With bigger fields than ever and the very human element of different judges' palates, it's tough to consistently come out on top in barbecue competitions. Somebody just forgot to tell that to Pellet Envy.
The Kansas City Barbeque Society's 2009 Team of the Year is fresh off being named Grand Champion at the Smoke on the Water competition in North Little Rock last month.
"We would like to be known as very consistent cooks. I just want a well-balanced piece of meat -- a little sweet, a little salty, a little spicy," says Pitmaster Rod Gray, who together with wife Sheri makes up Pellet Envy.
When we caught up with Gray, he was preparing to head out to Smokin' In The Creek in Sugar Creek, Missouri, which Pellet Envy has won two years in a row. And while most of us won't be competing on the blacktop this weekend, it's the time of year to put fire and smoke to meat again. So we asked Gray for advice on what to do after wheeling the grill from the garage out to the deck.
"If you're like me, you probably put your stuff away dirty. You never have time to do all the right things," said Gray.
Check and check. Before you fire up your grill, he recommended a thorough "once a year type" cleaning.
the grates off your grill. You can then either use the pressurized
water hose at a do-it-yourself car wash or spray them with cooking
spray and place them in a large plastic trash bag overnight. In the
morning, rinse the grates with your backyard hose or wipe them down
with a damp cloth.
Now that your grates are spotless you can think about what you want to cook. Gray prefers to keep things simple, avoiding a heavy amount of marinade or rub so that the strongest flavor is that of the meat. And his philosophy on saucing naturally influences his feelings on smoking.
"Try to undersmoke your product. Smoke should compliment your meat, not overpower it," Gray said.
But perhaps the biggest lesson is patience. When you've spent the winter away from smoking or barbecuing, it's easy to forget that this is a not a hobby of convenience. And although times and temperatures can be a great guideline when you're making something for the first time, Gray suggests you can't be as rigid as you might be when cooking indoors.
"Barbecue is done when it's done. You can't just set yourself a time line because sometimes it's tender and sometimes it's tough."
Images courtesy of Pellet Envy.