Monday, May 31, 2010

BBQ Pitmasters - 2nd Season

Just what we need, another cooking competition TV series!!

The powers that be at TLC have begun to tweak BBQ Pitmasters, their hit series from last season. They averaged almost a million viewers per episode of the short series and had double-digit increases in the difficult demographic of male viewers. So, what do you do with success? You make changes. A typical cookers row at a KCBS contest, just before turn-in.

Apparently we don’t have enough game-show style cooking competition series yet. They’re revamping this one into a competition much like the old Outdoor Living Network did. Enough of that format, already!!

For whatever reason, a change in hosts was apparently necessary. These things happen in the TV world. They’ve hired Kevin Roberts, “The Food Dude“. You may remember Kevin from his attempt to become the Next Food Network Star. You may even have seen him on The Today Show this morning. (He was the one squirting French’s mustard down his throat like Reddi Whip!) Kevin is good for a laugh. He’s fresh, enthusiastic and entertaining. I can’t fault them on this change.

They say they plan to put an emphasis on the “all-star judging” process this season. Perhaps they should have stuck to the reality/documentary style format and followed certified judges who regularly judge the events on the competitive BBQ cooking circuits, doing both KCBS (Kansas City Barbecue Society) and MIM (Memphis In May) competitions.

While “all star judges” may sound fancy, there is many a highly trained restaurant chef that knows absolutely nothing about barbecue. This was proven in last season’s accounts of Paul’s attempts at competitive cooking. Paul is a classically trained chef who runs his own very acclaimed restaurants but found he had no training applicable to the competitions, consistently coming in last until he studied at the hands of Johnny Trigg. Johnny Trigg has been an all-star cook in the competitive BBQ world and is extremely well respected in that arena. Amazingly, Paul was at least called after Johnny’s tutoring.
A gaggle of Certified Judges awaiting judging time.

“Certified” judges are trained as to what constitutes excellent smoked meats. Many judge on an almost weekly basis throughout the competition season and have trained their taste buds to identify what is award winning smoked meat. I am a Certified Judge for KCBS. I know these people well and many have been judging for years. It’s not just a hobby for them, it is their passion.

The other aspect the show’s producers feel can be shown in the new format is the preparation of a variety of foods, not just the standard competitive categories. Had they chosen their contests carefully, they could have shown the many ancillary (or “extra”) cooking categories included in many KCBS contests. We have judged many contests that feature seafood categories (both general and specific seafoods), steaks, poultry (goose, duck, turkey), side dishes, other meats (goat, lamb, other beef cuts), creative burgers, shish kabobs, and more.

They could have covered some of the back-yard competitions featured in many of the events where the average Joe or Deb can compete in a particular category using their own back yard style grill. Many also feature Kids Que competitions for kids under 12. I believe folks would watch something they felt they had an actual chance of participating in not just superstars in a specific field.
Memphis In May competitions include on-site judging which was lightly touched on this past season. At these events, competitors go all out decorating their sites. This was not shown but could make an interesting segment. Or they might touch on what it costs to actually compete, Not just costs associated with those driving the huge rigs but talk to the majority who are making do with less formal setups. We know cooks who compete with a few Webers and a folding table under an E-Z Up and we know another who designed and built their own spectacular rig from scratch at a cost of about $40,000.
They say some of last years cooks will be featured “in some form” in the new format. Myron and Lee Ann were specifically mentioned. If they aren’t cooking, I consider this an extreme waste of talent. I have judged many contests where Lee Ann and Tuffy have been cooking and a few Myron has participated in, too. (Yes, we judged at that miserable rainy and cold contest in Dover featured last season.) Although all judging at a KCBS event is blind judging, the odds are, I have tasted some things cooked by each of them along the way.

Please folks, just give us back the Pitmaster series we came to enjoy this past season. Follow a few different cooks. Cover other competitions. Feature other aspects of the contests.

Stop messing with success!!

Friday, May 28, 2010

What's to do this weekend ?

Wondering what some of your fellow Foodies will be doing this holiday weekend? It's a safe bet they'll be eating something interesting!

I'm sure a huge number of Foodies will be checking out the 28th Annual World's Largest Brat Fest in Madison, Wisconsin. Last year, they sold 208,765 brats and want to break that record this year. This event starts today (5/28) and runs through Monday (5/31), so stop by and try a brat if you can. While you're there, be sure to check out the Mustard Museum, the world's largest collection of prepared mustards. Featuring more than 4300 bottles, jars and tubes of mustard from all 50 states and over 60 countries, their display will also offer samples of various mustards and sauces. See, you can make this an educational expedition!!

Of course, if you find yourself way up in the Northwest, there's the Kodiak Crab Fest in, where else, Kodiak, Alaska. That started yesterday. This five-day event (through 5/31) features a variety of activities throughout the area with a Wild About Kodiak Seafood Cook-Off happening on Sunday. A few of the other interesting events include the Kodiak Inn Festival of Bed Races with prizes for the Fastest Bed, Best Bed and Best Team Costumes. For something really unique (I've never come across this one before.) check out the Kids' Sawdust Pile. They bury $1,000 in loose change in a huge pile of sawdust and the kids get to dig through in search of the treasure!

