It’s All About The Call │ 1:1 with David Stidham

StidhamNo one was more shocked than Pitmaster, David Stidham when he got “three top twenty calls” at his first major invitational last fall. A relative newcomer to the professional BBQ circuit, (with less than 20 competitions in his first two years), Stidham is wildly enthusiastic about the 2015 season, further honing his skills and the amazing success of his competition BBQ sauce.

How did you get interested in competition BBQ?

Most guys like to grill – and, of course, every guy thinks he’s the best. I fit that description.

I’ve always been someone who likes to cook and experiment with sauces and my own unique flavor profiles. I used to make my own pepper sauces, steak marinades, infused olive oils and so forth, and give them as gifts to my family and friends. I’ve dabbled in wings, almost got serious about it, and even in chocolate.

One day, my son, Jacob, and I were watching BBQ Pitmasters on TV; he was 8 at that time. He said, “Dad you could do this! Why don’t we start a BBQ team?” It definitely piqued my interest.

I didn’t even have a smoker at the time, so I called a long-time friend in Nashville (Jason Cole of The Hot Cole’s BBQ Team) to chat with him to get advice for smokers. I just wanted to get a smoker to cook for family, and he convinced me to get something a little bigger “in case” I wanted to compete someday in the future (he knew how competitive I was). I took his advice, ordered a large pellet smoker, started cooking that winter and fell in love with it. That’s when I knew I was going to end up competing sooner than planned.

In early May of 2013, we borrowed someone’s camper, showed up and didn’t really know what to expect from our first pro BBQ competition. My wife, two kids and my dog were all there; it was a chaotic mess.

By the time the cooking and turn in s were over we were exhausted, – it’s really a 30 hour process – so when we got to the awards, we just wanted to see who won. There’s no way we expected to get a call. It blew our minds when we placed 2nd in Chicken, 3rd in Pork, 7th in Brisket, 11th in ribs and 3rd overall!American Royal Ribbon

When I came back from the stage with that very first ribbon in my hands, my hands were shaking. My wife said she’d never seen me like that before – I was stunned by it too.

How did your family like the experience?

A large portion of the [BBQ] population is family, so it’s a fun atmosphere. We got team hats and shirts – my kids want to enter some of the junior competitions this year. We typically don’t even see the boys (Jacob, now 11, and Jack, 15) at comps now till the awards.

Where did you grow up?

I was a military brat, born in Tampa, Florida, but grew up throughout the southeast including Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida and even lived in South Carolina for a while. Most of my adult life has been in Nashville, and I also spent a lot of time in Memphis. I grew up loving BBQ but never thought about competitions back then. I live in a small town just north of Madison, Wisconsin now.

How’s that working out?

Wisconsin is one of the fastest growing states for competition BBQ, and the people are very genuine and friendly. We moved here for my full time job – I have been blessed with this wonderful hobby and am very fortunate to be able to do this. BBQ people are the real deal, and they all are willing to give you a hand. Many folks here in Wisconsin really helped me, and I am very grateful for them.

How did your BBQ sauce making come about?current sauce

It was never my intent to sell BBQ sauce. I just wanted to have my own flavor profile. But when we came in 3rd overall out of the gate, people came up to me and wanted to try the sauce I used. They really seemed to like it, and several people asked me to make them some. It all kind of snow balled from there.

I initially made it in my kitchen, and that’s how we ended up coming up with the name for our BBQ team. I first used wine bottles to package the sauce – that’s why we’re A Fine Swine, like a fine wine. When demand grew, I had to go to a commercial bottle. I never expected this to catch on as it has; the sauce is now sold nationwide through a wide variety of mostly online BBQ stores. I have to stock 2-3 full pallets of two different sauces in my garage at all times as more and more orders continue to come in.

You mentioned the ‘cost of competition’ before – how challenging is that?

