Welcome to Barbeque Nation!!

If you are into mouth-watering, "low and slow" BBQ - well, you have come to the right place! Regardless of whether you are a "newbie" simply wanting to know how/where to get started - or a "backyard champ" wanting to improve your skills - or a "pro" competing out there on the BBQ circuit - Barbeque Nation has something just for you...

We go about things just a little bit differently around here. There's no "forum" - therefore, no "bull-loney" to have to wade through... Barbeque Nation is all about "news you can use" - useful information/tips/comments to help make your barbecue experience a much better one. Our mission is to spread the "good news about Que" out to people at all levels of experience and interest!

We also feel we have assembled a wonderful "staff" of guest writers that will help bring a wealth of knowledge and insight regarding BBQ. You just never know who may show up here "at our table" from time to time!

So - pull up a chair, put another log in the firebox - and spend a little time with us as we share some smoke together...


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Pit Masters of the Universe - "Gator Boy"

We are proud to introduce a new segment here at Barbecue Nation entitled "Pit Masters of the Universe". From time to time, we will be interviewing a top pit master and/or competition BBQ team from around the country. We hope our readers will find these interviews insightful, entertaining, and beneficial to their own Queing.

To kick-off this new series, we are happy and honored to have one of the top BBQ teams in the US to join us for our initial interview. Rob "Rub" Bagby & Swamp Boys have been one of THE hottest teams out there on the competition circuit for the past couple of years now. Rob began barbecuing back in 1979 when he was only 17, hosting a party known as "Rob's Backyard BBQ".

Rob was invited to "hang out" with a competition BBQ team in 2003 - and well, the rest has been history. He formed his own team - Swamp Boys - in 2004, finished 4th in the Florida Barbecue Association (FBA) in 2006, 2nd in the FBA in 2007 - and in 2008, Swamp Boys took the FBA Team Of The Year top honors!! Talk about a hot rocket!! As of this writing, Rob's team is also currently ranked #1 by National BBQ Rankings and #2 by The Pickled Pig.

Rob cooks exclusively on Stump's smokers, and is also an authorized Stump's dealer.

So, without further ado, let's give a warm welcome to Rob Bagby!!:

Hoochie: Hey, Rob!! Thanks for stopping by Barbeque Nation!!

Rob: No problem... Thanks for inviting me!

Hoochie: Tell us a little about yourself… How did you get interested in BBQ?

Rob: I have been married 13 years, have a step daughter at the University of Florida, and a 9 year old daughter. I am a 20 year special education junior/senior high school teacher. I used to have a “Rob’s Backyard Barbecue” party every year with my friends, starting when I was 17, and we’d cook pork butts, roast corn, and steamed oysters. At my work, we had an annual fundraiser that was selling chicken quarter dinners. I inherited the duties and changed it over to selling pulled pork by the pound - aka Pork-Fest.

Hoochie: How long have you been professionally competing? And are you as passio
nate about competing as you were when you began?

Rob: I have been professionally competing in sanctioned contests since July of 2004. I think I am even more passionate about competing now than I was then.

Hoochie: That is great - I think!!... Of course, that means you probably won't be giving other teams a very good opportunity of taking your place as #1 anytime soon, either!! Tell us a little bit about your team...

Rob: As far as the competition side of it goes, I am it. I have learned since I have started competing that I am a control freak, so I go solo and I really enjoy it that way. But there is another side to my team, and that is when I am cooking close to home with th
e option of vending available. At those contests I am joined by my wife Amy, our friends Robin and Tammy, and Tammy's boyfriend Woody. These guys work great together, and can feed large crowds of people lots of barbecue, making money to help pay for Swamp Boys expenses and entries. And the best thing is they work dirt cheap! I love these guys!

Hoochie: Well, you better be lovin' them, Rob - because I figure they are probably selling a LOT of your barbecue in light of all of your recent awards!! Tell us - what is the most important thing you've learned since you began competing?

Rob: If you want to have a chance to enjoy success, learn to ride the middle of the road in taste.

Hoochie: Okay - so what is the worst piece of advice you received as a new/ young competitor?

