The last two standing BBQ Pitmasters teams will compete this Saturday night for the title of Grand Champion. Robby Royal of Rescue Smokers and Joe Pearce of Squeal Like a Pig will meet in a head to head final ‘q off for a chance to win $50,000.
The semi-final rounds had its share of ups and downs for some of the teams over the last two weeks. Big Show BBQ had another equipment failure (as they did in the prelims), John Coon of House of Q, said he made a “rookie mistake” in the semi-finals by not tasting one of his meats before he turned it in, (which cost him dearly) and Robby Royal was challenged to make something he had only tried twice before at home – unsuccessfully.
We talked to both semi-final winners this week, about their strategy, experience and expectations going into the final showdown.
Rescue Smokers – Robby Royal Ribs, Ribs, and More Ribs Semi-final: Baby Back, Beef & Country Style Ribs
We started injecting meats in their own packaging about 6 years ago, we found that by only making two to three injection holes in the meats while in their own packaging allowed us to get MORE injection into the meats. It’s a natural barrier to hold the injections in and around the meat if you inject in a pan, a lot of your injections are just going to come right back out. I hate waste!
You mentioned you had only cooked beef ribs twice before, and they didn’t turn out that well. How big of a surprise was it for you when the judges liked your beef ribs the best in the semi-final round? What did/didn’t you do different than the previous times you tried cooking them?
I wasn’t surprised at all when the judges loved our beef ribs, because when we taste tested them just before building the turn in box, we knew we knocked it out of the park. They had an amazing spicy beef flavor with the perfect tenderness. I knew we had Junior Urias of Up in Smoke BBQ cooking next to us – I knew he would have a spicy, bold Texas Beef Rib.
We had to roll the dice, if we were going to win this semi-final cook, we had to dominate this Beef Rib. Simply put, the beef rib was gonna win it for us or lose it for us – having a great beef rib to cook was a huge factor as well! All three of our ribs, country style, baby backs, and the beef ribs were exactly what we wanted – it’s extremely hard to cook three different kinds of ribs perfectly and have them done at the exact same time for one turn in box – it was unnerving to say the least. Raymond and I always feed off of each others’ nervousness; we have been very fortunate in some tough decisions on how to cook certain meats …that’s what makes us a GREAT team.
The two times we had cooked beef ribs before [at home] they turned out really tough. This time, the only things I did different was remove the silver skin off the rear of the rib and the second layer of skin from the meat between each beef rib. We were taking a shot in the dark, and man did it pay off!
Last year you lost your semi-final round by 1/16th point; this year you won your semi round by 2/10 of a point. What do you think are the key factors in such narrow margins?
The key factor in such narrow margins of victory has got to be the level of competition we are facing. The judges are getting really GREAT BBQ. John Coon and Junior Urias are probably two of the best pitmasters on the BBQ circuit today. You know it’s going to be close before you even start, so you have to be super consistent with your cook and always bring your A+ game, not [just] your A game.
Showing up to a competition not knowing what the hell you’re going to be cooking is very nerve racking, but when you have quality products to use it does make it slightly easier. The meats that have been supplied to the Pitmasters by Buedel have been amazing; great marbling and amazing flavors!
The advantage Raymond and I have over most teams is that we are both Pitmasters, we are a great T-E-A-M. We may not always agree on exactly what to do with certain meats all the time, but we always come to an agreement and then go full steam ahead with that plan. I think the big thing is TRUST – I trust his opinion and mostly his palette as much as I do my own! If he says, “it’s good”, or that, “it’s there baby”, the rest of the teams better look out because they usually are battling for second place.
Another thing that makes us successful is our positive attitude, win or lose, we are always happy as long as we know we did our best! No matter the result, we are always there to congratulate our competitors and we always wish them luck before the awards begin…because when it’s all said and done, the friendships you make in the BBQ world are way more important than winning or losing! Winning, is really fun though too.
Just before the results of your semi-final round were announced, the Judges made mention of your “lucky clenched fists”, what was that all about?
I have two lucky buckeyes in each of my hands. Each of them has their own special meaning to me, it’s something I have always done. Some people have a lucky shirt or hat for awards; I have my ‘lucky nuts’ as I call them. If it works, don’t change it!
Squeal Like a Pig – Joe Pearce Best in Beef Semi-final: Brisket Points, Whole Tenderloin & Cowboy Steaks
During your semi-final round, Myron Mixon said he likes you because you remind him of his self – “confident and not afraid to let you know it”. How did you feel when he said that about you?
Hearing Myron compare me to him was amazing! Not every day does the “Winningest Man in Barbecue” give a compliment like that. Like Myron, I have worked my tail off to become the person that I am today, and I want people to know that hard work pays off!
You said you brought the same offset stick burner you used for the regional win that you and your brother designed. How much do you attribute your success to this pit and what made you build your own?
Having an offset stick burner like ours has really helped us out in the BBQ Pitmasters competition. We were lucky that both episodes we have been on, we were competing against gravity feed smokers. I said it on the show and I will say it again: gravity feed smokers cannot produce the same color or flavor that our traditional offset smoker gets.
We built the smoker for competition BBQ and have spent a lot of time cooking on it dialing it in to become, in our eyes, the perfect competition smoker. We decided to design and have the smoker built out of necessity. To be honest, we were tired of dragging three smokers to every competition and knew it was time to invest in a offset smoker.
You were the only semi-final team to tie up your tenderloin and cook it whole (which Judge Tuffy Stone recommended doing during the show). How much of a difference do you think it makes cooking it that way?
I knew right from the beginning that I was going to cook the beef tenderloin whole and was really happy that the other teams decided to part theirs out into filets. When you keep a piece of meat together like that, it helps it stay moist and slows the cook process down, so it is harder to overcook. I would never cook whole beef tenderloin any other way.
At 27, “born, bred and BBQ fed”, you’re the youngest Pitmaster to get to the finals. What are the top three things you attribute your success to?
Being the youngest Pitmaster to make the finale is a dream come true! The top three things I attribute to my success to are:
1) I am never ok with second place. Meaning, I hate to lose. I am driven to be the best at whatever I do in life, and right now it’s BBQ. Some people are ok with that fact that their best isn’t as good as someone else’s, and that’s not me. I bring the same drive and passion in competition BBQ and in the restaurant we are opening this month called, Slap’s BBQ.
2) My brother Mike – who taught me a lot about life. He has had to learn the hard way on many of life’s lessons and instead of making me go through the same stuff, he directed me to the path of least resistance. He has made me the man I am today.
3) The never quit attitude. In any competition, there will always be someone out there that is doing it better than you are. If you give up after a loss, you will never get back up – you have to get back up.
So far this experience has taught me many things; if I had to pick one it’s this: follow your dreams, be obsessed, driven, dedicated, passionate, stupid, arrogant and humble – because one day it will all pay off.
Don’t Miss the Finale!
The final episode of BBQ Pitmasters’ Season 5 will air this Saturday on the Destination America network (9/8 CST). It has been absolutely entertaining (and learning) watching these great teams from across the nation compete against each other for the last eight weeks.
All the best to Robby and Joe this weekend!