<![CDATA[BBQCRITIC - Columnist Hance Patrick]]>Wed, 09 Mar 2016 04:05:17 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Barbecue and Sauce - a symbiotic relationship]]>Fri, 02 Dec 2011 13:55:59 GMThttp://www.bbqcritic.com/columnist-hance-patrick/barbecue-and-sauce-a-symbiotic-relationshipI'm now 50 something; not as old as many here but much older than most... Humor me if you will; I'd like to talk about Sauce, how it pertains to Barbecue, and how I came to understand it.

I cannot tell you how many times over my lifetime I've heard people talk about barbecue, what's great, what works, where to get it, and say one way or another "It's all about the sauce".

I grew up thinking this. My parents both still talk about the best barbecue they'd eaten in the past; this one particular day at my grandparents home. The sauce was AWESOME. You could drink it straight. Looking back, thank goodness it was thick and STRONG, because the meat was AWEFUL, but you couldn't tell it with this sauce. You could've been eating a hubcap from a '64 Falcon and wouldn't know it from the taste. The sauce that day was consuming. The flavors were bold, and strong, and GREAT together. Seriously, people were putting it on buns and eating that straight up. It was a good day for barbecue (in their eyes).

My father cooked great ribs and he knew it. He'd take those 1/2 frozen racks of pork spare ribs and slather both sides real good with sauce, then put the sauced ribs on the very hot grill for 10 minutes on each side, whether it needed it or not. When he'd flip them he'd re-slather on more sauce. 20 minutes was all it would take to sufficiently get a nice black color on the sauce. These were awesome!!!

Ok, not. I hated them. Made me want to puke. Growing up I though I despised ribs. I was in my late 20's when I had my first set of babybacks cooked worth a flip.

Sometime, probably towards my mid 30's I learned that barbecue, done correctly, doesn't need sauce at all. The meat and the spices by themselves can be awesome!!! What a revelation! Suddenly the conventional wisdom of "It's all about the sauce" was in question. How can this be?!?!? Barbecue, without sauce? It was then that I began my personal journey; finding "what IS barbecue". Also, along this journey I discovered that it IS a journey, not a destination. There's something to learn every single day. It's fun that way.

So, we (I) know that barbecue, purely, doesn't need nor require sauce. So where does sauce fit in?!?! I'd made some GREAT sauces along the way and over the years. Many you'd want to just eat with a spoon. Now I realize that these sauces covered and masked the great flavors of the meats. If using these sauces, why bother cooking meat at all? That's a helluva expensive venture just to cover it up (IMHO). For me, enlightenment came in 2005. Having eaten at just about every barbecue joint within a few hundred miles and known for it, I was asked/invited to judge a contest and become a certified barbecue judge. It was at my very first contest, judging ribs as it happened to be, that I came to understand that there can be a symbiotic relationship between sauce and meat.

The sauce can actually compliment the flavor of the meat without masking it. The flavor of the meat can actually be enhanced by the sauce and bring out flavors in the sauce that you couldn't taste otherwise. What an epiphany! It was a watershed moment for me. I never knew that the light wasn't on, but now that it WAS ON, oh how brightly it shined. I GOT IT!! I understand!!!!

It's NOT all about the sauce. However, the right sauce, married with the meat and spices, can enhance the flavors to produce a product that will literally make your eyes roll in the back of your head and beg the question "is this actually better than sex?".

It can happen. However, it doesn't happen by accident. You cannot take a bottled over-the-counter barbecue sauce and have this happen (not from my experience). Most recipes (like 99.9%) you'll find produce similar results. You'll have a great sauce that you can/could eat all by itself, BUT darned if it doesn't cover the meat flavors altogether.

Find it you can (said in that stupid Yoda voice).

For us (the team), I think we found ours. Notice, I didn't say "THE SAUCE". We found "A SAUCE" that works for us. Why, you ask? Because the sauce must go with the meat, the smoke, the injection, AND the rub. All of these play in. Otherwise "find it you will not". No more channeling Yoda, I promise.

