Thursday, October 31, 2013

Judging at the Jack Daniel's

Judges Credentials
Each October as the leaves begin to change color in Jack Daniel's Hollow, championship BBQ teams from the US and abroad gather to compete in what is touted as the most prestigious barbecue competition in the world, The Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue.

The Jack is an invite only competition. The winner of the American Royal Open, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo BBQ and the Memphis in May World Championship receive an automatic invitation to the Jack, as does any team that wins 7 Grand Championships during the 12-month qualifying period. The remaining teams are determined by a state-by-state "Draw" from all the teams that won a State Championship contest during the qualifying period. After all the state draws have been completed the remaining teams get one last chance in a "Wild Card Draw" where one final and very lucky team is selected! In addition to the US teams, 18 international Championship teams representing 10 countries were also invited to this year's Jack.

Judges Invitation
As with the barbecue competition, judging for the Jack is by invitation only. Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) master judges, the most experienced KCBS table captains, local celebrities, national celebrities, legends of competition BBQ and barbecue connoisseurs are among those that receive and invitation to judge each year. So suffice it to say, I was stunned and honored (mostly stunned) when I received my invitation to join the judges panel at this years landmark 25th annual event!

The festivities kicked off on Friday, October 25th, with a judges certification class conducted by the KCBS, a requirement for those who are not certified judges. The folks at the Jack recognize the effort and work these top teams put into competing and bring in only the very best KCBS instructors to ensure all teams get fair and accurate judging and that proper judging procedures are followed.

This year's instructor was Mike Lake. Mike is the pitmaster for Rock River BBQ, a KCBS Master Judge and certified instructor. Mike and his wife Theresa are also the KCBS Reps for the Sam's Club National BBQ Tour Event. Mike is a top notch instructor and did a fantastic job making sure the new judges were very clear on the process and how to properly score an entry. Mike consistently and frequently emphasized putting your personal expectations aside, judging only what you are presented, judging each item for it's own merit and scoring each entry before moving on to the next!

Parade of Teams
Next up after the judges certification class was the parade of teams. The parade is a Jack Daniel's tradition where teams wear their shirts and/or uniforms and carry their banner, state or national flag. The procession is led by the Moore County High School band followed by the international teams and then the US teams. The parade started at the entrance to Wiseman Park, the site of the competition, and proceeded through the Lynchburg town square and then on to the Jack Daniel's Distillery Visitor's Center about 1/4 mile away. It's truly a sight to see, especially the international teams who were decked out in the traditional garb of their homeland. Lederhosen, dirndl, bunad and ceremonial costumes were abound! We followed the procession cheering on the Missouri Shark Fisherman's Club, the only SLBS team that qualified for the Jack.

Barbecue Hill
From the visitor's center, the teams and judges boarded buses for a reception and dinner on Barbecue Hill. Barbecue Hill is an open-air pavilion that offers a spectacular view of the Jack Daniel's Hollow and city of Lynchburg. Dinner was served buffet style with one section for a traditional fried catfish dinner with hush puppies, baked beans, potato salad, etc. and a second section showcasing meats such as lamb and venison cooked on Jack Daniel's Special Edition Primo Oval smokers. There were also two bars that served shots of Old No. 7 and mixed drinks, one of which quickly became our favorite, Lynchburg Lemonade. Here is the recipe:
  • 1 part Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7
  • 1 part triple sec
  • 1 part sour mix
  • 4 parts lemon-lime soda
Combine and stir. Garnish with a lemon slice and cherry. It's a truly unique drink!

After the reception on Barbecue Hill, most of the teams headed back to the competition site to start or continue preparations for Saturday's contest. Friday is really the only day judges are permitted to fraternize with teams. Judges who fraternize with teams on Saturday prior to turn in's are immediately disqualified from participating on the judges panel. So Friday night, we visited a few of our friends who were competing to say hello and wish them luck. "Break a Rib", we say! Then, it was off to our hotel to get some rest for the big day ahead.

Celebrity Judges
On Saturday October 26, the morning of the contest, it was straight from the parking lot to the judges pavilion. The pavilion set up was quite unique. The large open air pavilion was located in the center of the competition site and was fenced in on four sides. What was interesting is that spectators lined up around the perimeter to view the judging. In fact, there were bleachers five rows high that ran the entire length of the main side of the pavilion, more on this in a little bit. After finding the judges entrance, I proceeded to the check-in table where they validated my credentials and assigned a table. We were also given a black apron and a silver sharpie marker, tools of the trade for yet another Jack tradition. Judges use the time between the check-in and the kick-off of the judging to collect autographs from fellow judges on their apron's. Some of the most sought after autographs included country music singer Keith Anderson, Famous Dave Anderson of Famous Dave's restaurants, Ken Hess, pitmaster at Big Bob Gibson's and Ardie Davis a.k.a. Remus Powers PhB (doctorate in barbecue philosophy) the author of nine barbecue books and KCBS Hall of Fame member.

