Tuesday, February 3, 2015

2015 Humble Rodeo Cookoff Wrap-up

Competition BBQ is not what I expected.

The Humble Rodeo BBQ Cook-off was held on the grounds of the Humble Civic Center this past Friday and Saturday, January 30 and 31. Over 65 teams from all over the state prepared submissions for the competition and entertained their guests and supporters. I was lucky enough to be invited by the Webber family of Atascocita to join the Tin Roof BBQ team, to pitch in where I could be of help, and to be there to document the process from the inside.

Cook team leaders meeting with event staff
Prior to this event, I hadn't had much exposure to competition BBQ. Being able to see it and experience it from the inside makes one truly appreciate all the passion and hard work that goes into it. I learned so much about the level of detail required to produce a competition entry, and how much planning and preparation is involved. I experienced the ups and downs of the cooking process, saw some things that worked great, and heard some things that the team said they would do differently next time. For the competition, pit choice and design was a factor, but I couldn't find any evidence that one pit type produced any more winning entries than any other. The multiple types of pits the Tin Roof team deployed were chosen for their ability to deliver specific entries particularly well. There were vertical smokers, offset flow-through pits, and reverse flow pits, plus a big trailer-mounted Ole Hickory just for the production cooking for the hospitality tent. One other thing to know about competition BBQ - you don't really get to experience anything the other teams are doing, like you can at a festival. Think of it as closely-guarded trade secrets; the ability to sample or even see what other teams are producing is nonexistent. 

First, you make a fire...
A particularly interesting take-away for me from this event was just how much the design of the offset fire box matters for the big pits, especially for competition cooking where space is a premium. The big square fire boxes worked so much better for controlling the heat due to increased damper area where it was needed - at the lowest point in the fire box, usually the bottom of the fire box door. More damper area means more heat control without having to crack open the door to make up for fewer damper openings. The pits with round fire boxes were limited in damper area simply due to the circular geometry of the end. (You just can't get as much damper opening in the bottom of a circle as you can in the bottom of a square.) An obvious second benefit of the square fire box is the flat top that gives you that bonus hot surface for warming or boiling that you can't do on a round offset firebox. Several custom manufacturers have now incorporated a flat surface welded to the top of their round fire boxes to take advantage of this additional area.

A partial view of the pit area
It takes two or three days just to get the team area set up. The cooking area, which in this case consisted of eight wood-fired pits of various types, had to be organized so that the six teams that made up the Tin Roof Cookers could operate efficiently in the same space, a total of about 20 people. The prep kitchen area, separate from the cooking area, is organized with the same thought in mind--you have to accommodate hand washing, cold storage, warming ovens, prep tables, dishwashing, cleaning and storage areas, much the same as you would expect to see in any restaurant prep area. Adjacent to all this is the hospitality tent, where the crew entertains their invited guests, supporters, friends and sponsors. In the middle of all the food preparation for the competition entries, much more food is being prepared and sent out for the hospitality area on both Friday and Saturday nights, so everyone stays fed and happy. So imagine prep and cook all Friday evening, and prep and start the cook for competition entries overnight on Friday. Then finish the cook for other competition entries all day Saturday, as well as prep and cook for feeding guests in the hospitality area Saturday afternoon and evening. From the time the Tin Roof team started getting ready and opened for guests on Friday until closing time on Saturday, it was about 30 hours straight of nonstop prep, cooking, serving and cleanup.

Brek Webber preps competition chicken
The amount of preparation, hard work by many, many people who volunteered their time, and all the effort that goes into perfecting the submissions was a sight to behold. Then, after all is said and done, everything has to be cleaned up, packed up and hauled away before noon on Sunday. Its only a 24-hour reprieve before the pits need to be fired up and loaded again for the product that has to be ready for the customers at opening time at the restaurant on Tuesday. Not much time to rest.

The quality of the team's entries were amazing. I was astounded they didn't place better in the meat categories, but it just proves how great the competition is for quality BBQ in this state, and how seriously all the teams take these events. The Tin Roof team led by David Welch placed 5th in Chicken and 7th in Ribs, and Brek Webber's Tin Roof team placed 2nd in the Open Category with his bacon-wrapped, brisket-stuffed, smoked AND grilled shrimp brochettes. Look for that trophy to be prominently-displayed at the restaurant! (Insider tip: those grilled shrimp brochettes show up as a special from time-to-time at the restaurant; follow Tin Roof on Twitter or Facebook to be the first to know when they're on the menu.)

We all know you visit BBQ blogs for the food photos, so I won't disappoint. Here's sampling of just a few of the shots from this past weekend's event:

Brisket-stuffed, bacon-wrapped shrimp brochette took 2nd place in the Open Category!
44 Farms boneless beef short rib #smokering #moneyshot
Competition chicken on the pit
Brek Webber's spare rib entry was spectacular
Ronnie Webber's competition brisket almost ready to deliver to the judges
A fresh slice of lean brisket #LovetheLean
Can we get one of each?!

Without the sponsors, who are very much appreciated by all involved, it would not be possible to pull off an event of such complexity. The Tin Roof Cookers would like to extend a special thanks to Waste Connections of Texas, 44 Farms, The Utenweiler Family, Bugtime Pest Control, PFS Services, Adplex, Champions Rentals, Earthscapes Landscape, Boston Brew Company, Faust Distributing, Elegant Beginnings, The Outdoor Remedy, Lonestar Vet, The Karate Store, On the Rox Bar-Atascocita, Clyde Electrical, Raffa's Wine, Purcell Construction, Woodmark LLC, Mr. Margarita, Kingwood PC Repair, 5 Star Designs, and Joiner Architects.

Competition BBQ for a worthwhile cause has its rewards beyond the trophies and bragging rights. During the 2015 BBQ Cook-Off, over $100,000 was raised, and all proceeds will benefit the Humble ISD Education Foundation to fund innovative classroom projects, teacher and staff development programs and grants to enhance curriculum and technology within the Humble Independent School District. The goal of the foundation is to support programs and initiatives that fall outside the scope of the district’s normal operating budget. (To learn more about the foundation, visit www.humbleisdfoundation.org.) 

The Tin Roof Cookers - this team crushed it!

Until next time, keep those coals hot and dampers tuned...


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