We found ours almost by accident. It was an afterthought really as we added in two of the 3 sauces used at the last minute. However, we were trying to find it. It happened one day a few years ago. Preparing for a few upcoming competitions we decided to have a sauce tasting party. Literally. I made up a bunch of barbecue; 1/2 using one injection with our rub, the other 1/2 using a different injection with our rub. We made/used 16 base sauces. The tasting began. There were 12 of us (I didnt want just one or two opinions). Long story short, one combination of a sauce with an injection took 11 first places (of the 12). That same injection took the top 10, so we knew we had the right injection combination, but even of the 11 first place votes on sauce, we all though it was still missing something. Mind you, it was VERY VERY good, but with some of the other sauces they had other characteristics, good characteristics, that were missing in this combination. And so the combinations began. An hour later we ended up with what all 12 individuals thought was nirvana. Needing a little extra sweet and zip we'd added in a little Blues Hog. Still needing something, we brought in a little Tennessee Red. Son of a gun; there it was.

And that was our journey. Mind you, as I said above, it's what works for us, on our barbecue. I've published the sauce(s) recipes. However, I highly suggest that you not just make it and decide. Cook using multiple sauces. Try them all. Make the determination for yourself, on YOUR barbecue.


Honestly, if you're making burned meat, you're not going to like my sauce on the meat, because it wont cover the burned flavor. If your meat has no smoke flavor on it, you're probably not going to like this sauce again, because it has no smoke flavorings. Our sauces tend to be a little on the sweet side. Not that I love sweet, but I use absolutely no sugars in my rub. I/we cook in the 245-265 range and I dont want to accidentally end up with burned sugars... As a result we bring in a little sweetness with the sauce(s). This may or may not work for you.

One of the things we learned/found, for us mind you, is that 100% of the sauces that had smoke flavorings in them didn't go with our meat at all. Not even a little bit. Some combinations clashed. Others didnt clash, but the smoke flavors combined to an overwhelming amount.

Back to my point: to find that symbiotic relationship that works will take work. You must do it with your smoker, using your meat, and your injections, and only THEN will you find the sauce that works for you.

For me/us, we found that a sauce that tastes great straight up doesn't necessarily make a great sauce on barbecue.]]>
<![CDATA[MBN on-site judging vs. blind judging; truly a treat!]]>Sun, 23 Oct 2011 01:11:48 GMThttp://www.bbqcritic.com/columnist-hance-patrick/mbn-on-site-judging-vs-blind-judging-truly-a-treat
Today couldn't have been a better day; I mean it was a BEAUTIFUL day here in middle Georgia for a barbecue cookoff.  Temps last night got down to right at 40 degrees and this afternoon topped out around 75 degrees.  It was truly something else.

Earlier this year I'd become a trained CBJ in GBA and shorly afterwards obtained my GBA certification as well as my MIM/MBN certification after judging 2 competitions.  As I've done more competing in the last few years, it had been a while since I've judged an MBN event.  My first draw today was on-site whole hog.  This IS by most any stretch of the imagination the holy grail of judging.

My first draw in this event was the recent Memphis In May rib champion, Bubba Grills.  Of course, Lonnie & team are amazing, but their hog this morning was simply over-the-top.  Lonnie was burning his hand and fingers extracting the meat for me.  I sat there listening to his spiel, the whole time I was taking in the aroma of the Q, squeezing it for moisture and tenderness, and of course eating freshly extracted pieces from the back, ham, loin, shoulder, ribs, etc.  15 minutes of judging heaven.

While their presentation is simply awesome, I’m not one to favor larger teams, or money (there were teams with even more impressive rigs here today than Lonnies).

My next draw was another very accomplished team and a great hog cooker, Jurassic Pork.   Not nearly as impressive a presentation, but worthy of a perfect score none the less.  Another wonderful  hog there, an equally amazing aroma, bark that was very impressive particularly for a hog, and just wonderful meat.  The team made one small mistake that cost them slightly; they’d chosen to use smaller pieces of meat pulled from the hog, and literally the distance from the hog to the table was longer so it took another minute to get it over to me.  It was slightly breezy this morning and still a little chill in the air, so the meat wasn’t nearly as hot and had just begun to dry out a tad.  It wasn’t nearly as tender as it could’ve been, so that got my 9 there and my overall 9.9 vs. the 10.0 for Bubba Grills.  Tight competition and a wonderful draw to be a judge.

My third draw for the day was a local-only team who cook a pretty darned good hog, but honestly not in the league of either or the two other’s I’d sampled.

At the end I had a tough time deciding whom to give my overall 10, but the tenderness and freshness of the hog from Bubba won my 10.

