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Stokin’ the Fire



— July 15, 2018

Stokin’ the Fire

By Allan Richter
  • Barbecue Masters Reveal Secrets of the Craft

No one knows exactly who first put flame to food, but you might imagine it went something like this: Early Man was bringing home an animal carcass to the skin for its hide when he tripped.

As he fell, he fortuitously dropped the animal into a fire that was keeping the cave warm. The look of embarrassment he wore turned to a smile as the smoke carried the smell to his nose. The smile then morphed into the joyous look of epiphany as he braved the first bite. Thus grilling—grilling, mind you, not barbecue—might have been born. Before long, Early Man’s envious neighbor got wind of the discovery and tried to replicate it. He tossed his own meat into a flaming pit but—sloppy from his jealousy—missed the flame by at least one foot. Too lazy to climb into the pit and set the flesh in the fire, the discouraged neighbor went to bed. Oddly, he awoke hours later to the same mouthwatering aromas his neighbor had smelled. Though the meat had never been touched by flame, the smoke and heat had slowly cooked it. The man also discovered that berry juice from an overhanging branch had dripped, covering the meat as it cooked. Thus the first barbecued—not grilled—food might have been stumbled upon. The distinction between grilling and barbecuing is one that barbecue devotees take very seriously. Grilling is cooking food directly over a flame— think hamburgers and hot dogs. Barbecuing is cooking with indirect heat, for at least several hours but conceivably as long as 18 hours—think brisket and ribs. In short, there’s lots of nurturing, love and labor.

“Barbecue involves foods that are usually geared towards large groups of people like family reunions and picnics. I like to say it’s the friendliest food,” says Tuffy Stone, owner of the Q Barbecue restaurant chain in Richmond, Virginia, and author of Cool Smoke: The Art of Great Barbecue (St. Martin’s Griffin). Cool Smoke is also the name of Stone’s barbecue team, a three-time champion of the Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational Barbecue and winner of many other prestigious barbecue competitions. “There’s a large audience of people that find it kind of grounding, find it fun, and it provides some time to slow down a bit,” Stone says. “It becomes a commitment of time, but it’s refreshing. It’s a change of pace. And there are a lot of people that just enjoy cooking with fire. It’s basic but it’s also complex. And it gets you outside with the elements.” That helps explain the passion for all things barbecue. Urban areas like New York City have become unlikely hotspots for barbecue restaurants, many with pitmasters manning authentic smokers that resemble mini cabooses. “BBQ Pitmasters” and other barbecue-themed shows have a loyal viewership. And some players, like Stone, have managed to leverage their victories on the competitive circuit into lucrative cookbook deals and restaurants, while others depend on unrelated careers for their livelihood while savoring their time in the competition.

