Tag Archive: sauce

  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. 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.