And so I BBQ

 

Ribs N' Brisket

You know that feeling of not knowing what to do? You get introduced to someone and have no idea what to say. You commit to something and have no plan how you will make it happen. You want to break an old habit–or start a new one–and don’t know where to begin. It’s easy to get lost in the research. We can always wait for the perfect time–when the stars are just aligned. I even hesitate hitting the publish button on this blog at times thinking it’s not quite ready. I heard the story from Dan Miller of a guy he knew who took a job at a bank until he figured out what he really wanted to do with his life. 17 years later, he was still at the bank.

Well, my wife may never accuse me of doing too much research on something to pull the trigger. To take another line from Dan, I am a “ready, fire, aim” kind of guy. It may drive her crazy, yet we now know how to play to each other strengths–she researches and I pull the trigger.

This isn’t a column about the intricacies of how my wife and I communicate. If it were, I’m sure you would have already clicked off the page. It’s about taking a step even if you don’t know where that step will lead.

It has been a relatively short amount of time (29 months) that I have owned a smoker. That very first day I threw on a slab of beef ribs given to us from my in-laws. I don’t even know if I put rub on it. It was turn the heat on, throw them on the smoker, and hope that I would know when they were done. A few hours later they were done alright; and they were nasty! Was it a bad herd of grain-fed cows–sure! Was it also that I had no idea what to do–you bet! Here I had this beautiful smoker and I wasn’t even sure how to really make it sing & dance.

A few months after that first slab of ribs, I joined the Kansas City Barbeque Society; even taking classes on how to judge BBQ competitions. Wait a minute? I was learning how to judge the taste, appearance and tenderness of meat that I didn’t know how to cook myself? Well yes! They say that those who don’t know how–teach; and those who don’t know how to teach–write books for those teachers to use. All these years after college and that line finally makes sense.

Yes I felt hypocritical as I was being trusted with judging people’s competition turn-ins; people who put their whole heart, souls and money into this. But what I was really doing was finding out was fabulous meat looked and tasted like. I was blown away at that first competition. Wow, these BBQ contestants made some stuff that paled in comparison to any restaurant meat that I had ever tasted. From there I knew that I had to learn the fundamentals. It can taste good, but how? I never could have imagined what a process it could be.

From that very first judging class at the Casablanca resort in Mesquite, NV, a door opened. Casinos are built like labryinths to confuse and disorient. That way you spend more money. While looking for the ballroom where the class was to be held, I met a couple who were obviously looking for the same class. We struck up a conversation and ended up sitting next to each other inside. That turned out to be Ira Pupko of Hog Heaven BBQ Co. in Temecula, CA. His help with my ribs and pork shoulder would become invaluable.

The spring after becoming a certified BBQ judge (again, the irony had not left me by this point), I was judging the KCBS Sam’s Club Invitational and heard someone at the table next to me say that Pat from Pat’s BBQ was there. The very next week I was eating lunch at Pat’s, saw him in the hall and 15 minutes into conversation later we had a tentative agreement to BBQ together. He really is an institution around Salt Lake and I learned some valuable insights from him.

For my birthday in summer 2014, my wife got me one of the greatest presents ever–a competition BBQ class. Rub Bagby from Swamp Boys BBQ in Winter Haven, FL was coming to Salt Lake for a competition and he was bringing his Q school with him. Yes it was over 100 degrees (thankfully we were in a covered picnic area) but here was a guy who has won the Jack Daniel’s National–a big deal in the BBQ community. I was the novice there as everyone was part of a team–a team that competed. At first they seemed a little confused as to why I was there; I shared their confusion. By the end of that second day, they were teaching me so much that I could keep up. Now I have standing initiations to come and be part of their BBQ team during competitions. No better way to learn.

I love Rub’s humility. He is a school teacher in Florida and could not buy his way into BBQ like so many try–all the meat, equipment and travel is expensive. If you have loads of money, why not just spend some serious cash and get famous that way? That approach rarely works in life. Rub took a few extra bucks each month, bought meat and practicing cooking. He joined forums–getting involved with like minded individuals. The single best thing he taught me was this: “how bad do you want it?” You can do anything if you want it bad enough. He went to competitions and got his butt kicked for years before his BBQ career really took off.

How many of us are afraid to jump in the ring because we are afraid we will lose or not be perfect? You learn more by getting in the game than you do by researching the same game. I have been guilty of “I’m not quite ready yet” or “I just need more time.” You know what you want, just go for it–you will be delighted at what you will find!

 

I Write for Fun, and for FOOD!

Belgian Waffle Inn Breakfast

The Title of this article might sound a little arrogant or self-serving. That is far from my intent. When I began this journey in 2011, it was to keep an online journal of recipes. From there it morphed into reviewing restaurants. Not for pay but for fun. I remember the looks the waitresses gave me when I would pull out my camera and snap a picture. One even said, “are you trying to make someone jealous.” My reply: “you have no idea.” I was trying to make everyone jealous. Isn’t that the point of social media?

It was when Siam Orchid first contacted me to come in and review their food that I felt the reach of the platform. When I wouldn’t post for a few days, I would get messages wondering where my next review was. And then came City Weekly. What a great experience to write a column for them almost weekly for 2 years. Not every good thing lasts but every good thing does open new doors, it’s just up to us to walk through them.

