Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Really Old School Barbecue

Barbecue. Kansas City, for whatever else it is, prides itself as the barbecue capitol of the world. There's the American Royal with it's KC Masterpiece Invitational where only winners of qualified Grand National events can participate. There's the Oklahoma Joe's Open Contest with 500 teams competing. There's even a Junior World Series of Barbecue contest. Kansas City has it's own distinctive style of sauce and even pioneered those lovely little bitlets known as burnt ends. However if you're an observant Jew who keeps kosher, Kansas City barbecue is a no go. That was...until this past weekend.

That's right, the tribes pitched their tents and broke out the kosher smokers for Kansas City's first ever Kosher BBQ contest.  Unlike regular bbq contests, all the meat, sauce ingredients, rubs, charcoal, smokers, and utensils were provided for and handed out under close supervision which made for a fairly even playing field.

tiny smokers

Although next year they might want to rethink the size of their smokers.  Each team got two but really when you're smoking beef brisket and beef ribs size does matter.  Why can't the teams use their own smokers?  Because to satisfy the requirements of producing kosher cooking, the implements that touch the food are strictly regulated.  Let's just say it's safer for the rabbis to control the chain of custody to supply the smokers themselves.  Other than that, everything else was standard bbq contest routines.  I was invited to chronicle one of the teams, the only team of women (and one husband) known as The Queens of Que.  All bbq contest novices but anchored by a secret brisket pit boss weapon.   How would the ladies do?

up all night

While they might be novices they do know that it's important to stay up all night and tend to the fires to keep your meat going low and slow.  Wouldn't you know it, our heat wave finally broke and the nights recently were a little crisp.  Thank goodness for fleece binkies and Ipads.  The night quickly passed into the morning and time to box up their first entry, chicken.

surgeons at work

The surgeon husband on the team certainly came in handy for precisely slicing the chicken.

Kosher BBQ Chicken

Do you know how hard it was to look and not touch?  Very hard but with braggin' rights on the line all chicken made it to the judges safely nestled in it's little styrofoam clamshell.

Turning in chicken

Next up for slicing, beef ribs.  I have to say that I'm an equal opportunity rib sucker.  Pork, beef AND lamb ribs are all worthy of my attention.  Beef ribs also have the added benefit of giving you the illusion of sitting in King Henry the Fifth's court or Fred Flintstone's car when it falls over from the weight of those massive beef bones.  I know pork ribs get all the glory, especially baby backs but you're missing out if you ignore a hearty plate of beef ribs.

finger licking good

These folks concur.  It was actually hilarious watching the Queens trying to artfully fit enough beef ribs  in the clamshell for the judges. At some point you just have to jam it closed and utter those well worn words of chefs around the globe....it is what it is...and move on.

Now it's time for the Precious, the Brisket.  

Bring on the brisket

Cooking a decent brisket is a hallmark of Jewish cooking.  There are some serious bragging rights on the line and frankly Team Queen had been participating in a healthy dose of brisket trash talking.  They could talk it but could they walk it?

thing of ugly beauty

It wasn't pretty when it came out of it's resting place but it's not a beauty contest, it's a moist and flavorful contest and Pit Boss Carla had her finger strongly monitoring the pulse of this thing of ugly beauty.  They also had a bit of good luck stop by their booth as they were trying to decide how to slice their brisket.

Mark Man of Meat

Mark Fishman, a former butcher who advised the best piece of meat to use, what fat to slice off and exactly where to cut.  Free expert advice is always appreciated.

heaven in a styrofoam box

I don't know if they were required to include the burnt ends but really you can't go wrong throwing those babies in there.

High Four

One last huzzah for luck and the Precious toddled off to the judge's table.  Now unlike the ribs and the chicken, there was plenty of brisket left over to knosh on.


But you had to be quick like a bunny because that brisket was the bomb.  We quickly inhaled the remnants of the good pieces of brisket.  The inferior piece of brisket was sliced because it would be a sin to waste it.