Either way, don’t tell these disciples of the grill and smoker that barbecuing is just a hobby. The diversity among barbecue enthusiasts is on full display one May weekend in Evans, Georgia, a two-hour drive from Atlanta, where more than 200 people of varying economic backgrounds and levels of devotion to the craft have gathered at Evans Towne Center Park for Rec-Tec Academy, a pop-up barbecue school run by the local grill maker Rec-Tec. They have come by plane and RV, from just across the state line and as far as Alaska and Vancouver, Canada, shelling out $1,000 each for three days of instruction in competitive barbecuing. The classes are taught by an award-winning knife- and tong-wielding evangelists trimming fat and laying down rub from the stage of the park’s Lady Antebellum Pavilion. (Band members hail from the local county.) Nate Morris and John Groundwater, both 38, are avid hunters and fishermen in their native Valdez, Alaska, who enjoy cooking their catch for friends and family. “Barbecue is part of our friendship,” Morris says. The friends met two decades ago in the Air Force, and now both work together on the Alaska Pipeline. After a few days of shrimping in Prince William Sound, the two came to the Georgia event to up their barbecue game. Kevin Lemaire, 34, and Raymond Lemaire, 64, decided to make a father-and-son excursion from Sulphur, Louisiana, they say at an opening night buffet dinner that includes roast beef sliders, Guinness-soaked short ribs, salmon in dill sauce and “Eye of the Tiger” playing over the speaker system. The older man says his son was partly attracted to barbecuing because he married into a large Italian family who put a high premium on the social dynamic of gathering around the food. “It’s all about soul. It’s all about getting together and eating good food,” says Kevin Lemaire, a nurse anesthetist, who favors crawfish and gumbo with his barbecue. Steve Hammer, 38, says he’s pretty good at barbecuing most foods but came to Rec Tec Academy from Tampa, Florida, because of one stubborn problem area—brisket. “I’ve got the ribs down. I’ve got chicken. It’s the brisket that vexes me,” a bearded Hammer says during a break between classes. Hammer has trouble knowing what to trim and leave on when he prepares his brisket. “I get these fat pockets,” he says. “I’ve failed at brisket, and it’s cost a lot of money. It ends up drying out and getting tough. I’ve tried low and slow. I’ve tried the heat up. I’ve tried searing it.” Still, Hammer, an IT manager with the Defense Department, sounds an optimistic note. “I’m the Grandmaster of my backyard,” he says. “No one’s beaten me so far in my backyard.” Not everyone came to educate himself to be king of the backyard smoker. Jack Sheeley, 40, a network manager at a bank in his Kansas City, Missouri, hometown, has come to polish his chicken and brisket skills for his barbecue team, Nuttin’ Butt Trouble, which began competing last year. He also wants to learn how to best trim meat and, once done, properly box it for judges. The barbecue students reflect a variety of economic and career backgrounds but lack diversity when it comes to gender. Some of the few women attending say they are there to provide moral support for their husbands and boyfriends. For Mandy Greathouse, attending with her husband Todd, an Air Force master sergeant, the barbecue weekend has a deeper meaning, however. The Raleigh, North Carolina, couple married last year and couldn’t afford travel, so they have turned the barbecue school weekend into their post-nuptial celebration. “This is our honeymoon,” Mandy Greathouse says. “There’s no other way to say it.” But the couple in no way sees the weekend as a downgrade from what might have been. Todd Greathouse is a barbecue devotee, and his bride says he won her over with the patience he showed cooking for her over the grill. Now the couple cooks over their barbecue every Sunday—“religiously,” Mandy Greathouse says. And they’ll have a new grill for their weekly ritual, courtesy of Rec Tec Grills upon learning of the Greathouses’ story. On these pages, barbecue fans get their questions answered by Chef Stone and award-winning chefs who taught at the classes in Georgia. You’ll find one or two vegetarian and vegan recipes on these pages as well, though our coverage is clearly aimed at those who want to indulge a little.

Q. When shopping, how do I find a great cut of meat?

A. Consider this simple guideline: marbling means flavor. At Rec-Tec Academy, chef Roddy Trevino examines the slab of pork ribs in front of him. “Looking at these ribs, there’s a lot of marbling between them,” says Trevino, a board member of the International Barbecue Cookers Association (IBCA). “It’s definitely a great rib.” Standing next to Trevino onstage, Carlo Casanova, owner of KG Cookers BBQ in San Antonio, Texas, agrees. “The fat’s okay on ribs,” Casanova says. “It all renders out. It’s tasty.” Casanova, who recently captured fourth place overall at the 38th American Royal World Series of Barbecue Invitational, says he likes to use St. Louis ribs rather than baby backs, which aren’t allowed in IBCA-sanctioned competitions. St. Louis ribs are meatier, Casanova adds, and baby back ribs can get tough. Trevino—whose competition team Rodstarr (a combination of his and teammate/wife Sara’s names) has garnered many awards on the barbecue circuit—cautions, however, not to mistake the layer of fat on ribs with the more desirable marbling of fat throughout the meat itself. “You want to look at the actual meat. If you have a pretty consistent pink or red meat, it’s not going to be very tender. Same thing for brisket—the more marbled it is, the more tender it’s going to be. It’s all about the marbling.” The best marbling can be found on a prime cut of brisket as well as on wagyu beef, Casanova says. “Avoid a select brisket,” he cautions. “From time to time you may be able to get a good select [cut], but more often your prime and wagyu cuts, though higher-priced, have better marbling.” Stone advises that aged meats are flavorful and tender. Dry-aged meats

Vegan Marshmallows

There is no need to use animal products to make the perfect marshmallow. Toast over the barbecue/grill with cookies and melted chocolate to serve as s’mores.