Rob: I’d say when someone said “Cook it the way you like it to taste – you’ll be eating most of it anyway.” And that’s fine if you’re just there for the fun and the friendship. But if you compete for a chance to try to win, you need to forget about what you want - and concentrate on pleasing six strangers.

Hoochie: Easier said than done, Rob... But having been out on the competition trail 3 years now, I would certainly have to agree... In your opinion, what is the biggest mistake that a new/young competitor can make?

Rob: Trying to time the food
coming off the smoker too close to turn in time. A Cambro or a cooler is your friend.

Hoochie: Been there and done that one, too, Rob... It makes life pretty darn hectic around turn-in time for certain!! Tell us - you have done quite well especially over the past 2 years... And I know with your hectic work and personal life, it must be tough at times to hit the competition trail week end and week out... What drives you to compete?

Rob: I have learned that I have a very competitive side to me that I didn’t know about before barbecue contests. I get a rush out of it and at the same time enjoy the camaraderie and friendships I’ve been able to develop.

Hoochie: What is
your most challenging meat category to cook & why?

Rob: Probably chicken. It seems to have a relatively small window of excellence and is pretty easy for me to screw up. The fact that so many teams are great chicken cooks from the beginning makes the challenge even greater for me.

Hoochie: Tell us a little about FBA and their comps – how do they differ from KCBS comps?

Rob: There are three obvious differences in the rules: One hour between turn-ins instead of thirty minutes; minimum of 8 pieces in the box instead of 6; and no garnish allowed – it’s a barbecue contest! Those are the most notable differences, but there are less obvious differences too. Generally speaking, in my experiences, the FBA contests seem to be a little more sociable. We most always have teams that step up and host open community suppers on Friday nights, as well as fanta
stic community breakfasts Saturday morning. Everyone from the old timers to the first timers are encouraged to attend. We’re a friendly bunch!

Hoochie: That is really great, Rob... Sounds like a tight and great group of folks.... What do you think of the recent trend of candy sweet sauces that the judges seem to prefer?

Rob: I hear complaints about that, and it’s usually coming from judges themselves! Some are getting tired of the barbecue candy they end up judging. I’m sure it’s just part of a cycle, and the scores will eventually push taste more to the middle. Refer back to my response regarding "worst advice"...

Hoochie: Okay, Rob... Time for "Toss Us A Bone"... Throw us a rub/sauce/cooking technique “tip” that might help
our readers take their Que to the next level…

Rob: Take your time selecting the best meats you can. You have a much better chance of producing a great finished product if you start with great meat. Befriend your local butcher, build a relationship, and see what they can offer you. It doesn’t need to be financial; it can be as simple as special treatment. In my case, I don’t get any fantastic discounts from them, but I do get the pick of their inventory while searching for the best cuts. I’d much rather have that privilege than an extra twenty-five cents a pound off the sticker price.

Hoochie: It is funny you mention that... I just finished a class with Johnny Trigg and Rod Gray down in Austin a couple of weeks ago... And they spent time on this very subject as well... So it is obviously something you "top dogs" feel is quite important when competing... Thanks!!!

Okay - I have taken a lot of your time, Rob... And we can't thank you enough for spending some time with us... One last question... You and I both smoke on a Stumps... And as noted at the start of this interview, you are also a Stumps dealer... But putting all "special interests" aside, tell us - why do your prefer a Stumps over other types of smokers (stick-burners, pellet poopers, etc)?

Rob: I used to cook on a Lang-style stick burner that I made and I enjoyed it a lot. But the staying up all night part got real old after a year or so. I have also cooked on WSMs, Backwoods, and pellet burners. In my opinion, BY FAR the easiest, most consistent, best tasting food comes out of my Stumps. It doesn’t require special fuel, electricity, or constant supervision. There is nothing to break. It holds a steadier temperature than most home ovens. And did I mention it’s easy to use? I can load the chute with briquettes, tune in the temp to 240*, and 14+ hours later it will still be holding at 240*. So really, why wouldn’t one prefer a Stumps? ☺

Hoochie: No argument here, Rob!! I love my Stumps, too... Rob, our many thanks for "stopping by" and spending a little time with us here at Barbeque Nation. We wish you the very best going forward the remainder of this year. Come out West and cook with us one day!!

Rob: Glad to "stop by"... And good luck to all of you as well!!