Between supplies, travel, meat, entry fees, fuel, equipment, etc., it costs anywhere from $800-$1,200 a weekend to compete. It gets pricey; it’s not a cheap man’s game. I have heard others say how amazing it is the amount of time, effort, and dollars we spend just to hear our name called. It’s true. But it is also about the camaraderie and the true friendships we make. I have made more friends through BBQ in the past couple years than I can count, and that’s really what it’s all about.

I can only compete about 14-17 times per year tops right now, but if time and money weren’t an object, I would love to do this full time, every weekend. I’d love to see how I’d do if I was able to compete full time. Maybe someday I will.from the stage at American Royal

What are your current competition goals?

Last year, I had set a goal of winning my first Grand Championship and qualifying for the American Royal Invitational Tournament. I was fortunate enough to accomplish that and more as we not only won our first GC, we also won a reserve GC as well as numerous category wins and top ten’s overall. (Pictured above: View from the stage at the American Royal.)

I was fortunate enough to have two top 20’s with a 16th in Chicken and 17th Ribs out of 186 Grand Champion teams at the American Royal Invitational. The next day was the American Royal Open, where all the grand champions from the Invitational plus hundreds of other professional teams across the country competed. There were nearly 600 teams! I got called for 15th in Chicken and placed 70th overall which was a very proud moment for me.

I would love to win the American Royal. I want to get my feet really dirty.

What do you mean by that?

“Getting your feet dirty” refers to where the Royal is held. You get your feet dirty if you get called because you have to walk across an arena where livestock shows and rodeos take place to get your award.11157989_10153209432539886_1605373569_n

Competitive Pitmasters are highly dedicated to their protocols. What are some of the things you use?

I use a gravity fed Southern Q Limo and bring a junior gravity feed along too. I also only use Royal Oak charcoal and Hickory and Cherry wood chunks.

Do you “inject”?

I will inject brisket and pork.

How about flavor?

I use my sauce, a variety of commercial rubs and sauces and mix them all up.

How did you first hear about Buedel?

I saw you on BBQ Pitmasters. You really do have a good rep for providing great meats – especially the Compart and Creekstone brands that people are already winning with on the tour.

Is that why you like competing with our pork butts and briskets?

When I start out with the best meat, it helps me to compete to win. You have to use top quality to be competitive – you can’t run a race with an Escort engine in a Ferrari body. If you start out with high quality meat, odds are you’ll finish high. It’s worth the extra investment in your products.

What do you think is the difference between winning and not winning?

I believe it’s the details and being very organized. There’re a whole lot more details that go into this than people know. You have to be organized and consistent, have a system that is a refined process and be lucky; there’s a lot of people out there cooking the same stuff you are.

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Buedel Fine Meats is the official pork butt, ribs and brisket supply partner to A Fine Swine this season.

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Cheat Sheet for Meat

In case you missed it, there was an article in the Business Section of the Trib recently entitled, “Meat Industry Takes Knife to Names” by P.J. Huffstutter. The gist of the piece talks about how the pork and beef industries are working to rename over 350 meat cut monikers, “…to give them more sizzle”.

BostonRoastTo give you a feel for how this will play out, the pork butt, for example – which really comes from the shoulder of the animal not the back side – will now be called a “Boston Roast”.  The idea is that consumers will feel better about purchasing and serving Boston Roast vs. Pork Butt.  When you look at it like that, butt for dinner is not such a glamorous thing.

There are many nicknames already used by meat purveyors, chefs and restaurateurs in the food service industry for the different cuts of meat.  What’s most interesting is consumers are already highly familiar with a lot of them.

What’s in a Name?

Steak cuts such as, Delmonico, New York Strip and Porterhouse came by their names based on the popularity of where they were served.  A porterhouse was the name for a bar and steak house popular in the mid to late 1800’s. Legend has it that when the owner of a particular Manhattan porterhouse started serving rather large T-bone steaks, they became known as the now ubiquitous Porterhouse Steak. 

