Welcome to Barbeque Nation!!

If you are into mouth-watering, "low and slow" BBQ - well, you have come to the right place! Regardless of whether you are a "newbie" simply wanting to know how/where to get started - or a "backyard champ" wanting to improve your skills - or a "pro" competing out there on the BBQ circuit - Barbeque Nation has something just for you...

We go about things just a little bit differently around here. There's no "forum" - therefore, no "bull-loney" to have to wade through... Barbeque Nation is all about "news you can use" - useful information/tips/comments to help make your barbecue experience a much better one. Our mission is to spread the "good news about Que" out to people at all levels of experience and interest!

We also feel we have assembled a wonderful "staff" of guest writers that will help bring a wealth of knowledge and insight regarding BBQ. You just never know who may show up here "at our table" from time to time!

So - pull up a chair, put another log in the firebox - and spend a little time with us as we share some smoke together...


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Pit Masters of the Universe - "Gator Boy"

We are proud to introduce a new segment here at Barbecue Nation entitled "Pit Masters of the Universe". From time to time, we will be interviewing a top pit master and/or competition BBQ team from around the country. We hope our readers will find these interviews insightful, entertaining, and beneficial to their own Queing.

To kick-off this new series, we are happy and honored to have one of the top BBQ teams in the US to join us for our initial interview. Rob "Rub" Bagby & Swamp Boys have been one of THE hottest teams out there on the competition circuit for the past couple of years now. Rob began barbecuing back in 1979 when he was only 17, hosting a party known as "Rob's Backyard BBQ".

Rob was invited to "hang out" with a competition BBQ team in 2003 - and well, the rest has been history. He formed his own team - Swamp Boys - in 2004, finished 4th in the Florida Barbecue Association (FBA) in 2006, 2nd in the FBA in 2007 - and in 2008, Swamp Boys took the FBA Team Of The Year top honors!! Talk about a hot rocket!! As of this writing, Rob's team is also currently ranked #1 by National BBQ Rankings and #2 by The Pickled Pig.

Rob cooks exclusively on Stump's smokers, and is also an authorized Stump's dealer.

So, without further ado, let's give a warm welcome to Rob Bagby!!:

Hoochie: Hey, Rob!! Thanks for stopping by Barbeque Nation!!

Rob: No problem... Thanks for inviting me!

Hoochie: Tell us a little about yourself… How did you get interested in BBQ?

Rob: I have been married 13 years, have a step daughter at the University of Florida, and a 9 year old daughter. I am a 20 year special education junior/senior high school teacher. I used to have a “Rob’s Backyard Barbecue” party every year with my friends, starting when I was 17, and we’d cook pork butts, roast corn, and steamed oysters. At my work, we had an annual fundraiser that was selling chicken quarter dinners. I inherited the duties and changed it over to selling pulled pork by the pound - aka Pork-Fest.

Hoochie: How long have you been professionally competing? And are you as passio
nate about competing as you were when you began?

Rob: I have been professionally competing in sanctioned contests since July of 2004. I think I am even more passionate about competing now than I was then.

Hoochie: That is great - I think!!... Of course, that means you probably won't be giving other teams a very good opportunity of taking your place as #1 anytime soon, either!! Tell us a little bit about your team...

Rob: As far as the competition side of it goes, I am it. I have learned since I have started competing that I am a control freak, so I go solo and I really enjoy it that way. But there is another side to my team, and that is when I am cooking close to home with th
e option of vending available. At those contests I am joined by my wife Amy, our friends Robin and Tammy, and Tammy's boyfriend Woody. These guys work great together, and can feed large crowds of people lots of barbecue, making money to help pay for Swamp Boys expenses and entries. And the best thing is they work dirt cheap! I love these guys!

Hoochie: Well, you better be lovin' them, Rob - because I figure they are probably selling a LOT of your barbecue in light of all of your recent awards!! Tell us - what is the most important thing you've learned since you began competing?

Rob: If you want to have a chance to enjoy success, learn to ride the middle of the road in taste.

Hoochie: Okay - so what is the worst piece of advice you received as a new/ young competitor?

Rob: I’d say when someone said “Cook it the way you like it to taste – you’ll be eating most of it anyway.” And that’s fine if you’re just there for the fun and the friendship. But if you compete for a chance to try to win, you need to forget about what you want - and concentrate on pleasing six strangers.

Hoochie: Easier said than done, Rob... But having been out on the competition trail 3 years now, I would certainly have to agree... In your opinion, what is the biggest mistake that a new/young competitor can make?

