Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Best in the West Rib Cook Off 2014 Recap

The smoke has cleared, the cookers have all packed up and the results are in. This years annual rib cook off in Sparks, NV was among the best I've been to. I'll start with the official results and move into my personal favorites and opinions of the ribs we tried.........

1st Place ($7500) - Desperado BBQ rib co.
2nd Place ($3000) - Bone Daddy's BBQ
3rd Place ($2000) - Famous Dave's BBQ
4th Place ($1000) - Butch's  Smack Your Lips BBQ
5th Place ($500) - Checkered Pig BBQ

Best Sauce - Porky 'N' Beans
People's Choice - Back Forty Texas BBQ

Rib Eating Championship Winner - This years reigning champ was the world's #1 ranked competitive eater, Joey "Jaws" Chestnut, eating 9.27 lbs of St. Louis style pork rib meat in 12 minutes.

My friends and I tried 12 of the 23 cookers' ribs. Here's what we thought....

Carson City BBQ - 

It was a tough decision at times but these guys were our favorite and who we voted for, for the Peoples Choice Award. Even though they are Nevada's most award winning barbeque company and won our vote sadly they did not place this year. These guys smoke their ribs around 225-235 degrees with hickory pellets in a southern pride smoker for 5 hours and let me tell you the end result is heaven. Super moist and tender meat, melt in your mouth fat with great smoky flavor and a killer sauce.

Bourbonq - 

Out of Kentucky these guys were tied for 1st among my favorites. Although I was not a fan of their famous blue cheese coleslaw I definitely was a fan of their succulent ribs and delicious bbq sauce. 

Back Forty Texas BBQ - 

Based out of Pleasant hill, CA preparing my favorite style of BBQ, Texas BBQ, these guys were my 2nd favorite and also won the People's Choice Award this year.  They too had a very moist and tender rib with a nice bold, smoky and peppery sauce.

The next 4 cookers were all tied for my 3rd favorite...

Chicago BBQ Co. -

Chicago BBQ Co. has been around since the 80's. They have a great smoky rib with great fat content and serve their ribs without sauce (which they really don't need anyway). An excellent rib!

Pork 'N' Beans - 

Located in Port Saint Lucie, FL these guys won Best Sauce Award this year. I remember their sauce being on the sweet side and very good. Their ribs had a great chew to them and came clear of the bone.

Rasta Joe's -

From Rochester, IN Rasta Joe's uses a great dry rub and have excellent texture. We also tried some of their sides, a spicy cornbread, a tasty potato salad and baked beans that were mixed with shredded pork. 

The Barbecue Co. -

From Phoenix, AZ these guys had a nice smoky rib with a slightly chewy texture but came clean of the bone and a raisiny BBQ sauce. 

Our least faves of the group were...

Just North of Memphis -

The owner of Just North of Memphis was pretty bold coming out into the crowd boasting about his "dry rub only" ribs saying that they were the best in the competition because he doesn't "hide" behind his sauce. Although he did have a good dry rub the applewood smoked ribs were chewy and actually better when dunked into their vinegar sauce which was served on the side. 

Kinder's -

From Concord, CA these guys specialize in their sauces, marinades and rubs. Their ribs however were a little dry and in need of salt. They did indeed have a good sauce though. 

BJ's Barbeque -

From Sparks, NV their applewood smoked ribs had good texture but were a little dry and were served with a thin vinegar sauce.

Joey's Texas Originals -

Texas BBQ is usually my fave but in this case the ribs were dry and tough. The BBQ sauce which tasted of white pepper and allspice was not my favorite either. 

Johnson's Bar-B-Que -

I think the only reason these guys made my least favorite list is because their "thermo-nuclear" sauce was like explosive fire in my mouth and completely wiped out my taste buds. Needless to say I could not even taste their ribs. To the people of Chesapeake, VA my advise, order the sauce on the side. 

The Best in the West Rib Cook Off happens every year in Sparks, NV for s week surrounding the Labor Day weekend. Besides trying some of the best ribs in the country there's also live bands, shopping, gambling, great bars and plenty of other types of food to choose from. The weather gets very hot so dress cool and look for the fountains near the retail section of the fair. We like to dunk our heads in it when the sun gets to be to much! See you all there next year!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

BBQ at the Beach

Spending Labor Day weekend this year at my brother's in Santa Cruz. Between hiking in the redwoods and napping on the beach today I happily came across a BBQ joint called Mission St. BBQ. They keep their smokers right out front proudly displaying the fact that they do indeed smoke their meats with wood and fire.

