After a few days of exploring the various delights of Houston, we went straight to the NRG Stadium to start prepping for the World’s Championship Bar-B-Que contest.
It’s impossible to describe the scale of this event, it’s just nuts. The contest is technically held in a car park, but don’t let that fool you – the whole event is the size of a small English town, with hundreds of different BBQ teams, full fairground complete with rollercoasters and more. All underneath the shadow of a stadium just shy of Wembley’s full capacity.
A quarter of a million people were expected to come through the gates for those three days alone, and with the great hospitality and party atmosphere surrounding you at all times, it’s difficult to not become overwhelmed.
We won’t go into detail on the partying (we’d be here a while…), so straight onto the competition!
On Friday, ahead of the main competition turn ins, was the Dutch Oven dessert category. Whereas the judges are working to a strict criteria in the meat categories, the Dutch Oven category gives Pitmasters the license to be a bit more creative. You’re not limited to what you choose – as long as all the ingredients are fresh and prepared in the Dutch Oven, you’re good to go.
We opted for a Malva pudding, hailing from Scott and Clint’s South African roots. Think of it as like a fruity sticky toffee pudding – it was dope!
First up, you have to tag all of your meats. Regular readers of our blog will be aware of why, but for those who who don’t know…this is basically to stop any foul play.
A member of the Houston Rodeo committee comes in and places a metal tag through one end of your piece of meat, under total supervision. When the smoke is complete and you’re preparing the finished box, as a competitor you need to be able to prove that the meat you’re turning in is the same as the tagged meat. So the same committee member heads back to the tent, watches you slice it up, and leaves you to it once happy.
Doing this means you can’t swap out that piece of meat for any other – once you’ve bought and tagged it, you’re smoking it!
We had one big mantra for the week – “stick to the plan”. The plan being to utilise the exact same recipes and techniques we use in the restaurant – no injections, no special rubs or glazes, just replicating what we perceive to be true barbecue back in the U.K.
With that in mind, strict rotas were set up to keep things on track, with the cook team of Clint, Scott, Rimvydas and Jess staying up from Thursday night to Friday morning to man the smoker and keep everything on track.
All unecessary fat was trimmed from both the ribs and brisket, and the chicken was put in a simple brine to help add more flavour during the smoking process. A Walmart-bought poker set brought some light relief along the way, and the cooler full of cold beers helped too…
Check them out. Thanks to our buddy Dave for the tip on the brisket box – adding a slice on top for greater presentation points!
We were confident that the meats both looked and tasted good, but we’re not the judging panel!
Turn in times were staggered across the course of Friday afternoon, with chicken first, followed by ribs and brisket. From then on, it was a waiting game.
Watch this space for the results…