Judges Apron
The judging kicked off with the judges oath led by Ardie Davis "I do solemnly swear to objectively and subjectively evaluate each barbeque meat that is presented to my eyes, my nose, my hands and my palate. I accept my duty to be an Official KCBS Certified Judge, so that truth, justice, excellence in Barbeque and the American Way of Life may be strengthened and preserved forever." And then, it was down to business.

Judges Pavilion
There were 7 categories to be judged: Jack Daniel's Sauce, Cooks Choice, Chicken, Ribs, Pork, Brisket and last but not least Dessert. With each table having to judge 6 to 7 entries in each category, we were cautioned not too eat everything put in front of us. If you think about, in a couple of bites, a person could easily eat an ounce of food. That's over 3 lbs of food before it's all said and done and that's not counting the crackers and water consumed to cleanse your palate. I really wish I was able to share pictures of the entries, however, cameras are not allowed in the judging area as with any contest. The best I can do is provide a picture of the judging in process taken from the spectators seats outside of the judge's pavilion, something unique to Jack. As far as judging goes, the process at the Jack was pretty much the same as at any contest. There were, however, a couple of nuances in terms of what was being judged and what happened after judging that are unique to the Jack and definitely worth mentioning in order to put the whole judging experience into perspective.

First of all, sauce is a category that is not typically judged at a BBQ Contest. For the sauce entries, the teams were required to use Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 in the sauce. Each contestant turned in one pint of sauce in a styrofoam cup. The judges were instructed to score each entry on appearance, taste and texture (as opposed to tenderness). For texture, you had to decide was it appealing or not, was it too thick, too thin, too chunky, to runny? Texture to me, was very subjective, and not something you typically consider as a judge. The judges were also provided some unseasoned pulled pork so that they could taste the sauce by itself and also with meat in order to get an overall perspective on taste profile. To me, all of the sauces were eerily similar. If I had to guess, I would say that most of the teams started with Blue's Hog original and Jack and tweaked it from there.

Spectator's View
The next area where the Jack was different from most contests was the chicken category. Competitors were required to turn in both dark meat and white meat and a minimum of 7 identifiable portions. There were no guidelines on how many portions of each type of meat the contestants were required to turn-in. This resulted in some controversy right away as we started scoring boxes for appearance. For example, one contestant turned in a single unsliced breast and 6 thighs. Another contestant turned in 3 wings and 6 thighs. So the dilemma was what should each judge take from the box to sample? It was at this point that the table captains stepped in with guidance. As your turn came around and a box had both a white meat and dark meat available, you could take one of each. If not, you had to take one portion of whatever was left. In order to be fair, each person was then instructed to judge ONLY what was in front of them. If you wanted dark meat, but only got white, you were NOT to penalize the cook and you were instructed to judge only what you received on it's individual merit. I can't say for sure how the judges who only received a single type of meat scored their entries, especially those who were less experienced. But if I had to guess, not turning in 6 pieces of each most likely did not help a competitors chicken score.

Sunset at the Jack Daniel's Hollow
The last unique point to note is what happened after the judging of a category was complete and all the scores had been collected. Earlier I mentioned that there were bleacher seats along the main section of the judging area. You ready for this! After the judging was complete, the table captains and judges handed out the remaining contents of the turn-in boxes to the spectators in the bleachers. Now this is definitely unique to the Jack. I couldn't understand why anyone would want to watch judging since it's pretty boring. Now, it all made sense. I came to find out that people came very early in the morning to claim those bleacher seats so that they could sample competition style BBQ from some of the best cooks in the world. Only at the Jack! Wow!

Looking back at it all and taking it in, judging the Jack was an incredible experience. From the scenery of the Jack Daniels Hollow, to the hospitality of the contest organizers and staff to the rich traditions that are uniquely those of the Jack. If you ever get the opportunity to go as a competitor, judge or spectator, seize it! It's an unforgettable experience!

by Bill Grenko

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Breakfast Fatty

The other day, my friend and fellow competitor, Big John Yeast of Code 3 BBQ Team invited my to St. Louis Home Fires to sample some of Jason Day's (Burnt Finger BBQ) famous Bacon Explosions. Jason is the inventor of the "original" which is often imitated but never truly duplicated! Big John cooked up both the "Original" and the new "Cheese" Bacon Explosions and they did not disappoint! I highly recommend you try these - they are the real deal!

