Earning a Doctorate in Smokeology
Waaaay back in October 2011 I was invited by my good friend Tim (of fishcake hot dog fame) to participate in his second annual BBQ Smoke-Off. Now Tim does it proper: the night before the event the competition is invited over to his house where we tap the keg and start our smokers; the next day the Pats are playing so he pulls a big screen television out onto the porch, lights up a big ass bonfire, keeps the keg flowing, and we continue smoking our meats. At halftime the judging begins and we serve up our dishes to a panel.
For the first Smoke-Off the coveted “golden spatula” was won with an amazingly moist and smokey pit beef, so all three teams began seeking out their secret weapons to try and demolish the other competition. Now, let me explain the rules for this year: there were two meats to be presented for the judges, one rib and another of a pulled type, whether beef, pork, chicken, or whatever; one side dish was also to be judged; judging was a la Iron Chef, with a five-point system for four different categories for 20 points total to be attained.
When I heard the rules my mind was set like a frickin’ laser on using hot dogs as my secret weapon. So I called Neighbor Dave and we commenced to plan, almost immediately settling on doing a hot dog topped with pulled pork and coleslaw. We spent very little time discussing what type of dog we wanted to use–both Dave and I were of a mind that we didn’t want the dog to be overpowered, and thus immediately forgettable, by the pulled pork. Really there was only one local hot dog that could stand up to the challenge and my good friends at Pearl Meats graciously offered to kick some dogs my way to help spread the gospel of encased meats.
Neighbor Dave and I settled down after picking up about 10 lbs. of hot dogs and other assorted tube meats and got to work on planning the menu. The pulled pork was a heritage breed pork butt from Houde Family Farm in Vermont (their pork chops make store-bought ones taste like styrofoam) which was heavily rubbed with my secret spice mix and allowed to rest overnight before smoking it with pecan and apple wood. Once it reached temp we rested it some more and pulled it, mixing in a Dr. Pepper BBQ sauce I concocted. The hot dog was an 1/8lb. Pearl all-beef, scored and marinated overnight in apple juice, molasses, and some of my secret spice mix then BBQ’ed in the smoker. We set the dog in the bun, put some of the pulled pork on top, and finished it off with a mustard coleslaw.
To complement the pulled pork dog, Neighbor Dave brought in some baby back ribs which he packed in a serious case of brown sugar and spices, smoked over the apple and pecan wood mix, and finished with a mixture of my Dr. Pepper sauce and his spicy and sweet BBQ sauce.
Now you might consider the coleslaw a side but since it was on the dog we figured that the judges might dock us some points for not actually having something “on the side.” The day before competition, Neighbor Dave & I agonized over what we should do. We kicked around several ideas like french fries (thankfully left out, as you’ll understand later), potato salad, bean salad, etc. None of the ideas were very interesting and too vanilla. So we went to the grocery store and started to cast about the aisles. After thinking about cheeses for a little bit we went to the fruit section, considering doing something light to offset all the heavy foods we were presenting. Lo and behold was a flat of deliciously ripe figs. Our thoughts converged almost at the same moment and we decided there would be no more perfect side than a simple selection of figs topped with fresh goat cheese.
I took lamentably few pictures from the event but here you can see the layout for our table, after the hectic scramble of serving the masses, with remnants of all our dishes. Since we were up at about 9 in the morning, Tim kept the beer flowing and one of the uncles brought over some birthday cake-flavored vodka that we all passed around. Notice the two beautiful steins of Octoberfest by Neighbor Dave; at this point I’m not sure we could feel any pain.
I didn’t figure this would be a crew who really enjoyed the figs but man were we ever wrong–we ended up having a handful of people coming back several times to get a refill. Never underestimate the power of the fig!
The pulled pork hot dog ended up the star of our offerings among the judges–well, with the exception of the two (!) judges who were a part of the gluten-free revolution. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure the gluten-free dieters and the anti-immunization bandwagon are on the same level, both being bat-shit crazy. In the end, it was Tim’s secret weapon–duck fat french fries–that won the day and took home the coveted golden spatula.
Neighbor Dave and I have already been planning our secret weapon for this year’s Smoke-Off, our discussions taking place in secret locations, speaking in code with hushed voices. You can be assured we’ll bring it this year and I’ll make sure to take pictures of Neighbor Dave & I proudly taking home the golden spatula.