll off to one side. The result of this is the blade becomes less sharp (notice I didn’t say dull) with usage.

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    This condition is easily restored by the honing or “steeling” process. This involves gently dragging the edge of the blade against a smooth, hard surface, usually a round butcher’s steel; A smooth, hard rod with a handle. You can easily make on out of a piece of $2 3/8” drill rod and a file handle. Gently (GENTLY) swipe the edge of the knife along the steel as if you were trying to cut a thin slice out of it. Repeat on the other side then alternate each side 6 or seven times to restore the teeth to their upright position. You should do this before you use your knife every time you use it. Remember it’s a gentle light pressure.

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    Much like knives there is a plethora of stick hones and steels on the market. The best choice is the one that will remove the least amount of metal (those small teeth) from your edge. As referenced earlier, a smooth round steel rod is the best choice. Many steels that come with knife sets or that you purchase have grooves pressed or cut into them. Avoid these. The grooves catch the teeth and tear them off, resulting in your knife becoming dull much quicker and requiring true sharpening.

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    So what’s the difference between honing and sharpening? Honing is the process of realigning the teeth on the edge of the blade while sharpening is removing metal from the blade thus creating new teeth.

    So how do we keep our knives in the best shape over the longest period of time? I typically only sharpen my knives (on a stone) 2 maybe 3 times a year. In between I prefer a hard ceramic honing rod. It   gives you the best of both worlds. It realigns the existing teeth and over time will remove just enough metal to keep all the teeth on the blade.

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    This is the MAC black ceramic hone and to me it’s the best hone on the market.

    I’m not a big fan of the oval diamond style hones; I think they remove too much metal.

    Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 10.31.37 PM

    One of the best sharpening / honing tools for the casual cook is the pull through sharpener. It’s a series of coarse to fine ceramic rods preset at the factory angle. This is one of those tools where you should purchase the pull through from the same manufacturer of your knives. Different manufacturers set different edge angles and using the matching pull through sharpener will give you the best service with the least amount of work.

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    To use simply pull the blade through the fine groove sharpener 5 or six times using light pressure. If this won’t restore your edge, make a few passes through the coarse groove followed by a few with the fine.

    This covers the basics of edge geometry and basic blade maintenance. In the next installment we’ll discuss tool selection, steel types and blade and handle shapes. Happy cutting!

  3. 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.

  4. 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!
  5. Contest Review, BBQ Jamboree – Fredericksburg, VA

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    By Brian Walrath, MABA Secretary and Pitmaster for Brown Liquor BBQ

    Fredericksburg has quickly grown into one of the marquee events on the east coast for KCBS competition barbecue.  Contest organizers, James Sharon and Jeremy Bullock do a great job for the teams and have grown this event every year since their first in 2010.  This year would again be the most teams for this event as 72 top notch teams would battle it out for the $12,500 purse!  And, this event is the official MABA state cup for the state of Virginia – extra incentive for teams from the Commonwealth!

    The weather forecasts for Friday and Saturday were to be laced with periods of thunderstorms and some rain.  Friday afternoon was mostly a beautiful day with mild temps, but the storm we were promised by weather forecasters came to fruition and about 2pm or so, we were hit with a big thunderstorm and a good soaking of rain for about a half hour.  Teams dried out from the rain blast and settled in.

    image of Luke Darnell in his president's jacket
    MABA “El Presidente” Luke Darnell, Pitmaster of Old Virginia Smoke!

    The cooks meeting went as most do, but this one would be interrupted by a special presentation.  Jerry and Roxanne from Redneck Scientific presented newly minted MABA President Luke Darnell with the new president’s jacket and sash bearing the title, “El Presidente.”  Thanks to previous President Mike Fay, for several years of service building and running MABA into the great organization it is today!

    Speaking of Mike Fay, he spearheaded a couple of noteworthy events and cooking challenges.  The “Cheesy Beer Challenge” was first – teams wanting to participate, brought a case of inexpensive, or “cheesy” beer (under $20) and the winner of the chicken category would be awarded all the beer!  Second was the Whiskey-A-Go-Go – this would be for the highest brisket entry and entry into that was a bottle of good whiskey.  Congratulations to Aporkalypse Now for winning all the beer and to 270 Smokers for winning all the whiskey!  One last thanks to Mike for also organizing a MABA potluck dinner after the cook’s meeting.  Many delicious offerings were brought and shared and the group had a nice time eating and drinking together!

    One last thunderstorm after turn-ins and before awards would pass through and wreak havoc on teams who didn’t quite finish their packing.  Awards came and saw 3 Eyz BBQ taking the grand champion position, congrats to Dan and Rick for a great cook.  Don and Sandy Wallace from Life is Good But BBQ is Better would land their best finish to date with an impressive reserve grand champion AND the Virginia State Cup…way to go everyone who heard their name on this day in a deep and tough field!

    GC winners 3 Eyz BBQ and RGC winners Life is Good But BBQ is Better!
    GC winners 3 Eyz BBQ and RGC winners Life is Good But BBQ is Better!

    First place winners:
    Chicken – 3 Eyz BBQ
    Ribs – 270 Smokers
    Pork – Life is Good But BBQ is Better
    Brisket – 3 Eyz BBQ

    Grand Champion – 3 Eyz BBQ
    Reserve Grand Champion – Life is Good But BBQ is Better

    Check out the full competition results here.