Friday, September 28, 2007

Battle Of The BBQ Brethren

After a long layoff, Q Haven will be returning to the competition circuit October 2o and 21, cooking at the "Battle of the BBQ Brethren" in Sayville, NY. This has been a long layoff, with our last event the Hudson Valley Ribfest in mid August. Since then, we have gotten some practice in, and I'm really starting to get the competition bug again.

After the Hudson Valley Ribfest, that bug was nowhere in sight.

This is our second year of competition BBQ. The first year, we only did five events. This year, we did five events in the span of eight weeks. This would have been fine, if I didn't have a full time, supervisory position with my company, and a part time bartending job. After the Hudson Valley Ribfest, I was burned out.

Burned out, and frustrated that I hadn't achieved the success that we did in 2006. We won our second ever competition, and went to the Jack Daniel's invitational. No wins in 2007.

Now that I have taken a few weeks off, it has given me a chance to really evaluate the season, and I have a very different view.

First, I looked at our overall finishes in the KCBS BBQ events: 7th in New Hampshire (34 teams), 4th in Lake Placid (36 teams), 7th at Harpoon (40ish teams) 6th in Maine (21 teams) and our only really bad finish, 22nd in New Paltz (57 teams). We dramatically improved our grilling program, almost taking reserve grand champions at Maine and getting numerous grilling calls. In fact, we got calls at every contest we attended. And I can't forget that we took reserve grand champions at the Winter Sizzler back in January.

Looking at everthing, it has been a pretty good year. We may not be going back to the Jack Daniel's this year, but I think we established that Q Haven is a competitive team that will be a fixture in the New England BBQ scene for the forseeable future.

With those positive vibes, we begin preparing for the Battle of the BBQ Brethren. The team list is growing, and I'm looking forward to seeing everyone there.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Big Bubba's BBQ Update

Last year I reviewed Big Bubba's BBQ at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, CT. Since then, they have made some changes to the menu. The menu is somewhat scaled back, but there are still tons of choices, both BBQ and otherwise. Overall, I stand by the previous review, as the BBQ choices have remained pretty much the same, and the good quality is still there.

The first noticable change is that the prices have gone up pretty much across the board. The menu has not been updated on line, so it does not reflect there yet. However, the two meat combos and the rib, brisket and pork platters that come with two sides are now $19.95. They were $16.95 on the old menu.

One positive addition is that of baby back ribs, which were not offered on the previous menu (but were available sometimes as specials). We've been to Bubba's three times since the new menu came out, and I've had the ribs twice. I give them a thumbs up. They do not remove the membrane from their ribs, but they are tender and smoky.

They have removed the Kentucky lamb from the menu too. I always told myself that I would try it, and never did. Some that I talked to really liked it.

I can also recommend the Bubbarita, which is a margarita the way it is supposed to be, served in a pint glass.

I still stand by my previous comments that Big Bubba's is the best Q I have found in Connecticut. Better than the Cookhouse in my opinion, although I know many disagree with me on that one. Maybe it's because I can actually see Mohegan Sun from our perch where we live overlooking Norwich Harbor.

I recommend that you try Big Bubba's if you are at the casino. Hitting a slot jackpot too will make the high prices a lot easier to stomach.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Spare Ribs

Ever since I started cooking BBQ, I have always used baby back, actually loin back ribs instead of spares. I have always preferred the backs. It probably goes back to my first experiences with ribs.

Some of you may remember a baseball player named Rusty Staub who used to play for the Mets. He wasn't just a pretty good hitter, he was also a gourmet chef. His specialty was "Canadian Baby Back Ribs." When I was in high school, I worked for my father in the summers in Manhattan. One of my favorite treats was when we would go up to Rusty's Restaurant on 3rd Avenue and 73rd Street. His ribs were true baby backs and fall off the bone tender, unlike any I had ever had in my life. While I have no idea how they were prepared, that was where I developed my initial love for BBQ ribs.
I wish he still had a place. However, he has been raising tons of money for the firefighters and police who died September 11th, 2001. He has raised over 100-million-dollars, which is awesome.

Now that I have been competing for a while, I have started learning more about spare ribs. They are the choice of many of the top scoring competition teams, so I have decided that I should try and start cooking them too.
I did cook them once before, a couple of years ago, with average results. This was before I started competing. Sunday was my first real spare rib cook.
I started with a two pack of spare ribs from BJ's.

I did my best to trim them down to St. Louis size. One of the racks I ended up trimming too muchand they were a lot smaller than the other. I rubbed both racks with my homemade competition rib rub.

