Published: July 28, 2011
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For this week’s Meet the BBQ Pros, we had a chance to talk to Tim from Slab’s a’ Smokin BBQ Competition Team. They placed 2nd in the ribs category at the 2011 Memphis in May World Championship Barbeque Cooking Contest! I hope that you enjoy the interview!
What made you start to barbecue? What did you like most about it? Why do you think that a lot of people love to barbecue? And How did you get started in barbecue competitions?
Tim: My team has only been competing for a couple of years, but what got us here has been going for more than 10 years and was a result of multiple things – I’ll separate it into Taste, Fun and Challenge.
For me, it started with the taste about 15 years ago when my family lived in Dallas, TX. I was living in Memphis (where I still live today) and my youngest brother was at the University of Texas in Austin. He brought back with him some rub and sauce from the Salt Lick (still one of my all time favorites) and my dad, with his original Weber Performer, would cook ribs on indirect heat using Salt Lick rub and we’d dip in the Salt Lick sauce. At that time I had zero interest in preparation – but the flavor was one of those “where have you been all of my life” kind of things. We didn’t do them often, but rib cooks were planned and talked about by the family months in advance after that first time.
A few years later, the fun aspect started. A couple of my friends convinced me on a couple of different occasions that since we didn’t have anything to do, had a Friday night to burn or wanted to watch some football on Saturday, and I had a grill in my backyard (that I never used), we should do some lazy grilling and football watching. After two of those times, I realized just how much fun it was getting the friends together and doing this. I started having grilling parties simply as a way to get everyone together for a good time. We had a blast. It’s funny when I look back now to the food I was making then, just how terrible it was. I had no idea what I was doing – but even bad BBQ can taste good, and that’s what this was. Plus, we were all having a blast and at the end of the day, that is what BBQ is all about.
Finally, the challenge aspect. This is where my cousin Kevin comes in. He visited me in Memphis with his dad, my dad, and my other uncles one weekend and we both (Kevin and I) realized upon his arrival that we both were really enjoying cooking, but were just starting to get into it. While our dads and uncles spent the weekend drinking, smoking cigars and playing cards, Kevin and I decided to challenge ourselves and take it to the next level on slow smoking, with the limited equipment we had, to see how it turned out. We cooked all weekend. We made some great food that weekend and that was it, we were hooked by the challenge and together started to really develop recipes and techniques, reading all we could, watching all of the shows, purchasing the equipment – it just exploded.
The competition aspect was just the next natural progression – we loved our product, we loved cooking for others, we felt we had some really good stuff, so we decided to start competing. My team of chefs is my cousin Kevin, my two brothers, and a few of my best friends. It’s a great way to bring everyone together and we have a blast – again, that’s what BBQ is all about.
Why do you think Barbecue Competitions like Memphis in May have become so “hot?”
Tim: Like I said above, at the end of the day, BBQ is all about having fun with friends and family – so my only confusion is why it hasn’t always been this hot. Sure it’s great to win, but that’s just the icing on the cake. Had we not done well this year at MIM, sure I would have been disappointed but it all was worth it regardless due to the fun we all had.
What did you like most about Memphis in May? and what makes it so different then other Barbecue competitions around the country?
Tim: I realize I’m biased here but can you really beat the MIM world championship? I’d give anything for the ability (time and money) to head to K.C. for the American Royal or get that exclusive invitation to the Jack. I think from a competition perspective, those are right there at the top as well. I guess I’d say those three are tied for the top three comp’s in the country (I’m new though, so I’ll defer to the veterans on that question). I think what’s different about MIM vs. the rest is the party atmosphere. The huge scaffolding facilities, the music, the large crowds – I’d have to say that MIM is king of the party aspect of all BBQ competitions. Mix that in with competing against the best teams in the world, and that’s about as good as it gets.
What do you like the most about barbecue competitions? And the least?
Tim: Everything I’ve said above is what I like most about them. What I like least is the time commitment. I love the MIM’s and American Royal’s and the like that are four day events, that’s great, but can’t most competitions be a Saturday afternoon? My team would love nothing more than to compete a ton more than we do, but we don’t have the time and energy to do the massive load in’s on a Thursday night, party all day Friday and compete on Saturday. We’d love nothing more than to hit the road on a Friday evening, arrive, throw up two 10×10 tents next to our cookers, go to bed, and Saturday morning get started, everyone home by late Saturday night (trophy or not). I’m sure those comp’s still exist, but it seems like those are becoming less and less the norm, which is preventing SLABS a’ Smokin from competing as much as we’d like. Right now we’re forced to choose and exclude, which I don’t enjoy. Seems these days if you want to compete a ton, it becomes a full time job for at least some of the cooks on your team.
What was your greatest accomplishment?/biggest disappointment in participating professionally in barbecue competitions?
