Getting into the ‘Que Groove!

Hey, don’t be looking at the amount of time between this and the last post – I’ve had things to see, people to do…

Great happenings on the Competition Barbecue front the last two outings.

In Wenatchee at the Eastern Washington BBQ Championship, we won First Place in CASI Chili, Third Place in Sausage, and our FIRST First Place in Brisket!  Christene didn’t believe me about the Brisket win – she was sure that we had taken a First previously.  She wasn’t convinced until we got home where she was scanning over all the trophies.

This was a nice change after having our worst showing ever at the Sam’s Club Tour event in Renton, Washington.

And now for some obligatory Food Porn:

1st Place Brisket

1st Place Brisket

2nd Place Sausage

2nd Place Sausage

Riding high after a decent showing in Wenatchee, we next headed up to Langley, British Columbia for the 27th Annual Canadian Festival of Chili and Barbecue.  The guys up there – Wayne, Dave, and Fred – always put on a great event, and we were excited to be able to cook it again after several years running the judging side of things.

This is a big, busy event that had nine categories over two days.  Saturday’s “Extra” categories were Hamburger, Chef’s Challenge (Chicken Wings), Homestyle Chili, CASI Chili, and Grill Grates Steak.  (OK, there were also two Kids-Q categories, but I’m a bit too old for those…)  One of the things I love about this event is that Saturday’s category results are announced Saturday, so you don’t spend all evening wondering just how well you did (or did not).

Our results for Saturday were pretty darn good.  Christene’s CASI Chili placed Third.  This broke her 8 Win Streak, but she was happy to lose her First Place spot to long, long time cook Judy Anderson.  Our Chicken Wings placed Ninth, and the Hamburger Sliders took Second.  I thought our steak was awesome (rubbed with Truffle Oil and finished with Truffle Salt), but even though it didn’t make the Top 10, I can honestly say that the Grill Grates on which we were required to cook were fraking awesome!

The sliders, of which I’m particularly proud, got perfect scores from 3 of the 6 judges, and great reviews from the folks in our tent.  This next bit is what was on them – you may want to skip ahead of you’re not interested.

I started with brioche slider buns from Macrina Bakery, and bacon burger meat (bacon ground into the ground beef) from our favorite meat market Double DD Meats.  On the toasted bun we had a Dijon mustard-brown mustard-honey-mayonnaise spread, spicy-sweet pickles, and micro greens, with the smoked burger topped with grilled ham and melted baby Swiss cheese.  Skewers to hold them together, a nice slate tray and a sprinkle of greens to make it pretty, and off to the judges.

If you made it through the description, you really deserve the next round of Food Porn!

2nd Place Burger

2nd Place Burger

9th Place Wings

9th Place Wings

After all that cooking, cleaning everything up, and resetting for Sunday, it was time to inject and season the big meats.  Just wish that there had been time for a nap…

Everything on Sunday’s turn-ins went really smoothly.  I think we’ve got a good handle on our timing for the big meats and two cookers.  Our pork and brisket we were quite happy with, our chicken and ribs…only sorta.  Shows what I know!

When the results came out, we had a Sixth Place in Pork, Fifth Place in Brisket, Fifth Place in Chicken, and Second Place in Ribs.  This is the first event in quite a long time where we were able to place in the Top Six in all four Main Categories.  As always, Christene did a phenomenal job of boxing up our turn-ins.

6th Place Pork

6th Place Pork

5th Place Brisket

5th Place Brisket

5th Place Chicken

5th Place Chicken

2nd Place Ribs

2nd Place Ribs

There was a 10 to 15 minute break between Chicken results and Rib results, as the PNWBA presented plaques to the initial inductees of the Hall of Fame.  While listening to the speeches, I kept thinking “Gotta walk in ribs, gotta walk in ribs.”  We walked in ribs.

With several different teams placing well, I knew it would be close, but I figured we had to be at least in the Top Three.  We were close – we pulled out Reserve Grand Champion (second overall).

All-in-all, the weather was perfect, the event was fun, and we’ll definitely be back next year!


We’re About More Than Just Barbecue!

Barbecue – it’s in our name and it’s in our blood, but it’s not all that we do.