1½ cups icing/ confectioners’ sugar, plus an extra ¼ cup for dusting
½ cup cornflour/ cornstarch • light vegetable oil, for greasing
5 tbsp soy protein isolate 90%
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp guar gum
1¼ cups cold water
1 tbsp Vege Gel, Genutine Vegetarian Gelatine or similar product
1½ cups unrefined/raw sugar
1 cup golden syrup/light corn syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract • cookies and milk • chocolate squares for making s’mores (optional) • a jam/candy thermometer

1. In a large bowl, sift icing/confectioners’ sugar together with the cornflour/cornstarch and set aside.
2. Oil the bottom and sides of a baking pan, wiping down the pan with paper towels to remove any excess oil. Sift the bottom and sides of the baking pan liberally with the sugar and cornflour/cornstarch mixture.
3. Mix the soy protein, baking powder, and guar gum together in a stand mixer. Add ¾ cup of the cold water and beat on high for 10 minutes until stiff peaks form. Set aside.
4. Mix the gelatine and unrefined/ raw sugar in a large saucepan. Add the remaining water and whisk until thick. Stir in the golden syrup/light corn syrup. Set the saucepan on the stove-top over low heat. Cook the mixture until it reaches 230°F on a jam/candy thermometer, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in the vanilla extract.
5. Slowly add the hot syrup to the soy protein mixture with the stand mixer set on high. Beat for 10 minutes.
6. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, working as quickly as possible. Sift the remaining icing/ confectioners’ sugar evenly over the top and let the marshmallows set in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour until firm.
7. Preheat the barbecue/grill. Cut the marshmallow into cubes and toast one over an open flame until it browns and softens. Sandwich a piece of chocolate and the hot marshmallow between two cookies. Let cool slightly before eating.

Makes 30–35 1-inch cubed marshmallows From 101 Vegetarian Grill & BBQ Recipes (Ryland Peters & Small). Reprinted with permission. Copyright 2016 Ryland Peters & Small.

are usually set in refrigerators outfitted with additional fans to circulate the air, enabling the evaporation of moisture from the meat and intensifying the flavor. “The longer the meat ages,” Stone writes in Cool Smoke, “the more complex the flavors will become. Additionally, the aging process allows for the muscle fibers to break down, resulting in a more tender chew.” For pork butt, which is actually the pork shoulder, Trevino looks for “a nice, beautiful money muscle. The bigger that money muscle is in that package,” he says, “the better because it will give you more to work with.” The money muscle is the beginning of the pork loin, just before it hits the shoulder, Trevino explains. The pork loin runs from the tail to the front, but the money muscle section has more fat content, which Trevino says gives it “awesome” flavor. “You want to render some of that fat to make it tender, but you don’t want to render all of it,” he adds. “If you cook it properly and you have the right texture and caramelization on the outside, and the right sauce, it’s going to drive those judges crazy.” But while fat and marbling have appeal in pork and beef, the seemingly ubiquitous fat content in chicken makes that poultry “the nemesis of barbecue,” chef James Burg says from the stage of the Lady Antebellum Pavilion, where he demonstrates how to trim chicken fat. Barbecue chefs “hate chicken,” Burg adds. “They hate trimming it.” When choosing chicken thighs for competition cooking, Burg looks for a white skin, which he says indicates that it will be easier to trim the fat. Burg and his wife, Jan, of Evans, Georgia, saw their Killer B’s BBQ team beat 49 other teams to earn the grand championship and $50,000 at the third annual Sam’s Club National BBQ Tour in 2013, the Kansas City Barbecue Society’s (KCBS) largest sanctioned competition, and have won many competitions since. When buying chicken to cook when money is on the line, Casanova says he looks for a bird that weighs between 4.2 to 4.5 pounds. “They’re not too big, not too small,” Casanova says. “It’s just a medium-size bird that I like to use and holds the injection [of flavoring] well. I found it works for me.”

