Monday, August 18, 2008

BBQ on the River - Excelsior Springs, MO

A few years ago this was one of our first KCBS sanctioned contests. It was also the first time we cooked on our current smoker…The first (and only) Dodge County Smoker to roll off the assembly line. My Dad pulled it down from Nebraska and we never even had the chance to practice on it. It probably didn’t matter much. We would have sucked on that or any other cooker back then.

But I digest…

It’s always fun to go back to Excelsior Springs. It’s a contest that is well supported by the community and they have a strong contingent of area teams every year from the Clay and Ray County area, which I always think is cool.

The competition is tough too.

Any number of the 68 teams in attendance could have won this contest and the field was stacked with names who have visited the stage to accept grand championships numerous times.

We were once again set up next to our good ‘ole pals, The Steph, Kyle and Val are always a blast to hang with and talk to. I even got some gratis baby-sitting services out of Valerie when she took Jackson for a walk on Friday evening, allowing me a couple of free moments to finish setting up our camp, as we arrived after 5pm. Chris was even later than I was in getting there, but we had no problem in setting up and getting our meat prepped on time.

Dinner was a treat as we participated in a Friday night pot luck with more than a dozen other teams up at the Boys Night Out camp. Everyone brought Mexican food and it was great! Chris made some killer Spanish rice and there was all sorts of other good stuff to choose from on the buffet line as well.

After dinner it was back to HQ to finish up prep work and get our big cuts on the cooker. The rest of the night was pretty uneventful and the weather was cool, maybe even a little chilly – but we’ll take it over the hot days and nights we’re used to when cooking in the middle of August. The rain also stayed away and weather-wise, it turned out to be just a perfect weekend.

Saturday brought another great day with the sun shining and temps in the 70’s. We started the morning off right with a world class breakfast back the Boys Night Out camp. Bacon, eggs, biscuits & gravy and more. It was all fantastic.

After breakfast we got down to business, getting boxes ready and sticking to our rigid competition plan. Turn-ins came and went and we were happy, but not ecstatic about our food. We packed up pretty quick and had about an hour to kill before the awards at 4:00, so we kicked back and stayed cool in the shade of the buildings on Broadway Street in downtown Excelsior Springs.

The awards kicked off and we saw a steady stream of solid teams making their way up to the stage to claim their awards. Unfortunately for us, we weren’t one of them. After not hearing our name through 3 categories, I had pretty much accepted that we were going to be in for a disappointment when we got a look at the score sheet.

I was blown away when I heard our name for first place brisket. Turns out we also took 5th place overall in the contest, and a not-so-great performance turned out to be pretty good. We improved on our chicken (which we have been consistently tweaking from week to week) and ended up just out of the top ten in ribs and pork with an 11th and 14th place respectively.

We were able to come home with a little money in our pocket and we’ll be getting ready for our next run up to Fairbury, NE for the Little Blue BBQ contest the first weekend in September.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Road Trip: Kreuz Market - Lockhart, TX

Last weekend I traveled to Texas with my wife & son and her folks to see some family. We drove to Houston, then San Antonio and back to KC. We did all kinds of family stuff on our trip and even watched Finding Nemo in the car two dozen times (and that is not an exaggeration).

I made it a point to put Lockhart, Texas on our agenda and we were able to veer off Interstate 10 for a cool side trip that included a pretty damn good lunch on the way to San Antone.

A few years ago I caught a television program that profiled Kreuz Market. You can read the history of the place here. But there is a little more to the story…In 1999 the owner of the market passed away and left the business to his son, but he left the building to his daughter. They failed to work out an agreement and Kreuz Market moved to a new building. A new BBQ joint called Smitty’s sprung up in the original building, where Kreuz started in 1900.

Even though Smitty’s is housed in the old building, I wanted to try Kreuz. From all I’ve read, heard and seen, it’s the best in Texas.

We arrived at about 12:30pm on Saturday afternoon and the parking lot was full. The building is huge, and less than 10 years old – but it looks and feels like it has been there much longer.

We walked in and took our place in a line that stretched from the back of the building nearly to the entrance. While in line, we were able to look at the menu. It was pretty straight forward…brisket, shoulder clod and big pork chops along with ribs and sausage all sold by the pound.