Rob: Trying to time the food
coming off the smoker too close to turn in time. A Cambro or a cooler is your friend.

Hoochie: Been there and done that one, too, Rob... It makes life pretty darn hectic around turn-in time for certain!! Tell us - you have done quite well especially over the past 2 years... And I know with your hectic work and personal life, it must be tough at times to hit the competition trail week end and week out... What drives you to compete?

Rob: I have learned that I have a very competitive side to me that I didn’t know about before barbecue contests. I get a rush out of it and at the same time enjoy the camaraderie and friendships I’ve been able to develop.

Hoochie: What is
your most challenging meat category to cook & why?

Rob: Probably chicken. It seems to have a relatively small window of excellence and is pretty easy for me to screw up. The fact that so many teams are great chicken cooks from the beginning makes the challenge even greater for me.

Hoochie: Tell us a little about FBA and their comps – how do they differ from KCBS comps?

Rob: There are three obvious differences in the rules: One hour between turn-ins instead of thirty minutes; minimum of 8 pieces in the box instead of 6; and no garnish allowed – it’s a barbecue contest! Those are the most notable differences, but there are less obvious differences too. Generally speaking, in my experiences, the FBA contests seem to be a little more sociable. We most always have teams that step up and host open community suppers on Friday nights, as well as fanta
stic community breakfasts Saturday morning. Everyone from the old timers to the first timers are encouraged to attend. We’re a friendly bunch!

Hoochie: That is really great, Rob... Sounds like a tight and great group of folks.... What do you think of the recent trend of candy sweet sauces that the judges seem to prefer?

Rob: I hear complaints about that, and it’s usually coming from judges themselves! Some are getting tired of the barbecue candy they end up judging. I’m sure it’s just part of a cycle, and the scores will eventually push taste more to the middle. Refer back to my response regarding "worst advice"...

Hoochie: Okay, Rob... Time for "Toss Us A Bone"... Throw us a rub/sauce/cooking technique “tip” that might help
our readers take their Que to the next level…

Rob: Take your time selecting the best meats you can. You have a much better chance of producing a great finished product if you start with great meat. Befriend your local butcher, build a relationship, and see what they can offer you. It doesn’t need to be financial; it can be as simple as special treatment. In my case, I don’t get any fantastic discounts from them, but I do get the pick of their inventory while searching for the best cuts. I’d much rather have that privilege than an extra twenty-five cents a pound off the sticker price.

Hoochie: It is funny you mention that... I just finished a class with Johnny Trigg and Rod Gray down in Austin a couple of weeks ago... And they spent time on this very subject as well... So it is obviously something you "top dogs" feel is quite important when competing... Thanks!!!

Okay - I have taken a lot of your time, Rob... And we can't thank you enough for spending some time with us... One last question... You and I both smoke on a Stumps... And as noted at the start of this interview, you are also a Stumps dealer... But putting all "special interests" aside, tell us - why do your prefer a Stumps over other types of smokers (stick-burners, pellet poopers, etc)?

Rob: I used to cook on a Lang-style stick burner that I made and I enjoyed it a lot. But the staying up all night part got real old after a year or so. I have also cooked on WSMs, Backwoods, and pellet burners. In my opinion, BY FAR the easiest, most consistent, best tasting food comes out of my Stumps. It doesn’t require special fuel, electricity, or constant supervision. There is nothing to break. It holds a steadier temperature than most home ovens. And did I mention it’s easy to use? I can load the chute with briquettes, tune in the temp to 240*, and 14+ hours later it will still be holding at 240*. So really, why wouldn’t one prefer a Stumps? ☺

Hoochie: No argument here, Rob!! I love my Stumps, too... Rob, our many thanks for "stopping by" and spending a little time with us here at Barbeque Nation. We wish you the very best going forward the remainder of this year. Come out West and cook with us one day!!

Rob: Glad to "stop by"... And good luck to all of you as well!!

(My many thanks to Patio Daddio for his help with the interview questions! - Hoochie)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!!

I am here in Las Vegas for the next 3 days taking a dental laser class... Trying to learn how to BBQ gum tissues... Okay - not really... At least, not the part about BBQing of gum tissues... But I really am here for a laser class... Anyway - it just so happens that the resort I am staying out (the Red Rock Resort) is where The Salt Lick is located here in Las Vegas. As many times as I have been to Austin, I have never taken the short drive over to Driftwood to eat at the famous Salt Lick there. So I am thinking, "What the heck - let's give her a whirl..."

