Summer Comp Practice

Since MLG has made the jump to KCBS competition, I’ve taken it very seriously. And with the time and effort toward these comps, we have been somewhat successful against the big boys. Unfortunately, that has conflicted with my passion for backyard grilling.  Experimenting with recipes and cooking my Mexi-que dishes has taken a backseat to the competition team.

I hope to change that soon, but not right now…we are on the verge of breaking out. As the ol’ cliche goes…practice makes perfect. If that saying holds true and we continue to perfect our craft, we will achieve our goal…winning Grand Champion at a KCBS event. Practicing at home is the best way to prepare yourself for competition. The repetitions of cooking the same proteins over and many times over again helps me memorize the steps and avoid the missteps while at a contest. This is important because time is of the essence when you’re on a tight schedule during turn ins.

The latest practice from home is clearly some of my best to date. Look back as early as March 2012 and see the strides I have made since then. Already this year, I have cooked 7 briskets, over 20 pork butts and around 50 racks of ribs. I’m not in the catering business, but maybe I should be.

However, for the first time this year, I practiced with chicken. I haven’t cooked competition chicken since September of last year at the Hermann backyard contest, I took 3rd place! But this time, I’m using techniques I have never tried before to try to step up my game against the best pitmasters in the country.

In competition BBQ, when you cook chicken the first question you ask yourself is, “how am I going to prepare the skin”. Like most of my peers, I chose to scrape the skin. This technique promotes that “bite through” skin judges are looking for. Making sure that skin doesn’t come off with one bite is a big deal. When I judged the contest in Hannibal, I tried holding down the skin on a piece of chicken, my finger slipped and it smacked me in the eye.

Every part of the chicken is legal to turn, but there has to be at least 6 parted pieces. Like most teams, we cook chicken thighs, they have more flavor than chicken breasts and more meat than drumsticks. So far, I’m doing the same thing as the other team, here is where I and everybody else separate ourselves…flavor and tenderness. For now, my flavor profile is a work in progress, so it will remain classified.

I thought my chicken was just OK, they definitely didn’t look presentable and it should be something to work on. The skin, however, was what I was trying to achieve…bite through.

There was a rub on the chicken that was a little too spicy, I’m not sure if judges are into something like that. Overall, I loved the flavor and tenderness. With a few more tweaks, I think this is a winner.

I’ve had mixed results with ribs in competition, the last was getting a 5th place call. In order to build on that, my technique has to be consistent…easier said than done. Once again, I’m not divulging any secrets here, but I will say my foundation comes from the 3-2-1 ribs technique.

If consistency was what I was looking for, I found it in these ribs. In fact, they looked better than any of my previous turn ins…we talkin’ bout practice man!

Of course, while I was arranging the ribs in the box, my 3 year old son sprayed sun block on a batch of ribs. He was watching daddy spray the the ribs with apple juice and he thought that was really neat. As it turns out, coconut is not a good flavor for ribs. What a way for these perfect rack of ribs to meet its’ demise.

Pork has been the second most protein I have cooked this year. It’s a cheap and instant crowd pleaser for making pulled pork, but a pain in the ass for competition.

I didn’t intend to cook this pork shoulder for flavor profile or tenderness, I wanted to get a feel for the parts I want to put in the box…make sense?

All I did was quasi-separate the money muscle from the rest of the butt and seasoned the pork with herbs and spices. This pork butt is going to make some Mexican food!

At around 185 degrees internal temp, the meat felt tender. But after pulling it, the pork wasn’t as tender as I thought. Even the money muscle could have used another 30 minutes in the cooker. Despite this, I sliced the MM and used plugs and pulled meat to dress the box.

The result? Not half bad, it looks moist and appetizing to me. Obviously, it needs more work before this goes in front of the judges.

No other protein has been teasing me more than brisket. At contests, quite frankly, my briskets suck. But they are phenomenal at home, such as this one.

Exhibit A

At first, I thought this brisket was a dud. It was tight and narrow. There was also a good amount of “hard fat” between the flat and point. Overall, the meat looked like it would be a tough cook. That statement couldn’t have been further from the truth.

It turned out to be my best brisket yet. I think all those characteristics were the reasons why it turned out so good, but I’m siding with just getting lucky with the results.

I’ve played around with different beef grades and choice seems to work best for me. One of these days I’d like to get my mitts on a Certified Black Angus (CAB) brisket packer, but beef prices are sky high right now.

Another successful practice completed. I hope to continue these practice sessions because I feel they are beneficial to improving my scores in competition. However, I’m facing many challenges in doing so. The biggest challenge is having the money to do it.

All expenses come out of my pocket and every time I cook, I’m throwing money away. Lots of leftovers are given away because I’m sick of eating it or we don’t have the room to keep it. Also, the cost of meat is always rising, so I have to make adjustments in how much I can afford without ruining my marriage. For example, I sacrifice quality meats for lower quality that are reasonably priced. There is not a big difference in taste, but it’s practice nonetheless. Fortunately, my wife has been very supportive and she is very involved in this hobby, which makes me one lucky dog.

2 thoughts on “Summer Comp Practice

  1. Thanks for the inspiration. And A great big Kudos and Thanks to the spouse that is by your side while you are reaching for your goal!

  2. AWESOME! Curious how do you scrape the chicken skin? Is there a secret to it? I tried last week but kept tearing it. Somebody told me they use a razorblade, another person told me some skinning knife….

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