This is a long story but I actually am getting to a point, one that surprised me a little, and I’m reminded of why on-site is so much different than blind judging.   I don’t know the final standings, but Jurassic Pork made it to finals in whole hog, and today Bubba Grills did not.   MBN weighs blind judging significantly higher than on-site so that folks enamored with glitz of larger teams don’t unduly penalize smaller teams who might make better barbecue.  I like this part (the higher weighting of blind).  Obviously the blind box was the difference.  I didn’t get to see their blind boxes, but I know these two teams, I’m certain they both got 10’s in appearance.  However, whole hog can dry out quickly if allowed to cool.  I’m certain that the product the judges who opened those blind boxes was very different than the barbecue that I was allowed to sample straight from the hog.

30 minutes later, after all hog judging was complete, I wandered over to the grazing table and was able to pick out these two teams barbecue by the sauces that were presented with them.  Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to recognize either, as they were VERY different than what I’d judged.

The lessons to draw from this are probably many.  Cooks need to know that from the time they close up that clam-shell box to the time it’s opened by judges can be 10 to 20 minutes some times, and they’re not necessarily stored in warm conditions, so the barbecue has had lots of time to cool.  When testing their recipes, test how they taste 20 or 30 minutes after pulling them and allow it to cool.  What may be AWESOME when hot and steaming may not be nearly as impressive after it’s cooled.

For judges, well, more than anything else, if you ever get the chance to judge MBN on-site, please do so.  Not for the impressive “show”, but to get to sample award winning competition barbecue HOT, straight from the smoker, pulled right there in front of you and almost immediately to your mouth.  Truly, THAT is something else!!!!  As good as the barbecue can and often is in our tent at the table when judging blind, it’s a whole different story when it steaming hot freshly pulled…  Seize the opportunity!!!

<![CDATA[Judging Appearance]]>Thu, 22 Sep 2011 13:50:20 GMThttp://www.bbqcritic.com/columnist-hance-patrick/judging-appearance
As the use of the web grows, so does the use of forums, blogs, etc. where people converse, share opinions, etc.  It's wonderful.  For barbecue enthusiasts it provides us a platform to discuss our love other than on weekends when competing/judging and we're too tired to think straight.  It's wonderful.

Lately, from what I've been reading, nothing seems more controversial than the judging and subsequent scoring of appearance.  Interesting point of note, that I know of, all of the sanctioning bodies that train and certify judges have only 1 category where they train pretty much exactly the same, and it's the Appearance category.  Judges are trained that it is subjective, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that what you're scoring is how appetizing the entry is to you (the beholder).  That's it.  Allow me to reiterate:  how appetizing the entry is to the beholder.  The one key word in this: appetizing. 

The question each judge should ask themselves each time they gaze in the box is a very simple question:
Is this entry appetizing?

The answer comes in the emotion stirred.  If the beholder has an uncontrollable urge to grab a  piece and take a bite, then by all means that's a perfect score (in KCBSland that's a 9, MBN is a 10).  Everything else is a step down from there, each score defined by the different sanctioning bodies.

There's been very little argument/discussion about the above.  However, there has been lots of discussion and some heated debates about what is and isn't appetizing, and what should and shouldn't get high scores in the Appearance category, and why.

Everyone, judge and cook alike, should know that this category is probably the most subjective category out there.  What is appetizing to one person may not be appetizing to another.  It gets to human psyche.   I'm sure that all of Pavlov's dogs didnt salivate every time; some probably weren't as motivated as others.  It's nature.

One thing I would caution both judge and cook alike is this:  please stick to your training and the definition of the category, which is (as stated above):  is this appetizing.

There has been a growing trend lately (fueled by BBQ Pitmasters TV series) of muffin pan chicken.  While some (dare I say most) people find the little round pieces of chicken beautiful and appetizing, there are a number of other people that dont find it appetizing whatsoever.

I think you'll find that pork that is cut or sliced tends to be regional in its appeal and what is and isn't appetizing.

Some clever cooks have a sense of humor and proudly display it when using the money muscle in their pork presentation.  Just know that some people find it appetizing, and others dont.

I'm not here to debate which is right or which is wrong.  I just want judges to remember their training, and cooks to understand that it's about appetizing and what is and isn't appetizing.  It's that simple.

Remember, as judges, we're not here to give bonus points for effort.  If you find it (whatever it is) appetizing, sco

<![CDATA[Is chicken (at competitions) really barbecue?]]>Fri, 20 May 2011 18:51:56 GMThttp://www.bbqcritic.com/columnist-hance-patrick/is-chicken-at-competitions-really-barbecueThis isn't anti-KCBS.   Not all barbecue sanctioning bodies have chicken as a sanctioned meat, but many do.