Over the last few months new adventures in catering and competition have led us to recipes and meals above and beyond the barbecue horizon.  I’m going to take this opportunity to catch up a bit!

First Up, Dutch Oven Orange and Bourbon Pecan “Pies”

Orange Bourbon Pecan "Pies" in Orange Halves

Orange Bourbon Pecan “Pies” in Orange Halves

OK, so they’re not really pies in the classic sense.  Using this recipe as a start, oranges were cut in half and the orange flesh removed, leaving a peel cup.  I wish I could tell you this was neat and easy, but it isn’t.  With care, a sharp paring knife and a spoon, you can remove the flesh, but patience is required.  To make sure the “pies” would not tip over, the bottom was trimmed flat.  (Learn from experience:  Make sure to not cut into your orange cup, or you’ll find your filling juice oozing away.)

A 14 inch Dutch Oven was heated up to 350°F, and lined with foil to catch drippings.  The filled cups were placed in the oven and cooked for about 20 minutes, until the filling set.

For the turn-in, the cups were served on the Dutch Oven lid surrounded by edible flowers (Dutch Oven rules prohibit the use of inedible decorations).  This dessert took second place at the competition.

Next, Banh Mi Inspired Sliders

Banh-Mi-Inspired Sliders

Banh Mi-Inspired Sliders

These sliders – featured in the best food photo I have ever taken – were practice for a burger competition.  The hamburger (from my favorite butcher Double DD Meats) was basted in a mirin-honey-soy glaze as it cooked over charcoal.  The toasted potato slider roll from Macrina Bakery was topped with a mayonnaise-honey-sriracha spread, cilantro, and cucumber, and the burger was finished with the classic pickled daikon and carrot.

At the actual competition the burger ended up finishing in Fourth Place.  I expect it would have done better, but I screwed up and bought Macrina olive rolls instead of the potato rolls; the burgers were still really good, but the olive rolls weren’t quite as pretty, and didn’t work quite as well with the Banh Mi flavors.

For a Change, Let’s Talk Oktoberfest Catering

Traditional Oktoberfest Dinner

Traditional Oktoberfest Dinner

Us Raven’s Fyre folks have done plenty of catering, but a traditional Oktoberfest dinner was definitely a first!  We wanted to dazzle, and make sure everyone had plenty to eat and plenty to love.

For the sides, we went with two German classics: Blaukraut (red cabbage brined in red wine) and warm German potato salad.  Of course, it wouldn’t be Oktoberfest without sausage!  As a twist on a classic, we braised smoked German sausages in Pyramid Oktoberfest Autumn Lager with onions and apples.  We decided to round out the meal with what turned out to be the most popular and praised dish, Sauerbraten.  For those not in the know, sauerbraten is beef (or pork or other meats) marinated in a vinegar mixture for several days, and then braised.  Normally a cut of beef such as bottom round is used, but staying true to our barbecue roots we decided to use briskets instead.  Happily, this resulted in what I feel is a much more flavorful dish.

In Closing…

If you made it this far, thank you!  I have other food goodies to cover, but will cut this short before you all get too bored.

See you soon!

SLC Part 2

Sorry for the delay – things have been a wee bit busy!

So we (Saffron and I) cooked her second / my first Dutch Oven championship, and I have to say that I had an awesome time, and learned a number of things.

Lesson 1:  I really need more practice in Dutch Oven competition cooking!

For those of you unfamiliar with a Dutch Oven competition, the teams (not more than 2 people) are required to cook three courses: a bread, a main dish (primarily protein), and a dessert.  Our menu:

  • Herb Foccacia with Sundried Tomatoes and Garlic
  • Prosciutto-Wrapped Chicken Breast with Stuffed Potatoes
  • Chocolate Chipotle Cabernet Cake with Cherry Reduction

Oh, another little tidbit in the rules is that you’re supposed to be cooking with something close to “on the trail” authenticity.  Translation: No electric / battery-powered equipment.  Making bread?  You’re kneading and rising like great-grandma did!  Creaming butter?  You had better make sure it is well softened first.

