Arizona Barbecue Festival 2010: We'll be There. Any Chefs Wanna Play for Pinks?
Here's our smoker. Yes, we're serious.
"Don't let your mouth write a check that your tail can't cash" -- Bo Diddley, coining an age-old axiom.
"Props to [Karnivorous BBQ Team] for having brisket when everyone else was out, even if that intensely-dry brisket tasted a lot like licking a leather purse. We've made a little barbecue ourselves over the years, and, sad to say, the first brisket we ever smoked was better than this. Good job having enough, though." -- Martin Cizmar in a review of the Chandler BBQ Throwdown.
"Come see me in Scottsdale, and I will show you I know how to cook brisket! As a matter of fact, I would love to challenge Mr. Cizmar to a throwdown... my leather purse against his silk purse!" -Kris, Karnivorous BBQ Team, in a comment about the review of the Chandler BBQ Throwdown.
"Like I said, I'm an eater, not a cooker, but I could buy a damned Weber smoker and school you, man. That's the shameful part of this whole thing! You guys call yourselves serious BBQ chefs yet at least half the BBQ restaurants in town are better than what you guys were putting out there." -Martin Cizmar, in a reply to a comment about the Chandler BBQ Throwdown.
"Sure, we can waive the entry fee for a New Times team, we'd love to have you compete!" Kendra Schultz, publicist for the Arizona Barbecue Festival, in a telephone conversation.
Yup, now that I look at it, that's pretty much how I got myself into this.
It took me a while to really comprehend the fact that I'll be competing in a barbecue cook-off this weekend. It wasn't when I bought a big ol' bag of lump charcoal. It wasn't when I drove out to Apache Junction to pick up a $15 Brinkman smoker, purchased used on Craigslist.
No, when it really hit me was when I picked up 10 pounds of pork shoulder and tossed it in the shopping cart. Something about handling that cold, fleshy chunk of meat really made it official: I'm about to enter a sanctioned barbecue competition with a team called Some Dumb Pork-Related Pun. (Note: Since there's prize money involved, and our entry fee was waived, anything we win will be given to PETA... or some other respectable charity.)
I won't pretend to be intimidated. I'm not. For one, the stakes are pretty low for me. Sure, I talked a good game, and rightfully pointed out the 'Cue served at the Chandler fest was terrible, but I've never pretended to be an expert on all the odd little rules (.PDF) that govern Kansas City Barbeque Society events, such as the one I'll be cooking in next weekend. Regardless of what some of the commentators have claimed, I never said (or meant to say) that I'd best everyone. I just said I've cooked better barbecue than what I had. And I have. Several times. Which is the other reason I'm not intimidated.
However, I would like to point out that my previous 'Cue was cooked on a pretty nice smoker: my mom's $300 Weber Smokey Mountain. It's not quite the Cadillac of home-smokers -- that'd be an extremely pricey ceramic smoker, The Big Green Egg -- but it's at least a shiny new Buick. For reasons I'll tell you about as this project goes on, the Brinkman I got on Craigslist rides a little more like a 1983 Pontiac 6000. Both are available in the totally disreputable shade of baby blue you see above.
Here's the thing, though: Quality gear doesn't necessarily produce quality meat. It helps, sure. The better the barbecue setup, the easier it is to keep the meat at a consistent temperature and the less you have to mess around with hot coals and greasy water pans, but there's no barbecue that can make smoke any smokier.
Perhaps it would have been funnier to prove this point by competing with one of the many metal trashcan BBQ rigs you'll see plans for online but, truthfully, that would have been more expensive. A lot more expensive. A stylish steel can is $22 at Home Depot, and that's without any grates. The $15 Brinkman I purchased is literally the cheapest smoker available in the Phoenix metropolitan area.
And, using it, I'm pretty sure the team made up of myself, our web editor Jonathan McNamara and a few of our friends won't finish dead last -- which should be reason enough for someone in the Scottsdale competition to give up their hobby for good.
After all, if you can't beat two novices using a $15 smoker, you probably shouldn't be serving your food to judges, let alone the general public.
And, by the way, if anyone wants to up the ante a bit, we'd be happy to race for pinks. Anybody so sure they can humiliate me, Jonathan and our $15 late-model Brinkman that they're willing to put their competition rig, be it a Weber, BGE or custom-made pit, on the line?
Didn't think so. Can't say I blame you; you'd have nothing to gain and a lot to lose.
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