Q. What wood is best to build the fire?

A. Burg doesn’t like hickory wood, which he says is overbearing and yields a “dense, heavy flavor.” Casanova, however, likes using hickory—but along with oak—for brisket. “I like the aroma and the smoke it gives to the meat,” he says. For ribs, Casanova likes what he calls a fruity taste from using pecan wood—“it’s not a harsh smoke as opposed to mesquite,” he notes. As with his brisket, Casanova likes to combine woods for chicken; he uses pecan and cherry, which he says gives the chicken a darker, mahogany look. Similarly, Trevino chooses wood more for the esthetic than the flavor. “The wood does tend to impart flavors, but it’s not so much of a flavor as it is harshness,” he explains. Mesquite, he adds, will be very harsh and burn dark, while oaks will burn lighter and provide a golden hue to the meat. “I like pecan, which gives you a nice mahogany look,” Trevino says. “It gives the chicken a nice reddish color. It’s not an offensive wood. It doesn’t give too much to the meat, and it doesn’t take anything away. It doesn’t offend folks. It’s been very successful for us. I use pecan for everything.” The use of pecan is in line with what Trevino says is the No. 1 rule in competition barbecue: “Keep it simple. Take the simple, non-offending approach. And that’s the keyword in competition—you don’t want to offend the judges. You don’t want it too spicy or too sweet. You want to find the middle.” In addition to using quality wood, Stone advises budding barbecue chefs to carefully build their fire so the smoke doesn’t become sooty and create creosote, an oily liquid with a foul odor. “The heavier that smoke is,” Stone says, “the more bitter the meat is.” To avoid that, Stone favors maintaining a small fire and ensuring that it has enough air flow so it is not starved of oxygen. “A fire that can breathe well will burn cleaner,” he says. Set your wood so there are spaces in between the pieces to allow good airflow. “I treat smoke like salt and pepper,” Stone adds. “I want the taste to be the meat and the smoke, and the sauce and rub to be backdrop flavors.” When barbecuing on a kettle grill, Stone uses mostly charcoal and four wood chunks. An approach called the Minion Method, developed by barbecue chef Jim Minion in a 1999 competition, involves placing lit charcoal on one end of unlit charcoals that snake along with the grill—“almost like a fuse,” Stone says—giving you longer burn time. The method is said to help chefs cook larger cuts of meat like brisket and prevent the meat from becoming dry on the outside while waiting for the inside to cook.

Grilled Figs with Almond Mascarpone
Figs are amazing grilled, but this dish would work equally well with other stone fruits such as plums or peaches. Try to get top-quality fresh fruit.

5 oz mascarpone cheese
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp toasted ground almonds, or flaked/slivered almonds crushed to a powder with a mortar and pestle
1 tbsp Marsala wine
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp ground cardamom
8–10 figs, cut in half

1. Put the mascarpone cheese, vanilla, almonds, Marsala, and honey in a bowl and beat well. Cover and set aside in the refrigerator until needed.
2. Mix the sugar and ground cardamom in a separate bowl, then carefully dip the cut surface of the figs in the mixture. Preheat the barbecue/grill.
3. Cook the figs on the hot barbecue/grill for 1–2 minutes on each side until charred and softened. Transfer the cooked figs to four serving bowls and serve with the almond mascarpone cream.

Serves 4 From 101 Vegetarian Grill & BBQ Recipes (Ryland Peters & Small). Reprinted with permission. Copyright 2016 Ryland Peters & Small.

Q. Where in the meat is the best place to take its internal temperature?

A. For brisket, Casanova takes the temperature in the middle of the meat, in the “flat” cut rather than the “point” or “deckle”—the higher part of the brisket. The point has more fat, which cooks faster than the meatier flat portion, he says, and would not give an accurate read of the temperature in the flat. When the temperature hits 205°F, Casanova, who has garnered more than 20 grand championships, monitors his brisket every 30 minutes for tenderness. He’s looking for a brisket in which “all the fat and collagen breaks loose and you’re able to run a thermometer through it.” Unlike Casanova, Trevino says the ideal place to take the temperature of brisket is its “money section”—where the flat and point join. It’s at the point “where the two [cuts] combine, so they start overlapping. I like to give the judges a piece of both, so I don’t like to trim the point from the flat. You have judges who love both.” As for ribs, Casanova checks ribs at a fatty part between the bone, but not on the smaller side of the bone. “There’s more meat and it has to cook longer,” he says. He likes to pull the rack from the pit and let it rest when it hits 207°F. Then he lathers it with barbecue sauce and puts it on the heat again for 20 minutes before he’s ready to turn it into the judges or serve it to guests. In contrast, Trevino says he no longer takes the temperature of his ribs. He says he’s learned that his version of a perfect rack takes an hour and 45 minutes at 300°F in the pit. “That usually gives me the rib I want,” Trevino says. For chicken, Casanova takes the temperature between the drumstick and the thigh bone because the darker meat takes longer to cook. He looks for an internal temperature of 165°F. Trevino’s favored spot is not far from Casanova’s—at the bottom of the thigh. “That takes the longest to cook because you have so many bones in there,” Trevino says. He cautions not to touch the bones with the thermometer or probe because the bones get hotter than the meat and will give a false reading.