At the end of the line were a set of double doors that opened up into a large room with 4 big brick pits heated by open fires, burning 100% Texas post oak. I should also mention that outside of the building, sat the largest collection of cut and stacked wood that I have ever seen. No gas pits here. A smokey haze lingered inside the building and out from the fires.

In front of the pits were two counters, each staffed by cashier, a pit man/meat slicer and scale operator. It must have been at least 110° inside that room…it was hotter than the temp outside and that was measuring 98 when we got there. I placed my order for brisket and sausage and watched the pit man lift up the heavy iron doors on the pit to get the sausage, then stab a whole brisket which he brought over to his cutting station, slicing off just the right amount. The scale operator threw it all on a few pieces of butcher paper and cashier rang it up.

We carried our lunch out of the pit room and into the dining hall where drinks and a limited number of sides (German potato salad, some peppers and ice cream...not much else) are sold separately. Two notable things you won't find anywhere in the building are forks and BBQ sauce. The don't need a fork to eat this food and you don't sauce to hide any mistakes. Fair enough.

The brisket was good. I thought it might be dry, as it was being held in a pit which I thought might cause it to continue to cook. But it was juicy and full of flavor. They do not season their briskets with a traditional rub, but rather a salt & pepper blend only...more salt than pepper. The brisket was very salty...but not too salty. But still much saltier than you'd find around KC. The highlight of the meal for me was the jalapeƱo cheese sausage. Man, that was good! We also got some regular sausage, which was just OK. Tasted like mediocre bratwurst.

Overall, the lunch was delicious and the atmosphere was awesome. It was well worth the side trip and definitely tops the list of the coolest places I have sat down to have a meal. I am working on a page to post more pictures of Kreuz Market. Until I get that done, here are just a few more.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Laurie Hillbilly BBQ

A week or so ago Chris and I decided to make a quick run down to the backwoods of Laurie, MO for the Laurie Hillbilly BBQ Contest. It was a last minute decision…I got a hold of the contest organizer, found out they still had room for a few more teams and we made our plan and left town around 3:00 pm on Friday.

Early in the week we enlisted an old BBQ friend of ours to be a part of the team. Richard Sterling is from the Laurie area, but he most recently called Nebraska home - living not far from my home town up there. He had quite a bit of success cooking contests around Nebraska and Iowa a few years ago. Rich has since relocated back to Missouri and sold his cooker. Actually it was Chris who bought his H&S Trailer Smoker a few months ago.

Our plan was to have Rich cook chicken and run boxes. We’d cook our regular ribs, pork and brisket and see what turns out.

We pulled in to the cook site a little after 6:00 pm and quickly set up camp. We had a pretty good spot, not too far from turn-ins and right under a shade tree. Not that it mattered if we were under a tree or not – it was 90+ degrees most of the weekend and the air was humid and thicker than molasses.

We cooked our four categories with little incident and got everything turned in on time with Rich’s help. We packed up quickly and cooled down (temporarily) by rinsing off in a cold shower and throwing on a change of clothes. By the time the awards rolled around I was just as hot as before.

We were sweating at the awards (literally) as we didn’t get a call until we hit 4th in the last category of brisket. When we don’t get a top 10 call in a category after the end of a long contest, my immediate thought (and hope) is “well, maybe we finished 11th.”

That was almost the case here. We ended up 13th in ribs and 11th in pork. Three of our four turn-ins faired pretty well with some solid scores. But the judges beat us up pretty bad on our chicken. As we tasted it in preparation for turn-in, I think we all thought we had a chance, but it wasn’t going to happen for us this day.

Out of 76 teams, we finished 18th and enjoyed sharing in the success of many friends including The Slabs, Early Bird BBQ, Smoke on Wheels and Pork Pullin’ Plowboys, all of which celebrated top category and overall finishes.

I will say that I did miss having my little buddy at the contest with us. This is the second contest in a row that my 18 month-old son Jackson was not there to share some time with us. Jack is my little good luck charm and when he wasn't able to go to Shannon, IL with us last month, at least Chris and I had our wives there. I have found that it's just a lot more fun to have our family with us when we're cooking.

Next up is a contest that we have done for four years. We'll be smokin' on the street in downtown Excelsior Springs, MO. If you're there, be sure to stop by and say hey!