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A league of their own - Competitive barbecuers have passion for grilling
by Bonnie Blackburn, The Journal Gazette

Investment consultant Kevin Taylor has spent untold thousands of dollars with a return of a paltry $200 on his latest venture.

But making money isn't the goal.

"It's just fun," he said. "I just love it."

"It" is competition barbecuing, a growing pastime that thousands of Americans practice every summer. Taylor, 46, started competing several years ago after his company, Fort Wayne National Bank, was purchased by National City and he decided to "retire."

Now, Taylor runs a small investment consulting business out of the Aboite Township home he shares with his wife, Lynne, and children Katie, 12, and Kurt, 5.

The Michigan native, who began smoking meats about 15 years ago by making jerky, got serious about perfecting his barbecue style about five years ago. For more than two years, Taylor and his partner, Tim Ashby, have been taking the Double Smoke competition cooking team on the road.

On May 19, Double Smoke won two sixth-place ribbons and one third-place ribbon - plus a prize of $200 - at the Minnesota Barbecue Society's competition in Cambridge, Minn.

"Seven hundred miles each way," he said. "My wife thinks I'm certifiably insane."

But Taylor's not alone in his "insanity." There are some 500 teams in the Kansas City Barbecue Society, the league in which he competes. Nationally, there are at least 15 other regional barbecue societies, some with as many as 700 teams.

Taylor said competition barbecue chefs usually compete in several different categories, such as ribs, chicken, beef brisket, and pork butt.

"The key is slow and low," Taylor said, as in cooking the meats at a low temperature for a long time. Depending on the meat's thickness, Taylor said, proper barbecuing can take between six and 14 hours.

Taylor never steams meat to remove fat, because water can draw the flavor out of the meat. Instead, he places the meat over a low fire (he uses only charcoal and a handful of pear, hickory or apple wood chips), with a pan to catch the fat drippings. The night before a competition, he rubs the meat with a combination of spices, wraps it in plastic wrap and refrigerates it overnight.

Then, it's time to cook. Taylor said the ideal temperature is between 225 and 275 degrees. The meat is cooked for one to two hours per pound, depending on the cut.

Meat cooked on the bone may develop a pinkish color, which can lead inexperienced cooks to try to cook it longer because it doesn't look done.

"The pink is from the smoke," Taylor said. If in doubt, get a meat thermometer, he added, and make sure the meat has reached 160 degrees.

Taylor prefers a "dry" rib - one without added barbecue sauce. That way, he said, diners can add their own sauce after the meat is cooked. He sometimes adds a last-minute glaze of sauce after the meat is finished.

"If you want to put a sauce on, it's got to go on no earlier than 20 minutes before it's done cooking," he said. "Otherwise, the sugar in the sauce can burn and blacken."

Taylor advised it's also important not to keep checking the meat while it's cooking, because that causes temperature variations.

"Every time you lift that lid, you add 15 minutes to your cooking time," he said.

Competition judges look for appearance, tenderness and taste, he said.

"It has to hold its shape yet pull apart with no resistance," Taylor said of beef brisket. Ribs "have to pull off the bone clean."

Depending on the number of judges, Taylor said he generally has to cook six racks of ribs, 12 pounds of pork butt, six or seven pounds of brisket, and 16 pieces of chicken, usually thighs.

All at his own expense.

"I've spent thousands of dollars," Taylor said. "But I can't run, I can't jump. I play golf but I'm not very good. It's (barbecuing's) just a passion."

Choose sauce to suit tastes

Recipes from Kevin Taylor:

Published Wednesday, June 6, 2001

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