Published: August 4, 2011
For this Week’s BBQ Meet the Pros, we had a chance to interview Tuffy Stone from Cool Smoke BBQ Competition team and also the owner of the great barbecue restaurant “Q Barbecue.” Tuffy has also appeared on Season One of TLC’s “BBQ PitMaster” Show and also CBS’ Ultimate BBQ Challenge. George “Tuffy” Stone began his cooking career in 1987 as an apprentice with the acclaimed French Chef Alain Vincey in a French restaurant in Richmond, VA. In 2004, Tuffy began researching slow cooking methods involving a wood burning fire and with the help of many friends and family the Cool Smoke Team was born. In their very first competition Cool Smoke was awarded 2nd in the Pork category and 7th in brisket. Since then Cool Smoke has won over 100 awards including 20 State Championships and in 2007 Cool Smoke was named Team of the Year from the Kansas City BBQ Society.
GWR: My first question that I always ask my guests for the Meet the Pros Series, is what made you start to barbecue?
Tuffy: I have been cooking for a living since the mid eighties, starting in a French kitchen. I focused most of my career on high end food and my wife, Leslie, and I opened a gourmet, full service, off premise catering company called A Sharper Palate in 1993. We built this company to be very successful and in 2004, I found myself desiring to get re-connected with cooking as my work had become mostly managing the company. In my mind, I knew that I wanted to learn how to cook with wood. I began to research, bought a pit and a load of hickory, and started to try and cook with a wood fire. I had assumed that I could master this technique quickly because of my culinary back ground, but I was actually very humbled and found this to be one of the biggest culinary challenges that I had taken on. In my research I also found out about competition barbeque and “Cool Smoke” was created.
GWR: What do you like most about barbecue? And why do you think that a lot of people love to barbecue?
Tuffy: I may get a little windy, so please forgive me. Coming from a gourmet back ground and making foods and sauces that have names that are difficult to pronounce. I love the fact that barbeque is a food that intimidates no one and is as challenging to make as any other food out there. It is this grand cuisine that flies under the radar for its culinary greatness. Everyone relates to barbeque, even if that connection is your Dad cooking on the grill in the back yard growing up. I think the aromas that come with barbeque often act like a great dinner bell, calling everyone who smells it to eat. It is a food for everyone and does not discriminate and everyone is welcome.
GWR: This might be an odd question but is there anything that you don’t like about Barbecuing if so, what is it?
Tuffy: Trimming chicken maybe for competition, but not really , I love just about everything when it comes to cooking barbeque. I really love tending the fire and the smells that come while cooking barbeque.
GWR: What is your favorite barbecue food to make? and why?
Tuffy: Brisket and chicken. I love cooking brisket to perfection, as it is one of the most challenging meats to cook. I always like cooking chicken as well and trying to nail the doneness. There is a very small window for cooking chicken to be it’s best.
GWR: What do you like the most about barbecue competitions? And the least?
Tuffy: The people! I have made some great friends on the bbq circuit. Really great people. I also love throwing myself into the culinary challenges when competing. Anyone who knows me well on the circuit, know I get pretty focused. Probably the thing I like least is going to awards. I put so much effort in to the cook, that I am usually exhausted mentally at awards and don’t enjoy that part.
Why do you think that barbecue competitions have become so popular and also you get such a diverse crowd of people participating in it?
Tuffy: I think that barbeque has always been popular and when competition bbq came to be, people jumped in. There are so many great back yard “pitmasters” who have mastered their cookers, and they were ready to see how their barbeque compared to another’s. I also think that September 11th had a big impact and that people went back to things American. Cooking barbeque certainly is very American , while celebrating life and enjoying family and friends. I also think that competition bbq making it to television and magazines has brought tremendous exposure to this activity, So many great back yard barbecuers learning about this and giving a try. Anyone can participate and when you do, you get to meet the greatest people. You will find lawyers, carpenters, mechanics, stock brokers, farmers, housewives , architects, truck drivers, and every other occupation that you can think of out there competing.
GWR: Do you think that there is a difference in the quality of food that you aim to serve at your Restaurant and with the food that you want to put out during a competition?
Tuffy: Absolutely! We try to serve barbeque at Q, our restaurants, that you will want to eat a whole plate of. In competition , I am trying to serve one perfect bite that will get the judges to smile! Competition barbeque tends to be a lot richer and more assertive in flavor. I do bring some of the things that we do in competition to the restaurant , such as we brine our chicken in both competition and at the restaurant. There are many examples where there are crossovers, but we are careful to not make the food at Q as intense as it is in competition.
GWR: What do you like better competing or cooking in your restaurant? What do you think makes a successful barbecue restaurant?
Tuffy: I like competing, but it is exhausting, It takes a lot of effort, time, and money when you do it like we do.It is great to compete against the best and try your best! What is nice about cooking in the restaurant, being stopped by a customer to have them tell you how much they enjoyed their food. Our chefs, cooks, managers, and all of our team really love that! It is nice to look in the dinning room and see a lot of smiling faces! Our goals for trying make our restaurants successful are simple in theory and more difficult to practice. We are constantly challenging ourselves to become better and we always have new projects going on. I would like to think we have only just begun. We have a great team of people and they are hard at work in the process of helping us to be better. We are only as good as our last plate served.
GWR: In your opinion what makes a BBQ team successful besides the obvious Awards? What was your first win, and what was your biggest disappointment? What was your greatest accomplishment?
Tuffy: I think it takes a lot of time, practice, discipline, and organization to move a BBQ team in to a successful direction. I think that teams that are consistently at the top will be focused and have a plan. Our first win was in Westminister, Maryland in 2005. Our biggest disappointment was probably being DQ’d this year in Lakeland for being seconds late in Brisket. Had that not happened we would have won, but I use that as a learning experience that has made us better. Probably the greatest BBQ accomplishments are being the KCBS Team of the Year 2007 and winning Pork Shoulder at Memphis in May in 2010. That was our first time competing there and it was pretty amazing.
GWR: What was your experience like being apart of TLC’s BBQ Pitmasters and what is the most important thing you took away from the experience?
Tuffy: I really had a great time being on the first season of BBQ Pitmasters ! John Markus was the person who gave me this opportunity and it was a great life experience. We spent a lot of time on the road and filming, and though that made some great friendships. I think that one of the most important things I took away from that show, was learning how to speak comfortably while in front of the camera. This has helped me since, both when we we cooked for the troops in Kuwait and when we filmed the CBS Ultimate BBQ Showdown.
GWR: Would you change anything about the way the show was set up and if so, what?
Tuffy: Well I am not trained to make television shows and I really respect those who are , so I am not sure what I would change. Maybe a little more coverage of the processes of cooking barbeque, but then I am a chef and love food.
GWR: What is one thing that your fans might not know about YOU that you would like to share, you know something that goes on behind the scenes.
Tuffy: I like to cycle both road and mountain, enjoy photography, and collect modern art.
GWR: What is the single most important piece of advice that you can give to professional, amateurs about the sport of barbecue?
Tuffy: Treat smoke like salt and pepper. Smoke should compliment the meat and not override the natural flavors of the pork, chicken, or beef. No one likes tough barbeque.
Thank you for taking the time and visiting Grilling With Rich. By the way, what do you think of the site?
Tuffy: Rich your site is great! I appreciate your interest in what we do!