How competition BBQ almost ruined me
I am smoking ribs in my Big Green Egg on the deck. It is a beautiful Saturday afternoon with the temperature hovering around 80 degrees. And I am not anxious. The ribs will stay put for about three hours. I may not even wrap them. This is the first time I’ve made ribs in about five years that did not involve a precious plenty of over-thought, high anxiety and, ultimately, dashed dreams.
Competition BBQ almost ruined me.
I have been a student of BBQ for more than 10 years. I started with an El Cheapo Brinkmann (the worst smoker ever), went to school on dozens of old-time stick burners who clued me in on their secrets. And then one day I started a competition BBQ team and all the pleasure of sitting on a deck, smelling smoke and drinking a wee bit of wine went out the window.
Oh, I had fun. Our team, Chicks In Charge, consisted of four women and we traveled the Southeast competing on the Kansas City Barbecue Society circuit. Here’s what it takes to be a successful competition cook. You practice every weekend you’re not competing. With brisket, pork butt, ribs and chicken. That’s a lot of meat and a lot of time. You record every result of every practice cook. You tinker with rubs, sauces, injections and marinades. You purchase expensive equipment. You pay to travel to contests. You spend hours with your smoker. And if you’re lucky, you take home a plastic trophy and $150.
Mostly, we weren’t lucky although if incessant worry could have been an ingredient to a successful cook we would have been called to the stage every time.
For a long time after we called it quits I couldn’t shake the routine of competition ribs. The meticulous trimming of the racks. The combination of rubs. The careful selection of wood. Pulling them off the smoker mid-cook to slather them with my secret flavor enhancers. The wrapping. The agony of achieving that perfect texture — tender but with enough integrity that the judges would get a clean bite to the bone.
But yesterday I thought I might like to smoke some ribs again. The easy way. Cover them with rub. Let the rack sit a bit and put it on the Egg. Spritz them once in awhile with apple juice and cider vinegar. Have some wine (which I am doing) and enjoy the moment.
It’s fun again.