Contemporary names for meat come from a variety of resources. A recent example of this occurred when research teams at the Universities of Nebraska and Florida were looking for a new value cut from the top blade of the shoulder.The resulting value cut was shaped like an old flat iron and thus given the name Flat Iron Steak. TGI Friday’s first popularized the Flat Iron Steak and it is seen on numerous menus today. The meat industry continually looks for ways to merchandise new cuts of meat. 

Meat Lingo

When I first came into to the meat business, I quickly realized I had to learn a new language – the language of meat. One of the best things I did was attend the North American Meat Association (NAMA) Center of the Plate Training  where I learned the scientific names of each muscle, where on the animal it came from and what its common nickname was.  As I started working with restaurateurs and chefs, I soon learned another whole set of nicknames for the same cuts of meat. It was confusing at times, to say the least.

The language of meat became tacit knowledge being immersed in the business on a daily basis and I soon found myself unconsciously speaking it to my customers and colleagues.  Ironically, due to the volume and duality of meat names, confusion prevailed both internally and externally.  Ultimately, we developed a “Cheat Sheet for Meat” for the language of meat to train employees and help consumers better understand meat cuts and decode meat industry buzzwords.

BeefCutMapBiggerWhile certainly not exhaustive, below are the most common terms used in the language of meat and what they mean. For additional detail check the Meat Buyer’s Guide available in print and online. View a complete Cheat Sheet for Meat here.



