Tag Archive: Stephanie West

  1. What Do You Do in the Off-Season?

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    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!!!

  2. MABA Bylaws – Summary of Updates

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    MABA Bylaws – Summary of Updates

    By Stephanie West, MABA Vice President

    If you’ve read the minutes of MABA Board meetings this year, you’ve likely been delighted to see barely a mention of regulatory or legal matters.  Once we got our house is order near the end of 2016, it enabled us to get back to business “Making MABA Fun Again”!  Indeed!

    It was a time of fairly intense examination for the Board as we aimed to understand how our organization had gone so far off the tracks from a compliance and accountability perspective; we needed to ensure we laid a stronger foundation for the future.  To this end, it was imperative to overhaul our Bylaws (clarify roles and responsibilities, delineate the authority of Directors, ensure adequate checks-and-balances were in place), and get our non-profit status reinstated with the IRS.  Bylaw changes required a two-thirds majority of the Board for approval (6 of 9 Board Members).

    Here’s a summary of key improvements adopted.

    Article II – Purpose, Objectives, Operation – Confirmed our organization is structured as a Social Club, consistent with Section 501(c)(7) of the Internal Revenue Code.  Officially added North Carolina to Area of Operation

    Article III – Membership –  Clarified the number of votes per class of membership, consistent with prior elections and dues structure.  We have 4 classes of Membership.

    Regular – 1 vote per person

    Family – Up to 2 votes per family (no more than 1 per person)

    Corresponding – Resides outside MABA region, does not have voting rights.

    Corporate – No more than 3 named individuals per Corporate membership, each of the 3 named members have voting rights

    Section 8 – Member termination for non-payment of dues –Added a grace period (i.e., no more than 30 days) for non-payment of dues.

    Section 13 – Member Voting.  Given our provisions and practice of electronic ballots, the provision for proxies was deleted.

    Section 17 –Member Inspection Rights.  Added provision that allows members to inspect the Financial Statements.

    Article V – Officers and Directors

    • Language cleaned-up to be consistent with Article VII – Committees

    Section 4 – Duties of Secretary – inserted guidance that minutes of the Board and membership meetings be published within 7 calendar days.  Added responsibility to publish an annual master calendar of key filing dates for the association (such as the IRS and PA State Corporation Commission filings).

    Section 5 – Duties of Treasurer – added responsibility for filing annual income tax return (i.e., 990-N or 990-EZ) with the IRS as well as any other required IRS notices.  Clarified requirement for minimum financial reports to include a Monthly Financial Report that conveys Revenue and Expenses of the association for the prior month and the current year to date, with a comparison to prior year and to budget.  (Requirement of an Annual Operating Budget was already in the Bylaws.)

    Section 7 – State Representatives – due to the geographic diversity of our Board and committees, we eliminated the requirement to have State Representatives.

    Section 11 – Board Meetings – Changed required frequency from “monthly” to “no less than 9 times per year”.  Inserted provision for the Board to call a restricted meeting, which is not open to the general membership.

    Article VI – Election of Officers and Directors

    Section 1Inserted provision “To facilitate a smooth transition of the Board from year-to-year, the continuing and newly elected Directors may be notified in confidence of the election results in advance of the annual meeting.  This enables a proper handoff of all Board documents and responsibilities no later than the Annual Meeting, aiming to optimize the effectiveness of the new team of Directors on “Day 1” of their responsibilities.”

    Section 2 – Standing Committees

    Sanctioning Committee – clarified language that MABA sanctioning is for contests not already sanctioned by KCBS, NEBS, or another sanctioning body.  Added provision that host is responsible for carrying liability insurance for the event and naming MABA as an additional insured on said policy if we are sanctioning the event.

    Finance Committee – Clarified responsibility for preparation and oversight of budgets, monthly financial statements, and annual IRS filings.

    Article VIII – Deeds & Contracts

    Section 1 – Instruments – Consistent with other sections of the Bylaws, clarified that a two-thirds majority vote of the Board is required before any Officer can obligate the Association to a contract, deed, etc.