As a team, we chose to take a minimalist approach for our presentations, the better to highlight the food.  Saffron’s chicken did well (third place in our round), but neither the focaccia or cake did as well (OK, last place for both).  While both the bread and dessert had judges who liked them, unfortunately the majority were on the “not so much” side.

The issues?  Well…

The focaccia’s third rise, after it was formed, didn’t go so well; it ended up a bit dense and a bit crunchy.  I attribute that to two things:  The elevation (SLC, anyone?), and the Dutch Oven I was rising in may have gotten too hot, and knocked off the yeasties.

The cake had its own issues.  We didn’t let it cool sufficiently before dropping it out of the oven, so part of it stuck.

Here’s another rule for you:  What you cook, you must serve.   If you have something burnt, you must turn it in.  The cake stuck in the bottom of the oven?  You must get it out and get it to the judges.

I am happy to say that after enough cooling, we were able to remove the remaining cake, and I got it assembled into something approaching the desired shape.  In the end, it wasn’t the extraction failure that hurt so much as the chipotle powder in the recipe.  Even after my test cooking, it turned out to be too much (while I liked the heat, I will admit it was hotter than expected).

Lesson 2:  Even though technically in the Southwest, Salt Lake City residents are heat wimps.

Even though the cooking portion of the day didn’t go as well as we would have liked, the event was tons of fun, and I’m happy to say that we met a lot of awesome people.  I’m looking forward to qualifying again so that I can give it another run.

Since we didn’t move on to the final round of the Dutch Oven competition, Saffron and I packed up and hurried ourselves 8 miles up the road to the BBQ competition, to do what we’re good at.  SLC Part 3 coming up…

To round things out, here are pictures of the turn-ins for your enjoyment:


Focaccia plated for turn-in

Main Dish Plated for Turn-in

Main Dish Plated for Turn-in

Cake after reassembling parts.

Cake after reassembling parts.

Cake after fixing - ready for turn-in.

Cake after fixing – ready for turn-in.

World Food Championships – Here We Go!

I guess it is now officially practice time! Just got notified that my wild card submission for the World Food Championships Burger Competition has been accepted!

So many ideas…so little time to settle on one and perfect it.

Wild Weekend in Moses Lake

The Moses Lake event – The Basin BBQ Bash – was a great time, and fortunately Mother Nature decided to take it easy on us and not get much above 70 all weekend. Far better than the predicted 90°.

The weekend started off a bit off-balance since I somehow managed to miss packing the beautiful little free range chickens that Christene bought for the weekend. So first thing I had to run off to Safeway to get a couple of rather large Foster Farms chickens. Considering how long they took to cook, I definitely wish those little organic guys had been in the ice chest. But more on that in a minute.

By the time I got back from the store, it was time to head to the Cooks’ Meeting. Normally I’d send Christene so I can focus on whatever prep / cooking needs to be done, but she was working on her People’s Choice chili, so off I went. At this point things are barely organized in the tent, so we’re a bit behind all over.

After the meeting, I start working on my focaccia for the Dutch Oven competition – had to get it kneaded and rising. I think this is the first time since I was a kid that I had to knead dough by hand – this is why I have a Kitchen Aid! Somehow, starting on the dough first, I completely spaced that dessert was the first category. Fortunately I remembered just over an hour before, and had enough time to get the appropriate oven up to temp and cook the dessert.

The dessert I made was a Caribbean Upside-Down Cake with Coconut, Macadamia Nut, Dark Spiced Rum, and Pineapple. This was the first time cooking an actual cake in the Dutch Oven, so getting that sucker out had me a bit stressed. But I got the oven flipped, and we got the cake onto the presentation lid in one piece. That sucker looked awesome, but I had to cross my fingers as there was no way to taste it AND turn it in.

After Dutch Ovening, then I went ahead and baked another focaccia to have with dinner, since I still had half the dough remaining. Finally, after cooking all day and eating dinner, I got around to prepping the actual barbecue meats 10 hours after first setting up. And with a whole day, I so had hopes of brining my briskets…oh well.

