Pitmasters and their teams have the opportunity to stay home and travel a lot less, or not at all. Team members have a chance to reunite and spend quality time with their “natural” families, if their significant others aren’t members of their cooking team. Most of the competition equipment gets thoroughly cleaned and stored for a month or so. And our clothes get a break from smelling like smoke every week. Teams may spend some time adjusting their rub and sauces recipes, developing new recipes, or modifying their cooking methods. Almost every cook looks to purchase some type of new equipment to give themselves and a better competitive edge the following year. So teams receive a “Christmas gift of time” at the end of November and December to catch their breath and prepare to next season. Judges also have the opportunity to travel a lot less and spend quality time with their families. They also begin setting up their judging schedule for the following year; applying to early published barbecue contests. This is done during the "off season" as it is harder to apply and get selected to judge a contest than it is to register to cook a contest. (What contest would turn down a cooking team, as the number of judges is determined by the number of cooking teams?) Additionally, they have a chance to consider cooking the following season; either forming their own team or coordinating to cook on an established team.
As a barbecue addict and gift lover, this time of year also means the possibility of getting barbecue-related gifts for Christmas! Or what I call “Santa ‘Que”.
When your family and friends say to you “What do you want for Christmas?” why not tell them the truth…barbecue stuff! Better yet, have a list of items already prepared that you’ve memorized. Of course you’ll have to hesitate for a second before answering the question. This will make them think you’ve been caught by surprise and have delivered a spontaneous, heartfelt reply. The reply would be heartfelt alright, and premeditated.
What are some really good barbecue items to ask for as Christmas gifts? Each of us has a different for answer for this question based on our current level of barbecue “want” and “need”. So, here are a few old and new things that I’d highly recommend. I’d like to receive each myself, if I didn’t already have one. And, you know I like lists!
1. Barbecue Restaurant Gift Cards / Certificates
You can receive the “gift of great barbecue” from your loved ones and friends at your favorite establishment. Cards and certificates normally range from $20 - $100, but you can usually ask for any amount at many restaurants. As a great example, I recently ate at the Memphis Barbecue Company which is owned & operated by World Champion Pitmasters Melissa Cookston & Mike Wheeler. They sold gift cards, and my whole dining experience was a 5-Star barbecue event. Everything I tried was honestly excellent. However, the baby back ribs and brisket were down right amazing! So, receiving a gift card from the Memphis Barbecue Company would be a thoughtful and mouthwatering gift.
2. Food Handling - BBQ Gloves
A good pair of these heat-resistant gloves lets you handle food better and safer; like when pulling pork. Gloves can cost from $10 - $75 depending on the type you buy. There are many brands and types of these gloves on the market; from rubber to leather to suede. However, I prefer the rubber type, as they are lighter and work well. They are much easier to clean too, only requiring soap and water. Tongs and a hot pad may work fine, but BBQ gloves these are cool (no pun intended) and more efficient to me.
3. Guru Thermometer
There are even more types of thermometers out there than BBQ gloves. However, I feel that Guru thermometers are the best in the business to more precisely temp your barbecue. They are very accurate, easy to read, and seemingly become a part of your grill or smoker. They have a few types to choose from. Additionally, they are fairly expensive as compared to other types of thermometers and would be better to receive for Christmas. A Guru costs from $25 for a standard probe, up to $600+ for a very top of the line wireless control thermometer.
4. Grill Accessories
This is a gift that has an unlimited price range depending on what you want to purchase, but a basic price range is from $20 - $100. I like grill accessories that extend the functionality of the grill cooking capabilities. Often the spaces on the metal grill racks on grills & smokers are too wide to prevent food from falling through into the fire, or falling apart during cooking and flipping. And more often, grill racks have too little grill space to barbecue all the meat we need to prepare; especially for a social function. So, it’s always good to have a grill accessory available to resolve these issues. (And all barbecue enthusiasts love toys.) In the past decade a number of these gadgets have entered the market. Two of these functionality extending items that I’ve come across that I really like the most are the assorted Grill Grates and the brand new Barbecue Buddy. The Grill Grate is a product that has been around for a few years now. It protects food by raising it above the grill with less touch points and draining the drippings less directly onto the flame. Major barbecue companies like Weber and Char-Broil, as well as a number of others, make these accessories and they are available where most barbecue supplies are sold; like most big box hardware stores. They range from $35 - $70. The Barbecue Buddy is a brand new product that is making its way into barbecue circles. It expands your grill area with two racks that sit on your grill, so you can stack your meat and double your production. It also comes with a water/drip pan. This accessory is currently only available on Amazon.com and costs $38.
5. Injector Set
Injection is a great method for infusing meat with enhanced flavor and keeping it moist throughout the cooking process. A good set of injection needle(s) costs around $15, and can run up to $60 for a professional set. So, they’re pretty inexpensive and can be a big valued-added to your cooking. Every pitmaster that cooks a whole hog injects it. They use concoctions made up of ingredients like vinegar, fruit juice, wine, spices, as well as other creative ingredients. Having a quality injector set with a multi-part injector and two or more sizes of needles is a must for . These products can be purchased at most stores where barbecue supplies are sold, as well as Bed, Bath & Beyond. (Ironically, this is where I got mine thanks to my girlfriend’s recommendation.)
6. Membership in A Barbecue Association
While most of us are members of numerous barbecue associations, there probably are one or two that we’d like to join. Based on the association you are joining, memberships can run on average $30 - $50 for an individual and around $50 - $75 for a family plan. By receiving a membership as a gift, it ties the giver into our passionate barbecue world and may justify future barbecue gifts. Sneaky, and clever, huh?
7. Barbecue Books (Cook Books & Histories)
You never stop learning at anything you do; to include barbecue. So, no matter how long or at what level you’ve been involved in barbecue, you can still learn something from time to time. Books are a great way to discover new techniques, recipes and learn more about our culinary heritage. Today there are a wide variety of very good barbecue books available in store and on-line, written by world champion pitmasters and noted authors with a wealth of knowledge. Barbecue books are a good buy as they can range from $30 for a recently published book, down to $8 for a book on the sale rack.
8. Barbecue Store Gift Cards
This is the ultimate gift where you have a “candy store” of options to select from to feed your barbecue passion. Like restaurant gift cards and certificates, they normally range from $20 - $100, but you can usually ask for any amount at many restaurants. Additionally, as we have all experienced in the past, you loved one or friend may unintentionally not get you exactly what you wanted; buying the wrong brand, style, or even the wrong item. Again, there are a number of these businesses accessible on-line, which makes it even easier to gift. The Kansas City BBQ Store and The Barbecue Store are two of my favorites. But remember, it needs to be a high enough amount so you can have numerous options on what to buy. Asking for a $200 gift card isn’t unreasonable, is it?
I know this column makes me sound like a cheap, petty, gift grabbing, son of a gun. However, it’s a tough life when you have an obsession and know what you want need! J
Have a very Merry Christmas!
And I hope your family and friends are good to you by gifting lots of “Santa ‘Que”!
Where there's smoke, there's probably barbecue!