I was one of the first in line at 11:45 am but by noon the entire place had filled up with locals. I guess it's far enough away from the boardwalk that they don't get the tourist invasion. It's counter service so you place your order with the cashier and they bring it out to you when it's ready. Pretty big menu including plenty of good choices of craft beers and wine. I opted for the 3 meat combo which usually means you end up with a trash can lid full of food no single person could ever eat, but at Mission St. BBQ luckily this was not the case. I was able to choose from items like 1 rib, a bite of pulled pork, a bite of tri-tip, 1 chicken drumstick, ect. I thought the idea was brilliant. Especially for a person like me who never just chooses one meat.

Here's what I grubbed on......

The St. Louis style pork rib had a bright pink smoke ring, a light glaze of their bbq sauce (which was really tasty St. Louis style) and a cracked black pepper rub. They were still slightly chewy not coming clean off the bone but were definitely not dry. All in all a good rib.

The tri-tip was surprisingly good. Not because I didn't think they could pull it off, just because most of the tri-tip I've tried in the past has been tough to chew and dry. Their's was not melt in your mouth but it was moist and not tough. Again with a vibrant pink smoke ring and that nice crunchy black pepper rub. They didn't put sauce on the meat and it didn't need it.

The Chicken thigh was nice and moist and tender with a good glaze of sauce that I appreciated. The skin was a little chewy but you can tell it was probably nice and crisp when it first came out of the smoker. It had really great flavor that I kept wanting to come back to.

The sides don't hold a candle to the meats but were good for a little palate cleansing. The slaw was basically just chopped cabbage with maybe a little vinegar on it. I didn't taste much seasoning. The garlic bread I believe might of been on a ciabatta roll and was prepared Texas toast style.

If you are in the area or a local I definitely recommend this place. There's even parking, a city girl's dream!

Mission St. BBQ
1618 Mission St.
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
(831) 458-2222

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Turkeymania in Greensboro,NC!

It just goes to show you that you don't always have to have a sit down, dine in, full service meal to receive great service. This was exactly the case at Hickory Tree BBQ. We left there, got back into the car to drive home and eat our food and said "that was so much fun, I can not wait to eat this BBQ!".

Hickory Tree BBQ has a long history. It was founded by Joe Rountree who unfortunately went through a heart attack, surgery and transplant right before the restaurant was about to get franchised. Because of these events Joe had to close up his smoker. Luckily for us Joe's wife Joan encouraged Joe to get back to it after he started feeling better. He started with a food truck (which he still operates) which eventually grew to him opening up another brick and mortar location in Greensboro. Joe is known for his eastern Carolina style turkey BBQ.

On the day that we came in pitmaster Rhonda was manning (or "wo-manning") the smoker and taking orders. Her outgoing and warm personality led us right into a conversation about where we were from, why we were there, how is the turkey cooked?, what's your specialties?, ect. She proudly opened up the smoker so I could take pictures. I even ended up on the phone with the current owner Mike who was equally as nice to talk to and (thankfully) talked me into getting the turkey ribs. Talk about going well above and beyond to give your customers great service. To reinforce this they have a poster on the wall that says "smiles and conversation for free", right above a photo of founder Joe Rountree with comedian Mike Epps, who got Hickory Tree BBQ to cater for him backstage before the Greensboro comedy concert.

It took us 15 minutes to get home before we could eat. The smell coming out of that to go bag was intoxicating and I could not wait to tear it open.

As I said this is a turkey BBQ joint so pretty much everything on the menu has to do with turkey. Menu items include turkey BBQ sandwiches, smoked turkey legs and wings, fried wings, fried livers and gizzards and even turkey ribs! Never in my life have I heard of a turkey rib. Basically it entails removing the scapula bone and its associated muscles (meat) from the turkey carcass. And even though technically it is white meat it had a moist tender texture reminiscent of dark meat. These were smoked with hickory and finished with a delicious tangy BBQ sauce. A very memorable first turkey rib experience.

Next we tried the smoked turkey wings. A beautiful almost pink hue compliments of the hickory smoke, tender meat that still had some bite to it and a deliciously salty flavor. Maybe they brine them first?

The turkey BBQ sandwich is also really good! I could totally see myself annihilating a couple of those on a night when I have knocked back a few. It's finely chopped smoked turkey, slaw and vinegar BBQ sauce on a squishy bun. So simple and satisfying.

And just for good measure (and to eat our vegetables) we got some turkey collards. Collard greens slowly stewed with pieces of turkey. We added a little bit of the vinegar bbq sauce to give it an extra kick.

Rumor has it they will be at this year's The African American Cultural Festival of Raleigh & Wake County with their food truck. So if you are going to be in that area during labor day weekend check them out! And if you are ever in Greensboro definitely check out their take-out restaurant. Tell Rhonda and Mike Sarah and Spencer sent you!