New Life for Scraps Means Little Waste

When you see huge amounts of meat laid out on smokers and grills at barbecue competitions and consider that judges are getting just enough for a taste, you might expect that there’s plenty of waste on the competitive circuit. But barbecue chefs who regularly make the competitive rounds say wasting food is taboo. Many have come up with creative ways to infuse new life into those scraps they trim away in search of the perfect cut. Greg Mueller, a Rec Tec executive chef, in a salmon-cooking demonstration for Rec-Tec Academy, has prepared 93 pounds of the fish with an Asian rub, turning the bounty into as many six-ounce portions as he can slice up. As he prepares the salmon, he removes the bellies and sets them aside for salmon croquettes, burgers, and lox. In preparing chicken thighs for competition, Burg says you need present only six thighs to judges. “I like 10 or 12 to pick from,” he says, though for this demonstration he has a total of eight thighs with which he works. The two thighs that aren’t earmarked for the judges’ box don’t go to waste, however. Burg uses those thighs as “testers,” dunking them in his glaze to see how thick the preparation will appear on the meat. He doesn’t want the glaze to be too dark so judges can see and taste the chicken more than the sauce. When Trevino prepares two chicken halves, he uses two whole chickens so he can get two perfect halves, one from each chicken. “So we have what we call the trash chicken,” he says, “but it doesn’t necessarily go into the trash.” Trevino, who says he grew up poor and with a mother who would stretch the family’s food “as far as it would go,” vacuum seals his competition leftovers and makes shredded chicken tacos, baked chicken or, after deboning it, does a stir fry. Trimming a brisket is a painstaking process, and much of the fat is unusable. But a good deal of the trimmed material is meat, and Trevino earmarks it— along with tomatoes, chili peppers, and seasonings—for a Mexican stew called Carne Guisada that he and his competition buddies share, each bringing their own trimmings. “They’ll bring it over to whoever’s turn it is to cook that day, and we’ll make a big pot of it.” When they’re not making Carne Guisada, the chefs use the brisket trimmings for hamburgers. “They’re probably the best burgers you’ll eat,” says Casanova. “Some people start with an 18-pound brisket and trim it to 9 pounds because they only need 9 slices for a turn-in box” for the judges, Casanova says. “There are only two briskets on a cow, and it makes you think: How can I avoid being so wasteful? When I first started I was wasteful, and through the years, being a better cook I can utilize all the trimmings and not waste like I used to.” Even bone doesn’t go to waste. When preparing pork, Casanova saves the chine bone, which lies just below the shank bone. “I cut that up,” he says, “and like to use that part in baked beans or pinto style beans.”

Competition Brisket, Cool Smoke Style

1 (12- to 14-lb) beef brisket
1½ cups plus 2 tbsp Cool Smoke Rub (see below)
2 tsp olive oil
2 cups apple juice, in a spray bottle, for the grill
2 tsp minced dehydrated onions
2 cups Cool Smoke Barbecue Sauce (see below)