(My many thanks to Patio Daddio for his help with the interview questions! - Hoochie)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!!

I am here in Las Vegas for the next 3 days taking a dental laser class... Trying to learn how to BBQ gum tissues... Okay - not really... At least, not the part about BBQing of gum tissues... But I really am here for a laser class... Anyway - it just so happens that the resort I am staying out (the Red Rock Resort) is where The Salt Lick is located here in Las Vegas. As many times as I have been to Austin, I have never taken the short drive over to Driftwood to eat at the famous Salt Lick there. So I am thinking, "What the heck - let's give her a whirl..."

Now - before I get to going here, you need to know up front I am not a big fan of most BBQ restaurants. Haven't been in a long time, simply because what I cook at home generally beats the punch out of most restaurant BBQ. No slam against BBQ restaurants, mind you. The owners of most Que joints will tell you they generally can't/don't sell "competition grade" BBQ in their restaurants. It simply is too costly and/or too labor intensive to do it at a price the public will pay. I also have rarely found a "sister" restaurant to ever be as good as the "original". And to make it "Strike 3!!", I got into Las Vegas late, and was the last patron The Salt Lick seated tonight... So I am pondering as I am being seated, "What are you thinking, Hoochie?!! Here you are at a BBQ restaurant (which is something I generally avoid) - and it is a "sister" restaurant (strike two) - and you are getting ready to order some Que that was most likely smoked many, many HOURS ago?? ! You should be OUT of here, Hoochie!!"

But I stayed... Ordered some pork ribs... Simply hoping they might be better than a vending machine candy bar or a slice of pizza at the airport...

Was I ever shocked!! The ribs I ate tonight were as good - if not better - than any competition ribs I have ever eaten!! Hands down!! They had a mild but distinctive rub on them, were cooked over oak (I asked the waitress), and were ever so lightly brushed with a sauce The Salt Lick is famous for - some sort of mustard and vinegar sauce with a little "kick" in it... They had great color, and despite the fact it was late, they were very moist and the meat pulled off the bone perfectly - and I mean perfectly. I thought I had died and gone to heaven!! The cole slaw and potato salad? Well, they were less than memorable, as is often the case. But these ribs? Mmmmmm mmmmmm good!

Now - maybe I just got "lucky" tonight... I mean, after all, I AM in Las Vegas... Or maybe the ribs I ate tonight were originally destined for the chef/"pit master" at the end of his/her shift... Whatever the case, I hit a "winner" tonight, and will most definitely go back there before I leave on Saturday evening. If you happen to come to Vegas, you definitely want to make the trip out here (about 20 minutes off the strip) if you happen to get the hankering for some good ribs. You definitely won't be disappointed :)


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Que School - "Low & Slow"

In the world of BBQ, you will often hear the term "low and slow". This refers to the cooking of meats at a low temperature ( a pit temperature of 225-250 degrees F) and slowly (over a longer period of time.)

Okay, Hoochie - what exactly are we accomplishing here by cooking "low and slow"? Other than creating an excuse to sit around outside and maybe enjoy a brewski or two - or maybe three? Well - glad you asked!!

When we barbeque, we are generally are dealing with cuts of meat (brisket, ribs, pork butt) that are rather "tough". Historically speaking, these were the cuts of meat the wealthy turned up their noses at - and since the poor were generally the ones buying these "undesirable" cuts of meat, they figured out a way to turn it into a delicacy via "low & slow".

Meat is composed primarily of protein muscle fibers held together by strands of collagen and fat tissue. Beginning at an internal meat temperature (not to be confused with the pit temperature) of around 140 degrees F - and plateauing around 160 degrees F - we will begin to see these collagen stands begin to "unwind" and turn into a "gelatin", the fat will begin to "melt", and the muscle fibers will begin to "relax" and the juices "absorbed" instead of being "squeezed out". When done the proper way, these "reactions" when working in harmony produce a very tender and moist piece of meat.

We can achieve this internal temperature - and various degrees of the desired "reactions" mentioned above - either quickly or slowly. Care to guess which way will yield the better quality "reactions"???