Okay, so maybe you're in the Northeast instead. For you, we have the 20th Annual Chowderfest and the 1st Annual Microbrewfest in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, on Sunday, 5/30. Starting at "around noon" until the chowder runs out, you can taste chowders from at least 10 of the area's restaurants and vote for your favorite. The winner gets the coveted "Golden Clam Award". You'll get to sample a variety of summer ales for a $7 admission to the Microbrewfest.

There are literally dozens of wine and food fests throughout the country this weekend. (We'll be attending one in Hydes, Maryland at Boordy Vineyards.) There are a number of BBQ contests and ribfests throughout the land (just Google "bbq events") and a whole list of jambalaya, crawfish and Cajun festivals throughout the Gulf Coast region.

Whatever you do, enjoy the long weekend, eat well and remember to take a moment to honor those who have given of themselves in the service of our country throughout its history as well as those who are currently protecting our freedoms.

Have a safe and happy holiday.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"A big delight in every bite!"

Finally, a food oriented contest that doesn't make you eat a particular food until you burst like a water balloon hitting concrete or stress out over the highly competitive preparation of a recipe! This one lets you creatively express your love for the iconic Hostess Cup Cake - you know, the one iced in chocolate with white squiggles.
Hostess is asking its fans to create your own original portrait of the Hostess Cup Cake, then upload it to their online gallery for judging. Five folks will each win a $1,000 cash prize and winning entries may be used to adorn Hostess delivery trucks throughout the country. Rules and entry procedures are fully explained on the Hostess website here. You can enter through 6/1/10.

Winners will be selected based on four criteria:
  1. Suitability for reproduction;
  2. Visibility of theme;
  3. Artistic expression;
  4. Creative interpretation of the Hostess Cup Cake image;

Celebrities are also getting in on this event by entering their masterpieces featuring the yummy cup cake for an online auction, profits of which will go to Free Arts NYC. You can see the works of your favorite celebs by checking out the site's celeb gallery.

Here's a little sampling:

This one is Rosie O'Donnell's creation.

Padma Lakshmi created this piece.

Jordin Sparks submitted this one.

Well, I'm off to try my hand at drawing cup cakes!!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

National BBQ Month

May is National Barbeque Month !! So what have you done to celebrate the event?

We've judged two KCBS Barbeque Contests this month - one in Council Bluffs, Iowa and a brand new event in Middletown, Delaware this weekend. Ironically, we haven't smoked anything in our own yard yet this year!! (I'm craving a good smoked turkey though, so that may happen momentarily.)We judged at BBQ in the Bluffs in Iowa on the 8th. Unfortunately, I got really into photographing the neat squirrel statues around the park that day and didn't take any contest pictures at all! If you look carefully, you can see some of the teams arranged around the edges of the park (in the background behind the squirrels.)
I did make a conscious effort to take a few contest pics at the 1st Annual Middltown BBQ Cookoff in Middletown, Delaware this Saturday where this first time event drew 42 competition cook teams. Impressive turnout!! They also managed to field a full team of 100% certified judges!! This was really impressive for a first time effort.
Do you know the difference between grilling and barbecuing ? (By the way, you can spell barbeque with a "q" or a "c". Both are correct.)

Grilling is the act of cooking over direct heat. Grilling is generally a very quick means of cooking and must be watched carefully. This is what most of us do with steaks, shrimp, hotdogs, hamburgers and wings, as well as, lots of other delicious meats.

Barbecuing is the act of cooking over indirect heat, often referred to as low and slow. In an ideal world, you'll use wood or charcoal and smoke will definitely be a flavor factor. Many non-competition cooks do use a gas grill as they afford better temperature control unless you have invested heavily in a high quality smoker. Most meats cooked this way are seasoned with a dry rub or marinated before cooking.

Both methods serve a purpose, and whichever you prefer to do is fine as long as you are enjoying the meal.
True BBQ lovers don't let a little thing like cook damp weather deter them either, so get out there and cook !

Celebrate National BBQ Month!!!

Friday, May 21, 2010

A new Cooking Channel coming to a TV near you.

Have you been seeing those ads for the new cooking channel? Confused about what it is and if you’ll be able to get it?

I was.

Turns out it is a part of the Food Network and it launches on Memorial Day. If you currently get the Fine Living Network on your TV service, you will find it replaced by this new channel. Best I can determine, FLN will simply fade away. I could be wrong on that subject though.

You can find more information on the Food Network's website.

I will miss some of the content on FLN but am looking forward to this new line up. I hope they stay away from Iron Chef and other reality contest programming. These were all right when there was just one of a kind but they’ve done it to death on the current Food Channel and it has become old and tired.

What are your thoughts on all this?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Home again!! New posts starting tomorrow!!

Wow! Two and half weeks away from the internet!! I went through withdrawal!!

I had planned multiple posts for the weeks I was away but internet problems the day before I left kept me from getting them pre-posted! I was disappointed but couldn't do anything about it by phone. In fact, I spent quite a bit of time on the phone with my service provider when I got home tonight just to get back online to check our emails.

We've been on the road for ten hours today (thirteen yesterday), have hauled all the luggage in, sorted snail mail and emails (I'll be reading those for days!!), made a few phone calls and am now exhausted and want to go to bed. I hope to get back here by morning and tell you what fun food events are happening this weekend to keep you all full and busy.

Talk at you later!!