1. The day before you plan to cook, clean and prepare the brisket (or have your butcher do this). Prepare the Cool Smoke Rub.
2. Rub the brisket on all sides with the olive oil and dust with 1½ cups of the Cool Smoke Rub, patting the rub evenly over all sides of the meat. Transfer to a pan and refrigerate, uncovered, overnight.
3. When you are ready to cook, heat the smoker to 300°F pit temperature. Alternatively, heat the grill to 300°F, using a two-zone setup, using five or six chunks of your favorite wood in addition to the charcoal or gas.
4. Place the brisket fat-side down in the smoker, or on the cool side of the grill. Close the lid and cook for 1 hour, then spray with apple juice to moisten. Cook for 3 hours more, spraying the brisket every 30 minutes. Do not turn the meat.
5. Cut two 18 x 24-inch pieces of heavy-duty aluminum foil and join them lengthwise by crimping the edges. Lay the resulting piece out flat on a clean work surface. Transfer the brisket from the grill or smoker and place it fat-side down on the length of foil. Sprinkle the dehydrated onions evenly over all sides of the meat. Spray with apple juice overall, applying a heavier concentration of juice on the crispier areas to rehydrate them. Wrap the brisket tightly as you would a package, being careful not to puncture the foil.
6. Set the brisket package in the smoker or on the cool side of the grill, close the lid, and cook for 2½–3½ hours, or until the meat is fork-tender. Check the internal temperature after 2½ hours. The brisket is done when the thickest part of the brisket reaches an internal temperature of 205°F–207°F, or until the probe of a thermometer slides into the meat with ease.
7. Remove the brisket from the heat again and let it rest, vented in the foil, for 1–2 hours.
8. Meanwhile, grind the remaining 2 tbsp Cool Smoke Rub in a coffee grinder until super-fine, and transfer to a fine-mesh shaker. Prepare the Cool Smoke Barbecue Sauce as well.
9. Fifteen to 20 minutes before you are ready to serve, unwrap the brisket. Pour the liquid in the bottom of the foil into a fat separator. Pour the fat off from the fat separator and discard, reserving the remaining juices.
10. Using a sharp knife, separate the point from the flat, reserving the point for burnt ends. If you are cooking at home and want to save the point for serving at a later date, seal the point in foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
11. Brush a light coating of Cool Smoke Barbecue Sauce over the meat side of the flat and return it to the smoker or to the cool side of the grill, fat-side down. Cook for 10 minutes to set the sauce. Transfer the meat to a cutting board or a clean surface and cut it across the grain into ¼-inch-thick slices.
12. Brush each slice of brisket lightly with the juices in the fat separator. Dust each slice lightly with the finely ground Cool Smoke Rub and brush with a light coating of Cool Smoke Barbecue Sauce.
13. If preparing the brisket for competition, serve with burnt ends. For home presentation, serve the sliced brisket with the remaining Cool Smoke Barbecue Sauce on the side. “Brisket is often treated much like a pot roast, which is cooked until it falls apart,” says Tuffy Stone, author of Cool Smoke (St. Martin’s Griffin). “When competition brisket is perfectly cooked, you’re able to slice the flat to about the thickness of a number 2 pencil, and can pick up the slice and pull it apart with a gentle tug.”

Makes 12 to 14 servings From Cool Smoke: The Art of Great Barbecue, by Tuffy Stone. Copyright ©2018 by the author and reprinted with permission of St. Martin’s Griffin. Note: For the Cool Smoke Rub and Cool Smoke Barbecue Sauce recipes, please visit

Q. Is the ideal method for cooking barbecue low and slow?

A. For years on the competitive barbecue circuit, and even among backyard novices, the driving mantra for barbecue has been “low and slow”—meaning the meat is cooked at low heat for 12 or 14 hours, or longer. But look to the Lone Star State, and you’ll likely find a different opinion. “Texas likes to cook hot and fast,” Burg says, while “the [rest of the] south likes low and slow,” Burg tells the Rec-Tec Academy students that he prefers the conventional low-and-slow method. “When you cook hot and fast, the margin of error is this wide,” Burg says, holding his hands three feet apart. “You cook hot and fast, and you can make a mistake in five minutes.” But advocates of a hot-and-fast cook—and “fast” is a relative term; proponents typically are talking 5 or 6 hours instead of 14—say they get superb results that might even surpass those of the low-and-slow believers. Texan Casanova is one of the “hot and fast” proponents. “I’ve done it both ways, and over the years everybody was low and slow, low and slow, staying up all night with no sleep,” he says. “Now people have come to an understanding that hot and fast isn’t bad either—if you do it right. We treat a brisket like a steak. You get that sear on it, and you can smoke it [a little less than] an hour a pound. An eight-pound brisket should take 5 to 6 hours.” Says Trevino, “I don’t have time to go low and slow. If you want to sit by your pit for 14 hours, more power to you, but I can pop out a brisket that’s just as good or better in 5½ hours. With low and slow you get lots of smoke, and folks don’t care for smoke. It’s offensive.” Trevino cooks a brisket by first adding a flavorful rub; he then injects it with food-grade phosphates (he uses Full of Bull by the Talk Texan brand, though at the barbecue academy he used a Kosmos Q beef injection) to retain moisture and add flavor. He cooks his brisket unwrapped for 3½ hours at 350°F. “It gives me a nice bark,” or crisp outer layer, he says. He then tightly wraps the brisket in foil with some beef broth and seasoning, puts it back on the heat, at 290°F, and removes the meat once its internal temperature is 205°F (typically about 1 hour and 45 minutes to 2 hours). “Then I’ll just let it rest in a cooler with no ice; it acts as a holding vessel,” and allows the juices to redistribute through the meat. Trevino keeps it in the cooler for at least 2 to 3 hours before serving. Low-and-slow adherents are still cooking when Trevino is sitting down for a delicious meal. “And when you cook faster,” Trevino says, “you’re not creating as much pollution and you’re saving wood.”