The Bacon Explosion is a type of Fatty (see our previous post on the Bacon Wrapped Fatty) made by stuffing chopped bacon slathered in BBQ sauce inside of Italian Sausage and then wrapping that wonderful explosion of pork flavors with a bacon weave seasoned with BBQ rub. They make my mouth water just thinking about them!

During our feast, Big John and I started talking about some of the Fatty's we have cooked in the past and John mentioned he wished he had a breakfast fatty recipe. Well being a person that never passes up an opportunity to cook, I decided to post a Breakfast Fatty recipe inspired by Jason's Original Bacon Explosion. This ones for you Big John! Let's get started.

The ingredients
We are going to stuff this Italian Sausage Breakfast Fatty cheddar cheese, hash browns, scrambled eggs, sausage links and bacon.

Preparing the Sausage for Stuffing

The first thing we want to do is to put the Italian Sausage in a standard 1 gallon Ziploc freezer bag and roll it to a uniform thickness with a rolling pin. I usually spray the inside of the bag with PAM so that it is easy to remove the sausage with minimal sticking. Be sure to leave the bag open at the top so that air can escape while rolling out the sausage. Another tip is to cut along the sides of the bag with scissors to easily access the sausage in the next steps.

Cook All the Ingredients Prior to Stuffing

The next step is too cook the stuffing ingredients. Prepare the hash browns according to the package ingredients. I pan fried mine in chipotle olive oil and seasoned them with Kosher salt and coarse ground black pepper. For the eggs, I scrambled them in butter, added a healthy portion of sauteed diced jalapenos and seasoned them with Penzy's "Mural of Flavor" spice. Finally cook up a few slices of bacon and about 6-8 sausage links. Now - let the stuffing begin!

Start by Adding the Cheese

Start by centering the rolled out sausage on a piece of parchment paper. The parchment paper is actually a tool to be used to help us roll the stuffed sausage into a log. Because we are rolling from the front towards the back and we are folding in the sides of the sausage to create the log, we want to leave a 1 inch border around the perimeter of the sausage. Notice how the cheese is positioned on the sausage. Let's continue adding ingredients.

Next Add the Hash Browns

Next we will add the hash browns on top of the cheese. Notice that we extended the hash browns slightly past the cheese towards the back. As we use the parchment paper to roll the log, the ingredients get compacted and pushed towards the back. Staggering like this creates a unique spiral of ingredients inside the Fatty. It also leaves enough sausage at the top to overlap and completely encase the ingredients so that seal everything in an not have a noticeable seam. Now let's add the eggs.

Adding the Scrambled Eggs

Notice that with this layer too, we stagger the ingredients extending them slightly past the existing layers towards the back of the sausage. Now on to our final two ingredients.

Add the Sausage and Bacon

Finish by adding the sausage and bacon. I alternated the sausage and bacon it this step. It does make a difference in appearance of the final product once it is sliced. Remember, when we roll the sausage to create the log, we are compressing the ingredients as we roll from front to back and fold in the sides. The process creates a spiral of ingredients inside the Fatty. Rolling the Fatty is a combination of art and science. It's really hard to take pictures of the steps and if I can find a camera assistant, I will post a video.

The Finished Stuffed Sausage Log

The key here is to use the parchment paper much like a sushi chef would us a bamboo mat. You are rolling from front to back tucking and compressing as you roll forward and pulling the parchment paper back as you progress. At the same time you are folding the ends in to completely encase the ingredients. It takes a little practice, but after just a couple, you will be a pro. Above is the finished log. Now it's time to create the bacon weave and wrap the log.

7 x 7 Bacon Weave

Start by cutting a piece of parchment paper. we are going to make a 7 x 7 bacon weave. Start by lying 7 slices of bacon side by side creating a square on the parchment. Next weave in the remaining seven slices of bacon creating a mat. There are a number of videos and step by step instructions on the internet if need help. Just search on "bacon weave" to find them. The final step is to wrap the log in the bacon weave.

Preparing to Wrap the Sausage Log in the Bacon Weave

We are again going to use the parchment paper much like a sushi mat. Place the log as pictured on the bacon weave. We will roll from front to back peeling back the parchment paper and tucking the sides of the bacon as we progress.

Finished Fatty

The finished Fatty will be completely encased in the bacon weave with the seam on the bottom. we will want to cook it seam side down until the bacon has set and started to crisp. Prepare you smoker for indirect cooking at a temperature of 225. I like to smoke breakfast fatty's with hickory wood, but any fruit wood will work fine too, especially apple or cherry. Hickory and apple is a really nice combo for these too.