The process of collagen turning into a "gelatin" is a slow process. It does not happen instantly when the internal meat temperature hits 140 F - it takes time. The longer you allow the meat to travel through an internal temp of 140-160 degrees F, the more collagen will turn into a "gelatin". The same holds true with the fat "melting" - we get more of that process when we are "low & slow".

And when we are "low and slow", the protein muscle fibers slowly "relax" and the juices are "absorbed" rather than "squeezed out". Cooking barbecue in this fashion results in tender, succulent meats.

If you are experienced at cooking barbecue, you know about the "barbecue plateau" where your meat tends to get stuck at a certain temperature (around 165 deg F) and stay there. An experienced pit master knows this is when all the "good stuff" is happening... your collagen strands are unwinding, your fat is melting, and your muscle proteins are slowly relaxing instead of seizing up.

So... the "barbecue plateau" is a good thing. When your internal meat temperatures start to rise after the plateau, you need to start checking for doneness because any further cooking will tend to dry your meat out.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Photos from Austin / NBBQA

Monday, February 23, 2009

What a Trip & Class!...

The "Old School vs High Tech" class with Rod Gray & Johnny Trigg was a great one and well worth the time/money IMHO. There were 24 folks in attendance, the class took 13 hours (from 7 AM until 8 PM on Sat), and I came home 26 legal pages full of notes - so it will take me a few days to get my things compiled!

It was like "BBQ Disneyland" at this meeting! Besides meeting and working with Rod Gray and Johnny Trigg, I met Paul Kirk, Mike Mills, and sat next to Lea Ann Whitten at the NBBQA banquet on Friday night. Well, Ed actually sat next to her... I got to "tag along"... And yes, she is every bit as pretty as she is in print or on TV!!. I also saw "Fast Eddy" Mauren, and I had the opportunity to visit with "old friends" Bill & Barbara Milroy (Texas Rib Rangers). I also saw some "sweet" pits - including a brand new candy apple red Jamie Geer pit that "Checkered Pig" (who won last year's RNR in SLC) had come down to Texas to pick up. I truly felt like a "greenhorn" in that crowd - but they were all very nice and "welcoming", even to a novice like me.

The class definitely was not a disappointment. It was wonderful to see different approaches to cooking championship BBQ - and not just from 1 but 2 of the top teams in the US! Much to my surprise, they "showed all/discussed all" - meat selection, prep, the "secret" rubs and sauces, cooking techniques, turn-in boxes, etc. Very few stones were left unturned - and no questions were left unanswered. The class had some pretty decent "heavy hitters" in attendance, too.

We had an actual classroom with a big mirror right over the "work table" so we could see everything (and/or we could walk up and watch from right next to them), and the pits were just right outside the door. So, we were constantly moving back & forth between a classroom setting and the pits themselves. It was "non-stop bop" beginning promptly at 7 AM, we "worked" right through lunch, and wrapped up Q&A at a little after 8 PM. It was a "solid" 13 hours of learning/watching. Ed Roith & I had planned to venture down to the famous/infamous "6th Street" in Austin Saturday night after the class - but I was "brain mush" by that evening and decided not to go (maybe I am just getting old!)

The Que? Well - trust me, there is a reason these 2 teams do as well as they do! Beautiful food, solid presentations - and dang it, it tasted darn great, too!! Overall, I slightly preferred Johnny's BBQ to Rod's - but not by much! Trust me, Rod showed me a "pellet pooper" can certainly compete with the best of stick burners (although it "came out" that Rod also has a Jamie Geer pit, too!)

I will be posting more from the class in a few days.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Off to Austin!!

Well, I am off to Austin, TX., tomorrow (Fri, 2/20) to attend in part the National BBQ Association meeting - and take a competition BBQ class taught by Rod Gray ("Pellet Envy") and Johnny Trigg ("Smokin' Triggers")... Talk about being "stoked!!" I am also looking forward to spending some time with my good friend / Master Judge / KCBS representative Ed Roith (Ed, among other things, has helped oversee the judging at Rock N Ribs for the past 3 years...)

Although I have been aware of the NBBQA for many years, I have to admit I really don't know much about them... And I am only going to get to be there for about 1 1/2 days of the meeting this time around... But after looking over the speakers and events for their annual meeting this year, I definitely want to come back next year to attend a whole lot more of the meeting...

