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!

Hog Wild About Whole Hog!

Well…less a whole hog and more a small pig.  All the awesome in a smaller package!

(Before I get down to business, I’d just like to take a moment to apologize for my absence – I promise to make it up to you!)

So, onward with the pig!

As part of some cooking demos at a BBQ festival this last weekend, I cooked two whole hogs: one for “show” for the public to look at and aim their camera phones at all day, and the other to demo cook and serve.  Through the magic of photography I documented all the steps, the better to improve this little corner of the internet.

Many websites recommend ordering your pig from a butcher, and having the butcher do most of this work for you.  Honestly, with a small animal (at least up to 75 pounds) it seems best to do the cutting and breaking yourself.  It isn’t that difficult, and will give you a bit more money for beer and bourbon.

For reference, the pig splayed below for your enjoyment weighed in at about 35 pounds.

Tool List

  • Good (I used Fiskars) pruning sheers.  Needless to say, if you take these out of the gardening equipment, clean them well and don’t tell your wife!
  • A sharp knife.
  • A sharp cleaver.  Some people recommend a sharp hatchet or ax, but with a longer working area I think you get better control with the cleaver.
  • A rubber mallet (mine’s a five pounder).
  • A sturdy table.
  • Trash can

Optional

  • 1/2 inch plywood covered with aluminum foil.
  • Disposable cutting boards.  (Yes, they’re a little pricey, but they’re awesome for food safety!)
  • Clamps

Before You Begin

The first thing to do is to take a large piece of plywood (about 3′ x 5′) and cover it in aluminum foil.  Next, clamp the plywood and a couple of the disposable cutting boards to your work table; you’ll be able to see this in a number of the photos.  This gives you three things in one swoop: extra strength for the table; a clean and easy-to-clean work space; and an easy way to move the pig to the smoker once s/he is tuned up.

Also, remember to get your smoker up to temperature:  (225 to 250) °F.

Snip and Slice

Splitting the Breast Bone

Splitting the Breast Bone

First thing to do is to use those shears to cut through the breast bone; on a bigger pig this may be something you’ll need to do with a small power saw.  With the breast bone split, push the breast apart to snap the shoulder joints, further opening up the pig.

Now that the cavity is open use a knife to trim away the extra fat and skin and any little bits of innards that the butcher left behind.

Trimming Excess Skin

Trimming Excess Skin

And it’s time for some fun!

Splitting the Spine

In order for the pig to lie flat, the spine needs to be split.

The first step is to cut through the cartilage – but not the back of the neck! – at the top of the spine.

Cutting Through the Cartilage at the Top of the Spine

Cutting Through the Cartilage at the Top of the Spine

With your cleaver and mallet, split the spine down the middle, taking care to not cut through the back of the pig.

Splitting the Spine

Splitting the Spine

Continuing to Split the Spine

Continuing to Split the Spine

After the First Pass Split

After the First Pass Split

Working “gently”, it may take two passes to get the spine split as much as you want.

Last Cut to Split the Spine

Last Cut to Split the Spine

Some Final Trimming

By now your pig should be in a very inappropriate-looking position.

All Split Up

All Split Up

This is the time to do any final bits of trimming to make sure it’s all cleaned up inside.

Final Trimming of the Insides

Final Trimming of the Insides

When you barbecue ribs, you pull off the membrane.  This is just a wee bit more difficult with a whole hog, so scoring the rib membrane in a diamond pattern will work just as well.  (When I’m making a big mess of ribs and don’t have the time to pull all those membranes, I’ll score them and can’t tell the difference.)

Once you’re done with the insides, use your hammer and cleaver to chop off the feet at the ankle joints.

Separating The Ribs

One last step with the sharp tools, and it will be time to inject.  To make it easier to pull everything apart – especially the ribs – once the pig is cooked, separate the top of the ribs from the spine.  This is definitely something that will take a sharp knife and patience.  At the end of the process, it will totally be worth it.

With your knife, simply cut through the rib-spine joints down each side of the pig.

Starting to Separate the Ribs from the Spine

Starting to Separate the Ribs from the Spine

Ribs Separated from the Spine

Ribs Separated from the Spine

All Prepped and Ready to Inject

All Prepped and Ready to Inject

Inject Your Pig

You can inject your pig with just about any type of flavor you like.  The simplest is apple juice, or apple juice flavored with your preferred BBQ rub.

You’ll want to inject in several locations both the hams and the shoulders, and as much of the belly and back meat as possible.  You’ll know it is working when you see the meat puff up.

Injecting a Ham

Injecting a Ham

Injecting the Shoulder

Injecting the Shoulder

Injecting the Belly

Injecting the Belly

Rubbing It Up

Last step before putting the pig in the smoker, is to season it up.  Using your favorite pork rub (the one I used here is a combination of Johnny’s Seasoning Salt, Sugar, Cumin, and Allspice). There’s no need to be shy with the seasoning – put on a good coating and press it into the meat.

