Food: Becoming a backyard pitmaster
I’ve decided to add an almost impossible item to my bucket list. I’d like to be a judge on the show “BBQ Pitmasters.”
I’m finding it an ironic twist that the more I try to eat healthier, the more I’m drawn to cooking shows featuring fattening food. It’s as if just by watching the culinary delights being prepared I can somehow taste them through my TV screen, which is ridiculous but I can’t help myself. However, it is a fact that every time I watch “BBQ Pitmasters” my mouth actually starts watering like Pavlov’s dog.
The premise of the program is that three noted “pitmasters” compete for prize money. Not until the day before the competition do the cooks know what types of meat they will be preparing. Sometimes it’s a big ham, a roast, chicken parts, steaks or the holy grail of them all, ribs.
When I was a kid, we cooked out a lot during the warm months. We called it “grilling” and just about everything we cooked was slathered in my dad’s secret sauce. Our grill wasn’t fancy; it was simply a round shallow pan with a hood over it.
Barbecuing has come a long way these days. The equipment that is available is mind-boggling and the smokers and grills the pitmasters bring to these competitions are phenomenal. I’ve seen cookers that are actually pulled behind a vehicle, bespangled with thermometers, pull handles and smoke boxes. There are grills of every shape that cook with pellets, infrared heat and specially made charcoal.
And did you know that there are many different types of barbecue? For instance, there is Kansas City style, which includes a variety of meat that is basted with a tomato-based, sweet-spicy, thick sauce. Memphis style barbecue is similar to Kansas City style, but is spicier and sauce is used sparingly, but rubs reign here. Texas style barbecue focuses on beef. It is cooked with a dry mustard and chili powder-based rub and sauces are thin but bold. Carolina style barbecue includes a vinegar or mustard-based sauce, usually applied over pulled pork. And all these styles can be tweaked and perfected, depending on the cook.
Once the pitmasters have grilled their entries to perfection, the meat is carefully cut and placed into white Styrofoam boxes lined with parsley. Judges look for an attractive appearance, how the meat “pulls” when bitten into, smoke ring depth, sauce or rub flavor and a multitude of other criteria.
After watching this program, I got it in my head that I would ramp up my own grilling skills by applying some of these techniques to my barbecuing style. And then a miracle happened. A friend presented me with an “award winning” rib kit, complete with an original sauce, a hot sauce and a secret sauce in addition to two jars of Rib Tickler and Sweet n’ Heat rubs. I was in heaven.
Then I started reading the instructions for preparing ribs using all these sauces and rubs. I found it way too complicated for my low patience level in preparing food, but I was willing to venture out on my own and decided to try my new kit ingredients on some chicken wings. Wow! They were addictive.
With the height of grilling season upon us, I’m including a couple of recipes for a rub and a barbecue sauce. One good thing about these recipes is they can be tweaked to fit any cook’s taste. Want it sweeter, add more sugar. Want it hotter, add more pepper. Don’t like an ingredient, leave it out and add one you do.
And if anyone decides they want to compete in a pitmaster cook off, look me up. I will happily be your judge.
Basic Barbecue Rub
1/2 cup brown sugar
¼ cup paprika
4 Tbs. coarse salt
3 Tbs. course pepper
2 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. celery seed
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
Combine all ingredients. For more heat add more cayenne pepper. This rub can be used on all cuts of meat including steaks, chicken pork and ribs and should be applied at least 3 to 4 hours before grilling.
Honey Barbecue Sauce
1 cup ketchup
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp. liquid smoke
1/2 teaspoon salt
¼ tsp. ground pepper
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. Tabasco sauce
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and whisk until smooth. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes or until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and serve with your favorite meat or seafood.