What I did love about writing for a well-known newspaper in the Salt Lake area, was that I had near instant credibility. When I would contact a restaurant, it was typically a warm welcome, a chance to eat a few entrees, and to hear the owner’s story–oh how I love this–not just writing about the taste and quality of the food, but the journey. Some restaurants never returned my call–I wrote anyway. Some contacted me and thanked me after the column was published. Some even told me the reaction to the article: how one place sold out of food for the few days following the publication (thank you Charlotte Rose’s Carolina BBQ); another had a noticeable uptick in business for 2 months after the article came out (thank you Alice’s Restaurant); another contacted me and said that I must have a lot of followers because they didn’t know where the business was coming from–until someone showed them the article (thank you Bosna); another offered to have me work there for a few days or weeks if I wanted to write a much more in-depth feature (thank you Fiana Bistro).

The highs in life don’t always stay that way forever. It was sad to me when driving through downtown Salt Lake last week that Good Dog was closed. I loved their gourmet hot dogs and getting to know the owner, Josh. In late summer, another personal favorite closed, Charlotte Rose’s Carolina BBQ. Maybe it was road construction, maybe it was a tough location. Maybe it was part of the large percentage of restaurants that don’t stay open for even a year. Whatever the reason, it’s hard to see Trae not have his place anymore.

I love pulling for them, for the little guy, for the food, for the passion. It’s difficult to watch some not make it. I admire that they tried and hope to see their next place again soon. Until then, it’s always interesting to drive with me–i’m always looking around around saying, “what restaurant is that,” or “hey, that place looks good.”

Smokin Chicken N' Ribs

On that note, time to get the brisket and ribs prepped for my growing infatuation with BBQ.

Happy Eating

 

And So I Swim, and Hurt

During the summer of 2013, I hired a swim coach. Improving my aquatic ability was something that I longed for yet didn’t get around to for a while. I wrote about my experience here. It was a lot of work and led me down the path to my primary form of exercise today.

Swimming is quite enjoyable for me now, especially since fine tuning my form with the  coach. I use to try to jog but found that pure misery. About 4 times a week, I am at the Rec Center to get my exercise. The pool is 25 meters long and when I started with the coach, I couldn’t go 100 meters without a break. At the beginning of the lesson, you were afraid that you would drown; by the end, you were afraid you wouldn’t.

As time has gone on, I have continually pushed myself. I started with taking a break every 100 meters. Then I got up to 200 meters. Then 300, 350 and finally 500 without a break. Now I must interject here, these lengths are nothing for some of you on swim teams or performing triathlons, and I understand that. For me, I am a natural sprinter so I am hitting it hard with each stroke to feel accomplished. Plus I am not training for the Olympics. At 36, I kind of think that ship has sailed. For the first time in my life, I actually like exercise.

Now my workout is 1000 meters in approximately 30 minutes. It was 32 minutes a few weeks back but my last time was 27. Now earlier I mentioned how I push myself. I think that this is good for all of us but we need to know our limits. Two weeks ago I went for a swim. We had all been sick as a family and I was just starting to get better. I had not been in the pool for a week and, knowing that my energy was low, I was really trying to pace myself–for a moment. A few hundred meters in however and the demons of self destruction took over.

At 500 meters (my usual rest time), I thought that I didn’t need a break and would be proud of myself if I went further than before without a rest. At 800 meters, I really was starting to feel the wear. Remember, my body was recovering from illness. At 1000 meters I had the crazy thought of why not swim further than I ever have? A few weeks back, I had swam 1100 meters but 1000 was my usual stopping point. At 1150, I thought that I should go 50 more to make it an even 1200. Finally, at 1200 meters I got out of the pool. Was I awesome or what?

Not quite. You know that “it hurts good” feeling after a workout–the one where you pushed your body and got your endorphins going? Yeah, I didn’t have that! I hurt bad. I knew that it wasn’t good the way my joints and overall body felt. It felt foreign to me and was a little scary.

It has taken nearly 2 weeks to feel decent again. It was as if the oil warning light went off in my car and I said, “well, let’s get to our destination quicker and then I will look at the problem.” Bad choice. My wife says that I have a sickness of never feeling like I have done enough. Because of this I run at super high octane and then burn out. And when I am burned out, I can barely get the basics done. There are things to embrace about this cycle, but it can be limiting.

I don’t just do it with swimming, but with work, with writing and with projects. Going at full speed and checking things off my task list is a rush that I love. The problem is that I rush the rush and leave many things out; things that I need to go back and fix later. So many times I have pushed the PUBLISH button on this blog and then read it–oops, should have proofread that sooner.

It’s so foreign to me to actually take things at a decent pace. But for the first time in my life, it feels like I am getting things done right. There are less items being checked off my list and I am also realizing that it’s better to have less on the list, and to make those things remaining count. If you juggle six things, you will do them all poorly.

When on a particular day a couple weeks after my 1200 meter death sprint, I told my wife that I was deciding whether to go swimming or not because my body ached, she replied with this: “If it were anyone but you, I would tell them to go and enjoy, it would be good for them. But since you aren’t capable of that, I would tell you not to go.” Oh I went, maybe to spite her and maybe not (I’ll never say publicly) and I took 8 minutes longer to swim my normal distance. Did I feel like a failure because I took longer? Well yes, at first. But surrendering what doesn’t work, even if it is a lifelong habit, is incredibly relieving.

It’s kind of exhausting rushing through everything. Hopefully a little lesson about pacing myself and enjoying what I do–from an exercise session in the pool–can be applied to all aspects of life.

 

 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...