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!

 

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