Media Foodie & KCBS Master Certified Judge | 1:1 with Chuck Thomas

Chicago native Chuck Thomas is the ultimate foodie. A veteran media professional, Thomas feels fortunate to be able to marry his love of food with his day job as producer and host of Eat This!, a digital weekly covering the “local foodie scene” based out of Philadelphia.

Most recently, Chuck attained KCBS Master Certified Judge status, further cementing his dedication to the barbeque food category. He loves to cook, says he makes a “mean German Sticky Bun” and has traveled to more than 250 BBQ restaurants across 24 states, D.C. and Canada developing his palate.

How did you get into food media?

I’ve always been in newspapers. I worked my way up to photo editor and then ended up in Philly. It naturally evolved when the company [Calkins Publishing] realized they needed digital presence, product coverage and so forth.

We started with “Man Up” where I’d go and do manly things – I learned how to smoke a cigar, get a ‘manly shave’, etc. But that didn’t work out the way we wanted it to. Considering I had done food segments before, [Chuck was the “Cookie Man” in the Quad Cities when he worked there], competed in chili cook-offs, have my own barbeque sauce, etc., it seemed natural to regroup toward food. The next thing I knew I was creating my own food news.

Working with restaurant owners and chefs, what does the industry climate look like?

Everyone seems very positive for the future. Philly is quickly evolving to be a Chicago. It’s tough for us since we’re so close to New York, but some people are coming here from there now for dinner. We have great chefs, Jose Garces is here, Steven Starr and others.

Right now it’s thriving. The Pineville Tavern is going to be on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, (they drop the whole turtle in the pot [for their Snapper Soup]), and they are also opening up a drive-thru BBQ and a chicken place. I see a lot of the new owners who’ve seen this boom. It used to be you went to a chain restaurant or went to the city – the dining out market is strong.

What do you see as the biggest trend?

Farm to Table; really cashing in on fresh, local, regional foods. For example, you don’t get brats or sausage out here like you do in Chicago. Chefs are looking for speciEat This - Federal Donutsal ingredients they can be creative with.

How about BBQ?

In the ‘burbs they come and go; in the city they’re doing really well. High end BBQ especially – dinner only and other like places.

Pictured above: Chuck on location for Eat This!

What made you want to become a KCBS judge?

My first job was in Texas out of college. My dad was a great cook, but not a real BBQ’er. When I arrived in Texas, I quickly learned what BBQ was about – it was fabulous.

When you love food, you experience what the area has to offer. When Johnny Trigg challenged me on who had the best BBQ, and I said, ‘Clem Mikeska’s Bar-B-Q’, [in Temple, Texas] he was surprised because he didn’t think I’d say that – it’s his best choice too.

I did my 30th comp the first week of May this year. I did it [master certification] all in one year too; people were shocked – I also did it across 13 different states. I love doing this, and it also helps me with my job. My company helped me get my certification and with some of the travel.

Once you get out there, you get involved with the teams and spend time after judging hanging out with them. (There’s no conflict since you neve7.22THOMASct_trigg_1r know what team’s box you’re judging.) I can be in the middle of West Virginia in a tiny town and see people I know now, and many of the guys have restaurants too.

Pictured Rt: Trigg and Thomas mugging up at a competition.

Do you agree with the notion that the only way to win brisket is with wagyu?

NO! That’s not true! There are people with Creekstone beating them. It still comes down to a nice tip, good point and decent fat content. The top teams enter slices and burnt ends – unless they are dead on with those slices, sometimes those burnt ends can raise it a point. I think the best teams can do it without wagyu – they know how to smoke, season and re-season.

How do you feel about injections?

Injecting brisket doesn’t win. The best briskets are a good piece of meat with a good rub and decent fat content. You’ll see teams trim all the fat off. The best briskets we see, have a little fat on them.

What turn-in tips can you offer?

* Don’t sweat the greenery so much. We hate parsley stuck to the meat product! It drives me nuts when I can take a whole salad off a rib. If you’re picking the greens off, it’s in your head. There are some judges that will mark down for this. Don’t use red tipped lettuce either; use the proper greens, like green leaf lettuce and iceberg sliced thin. It should be about “putting green for the meat”, the meat is the star. And, NEVER put cilantro in the boxes – it will lend a flavor to what it touches.

* Nothing should be swimming in sauce – or mess to pick up. We’re not supposed to judge sauce, but you can lose points quicker with sauce. The good teams know there’s a balance, not too spicy – you want to please as many people as possible.

* Be consistent with your meat product. When I watched Tuffy cut his ribs, he used an electric knife and put them back together so well they looked like they’d never been cut. Make it look as good as it can possibly look.

Chuck will be judging at the American Royal this fall. Keep your eye out for him; he’ll be doing “a couple of periscopes” while he’s there for his show.

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Big ‘Q in the City

10325158_738899809508482_1853034942772849674_nIs barbeque BIG in mainstream America? The simple answer to that is “Yessum.” To give you a feel for just how big, over five million reviews covering nearly 20,000 restaurants were tallied during Open Table’s Best BBQ survey this year.