Secret Kosher Sauce

Of course the kick-ass secret kosher sauce helped.

first Place brisket

It was at this point that I boldly announced via Facebook that this was the winning brisket entry.  It helped to walk up and down the row of teams slicing their dry sad briskets.  You just don't mess with a woman and her brisket.  Unfortunately we had at least another hour and half of waiting for the results of the judging.


No prize money at stake but lots of nice trophies.  Although.....

the golden calf?

...I'm a little leery of getting too close to the Golden Calves for fear of wayward bolts of lightning.  I mean we are going totally Old Testament here.  Finally the judging results are announced.  Chicken results pass without the Queens name being called.  Next beef ribs.  Whoa, the Queens take third place and smile exactly like fools who spent all night worrying over an R2D2 smoker and whole lotta kosher meat.  Still one category to go.  Third place....not the Queens.  Second place...Team STP (Smoked to Perfection).  At this point I start pounding on Queen arms in excitement because Team STP took first place in the chicken and ribs and if they took second in brisket that left....TEAM QUEEN for the BRISKET win!!!!

Pit Boss

I love it when I'm right.

Queens of Que Trophies

Here's your KC Queens of Que Kosher BBQ Team
John Goldberg, Carla Grant, Rita Cortes and Marla Brockman.


It certainly looked like a good time was had by all.  I know all the folks who keep kosher looked like they had a good time getting to celebrate Kansas City BBQ....their way.  See you next year.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Economy of Scale

So late Saturday morning I get a text.

Craig: Ribs? Tonight?
Me:  Sure!

One of the reasons why Craig and I get along so famously is we both appreciate a certain economy of language.  And like most conversations, it's all about the subtext.  Here's a translation of what was really said.

Craig: Ribs? Tonight? = Girrlll, you better come over here tonight and help me eat up some of that big pile of meat you enabled me to buy at Restaurant Depot and use that beautiful new grill I got a great deal on.
Me:  Sure! =  Oh you know I'm going to be there because I have recipes to try out and if I don't find more guinea pigs taste testers I'm going to weigh 400 lbs from eating all this food.

So I had a few hours before the Meat-Fest began to whip up something delicious to pair up with Craig's wonderful pork ribs.  I wanted something rich and hearty so I went with Virginia Willis's Gratin Dauphinois which was inspired by a version she learned at Anne Willan's La Vareene.  Great recipe, again out of her wonderful Bon Appetit, Y'All.  But I also had a stack of library books that I've been enjoying and noticed a quick dessert from the cookbook The Farm.

Ian Knauer was a former food editor at the late lamented Gourmet.  The Farm is a collection of recipes that Ian shares from his Pennsylvania family farm.  Beautiful photos from Hirsheimer & Hamilton and recipes that run the gamut from quick and simple to whole roast pig.  The recipe that caught my eye was his Magic Peach Cobbler.

cut peach

Magic Peach Cobbler by Ian Knauer from the cookbook The Farm, rustic recipes for a year of incredible food
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup whole milk
3 medium peaches

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with the rack in the middle. 

2. Place butter in a 3-quart baking dish, and put it in the oven for 5 minutes, or until melted. Remove the dish from the oven, tilting the dish to evenly coat the bottom with melted butter. 

3. Whisk together the flour, 3/4 cup of the sugar, the baking powder and salt. Whisk in the milk. Pour the batter evenly over the butter in the baking dish. Do not stir. 

4. Cut the peaches into wedges and place them in the batter. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup sugar over the top of the peaches. Bake the cobbler until it is set and golden on top, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool slightly on a rack. Serve the cobbler warm or at room temperature. 

What's great about this recipe is that with the exception of the peaches, I had everything in the fridge or the pantry.  The one of the problems I had was figuring out which of my dishes was a 3 quart dish.

Peach Cobbler

The other was figuring out how many small Missouri drought peaches equals 3 regular peaches.  So sad drought peaches.

Peach Cobbler 2

So delicious with tender peaches melding into sweet cobbler and crunchy sugar topping.  Bonus was that it wasn't too heavy after our meat-fest and rich potatoes.

Craig: Cobbler?  Winner.

Me:  Excellent!