Sunday, chicken continued to be a pain in our butts. I just couldn’t get the suckers cooked. After over an hour and a half of cooking two whole chickens I managed to get two breasts and four wings that were done, so we turned in a box of four breast pieces and four wings. A pretty box, and better than a DQ, but we knew it wasn’t going to do all that well. We don’t usually hit the bourbon until we’re all done, but a drink was definitely necessary after that round.

At the end of the day, Saturday definitely turned out better for us than Sunday. We took Fourth Place in Pork and Brisket. I thought my pork was a bit better than Fourth, but brisket I’m happy with considering there were some awesome brisket cooks there. Chicken did predictably poorly (12th); our Ribs also placed 12th, which was a surprise to us. Though after reading the comments, the judges nearly unanimously felt they were a bit underdone. Sometimes things just don’t go your way. Saturday though, the dessert took First Place (197.2 points out of a possible 200), and bread took Second. Unfortunately my short ribs were a bit chewy, so they didn’t do as well.

The good news though is that Saffron (Bush Kitchen) and I had already agreed that if one of us won the Dutch Oven competition, that we’d go cook the IDOS World Championship together. Saffron won (her entree was awesome), so we’re going to Utah in March!

I think that’s about it for now…plenty of other barbecue stuff coming up in the next couple of weeks. Christene and I are catering a 250 person lunch/dinner at the UW next week, and then the next day is the breast cancer charity rib cook-off. That’s going to be one exhausting weekend…

Knocked out BBQ on the Bypass, and on to Moses Lake!

We had – as always – an absolutely awesome time at the BBQ on the Bypass in Langley, BC.  Once again Angie and David put on a first-class event.

JD Farms sponsored the “Black Box” event, where we were given three secret ingredients to cook with.  Those were two turkey legs, powdered molasses, and sundried tomatoes.  Came in 8th place, which was OK.  I, at least, was happy with the dish.

Christene entered the annual pie contest – the Great BC Bake Off – with a caramel apple pie.  That netted her third place, and a kick-ass gift basket from Well Seasoned.

In the big meats, we had our best showing of the year (hoping to follow it up this weekend in Moses Lake).  We placed 6th in Pork (I thought it was much better than 6th, but what can you do?), 6th in Brisket, 5th in Chicken, and 4th in Ribs.  All of these were good enough for 4th Place Overall.  While we’ve placed higher overall, I believe this is the first time in 10+ years that we placed in the top 6 in each category for an event.

We’re also getting the last tidbits ready for this weekend’s Basin Bash in Moses Lake, WA.  Along with the regular competition categories, Saturday has People’s Choice Chili that Christene is cooking, and a full Dutch Oven cook that I’ll be riding herd on.

While I have a good complement of Dutch Ovens, and have cooked a full range of dishes in them, this will be my first time cooking dessert, bread, and a main dish at the same time, and doing it for competition.  And doing it in a shortened time frame, what with setting up at 10 am and having the first turn-in at 3:00.  Here’s what I’m thinking…

Dessert will be a pineapple upside-down cake, kicked up with coconut, macadamia nuts, and spiced rum.  Wow.  That macadamia nut idea literally just occurred to me as I typed that sentence.  Awesome.  Yes, a pineapple upside-down cake is considered a “beginner” Dutch Oven dessert, but better to execute something easy well than something difficult poorly.

Bread.  I’ve been pondering which route to go with my bread turn-in.  For this one I think I need to go with a herb, garlic and cheese focaccia with sun-dried tomatoes and maybe dried black olives.

Then there’s the Main dish.  I thought over this one most of all, but have decided to do braised short ribs over polenta.  I figure I can make a nice thick, cheesy polenta topped with the ribs braised with red wine, tomato, and some other vegetables.

Hopefully I’ll remember to get some pictures this time ’round, and get those up here!

Competition Results…

So I’d like to make a quick comment about the competition results list.

You may notice that there aren’t any results from 2012. Simply, that is because the one weekend so far this season that we weren’t sampling Bull’s-Eye, we were outside San Jose head judging the CBBQA’s Morgan Hill event.

We figure to be back on the competition circuit in July or August; we already know a couple weekends are booked for catering and head judging.

For me, I’m most looking forward to a “bare bones” competition in the San Jose area in September…more to come on that subject…