Paul Kirk, Mike Mills, Mike Davis, Lee Ann Whippen, Woody Wood, Eddy Maurin are just a few of the speakers who were at the meeting this year - along with Rod and Johnny, of course! Talk about an "all-star" cast!! And classes on everything from creating a distinctive rub to leveraging your competition success to opening a BBQ restaurant to bottling/marketing your rub or sauce to selecting a competition pit to judging classes - and more!! And if that isn't enough to wet your appetite, they also conduct an all day "tour" early in the week of many of the historic Texas Hill Country BBQ "Shrines" in the Austin area, where you get to tour the kitchens, talk with the owners, and taste samples.

This sounds like the "Super Bowl" of BBQ - or "BBQ Heaven" - to me!!!

Entitled "Old School vs High Tech", the class I am taking features 2 of competition BBQ's best... Johnny Trigg of Smokin' Triggers has cooked almost 600 events and has over 60 Grand Championships and countless category wins. With Alvarado, Texas as his home base, Johnny has logged hundreds of thousands of miles competing, visiting most of the U.S. states, and even competing in Europe. Johnny was awarded the Kansas City Barbeque Society Team of the Year in 2003, has been runner-up twice and has been a KCBS category Team of the Year many times. With victories in 2000 and 2003, Johnny is the only competitor to win the Jack Daniel's World Invitational twice.

Rod Gray has competed in over 200 events all across the country in the last eight years. In that time, Pellet Envy has won forty-five championships and has ended seven straight seasons as a top nationally ranked team. Rod has been invited to the Jack Daniel’s World Invitational five times in his short career. With only nine perfect scores awarded in the last two year, Pellet Envy received three of them and ended the 2007 season as the best rib cooks in the country. Pellet Envy gathered eight Grand Champions and fifteen category wins in 2008 alone, ending the season with more wins than any other team in America.

I have to be quite honest, I truly feel a little in "awe" of being in the presence of these guys. At the same time, though, having met Johnny last year at "Grill on the Hill" up at Snowbird, I also know he is a very cordial, friendly, and "down to earth" guy - and I expect Rod will most likely be the same.

I look forward to "reporting back" next week about my trip, along with photos of my adventure! As I said - talk about being "stoked"!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

QUE TIPS - What's Your Boiling Point?

In 3rd grade science class, we learned that water boils at 212 degrees F - right?? Well, yes - provided you live at sea level. The elevation that you live/cook at - and the barometric pressure on any given day - can have a significant effect on the temperature at which water boils.

Now - you are probably wondering what all this has to do with BBQ. Well, a good cook knows that the pit temperature, the internal temperature of the meat being cooked, and the "touch/feel" of the meat being cooked play an important role in turning out great Que. The "touch/feel" is pretty much subjective, and comes with time & experience... But we can be just a little more objective when it comes to temperature through the use of thermometers.

However, thermometers - especially those that sometimes come "standard" on many pits - can be rather inaccurate (20+ degrees or more). So how do you know if your thermometer is accurate/calibrated? Simply by seeing what it registers when measuring the temperature of boiling water!

However - at the beginning of this post, we mentioned that water boils at different temperatures depending on where we live. So how can you know at what temperature water should be boiling where you live on any given day?

The good folks at ThermoWorks (maker of the ThermaPen) have a web page for helping make this just a little easier. By going to this web page, and simply entering the elevation and the barometric pressure that day where you live, you can know the exact temperature at which water will boil. Then stick the stem of your thermometer into boiling water and see how the two compare!

Where do you get your local elevation above sea level or barometric pressure? Do a "Google search", enter the name of your town/city and state, along with the word "elevation" and hit "Enter". This should give you several entries that provide your local elevation. And/or if you are really into "high tech" and have either a GPS unit or a fancy mountaineering watch (Suunto, etc), you many times can derive your elevation that way as well. As to the barometric pressure, go to any weather web site, type in your town and state, and presto, you will find it listed along with the current temperature!

CLICK HERE to visit the ThermoWorks boiling point calculator.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ready, Set... Go!!

Welcome to Barbeque Nation! This is a project I have been mulling "off and on" for over a year now... And well - the time is now "better" to launch this effort...