Seasoning the Pig

Seasoning the Pig

Pressing in the Rub

Pressing in the Rub

Along with rubbing all the meat in the cavity, you should also get some rub under the skin of the hams and shoulders.  You’ll need to use your knife to separate the skin of the legs from the meat.

Pulling the Skin Away from the Ham

Pulling the Skin Away from the Ham

Seasoning Under the Ham Skin

Seasoning Under the Ham Skin

Time to Cook

Get your pig into the smoker (by now it should be at the smoking temperature of (225 to 250) °F; remember to get some help with a bigger pig.

The Pig in the Smoker

The Pig in the Smoker

If you want to rub the outside of the pig, this is a great time to do it.  Rubbing the pig skin with vegetable oil will also help crisp up the skin.

Like all barbecue, cooking times will vary based on the size of the pig, control of the smoker temperature, and the environmental conditions.  The cooked hog will stay hot resting in a hot box (ice chest) covered in some towels for two to three hours.  Use this time as a buffer to make sure your pig is cooked in time for your feasting.

Approximate Cooking Times:

(30 to 40) pounds:  (5 to 6) hours
75 pounds:  (6 to 7) hours
100 pounds:  (7 to 8) hours
125 pounds:  (8 to 9) hours

Target Temperature:

160 °F in the legs

As you approach the end of your cooking time, watch your meat temperature.  Take your cooked pig off the smoker for it’s post-cook nap once the hams and shoulders hit 160 °F.

Taking the pig off the smoker is definitely a time for caution.  Everything is hot, and there is a lot of grease.  A couple of people with heat-proof gloves will make it safe and easy.

Cooked and Beautiful

Cooked and Beautiful

Time To Eat!

Keep in mind that pulling apart a cooked pig is a messy proposition:  there’s going to be a lot of grease and fat and skin.  You’ll want to make sure you’re protected from hot splatters; if you care about the ground around you, protect that as well.

You can serve the parts of the pig however you like, but best is to pull all the meat, toss it with some of the juice.  If they’re large enough, lift out and slice the ribs.   In the case of a small pig like the one here, it works better to strip the meat off the bones and add it to the all the shredded goodness.

Give everyone a beverage and a plate, and have at it!

SLC Part 3 – The Mark Miller Subaru BBQ Competition

Well, after failing to move on in the Dutch Oven Championships, Saffron and I moved on to cook some competition barbecue.

Originally, Saffron and I were going to cook together, dividing up the meats.  After arriving, and seeing the lay of the land, Saffron and I decided to cook independently – her in the “pro” four-meat event, and me (who had only one smoker, and very little other equipment) in the “backyard” two-meat event.

Sure, I’d have to get up in the morning to run out for some chicken and ribs.  And I’d have to cobble together some rubs for the meats.  But I had packed basic seasonings and sauces, so I felt good to go.

It is amazing what you can do with some seasoning salt, sugar, and paprika…

I got my sleeping bag, and sacked out for a decent night’s sleep in the back of Saffron’s truck.

Saturday morning, after a few miscues trying to find a grocery store, I got myself stocked up on the essentials for the day:  baby back ribs, a whole chicken, charcoal, and hot coffee.  The good news is that with a 2:30 and a 3:00 turn-in, I had plenty of time to get ready.  The bad news is that with a 2:30 and a 3:00 turn-in, I had a lot of time sitting around waiting to fire up the smoker.

Cooking went, I feel, pretty well.  The ribs were tasty, though a bit underdone.  The chicken came out nearly perfect, though I think the sauce got a bit thick – I should have thinned it out some more.  This particular competition was a no-garnish event, meaning I didn’t have to muck around decorating the boxes with lettuce and/or parsley.  It also meant I had plenty of room for my whole chicken.  Here’s the turn-in box:

Image

It’s not quite as pretty as normal, but still I couldn’t complain too much.

Unfortunately, I forgot to snap a photo of the rib box, which was a much nicer turn-in.  You’ll just have to use your imagination to picture the box of shiny, glazed baby backs.  See?  I knew you could do it…

After having plenty of time to clean and pack up all the equipment, the judge team finished their score tabulations.  I ended up placing second in both chicken and ribs, and thereby grabbing the Reserve Grand Champion spot.  Absolutely a good time, and a nice chance to bang some of the rust and dust off of my competition skills to get ready for the Pacific Northwest season.

Raven’s Fyre will gear up for the season cooking chili one weekend, and following that up with a Saturday chili competition and a Sunday one-day barbecue competition.  Check the calendar for the dates, and if you’re local, come say “Hi!”

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

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.