Friday, February 4, 2011
Smokin' Away a Golden Maple Afternoon
As you already know if you read this blog, last January I was certified by KCBS to judge BBQ. I was incredibly fortunate to be invited to judge 5 1/2 contests last year. To put that in context, we were advised at our judging class that we would be lucky to judge 1 or 2 our first year because there are exponentially more people wanting to judge, than there are contests to judge. At any rate, I judged the 2010 Aflac Outdoor Games Pig Bowl in Columbus, Pigs n' Peaches in Kennesaw, BBQ & Blues at Lake Oconee, Sherman's Last Burning in Covington and judged both Backyard and Professional at the Cherokee Pignic.
I had an amazing time, met some great people and basically ruined BBQ, one of my favorite foods, for myself. While not every bite of meat I judged was the best I'd ever eaten, the majority of it was superior to almost all of the BBQ you can get around Atlanta (there are a few exceptions, but that's another post). Combine that with the fact that the Competitive BBQ circuit goes on hiatus from roughly November to March and you can begin to see my dilemma. I was starting to have BBQ cravings, but bad. It's almost a physical need to have sauce smeared on my face and fingers that smell like smoke and spice for days after judging.
I was having a hard time finding any 'cue in Atlanta that would scratch that itch. Enter Joey Bridgers of Golden Maple Food, a caterer and a master of smoked meats, @joeybridgers on Twitter. I met him and his lovely wife Mandy at an Atlanta Food Bloggers meetup and was very fortunate to score an invite to a smoking demo he was doing the very next week.
Mandy - the Self Trained Chef and Becky - Whats 4 Dinner Tonite and I spent the better part of a beautiful, if chilly, November afternoon listening to Joey's tips on producing incredibly moist, tender smoked meats. Then we got to eat and eat some more. The first thing to come out was the brisket, which was possibly the best I've ever tasted. Brisket is the trickiest meat to smoke because if you let it get too hot or too done, you have beefy rubber bands, but if you don't cook it long enough or hot enough you get great mouthfuls of blubbery fat. There is a real art and skill involved in creating brisket that you actually want to eat, and Joey Bridgers has that talent.
Next off were the chickens, another test of smoking skill. I can count on one hand the number of times I was offered white meat to judge in competition. There's a reason for that. It is so hard to cook chicken to a safe temperature and still have it be moist and tasty. You should have seen the juice dripping out when he carved that breast, this was not chicken that you have to bathe in sauce to choke down. The same held true with the turkeys, gorgeous mahogany skin (it does lose its crispiness when its smoked, but its still nicely rendered and tasty) and juicy succulent meat.
The only slight disappointment for the day were the ribs. Joey said that he hadn't been happy with the last couple of batches he had gotten from his supplier and when he first pulled them out, said this batch were just not cooking like he wanted them. He put them back on and we waited until the end of the afternoon to try them again. He still wasn't satisfied with them, but I thought they showed promise with good smoke flavor, they were just this side of chewy. If we hadn't all been scared of getting stuck in Atlanta's notorious afternoon traffic, we could have given them another hour or so and they probably would have been perfect.
If you want to try some of Joey's delicious BBQ, follow him on Twitter, as he is out with his smoker nearly every Saturday afternoon and he tweets the time and place to his followers. You can also have him come and smoke at your place or cater your next dinner, just contact him for details. I hope I'll see you out there one Saturday soon.