Q. How do I improve the presentation of the food I am serving?

A. Have you ever dined at a restaurant where the arrangement on your plate compelled you to savor its beauty or perhaps take a photo before you dug in? Yes? Then you’ll appreciate the careful attention competitive barbecue chefs give to ensure judges are getting a plate of food that looks as good as it tastes.

BBQ & Grill Gear for the Eco-Conscious Cook
Sooty smoke and flare-ups that lift carcinogens to food on the grill are, sadly, hallmarks of many grills. We found a few that minimize those hazards, letting you enjoy your outdoor cooking experience while helping to keep your health and the environment in top shape. Rec Tec Keeps Heat Under Control Rec Tec Grills use pure hardwood pellets with no chemical additives, contributing to a clean burn, as well as less smoke and a whiter smoke. The heat source is never below your food, meaning the heat is indirect and avoids flare-ups from grease. It is like cooking with a convection oven, but with the added benefit of a hearty wood flavor that makes barbecuing with wood so enticing in the first place. Your food will also have that nice ring from being smoked—think the red ring around the edge of a slow-smoked brisket. Moreover, every Rec Tec pellet grill comes with the company’s proprietary Smart Grill Technology PID (proportional–integral–derivative) temperature controller that maintains a precise cooking heat by adjusting for, say, temperature drops when you open the lid to check your food or after the sunsets. In those instances, an auger will automatically load more pellets to raise the heat. PID technology is used in industrial controls, and in high-end breweries and bakeries to keep temperatures constant. In the grill, the constant temperature helps shorten cook times, meaning less fuel is used. Plus, as with the Trailblazer model, pictured above, you can control and monitor your grill remotely from your wireless device. (The Trailblazer also has lockable folding legs and rollerblade-style wheels so you can make it compact for tailgating.) With its many stainless steel parts, easy-to-maintain temperature and cost-cutting, direct-to-consumer sales, Rec Tec’s grills in a few short years have attracted a loyal following much like Apple. At the recent Rec-Tec Academy, devotees held fists aloft with two fingers extended, like Longhorn fans at the University of Texas sports games, but these fans mimicked the steer-horn handles on each grill. Visit Fire Pit Doubles as A Grill, Sans Smoke The Fire Pit from BioLite provides the heat, alluring wood smell and crackle of a wood campfire, but without the smoke. Behind the ability of the Fire Pit to keep smoke at bay is a patented airflow technology that creates hyper-efficient flames. Fifty-one air jets inject the fire with oxygen along with key locations, creating a more uniform temperature and mixing of gases inside the fire, which improves combustion. The air jets are powered via a USB Rechargeable Powerpack. The pit, shown below, is large enough to fit four firewood logs and features what BioLite terms an X-Ray mesh body that enables 360- degree views. By lifting the Fire Pit fuel rack and tossing in charcoal, you can transform the FirePit into a hibachi-style grill; a grill grate is included. Further, the Fire Pit helps you keep pace with the digital age—you can control the size of your flames manually or remotely with a free Bluetooth app. The Fire Pit burns 24 hours when set on low, 10 hours on medium and 5 hours on high. Measuring 27” x 13” x 15.8”, it weighs 19.8 pounds. Folding legs make the Fire Pit easily portable. The Fire Pit is not BioLite’s only product that keeps the environment top of mind. BioLite features eco-friendly products that can, for example, charge a mobile device from the energy of fire. Visit