Tim: Well, I’d have to say our greatest accomplishment as a team was placing second in ribs at MIM after only two years of competing! The biggest disappointment for our team was realizing how hard it was going to be to compete more than we do (see my answer above). Specific to BBQ sauce, I like this question a lot. Our team from day 1 has made everything we cook with from scratch. Nothing store bought as a starter (both sauce and rub). BBQ Sauce was a major challenge for us. Right now we have two sauces – one for a rib baste and one for our all purpose dipping sauce. I love them both and would honestly put them up against all of the best (with the understanding that there is just so much in terms of preference when it comes to sauce, which is why I think sauce competition categories are total BS, sorry if that offends anyone, it’s just not judgeable because it’s entirely subjective preference).
Our dipping sauce was a very long process of trial and error shared between myself and my cousin Kevin – though Kevin should be acknowledged here for it the most. He put just a crazy amount of time into the dipping sauce and is responsible for 90% of that recipe. It’s frustrating – your first batch recipe sounded great on paper and then you make it and you realize it’s terrible. You go from there, and thirty batches later you realize you’re close. Now the real hard part comes – what do we need to change to make this go from good to great? You have to really enjoy it to make good sauce.
The rib baste is a funny story – it was a total accident. During the early stages of our process of trying to come up with a team dipping sauce (which we were also going to use as a rib baste), I decided to scrap my previous recipes and go with something completely different. I made it, tasted it, and hated it. No one else who was with me that day liked it either. I was making ribs that day for some guys (now current team members) and was basting with Rendezvous sauce (a great sauce). I ran out of it and had two slabs left that needed basting. Because I assumed it was better than nothing, I used the bad sauce I’d made as the baste on those last two slabs (at this point our team rub was already done and in use). When the ribs were done, a couple of the guys had mentioned just how much better these “other two” slabs were than the rest, having no idea I’d used that other sauce on any of the slabs. The two with the baste I made were considerably better – I tried them and could not believe it. There’s my first big lesson learned in BBQ – one item, such as a sauce, by itself may not be good, but married with other ingredients (meat and rub) and it can go from bad to phenomenal. From there we refined the baste with trial and error, using the base recipe from that day of “failure” and today we’re left with a baste that was part of 2nd place MIM ribs. Go figure, but I’m sure there’s a ton of stories like that out there in the competition circuit.
What is the single most important piece of advice that you can give to professional, amateurs about the sport of barbecue?
Tim: Have a team and be a team. One person’s opinions alone are worthless. You need a team of people who know what they’re talking about to combine to something that is great. Also, being a team means working hard and sacrificing together. If you want to treat this like a sport, it’s a ton of work and requires a ton of help.
This might be an odd question but is there something that you don’t like about barbecuing?
Tim: Absolutely, the calories! BBQ is terrible for you! I love making it, but force myself to rarely eat it other than tasting it. I give it away and spread it amongst lots of friends and family. No one should eat a ton of BBQ, unfortunately.
What is the most Important Tool that Every Pitmaster must have in their Arsenal?
Tim: I’ll give you a big and a small. Big – if you don’t have a cooker you know backward and forward, and that you believe in, you will suck. We use Backwoods Smokers and basically worship them. We take care of them, we are proud of them, and I think it shows in our product. You do not have to have a Backwoods for great product though – we started out using Weber Performers and those little $50 green bullet looking things you can buy at Lowe’s and Home depot. Those are good and cheap cookers. Take care of your equipment though and know it – no matter what you spend. Every cooker cooks differently. I am 100% convinced on that, which is why I get confused when some people are so focused on cooking times and temps without regard for the cooker. Some cook faster, some slower. Choose the temp and time that makes sense in that cooker, which you’ll only learn through trial and error.
Something small – a great pair of rubber gloves. One of our cooks, Jason, found some awesome thick rubber gloves at Lowes that I now don’t know what I’d do without. When you’re moving 30 racks of ribs or 10 butts, or mixing sauce into meat or whatever, having good rubber gloves is essential. A lot of people focus on BBQ pit gloves (oven gloves or whatever). Those are essential as well but you obviously don’t want to be touching meat with them and plastic disposable gloves don’t do anything for you when the meat is piping hot.
What is one thing that your fans don’t know about YOU that you would like to share?
Tim: If I have fans, well that would be pretty incredible. I still consider myself in the “fan” category rather than “having fans.” So, I’d say most don’t know much about me at all. I’ll say I grew up in St. Louis, MO and have lived in Memphis, TN ever since attending Rhodes College.
Can you give us a sneak peak on your next great barbecue adventure?
Tim: We’re in the process now figuring out how we can maximize our competing. Kevin lives in St. Louis (his hometown as well as mine) and so we’re going to focus there and in the mid-south. We’ll be competing in the Harrah’s High Steaks BBQ Bash in June and the St. Louis BBQ Bash in September for sure. We’re also looking at Smokin’ Aces in Tunica, MS this September as well as more competitions in the mid-south. We’ll know more later.