    Section 2 – Drafts – Reduced threshold for petty cash from $500 to $250.  Added requirement to confirm whether requests for expenditures above $250 are in the operating budget, prior to bringing those items to the Board for approval.   Note, items above $2500 require advance approval by a majority vote of the Membership. 

    Please email the MABA Board at maba@mabbqa.com for a complete copy of the bylaws.

  3. Tip From the Pros – Brisket Knowledge with Travis Clark of Clark Crew BBQ

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

    In this month’s Tip From the Pros, Travis Clark of Clark Crew BBQ, 2015 KCBS Team of the Year and currently in first place in KCBS discusses the finer points of brisket…from the exact cut he cooks, to the method he prefers!

  4. Butts and Beans BBQ Challenge Newton, NC

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    By Stephanie West, “The Neck” Pitmaster of 270 SMOKERS

    This relatively new competition has quickly catapulted into the territory of “one of our favs”, largely due to the awesome enthusiasm and participation of the locals in this event.  Noel Kay is the organizer and as an experienced competitor, Noel really understands the needs of the teams.  The event is held at the fairground on flat, grassy spots that are a minimum of 30’x50′ (ours was close to 80′). Now that’s just downright dreamy.

    The comp is a fundraiser for the local emergency responders and included a full-on auction that consumed much of Friday evening.  (Bring some extra cash with you to Newton, as between the auction and raffles you will indeed discover a few items that you really NEED to buy, trust me on this!)  Saturday morning starts with Cook’s Church, followed by one of the best team breakfasts that we’ve ever had.  Thank you, Noel!
    Jerry and Roxanne of Redneck Scientific take GC again in Newton, NC!
    Jerry and Roxanne of Redneck Scientific take GC again in Newton, NC!
    GC:  Redneck Scientific
    RGC:  Smokin Skullies

    1st Chicken:  Redneck Scientific
    1st Ribs:  Foothills BBQ Company
    1st Pork:  Elite BBQ Smokers
    1st Brisket:  Smokin Skullies

    See complete results here.
  5. Hog Happenin’ – Lincolnton, NC

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

    As the 3rd event out of 7 in the Old North State Series, we ventured to Lincolnton, NC for Hog Happenin’ under the impression that the four-legged variety was the star of this small North Carolina town.  Indeed, there were hogs by the thousands…they’d taken over every street and byway, capturing the attention and awe of bystanders…but it was the wheeled variety that was being celebrated at this festival!  Biker nirvana, I’d say!

    Image from the festivalAnd did I mention it was HOT?  Lord, have mercy, it was hot and humid!!  97 in the shade, and we were oh so very thankful for that shade!  (It was so hot that we skipped our traditional “team meeting” shot and instead passed out popsicles to neighboring teams!)

    26 teams competed in Lincolnton, with most hailing from North Carolina.  And North Carolina prevailed!  MABA’s own Redneck Scientific crushed it, capturing their 3rd GC of the year with a 706.2400 – marking their entry into “The 700 Club”!!  Jerry and Roxanne swept 1st in Ribs with a 180, 1st in Brisket, 2nd in Pork, and 3rd in Chicken!!  RGC went to Checkered Pig with a 691.9200.  Team 270 Smokers took 1st in Chicken (their first 180 in Chicken), and Elite BBQ Smokers did the same in Pork.  Overall, it was a pretty large spread in team scores (from 560 to 706), with no “table of angels” or “table of death”.

    Cash and trophies were awarded to GC, RGC, and the top 3 in each category, framed certificates were given for 4th thru 6th.  Payouts to just the top 3 was a pretty controversial topic, and it’s something that you may want to think about if you’re considering this event on your schedule next year.  If you do go, enjoy the small town charm and all the biker bling you can imagine!

    Image of motorcycles parked




    First place winners:
    Chicken – 270 Smokers (with a perfect 180!)
    Ribs – Redneck Scientific (with a perfect 180!)
    Pork – Elite BBQ Smokers (with a perfect 180!)
    Brisket – Redneck Scientific

    Grand Champion – Redneck Scientific
    Reserve Grand Champion – Checkered Pig

    Check out the full competition results here.

  6. 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!