In culinary parlance, arranging food on a dish is called plating. Though barbecue chefs typically turn their food into judges in Styrofoam boxes, there’s much to be learned from the practice to create artful masterpieces out of your own home cooking. On the competition circuit, barbecue chefs typically set their food atop a layer of kale or parsley-like “a nice little putting green,” Trevino says—on the bottom of the Styrofoam container. The container should also be spotless, and Trevino recommends using a Q-tip to clean small spots from the box. Trevino’s teammate and wife, Sara, says to use paper towels on the edges of the box as you prepare to seal it to keep it clean and looking “untouched.” Demonstrating how to prepare a box for judges, Trevino removes large stems from a bunch of kale, which he recommends should be in season so it’s fresher and firmer. He wraps each curly top tightly, repeats with the other pieces of kale and places them in the container until it’s covered. As he is slicing money muscle pencil-thin before a mesmerized audience, Trevino says, “A lot of people try to throw all sorts of stuff in there. But I’m a minimalist. You’re only feeding six judges, and you don’t want to throw stuff in there that might be judged poorly.” He put the pork medallions in the box evenly, in two rows of four, with pulled pork in the middle. When presenting ribs, Trevino cautions against placing the kale too high in the box; when you close the container lid, the inside of the top could pull glaze off your ribs. Casanova says some chefs like to place the ribs alternately—bone up, bone down.

With ribs, also look carefully for burnt marrow that might have come out of the ends of the bones during cooking. If it did, use a knife to scrape it off so the color of the bone is uniform. Burg, of the Killer B’s BBQ team, uses parsley when plating. He bunches the herb up into what he calls a “wedding bouquet,” and covers his box completely with the bouquets, taking care to fill in any spaces along the sides.

Q. How does one get on the competition barbecue circuit?

A. Casanova says the decision to enter a competitive barbecue will bring endless joy. “It will be the best time of your life,” the chef says. “Not just cooking and getting your times right. It’s the whole thrill of meeting new people. I can’t wait for the next Friday to set up because I’m waiting to see my buddies. You’re getting ready for a good adventure.” No one expects perfection right out of the gate. If you’re just starting out, Casanova says to focus on buying the best meat you can afford. “Then just play with your flavor profile and enjoy what you’re doing,” he says. “If it seems like too much work, then you’re doing it wrong. It should feel like fun. You should enjoy what you’re doing.” Veteran barbecue chefs are universal in recommending classes, many of which are offered by award-winning barbecue chefs. “A lot of people might think they don’t need anybody to teach them, but there are so many aspects of competition barbecue that your layperson doesn’t realize exist,” says Trevino. You can spend between $500 and $1,000 on a single competition, and going at it without an education risks not regaining it back in the form of winnings. “That’s not a very good business decision.” If that $500 to $1,000 sounds expensive, consider that Burg puts the learning curve for a competitive barbecue at two to three years. Moreover, you’ll probably have to commit to an investment of about $10,000 to $15,000 during that period if you’re serious. Stone, the three-time Jack Daniels championship winner, acknowledges that the classes can be expensive, noting that there’s plenty of barbecue know-how to be found on the Internet and in scores of barbecue cookbooks. “There’s so much more information available than when I first started,” says Stone, whose first competition was a Kansas City Barbecue Society contest in Lynchburg, Virginia. Stone says he learned from other barbecue devotees and built friendships on a site called the BBQ Forum (, and he points to another popular site, BBQ-Brethren ( If you want to befriend barbecue chefs or just eat a lot of barbecue, and you don’t want to compete, you can get on the competition circuit as a judge, Stone adds. The Kansas City Barbecue Society is the largest competition sanctioning body and offers classes in judging (visit As in life, choose your friends—and barbecue teammates—carefully. “Pick a teammate you’re going to get along with and who you share the same vision with,” says Trevino. “You see a lot of teammates start out together and you often see them branch off on their own or stop completely because the experience wasn’t what they thought it was going to be.” Trevino also cautions novice barbecue chefs to put their own tastes aside and focus instead on what judges and the general public like. “Nobody cares what you like,” he says. “You need to make a brisket that’s tasty and isn’t over the top. That’s one of the biggest barriers a lot of folks have. They cook to their taste, and not everybody shares the same taste that you have.” Finally, when you start developing your own special rubs and sauces— and winning with them—don’t be surprised if you’re the target of a little “shigging.” That’s barbecue slang for sneaking over and eavesdropping on another team. “That happens all the time,” says Trevino, who admits he has been on both sides of the ritual. “You knock on a trailer door, walk in and see what spices they’re using.” Trevino says he knows one friend who puts black labels over every seasoning bottle but keeps a single letter on the caps to identify each spice.

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