Ball-Tip Steak Boneless steak cut from the bottom sirloin muscle known as the ball tip / Lower cost value cut
Baseball cut butt steak Boneless top sirloin steak cut filet style / Rich and flavorful, looks like a tenderloin filet at a lower cost
Bavette Steak Name commonly used for steaks cut from sirloin flap meat  
Boston Cut Strip Steak Boneless New York Strip steak cut in half across the width  
Butcher’s Steak Another name for hanging tender steak, or hanger steaks
Club Steak Cut from the beef short loin nearest the rib / Triangular L shaped like a T-Bone steak but without the tenderloin
Cowboy Steak Bone-in Rib-eye steak with meat cut off at top end of the bone leaving about 1” exposed bone for presentation
Cube Steak Cut of beef, usually top round or top sirloin, fiercely tenderized by pounding with a meat or electric tenderizer 
Delmonico Steak Boneless Rib-eye steak with no tail fat
Filet (Tenderloin Filet) Commonly used term for a boneless steak cut from the tenderloin muscle
Flank Steak Boneless steak cut from the abdominal muscle which is called the flank
Flat Iron Steak Steak cut from the shoulder top blade muscle located inside the clod or shoulder / Tender value cut
Hanger Steak Steak cut from the hanging tender in the diaphragm of the animal / Commonly called Onglet Steak in French bistros
Kansas City Strip Bone-in Strip steak cut from the short loin
London Broil Variety of thinly sliced beef cuts, usually boneless, for broiling / Suggested cuts: top butt cap, flank, and top round
NY Strip Steak Boneless steak cut from the strip loin muscle
Onglet Steak Another name for a Hanger Steak
Petite Filet Medallion Common name given to a boneless cut from the teres major muscle in the shoulder
Porterhouse Steak Bone-in steak cut from short loin; similar to T-bone / One side is tenderloin at least 1.25″ wide; one side strip loin
Ranch Steak Boneless steak cut from beef shoulder chuck / Technical name: boneless chuck shoulder center cut steak / Value cut
Rib-Eye Steak Cut from the animal’s rib portion / Rib-eye steaks can be boneless or bone-in
Sizzler Steak Name commonly used for boneless ball-tip steaks
Skirt Steak Boneless steak cut from whole skirt muscle / Can be inside or outside skirt
Sirloin Flap Cut from the bottom sirloin just above the flank and right next to the short loin  
T-Bone Steak Bone-in steak cut from short loin similar to a Porterhouse / One side tenderloin at least .5″ wide; one side strip loin
Tomahawk Steak Name for bone-in rib-eye steak with long portion of rib bone attached and exposed for dramatic plate presentation
Top Butt Steak Boneless steak cut from top sirloin muscle, rich and flavorful / Not the actual “butt” of the animal
Tri-Tip Steak Boneless steak cut from tri-tip muscle, part of the bottom sirloin
Vein Steak Hip end of sirloin strip or short loin; shows piece of connective tissue around loin eye / Value cut from end of strip loin
Backstrap Elastin type connective tissue found in neck, blade, rib and loin / Usually removed before steaking or roasting strip loin
BRT “Boned, Rolled & Tied” / Bone is removed; meat is rolled and tied (netted) / Usual specification for boneless lamb legs  
Chine Bone Part of the backbone that remains after a carcass is split / Chine bones should be removed from beef roasts to cut through the roast prior to or after cooking
Denuded Meat cuts that have had all surface fat removed
French Cut Bone-in steaks (or chops) with meat trimmed from the bone to expose it / Like the “cowboy steak”
Lollipop Cut Bone-in steak (or lamb/pork chop) with bone trimmed down to eye of the loin / Bone is exposed further than French or Cowboy style making it look like  a “lollipop”
Mouse or Rat Muscle Small muscle part of the whole top sirloin (top butt) / Can be left on or taken off with cutting steaks
Peeled Same as Denuded; meat cuts that have had all surface fat removed
Pinned (Needled) Tenderizing process involving penetration of muscles by steel blades
Silver Skin Thin film of soft connective tissue on beef tenderloin / Can be left on or removed when cutting steaks
Tail Fat Small part of fat attached to cut of steak / Typically 1” or 2” on Strip Steaks and Rib-Eyes
Ball Tip Boneless sub primal found in Bottom Butt / Can be roasted or cut for “Sizzler” steaks
Bottom Butt (Bottom Sirloin) Boneless sub primal below Top Butt; includes Tri-Tip and Ball Tip cuts 
Bottom Round Bone-in sub primal from beef round or back leg of steer / Also called a “Gooseneck Round”
Chuck Bone-in or boneless containing neck, shoulder blade and upper arm / Tougher cut good for roasting and ground beef
Chuck Roll Boneless cut from the whole beef chuck
Clod Heart Flavorful less tender cut from heart of beef shoulder / Clod roast is an economical cut for roasting or grinding 
Coulotte Triangular shaped muscle beneath the surface of whole top butt muscle / Very rich in flavor, great for roasting or steaks
Export Rib Bone-in whole Rib-eye primal cut / Used for roasting or cutting into bone-in rib-eye steaks
Gooseneck (Round) Bone-in sub primal that comes from beef round or back leg of steer / Also called “Bottom Round”
Inside Round Bone-in sub primal that comes from the beef round or back leg of the steer / Also called “Top Round”
Knuckle Very lean part of the sirloin; also known as “Sirloin Tip” / Commonly used for roasts and ground beef
Lipon Rib-Eye Boneless rib section; sub primal / Used for prime rib and boneless rib-eye steaks
PSMO Peeled beef tenderloin; side muscle on / Common sub primal cut used for roasting or cutting into tenderloin filets
Short Loin Bone-in sub primal from back of the steer / Contains part of the spine and includes the strip loin and tenderloin
Strip Loin 0x1 Boneless sub primal cut without tail fat on one end and 1″ tail fat on the other / Used for roasting or cutting strip steaks
Strip Loin 1×1 Boneless sub primal cut with 1″ tail fat across the loin / Used for roasting or cutting strip steaks
Top Butt (Top Sirloin) Boneless sub primal below tenderloin between short loin and round / Used for roasting or cutting steaks rich with flavor
Top Round Bone-in sub primal from the beef round or back leg of steer / Also called “Inside Round”
Tri-Tip Boneless sub primal found in Bottom Butt / Great for roasting or cutting into Tri-Tip Steaks

When names like Boston Butt start popping up in our local meat cases people will ask “what’s that?”  The store managers will explain, meat companies will keep marketing it, restaurants will soon follow and before you know it, we will all be using these new names. 


From the desk of John Cecala Twitter @ Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page 

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