Hickory Tree BBQ
2804 Randleman Rd.
Greensboro, NC 27407
(336) 392-3680

More Sweet Tea Baby?

Back in North Carolina for some more of that Carolina BBQ! The first place we hit today was called Country Barbeque in Greensboro specializing in Lexington style Carolina BBQ. It's one of those cozy no frills BBQ shacks with exposed brick walls, a long counter to order at and a dining room full of booths. The waitresses all have that southern charm and call you "baby" when confirming your order or asking if you would like a refill on your sweet tea (or unsweetened if you are us).

I thought the food was great here (some things more than others but all in all pretty solid). We ordered the 3 meat combo and chose coarse chopped pork BBQ, BBQ chicken and pork ribs. It came with hushpuppies and two sides. We chose baked beans and the traditional BBQ slaw.

My favorite of the 3 meats was the chicken. We chose dark meat so we received a whole leg which had delicious salty skin and super moist and tender meat. I would come back just for that.

The pork ribs were also very moist and tender. Not a whole lot of smoke flavor but they were glazed with a really nice flavored BBQ sauce. Sweet and vinegary with a touch of black pepper.

The course chopped pork consisted of nice big chunks of slow smoked pork shoulder. Although it was a little on the dry side it still had nice flavor, especially when dunked in their Carolina vinegar BBQ sauce.

The hushpuppies were the bomb! I have never put those two words in a sentence before. Usually hushpuppies are my least favorite side on the plate. These things were super crunchy but soft in the middle, salty and sweet.

The baked beans were also really nice with chunks of yellow onion and jalapeƱos studded throughout and a nice sweetness that wasn't to cloying.

The BBQ slaw was basically chopped cabbage marinated in their Carolina vinegar BBQ sauce.

All in all I think a great neighborhood spot run by nice people. And don't forget the BBQ chicken baby :)

Country Barbeque
4012 W. Wendover Ave.
Greensboro, NC 27407
(336) 292-3557

Thursday, July 24, 2014

DIY Hawaiian Style Pulehu Short Ribs

As some of you may remember, back in May I traveled to Honolulu, HI and had some amazing BBQ off a food truck called Mahalo Kau Kau Grill. The stand out for me on that truck was their Pulehu beef short ribs and I've been dreaming of them ever since. As soon as I got back to the mainland I started researching Pulehu short ribs so I could recreate them myself. Although they will never be the same as Mahalo Kau Kau Grill's (just can't seem to crack their code!) they are pretty damn good. Here's how to do it....

#1 - Find Kiawe wood. This took some digging on my part. The first three websites I came across that carried it were sold out with no sign of restocking. Kiawe wood is native to Honolulu. It is like  mesquite but sweeter. This is the wood used to smoke most Hawaiian BBQ. I was finally able to purchase it in chunks online from Guava Woods Farm Hawaii. They chunk it to order and only ship out once a week so make sure you order this plenty in advance.

#2 - Find a good butcher shop. We are very fortunate in San Francisco to have several but for this project I went to my buddy Dave the butcher over at Marina Meats. There are a couple different ways to describe the cut of meat you need for Pulehu ribs. You can either say you want beef short ribs cut "kalbi" style (which is a korean preparation of short ribs) or flanken style (the original name for short ribs cut across the bone). We ordered ours to be sliced a half inch thick but some people do it even thinner, like in the case of korean BBQ. We got about 3 lbs which came out to 12 pieces.

#3 - Marinate. After doing a little recipe research I created this marinade. It was just the right amount for the 3 lbs of short ribs we had. I marinated the ribs overnight.

1-2"in. piece of ginger, peeled and smashed
3 large cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup sake
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup ketchup

#3 - Dry out ribs. The next day I pulled the short ribs out of the marinade and placed them on a rack over a sheetpan in the refrigerator to dry out for about 6 hours.

#4 - Rub. Season the ribs on both sides with granulated garlic (it took about 4 teaspoons), kosher salt and course cracked black pepper. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

#5 - Prepare your grill. We have a small charcoal powered smoker that worked perfect for this. First start your fire with mesquite (or kiawe if you can find it) hardwood lump charcoal. I get mine from Lazarri Fuel Co. When the coals are grey and smoldering add your kiawe wood chunks. I added 4 pieces. Close the lid and let the smoke build up in there a little before grilling your short ribs.

#6 - Grilling. Over medium-high heat grill the short ribs 5 minutes on each side. That's it. The easiest part of the whole process. Remove from the fire and let rest a few minutes before serving.

They really don't need anything once they come off the grill. But I enjoyed mine with a little Shichimi Togarashi sprinkled over the top. Traditionally they are served over sticky rice. I also put a scoop of kimchee on the side as a nod to the Koreans.