Now - before I get to going here, you need to know up front I am not a big fan of most BBQ restaurants. Haven't been in a long time, simply because what I cook at home generally beats the punch out of most restaurant BBQ. No slam against BBQ restaurants, mind you. The owners of most Que joints will tell you they generally can't/don't sell "competition grade" BBQ in their restaurants. It simply is too costly and/or too labor intensive to do it at a price the public will pay. I also have rarely found a "sister" restaurant to ever be as good as the "original". And to make it "Strike 3!!", I got into Las Vegas late, and was the last patron The Salt Lick seated tonight... So I am pondering as I am being seated, "What are you thinking, Hoochie?!! Here you are at a BBQ restaurant (which is something I generally avoid) - and it is a "sister" restaurant (strike two) - and you are getting ready to order some Que that was most likely smoked many, many HOURS ago?? ! You should be OUT of here, Hoochie!!"

But I stayed... Ordered some pork ribs... Simply hoping they might be better than a vending machine candy bar or a slice of pizza at the airport...

Was I ever shocked!! The ribs I ate tonight were as good - if not better - than any competition ribs I have ever eaten!! Hands down!! They had a mild but distinctive rub on them, were cooked over oak (I asked the waitress), and were ever so lightly brushed with a sauce The Salt Lick is famous for - some sort of mustard and vinegar sauce with a little "kick" in it... They had great color, and despite the fact it was late, they were very moist and the meat pulled off the bone perfectly - and I mean perfectly. I thought I had died and gone to heaven!! The cole slaw and potato salad? Well, they were less than memorable, as is often the case. But these ribs? Mmmmmm mmmmmm good!

Now - maybe I just got "lucky" tonight... I mean, after all, I AM in Las Vegas... Or maybe the ribs I ate tonight were originally destined for the chef/"pit master" at the end of his/her shift... Whatever the case, I hit a "winner" tonight, and will most definitely go back there before I leave on Saturday evening. If you happen to come to Vegas, you definitely want to make the trip out here (about 20 minutes off the strip) if you happen to get the hankering for some good ribs. You definitely won't be disappointed :)


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Que School - "Low & Slow"

In the world of BBQ, you will often hear the term "low and slow". This refers to the cooking of meats at a low temperature ( a pit temperature of 225-250 degrees F) and slowly (over a longer period of time.)

Okay, Hoochie - what exactly are we accomplishing here by cooking "low and slow"? Other than creating an excuse to sit around outside and maybe enjoy a brewski or two - or maybe three? Well - glad you asked!!

When we barbeque, we are generally are dealing with cuts of meat (brisket, ribs, pork butt) that are rather "tough". Historically speaking, these were the cuts of meat the wealthy turned up their noses at - and since the poor were generally the ones buying these "undesirable" cuts of meat, they figured out a way to turn it into a delicacy via "low & slow".

Meat is composed primarily of protein muscle fibers held together by strands of collagen and fat tissue. Beginning at an internal meat temperature (not to be confused with the pit temperature) of around 140 degrees F - and plateauing around 160 degrees F - we will begin to see these collagen stands begin to "unwind" and turn into a "gelatin", the fat will begin to "melt", and the muscle fibers will begin to "relax" and the juices "absorbed" instead of being "squeezed out". When done the proper way, these "reactions" when working in harmony produce a very tender and moist piece of meat.

We can achieve this internal temperature - and various degrees of the desired "reactions" mentioned above - either quickly or slowly. Care to guess which way will yield the better quality "reactions"???

The process of collagen turning into a "gelatin" is a slow process. It does not happen instantly when the internal meat temperature hits 140 F - it takes time. The longer you allow the meat to travel through an internal temp of 140-160 degrees F, the more collagen will turn into a "gelatin". The same holds true with the fat "melting" - we get more of that process when we are "low & slow".

And when we are "low and slow", the protein muscle fibers slowly "relax" and the juices are "absorbed" rather than "squeezed out". Cooking barbecue in this fashion results in tender, succulent meats.

If you are experienced at cooking barbecue, you know about the "barbecue plateau" where your meat tends to get stuck at a certain temperature (around 165 deg F) and stay there. An experienced pit master knows this is when all the "good stuff" is happening... your collagen strands are unwinding, your fat is melting, and your muscle proteins are slowly relaxing instead of seizing up.

So... the "barbecue plateau" is a good thing. When your internal meat temperatures start to rise after the plateau, you need to start checking for doneness because any further cooking will tend to dry your meat out.