Unlike a lot of BBQ "chat forums", we are a low-key "joint" that will stick primarily with BBQ news/tips/"factoids" that people interested in Que can use... Especially if you live here in the Rocky Mountain West... We will feature some special "guest interviews" from time to time, look at various smokers & "talk" with their manufacturers - and do some other "fun stuff", too...

There won't be articles each and every day, either... We aren't going to "fill space" just to "fill space"... But we do our best to offer up a "tasty morsel" to our readers at least once or twice a week... So keep us "on your radar" as you are out there surfing the web!

Recipes & cooking techniques? Maybe a few... But in all honesty, there are some really great sites for that - such as my good friend John Dawson's site, Patio Daddio BBQ... So we will generally leave that aspect of BBQ to the "real chefs"!! I'm hoping John (and some of you others who are not as "challenged" in the culinary arts as I am!) will "drop-in" from time to time as a "Guest Pit Boss" to share with us as well..

Again - welcome to Barbeque Nation... I hope you will enjoy it and find it useful/entertaining... We welcome your comments/opinions - and please feel free to drop us an "article" for review and possible publication!


QUE SCHOOL - So What Exactly is Barbeque??

One of my bigger "surprises" in moving to the Rocky Mountain West from Texas (where I was born and lived for 45+years) came after I moved to Utah 10 years ago and was invited by some new friends to a "barbeque" at one of their homes. You see, BBQ is as much a part of life and growing up in Texas as is football, a fast car, and/or having a crush on a pretty high school cheerleader. So needless to say, I was pretty darn excited as my mind was conjuring up visions of brisket and ribs and sausage coming fresh off a smoker. As I walked up to the front door, I could smell the sweet aroma of charcoal burning coming from the backyard - and my mouth began to water with anticipation of the feast I just knew surely awaited me as soon as someone answered my knock on the door...

So I am certain you can imagine my surprise that day when I discovered at my new friend's home that "barbeque" to some folks means hamburgers and hot dogs cooked on a grill!! I "casually" (and as inconspicuous as possible) searched high and low all over their house that day, looking for the brisket or ribs that I just knew had to be awaiting me somewhere. My Southern upbringing prevented me from asking my hosts where the "real" barbeque was - so I politely ate a dog or two (with a smile on my face, of course - my momma would have been so proud of me!!)

So - just in case anyone reading this blog is relatively new to barbeque, let's make certain from the "git-go" that we are all talking "pigs to pigs" here! In my book, they don't make real picante sauce in New York City - and "barbeque" sure ain't hot dogs and hamburgers cooked outdoors over a grill!! ( I know, I know - the proper spelling is actually barbecue - but I prefer the "Q" spelling...)

Not that I don't occasionally enjoy a hot dog or hamburger cooked over a grill, mind you. But for the purposes of this blog, "barbeque" will be basically defined as "a process whereby a large cut of tough meat is cooked by the smoke of a hardwood fire at low temperatures for a long period of time, with "doneness" determined by the meat's tenderness" (taken from the foreword by Chris Schlesinger for the book Smoke and Spice.) Please notice there is no reference made to cooking Que in a crockpot, or parboiling anything either!!

Now - there are "purists"/ "elitists" out there that feel this heat source for Que has to come solely from a hardwood fire. And I suppose that is fine. I, too, have owned a "stick burner" which cranked out some award-winning Que cooked over some seasoned wood. But being somewhat of a "renaissance man" myself, I feel that the heat source for BBQ can also come from charcoal (lump or briquettes) - and yes (gasp!), even gas!! And this meat can be cooked either indirectly or directly over that heat source (I am certain the founding fathers of the KCBS are probably rolling in their graves right now!) As long as the meat is cooked "low and slow" - and wood in some form/fashion (logs, chunks, chips, pellets, etc) is used for heat, smoke and flavor - well, I see no reason not to embrace all of my Que brothers and sisters, regardless of how they are going about their "art."

SO - if you are going to host a "barbeque", just be real careful what you are serving your guests. You never know when you might be inviting someone just like me - only to have them scouring your kitchen, looking all over the place for the REAL barbeque!!

And if you don't quite know how to go about that - well, just hang around here and we will be only too happy to get you started in the right direction!