Finished Smoked Breakfast Fatty

You will want to cook the fatty to an internal temperature of 155 degrees. At the temp, the insides will be hot, the sausage thoroughly cooked and the bacon will be juicy and crisp. Yum!

The Breakfast Fatty is Served!

Now for the finished product! Notice how the stuffing ingredients form a spiral from the center starting with the bacon and sausage links and moving clockwise from the center out incorporating the eggs, hash browns, cheese and Italian sausage. There are different flavors in almost every bite! For this one, I toasted a bun and created a sandwich. Try it on a toasted bagel or English muffin or open faced on toast topped with sausage gravy. You really can go wrong!

I hope you give this a try and let me know how it turns out. Enjoy!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Smoked Armadillo Eggs

Mammoth Jalapenos
It's been a long time since have posted anything so I spent the last couple of weekends cooking some of my favorite BBQ Appetizers. I will be posting a series of recipes over the next couple of weeks.

I love spicy food and this time of the year I usually cook with Jalapenos. This year I planted some mammoth Jalapenos I picked up at home depot. These Jalapenos are very large, 3 to 4 inches long and perfect for stuffing. For the first recipe, I chose Armadillo Eggs. And no, they are not made from armadillos :)

Armadillo Eggs are a popular appetizer on the BBQ circuit and make for a fantastic tailgating snack. There are a number of variations of Armadillo Egg recipes out there and I have pretty much tried them all. In my experience, the best way to make them is to core a Jalapeno, stuff it with a cheese mixture, encase it sausage, season it with BBQ rub and wrap it in bacon. Yum!

6 Mammoth Jalapenos
8 oz Philadelphia Cream Cheese w/ Jalapenos
8 oz Kraft Mexican 4-cheese Blend (shredded)
1 lb Bob Evans Pork Sausage
1 lb Farmland Hickory Smoked Bacon
Code 3 5-0 Rub
Chipotle Chili Powder

The first thing we want to do core the Jalapenos. Cut the top off just below the stem then core the Jalapeno removing the seeds and membrane with a knife. The stems and seeds are where all the heat is in a Jalapeno. Removing them will get rid of some of the bite.

Stuffed Jalapenos

The next thing we need to do is parboil the Jalapenos. Parboiling will soften them up so that the will cook more easily once encased in sausage. It will also take out some more of the heat. The key is to get them softened but not mushy. You want them to be spongy, yet firm. To parboil the Jalapeno's bring a pot of water to boil. Add the Jalapenos one at a time and close the lid. Boil for two minutes and then pour them into a colander and rinse with cold water. Now it's time to stuff them!

To make the cheese mixture, take 1/2 of the cream cheese and 1/2 of the shredded cheese and mix them together in a bowl with a spoon. I like to add back a little heat since we tamed the Jalapenos by seeding and parboiling them. To add back some heat, mix in a tablespoon of Chipotle Chili Powder otherwise you can skip this step. Now, simply spoon the mixture into each Jalapeno as pictured at the left. 

The next thing we want to do is divide the sausage into six equal portions. The best way to do this is to cut the sausage in half and then cut each half into thirds. I just kind of eyeball it and make sure that you cut the ends caps slightly larger because they are rounded.

Divide Sausage Into 6 Portions

Next put an individual piece of sausage in a Ziploc sandwich bag sprayed with PAM. Now press it into a about a 4 inch patty. Repeat for the remaining sausage. 
Press Sausage Into Patties
The final step is to place a stuffed Jalapeno in the center of a sausage patty and fold over the sausage completely encasing it. You should end up with an oblong "egg" shape.

Wrap sausage around stuffed Jalapeno pepper

The next step is to season the eggs with BBQ Rub. You can use your favorite rub here, however, I prefer Code 3 5-0 Rub. It goes great with Pork Sausage!

Season with Code 3 5-0 Rub
After you have seasoned the eggs, it's time for my favorite step, wrapping them in BACON! Take a strip of bacon and start at one end and wrap it around the egg to the other end. If you let the bacon set out of the fridge for 10-15 minutes it will be more pliable and much easier to wrap around the egg. The last step is to hit with a little more Chipotle Chili Powder. Again, you can skip this step if you like a little less heat.

Wrapped in bacon and seasoned with Chipotle Chili Powder

Now it's on to the Smoker.  I like to smoke the Armadillo Eggs with fruit woods, usually cherry or a combination of cherry and apple. It gives them a nice reddish mahogany color. You will want to smoke them at 250 for 60 to 75 minutes. They are done when they temp at 155 in the center and the bacon has begun to crisp.

Smoke at 250 for 60 to 75 minutes
Below is the finished product! They are truly an incredible treat and really quite addictive. I hope you enjoy the recipe!

Smoked Armadillo Eggs