Next, they went into the WSM for three and a half hours at 225 degrees with lump charcoal, a couple of large apple wood chunks and a big chunk of hickory.

Next, they went into foil for an hour and a half with apple juice and honey. Then, back into the smoke for another hour.

Sauced for the final 15 minutes, turned and basted a few times before I pulled them for slicing.

Here is the finished product.

Overall, I thought they came out pretty good. The tenderness was not quite there, might have needed a little more time in the foil. But they really held the smoke flavor, and had a nice smoke ring.

I didn't slice them very well either. I'll work on that for next time. Spares clearly would present a lot better in competition, but I have to say that for me personally, I still prefer the backs. But I will do a few more cooks before I decide whether to make the switch for competitions.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Deal of the Century

I've been looking for a new kettle grill to replace my Weber 22 inch silver for some time. I have really wanted a grill on wheels with the table attached to make it easier to load and unload from our trailer. The grill I have had my eye on for some time is the Weber performer, which comes with the table, ash can and propane charcoal starter. However, they ain't cheap, usually around $350.

Weber Performer

So, at the beginning of the summer, I noticed that BJ's had a Kingsford charcoal grill for sale for around 130 bucks. This grill was pretty similar to the Weber Performer, without the charcoal starter. However, I didn't think it was worth that much money, so I passed.

Slowly, as the summer wore on, I noticed that the price of the grill started to come down. First it went to $99, then $79. When I went at the end of August and saw it at $49, I decided that I would pick one up. However, I only had my small Volkswagen Jetta there that day, and figured I would grab one in a few days when I could come back with the truck.

So I went in last weekend, and it was down to $29! I immediately grabbed it. It took a while to put together, but once complete, I was really happy with the end result.

While it is nowhere near as nice as the Weber Performer, I think it will be a great grill for us to use at competitions in the future. It is heavy and seems durable. Still, it was only 29 bucks. Our other kettle will now stay on my patio for grilling competition practice.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

First Catering Job

A couple of months ago, I was contacted by a woman named Kristy who lives in Hamden, CT about whether we would consider catering a party for her with our BBQ. I have worked on site catering jobs as a waiter in years past, but have never actually catered myself. Since the party was only expected to be around 50-60 people, I decided to give it a go.
The menu was something I could easily do, as it was basically the four BBQ meats we cook at competitions, chicken, ribs, pulled pork and beef brisket. One stipulation was that there be plenty of food left over after the party. I made sure of that....

I've talked to a lot of different BBQ teams about how they handle catering jobs. Most seem to prefer cooking the party food well in advance, then reheating for the event. I decided for a few reasons not to go that route. For one, we all know that BBQ is at its best when it is fresh. I'm not sure if anything is better when it is frozen and reheated, and for our first job I wanted to put our best food out there. Also, we do not have a whole lot of freezer space to store frozen Q.

The plan was to cook the pork butts and brisket overnight Friday into Saturday, then hold in foil, pull, slice and serve at the party. The only problem was that I was scheduled to work my part time bartending job Friday night, and there was no getting out of it. It was the annual margarita night at the club, and all bartenders were required on deck.

So Friday, I had to drive from Norwich to Hartford for my regular job, leave early, drive back to Norwich, start the fires and get the meat on at home, then drive to Hamden to bartend. Sheila manned the pits like a champ during the evening hours, sending me frequent text message updates so I could monitor the temperatures.
The party was slated to start at 3:00 PM, and I wanted to before 11:00 AM to start cooking the ribs and chicken. I got there at around 10:45 and got things started. Even though I have never cooked a BBQ catering job, I have done parties before for friends and family. So I had a pretty good plan going in.

The event went very well. The buffet was set up on the deck of the house, and that's where the chicken, pork and brisket were.

I set up a rib station at the bottom of the deck stairs near where and carved ribs to order for the guests.

The guests seemed to enjoy the food a lot. I cooked up a bunch of wings as a starter, and they were devoured by the guests. One woman complained that they were too spicy. There's always one in a crowd....

Unfortunately, I meant to take pictures of the food, but we were very busy and didn't take any. They really liked the brisket and the pork. There was a ton of chicken left over. I believe that was because we cooked thighs, drums and wings, with no white meat, and some people passed. Also, everyone cooks BBQ chicken, but how often do they get real, slow smoked brisket and pork? But the chicken came out really good, and I'm sure made great leftovers.

Overall, the experience was good. We made a nice profit, the customer was very happy, and we had a good time doing it. The guests were nice and made the event enjoyable.

We will definitely do other catering jobs in the future if they are offered. Small ones though, 100 people or less. A few jobs a year would help offset some competition costs for sure.