Current trends have also stirred discussions on what’s authentic barbeque, and what’s not. Buedel Corporate Chef, Russ Kramer, (also a member of a local BBQ competition team) says authentic barbeque has an “honest approach” to it.

Authentic ‘Q

“BBQ definitely has gotten more popular not only in Chicago but all around the country,” says Russ. “Lots of places have opened up…chains are attaching [to it], and demand for beef brisket has dramatically increased.”

So what types of authenbrisket2tic things should people keep an eye out for? Kramer says authentic BBQ has more of a “rustic feel” to it. “They just concentrate on the food, the smoke, and the rest follows.”

That ‘rustic feel’ is highly void of frills. “If you go down south, to where BBQ was born, you order your food and go into another room to eat at benched tables – and some of those old time BBQ halls and parlors actually still exist.”

City ‘Q

Joining the ever growing list of barbeque branded restaurants in Chicago last February, Green Street Smoked Meats has been written up numerous times since opening. By May, it ranked in the fifth spot on Thrillist’s Top Ten BBQ Joints and continues to draw a steady flow of “best barbeque” guest reviews.

meatWhen Chef Russ walked into Green Street for the first time, he said he didn’t feel like he was in a restaurant but like he was actually inside a ‘BBQ hall.’ “It looks smells and feels like BBQ – they stay true to it. They present things on sheet pans and sell by weight. You can order a half pound [of meat], and it’s served on a tray with butcher paper.”

The restaurant keeps their meat wrapped in paper to keep it super moist. The meat is retrieved upon order and carved on the spot atop big butcher blocks. Part of their success can be credited to their in- house 12,000 pound Texas made J&R smoker, (J&R is a southern manufacturer with a global reputation for top quality) which can house well over fifty pork GreenStSMOKERbellies at once.

On the subject of authentic BBQ, Green Street suggests it’s really the “aficionados” who understand it outside of the average customer and for them, brisket is the highest in demand by far. So much so, the restaurant just added Creekstone Farms beef brisket to their menu this week.

On trend with high-end steakhouses and industry players, Green Street agrees there is a definite shift toward the Creekstone brand. From their perspective, it’s about premium quality and working with a company dedicated to über efficient and humane field to order protocols which also just happens to have a team of “really good people” on board too.

All Q’d Up

communualThere is no doubt that BBQ is big across the country these days and finding brisket is way easier than it used to be. (Picture: Open table seating area at Green Street Smoked Meats.)

Those who know something of barbeque history, understand authentic ‘Q is deeply attached to meat (“…you barbeque meat and grill vegetables,” as one foodie blogger put it) and society. It was the social aspect of barbeque that attracted people to congregate communal style to eat, visit and share the news of the day.

Wouldn’t it be great if restaurants like Green Street helped bring a little of that ole time congregatin’ back for good?

From the desk of John Cecala || Website LinkedIn @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Meat Picks | 7.12.13

Get to the Smokeout!windy-city-smokeout

The “first annual” Windy City Smokeout is now hours away – beginning at 3 today – and running through Sunday. The inaugural summer fest will bring together the best of live country music, beer and BBQ to the corner of Rush and Illinois streets.

Southern-inspired fare from some of Chicago’s top BBQ restaurants, Smoque, Lillie’s Q and Bub City, as well as nationally-acclaimed restaurant The Salt Lick, from Driftwood, Texas, will be dishin’ up the barbeque and bragging rights. Competitive BBQ legend, Myron Mixon, (aka The King) and star judge of Destination America’s BBQ Pitmasters will also be there!

Country music fans can also take in performances by three of country music’s biggest stars.  Festival headliners include: Jerrod Niemann on Friday, July 12, followed by Grammy-nominated artists David Nail on Saturday, July 13, and Pat Green on Sunday, July 14. BubCityPitcrewWell-known and emerging artists will also take the stage throughout the weekend.

Go Prepared…

Meat Picks touched briefly upon “the American barbeque style of cooking” last week  crediting “cowboys on cattle drives” as the source for bringing BBQ to the forefront of our culture in the late 1800’s. If you’re not a BBQ aficionado (yet), brush up on some of the basics before you go to the Smokeout.

Remember, grilling is direct, high heat cooking and barbequing is: cooking food slow and low in a pit or on a spit over hot coals or wood, basting throughout to keep the food moist. Southern flare will be prominent at the fest; here are some southern basics:

Carolina Barbeque– Traditionally pork barbeque (usually whole shoulder or whole hogs) smoked over hickory wood and finely chopped or pulled. Carolina Que is served with sauce. In Eastern North Carolina the sauce is vinegar based.

Memphis Barbeque – Pork ribs rule and some sprinkle the finished ribs with rub to highly season the finished product.

Texas Barbeque– Brisket and sausage are king in the Lone Star state. Ribs are also noteworthy, consisting of both beef ribs and pork ribs.

Texas Rub– is typically just salt and pepper, and the meat is served without sauce or with one that is thin.

Kansas City – The crossroads of barbeque with Southern and Western influences.

Test your BBQ knowledge further with TLC’s quiz.

P.S.

Sunday is Family Day; kids under 12 get in free before 4. Buy tickets here.

From the desk of John Cecala     @BuedelFineMeats     Buedel Fan Page

 

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