Monday, September 29, 2008

Getting Ready for the Royal

Getting ready to cook a BBQ contest takes a lot of work. The more we compete, the more streamlined it becomes, but there are some things that have to be done and you just can’t cut corners with that stuff. This week it's time to get ready for the big one...The American Royal.

We probably spend 10 to 15 hours the week before a contest getting ready. That includes shopping, checking off to-do lists, packing supplies, trimming meat, double checking to-do lists and getting the cooker ready for competition.

Part of getting the cooker ready means cleaning. I clean every part of our smoker inside and out before every contest. Once I cleaned it the day after a competition, but I learned that doesn’t work very well. If I fire up again between that day and the next contest, it just gets dirty, greasy and grimey again. Probably not as dirty, greasy and grimey as it does after a full contest, but I need to have that extra clean feeling to know that the cooker is ready for the challenge ahead.

We cook ribs, pork butt and brisket in the smoker in competition. Ribs…not that messy. Pork and brisket…messy. BBQers know these are cuts loaded with fat and can lose as much as half of its raw weight when that fat renders. And it renders all over the grates, drips down onto the tuning plates and settles in the bottom of the cook chamber. After a cook, it’s black, it’s thick and it’s gross. (This picture was taken at one contest when it was still cold outside...I accidently forgot to close my drain valve under the belly of the chamber and the result was this 12" tall stalagmite of grease and fat...
YUMMY! I am glad it wasn't warm...that would have been a mess!)

As usual, we had the cooker clean and ready to go for our last contest in Mission. We did the normal routine, then went home Saturday afternoon and threw another 85 lbs of meat or so in the smoker for a catering gig we had later in the week. Four butts and five briskets went on around 6pm and came off the next morning. After cooking for a contest then turning around and loading it back up again, a huge mess was left behind in the cooker.

Yesterday I started the process of getting ready for the American Royal.

Earlier this summer we received a few sample bottles of Greased Lightning all purpose cleaner in a goody bag at a contest. I used up a couple of those little samples on various things and we’ve got a bottle in the closet at home, so I know it’s good stuff. Then, a few weeks ago, I was talking to Rod Gray from Pellet Envy. Rod is sponsored by Greased Lightning and offered me some free product. I jumped on the free stuff and today I put it to use.

My normal routine is to get as much of the solid stuff out of the cooker first, then finish with a visit to a car wash. I got rid of the big stuff with a putty knife then a wire brush, scraping the grates and tuning plates inside. During a contest or other long cook, we’re bound to collect some grease and ash in a few spots on the exterior of the cooker. The exterior only gets worse when stuff inside flies out as I’m cleaning it.

After a few long cooks then sitting and settling for a week before I got to it, that Greased Lightning did wonders on the tough, built up gunk, grease and ash. I gave it the initial once over in the drive way and scraped and scrubbed a bunch of stuff away. Then I went to the car wash.

It was early in the evening on Sunday and I noticed a group of guys standing around a pick-up in the parking lot of the hotel across the street from the wash bay. When I started to get ready to wash, I noticed them making their way over. An immediate feeling of dread overcame me. I knew a guy that was once held up at a car wash. But the closer these guys got, the less scary they seemed.

Turns out they were just a bunch of guys in town from Central Wisconsin for the NASCAR race at the Kansas Speedway. They were capping off their day with a few cold ones in the parking lot and they thought my smoker looked cool so they came over to check it out.

I filled them in on how it worked and what I used the smoker for…contests and cooking at home, etc. They were a great bunch of guys, really nice and respectful…but still having a lot of fun after watching a great race that day.

The cooker’s clean and ready for action…The next task at hand will be buying meat, garnish and supplies for the invitational and open. My job really gets in the way of my hobby sometimes.

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