I was talking (you know us barbecue guys, we like to talk) amongst a few friends and the topic of competition chicken came up.  I was surprised how passionate everyone was with their opinion on this.  From whether this or that should be allowed, the arguments for or against breasts and whether tenderness needed to be scored differently (we'd been drinking a little), the making of chicken balls (boneless thighs in a little ball), whether skin should or shouldn't be presented, or skin allowed to be removed if the judge doesn't like it, I think we hit most everything.  It was towards the end of this lively conversation when I asked rather rhetorically "Is chicken actually barbecue"?  There was some laughter, and I went on:  Barbecue, traditional or otherwise, is the result of the act of barbecuing, which is low and slow cooking over wood.  In competitions it's RARE that any competitor cooks chicken low and slow.  Most are cooking over 300 degrees; some being significantly higher than this.  Grill marks, for example, are a little clue here.  We've got competitors pseudo-frying skin to get it usable for their purposes.  So, it all begs the question:  Is the resulting meat product actually barbecue?  If not, should it be a meat category at all (in a sanctioned barbecue competition)?

<![CDATA[BBQ is as American as apple pie and baseball]]>Thu, 19 May 2011 02:07:03 GMThttp://www.bbqcritic.com/columnist-hance-patrick/bbq-is-as-american-as-apple-pie-and-baseballI’m Hance Patrick.  Born in Alabama, I was raised in North Carolina and Georgia.  I was introduced to quality cooking by my grandmother who was a professional chef.  Whether at home or at the grand parents house, there was always a grill going, or we were going out to eat, usually for barbecue.

Barbecue as I knew it back then was pork; pulled pork often from a whole hog pig pickin’.  This was traditional barbecue at its finest, cooked low and slow, over a combination of hickory and either pecan or oak, in a pit.  Sauce was always on the side, and there was usually a huge variety of sauces to be found.  Ribs, however, was something my father did on the grill.  He fancied himself quite the rib aficionado.   He’d take 2 or 3 full racks of spare ribs, slather them in a very spicy sauce, put them on a blazing hot grill for about 10 minutes on the front side, then flip them and re-slather.  One final flip to make sure the sauce was burned on both sides, careful to make sure the meat was as tough and chewy as possible and that the sugars in the sauce were as burned as possible.  Did I mention that he took special care to make certain that no fat had been rendered?  Suffice it to say I grew up thinking I hated ribs.  That was barbecue to me as a kid.  From wonderful social gatherings of a pig pickin’ with family and friends, to the trying to find a reason to be anywhere but home when my dad had an urge to cook ribs, it was all part of my upbringing and my heritage.

In my early 20’s I was finally introduced to fall-off-the-bone ribs and discovered that I didn’t hate ribs after all.  This was the beginning of my barbecue journey.   It wasn’t long before I purchased my first smoker, then another, and it’s still going (big smoker envy).  In 2003 and 2004 I had the honor of judging a few back-yard barbecue cook-offs and was invited to become a MIM CBJ.  I took the class and had an idea that I was about to be hooked.  Was I ever right!  My first sanctioned cook-off to this date is probably my most memorable.  I remember coming away thinking that of all the ribs I sampled that day, the worst of them was head-and-shoulders better than the best ribs I’d ever had.  I was hooked.  I immediately began traveling to all the local MIM contests (before they became MBN).   Along the journey I’ve judged roughly 80 sanctioned cook-offs and 20 un-sanctioned.

I consider myself a bit of a barbecue traditionalist.  To me the best tasting barbecue comes from cooking low and slow over natural hard woods.  Pellets, wafers, electricity and gas can all be used to cook low and slow and create barbecue, but it’s just not the same as large pieces of meat cooked over a natural wood fire.  Over the years I’ve learned to appreciate different barbecue styles and have come to understand that barbecue, down to the definition of what is and is not barbecue, is quite regional.  From sauces and their styles to the meats being barbecued, it can vary as much as we vary from one person to another.  And it brings out very strong emotions, as it’s tied to our histories.  It is every bit as American as apple pie and baseball  (here in the deep south it’s peach cobbler and football, but those are topics for another blog).

I’ve begun to scale back on the competitions judged and have replaced the hobby with competing.  I’m not sure how much I can afford to do this, but it sure is fun.  The camaraderie among competition teams and cooks is beyond compare.  I do enjoy competing particularly in MBN cook-offs, and the judges are already on to my spiel about tradition and wood, etc.   However, darned if my team mates aren’t fond of KCBS and FBA, if for no other reasons that they get to eat the extra brisket!

-- Hance