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.

image2Follow A Fine Swine on Twitter and Facebook. If you’d like to try David Stidham’s sauce, find it any of these online retailers: thebbqsuperstore.com   atlantabbqstore.com   thekansascitybbqstore.com   bigpoppasmokers.com

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

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Ribs 101 for Summer Grilling

The summer grilling season is fast approaching and for those of us who live in four season climates, reuniting with our backyard barbeques is an annual rite of spring. Whether you grill year round or not, no matter how you fire it up, it’s that first grill of the season that rejuvenates our fervor for outdoor cooking.

Pork Rib Diagram v4Soon we’ll start seeing ads for ribs – Baby Back, Spare, St. Louis, Country Style, Tips, Roasts and Chops – a wealth of options to grill and prepare. Here’s a quick 101 primer for

distinguishing between rib varieties and some tips on the best ways to grill ribs this season.

Hog Anatomy

We’re all familiar with the term “Rib Cage”, where there is an arrangement of long bones that surround the chest to protect internal organs. Long rib bones start from the top of animals by the spine and extend downward with a curved shape towards the belly.  These are the ribs butchers break down for consumption.

BabyBackRibsBaby Back Ribs   The most popular of all pork ribs, Baby Backs are the most lean and tender.  These types of ribs are located at the top part of the rib bone that is connected to the spine (backbone), just below the loin muscle.  The name “Baby” is derived from the fact they are shorter than spare ribs, and “Back”, because they are nearest the backbone.

Butchers make Baby Back Ribs by cutting them where the longest bone is, around 6″ from the spine.  The meat on top of the bones is tender and delicious.  Depending on how they are butchered, Baby Back Rib racks weigh about 1.75-2.5 lbs and will normally have between 10-13 bones per rack.  Baby Backs  can be grilled, barbecued, roasted and smoked. They are typical to the northern region of the U.S. and  Canada.

SpareRib 416Spare Ribs  The Spare Rib starts from the end of Baby Back Ribs and extends to the end of the rib bone.  Spare Ribs are bigger with more meat between the bones than the top of the bones and are a little tougher and fatter, but much richer in flavor.  Spare Ribs average 10-13 bones per rack weighing between 2.5 – 3.5 lbs. They can also be grilled, barbecued, roasted and smoked.

St. Louis Ribs  This style of ribs was popularized in the 1930’s – 1960’s by butchers in the St. Louis area who wanted a better rib cut than they were receiving from big meat packers at the time.  St. Louis Ribs, or St. Louis Style Ribs are actually Spare Ribs with the rib tips cut off where a lot of cartilage and gristle exists with very little meat.  “Pork Ribs, St. Louis Style” officially became an official USDA cut standard NAMP/IMPSStLouisRib416a #416A in the 1980’s. Spare Ribs and St. Louis Style Spare Ribs are found on grills and smokers in the southern states of the U.S.

Rib Tips   Rib Tips are found at the end tips of the rib bone. They are the by-products of St. Louis Ribs where butchers cut the tips off the end of the ribs into strips with a saw. Even with little meat and a lot of cartilage and gristle, Tips are rich in flavor due to the presence of bone and higher fat content.  People generally either love them or hate them.

CountryStyleCountry-Style Ribs   You may be surprised to know that Country-style Ribs are not cut from the rib cage but from the front end of where the Baby Back Ribs are near the shoulder blade.  They are the meatiest variety of ribs and are perfect for those who prefer to use a knife and fork rather than eating with their hands.

Rib Chops & Roasts  Rib bones are also used in other types of butcher cuts.  Rib Chops are produced where the loin meat is kept attached to the bone and portion cut into a chop.  The end of the rib bone can also be exposed to create a “French Cut” Rib Chop.  A Crown Roast is created when instead of cutting the loin into chops, it’s formed into a circle and tied to look like a crown.  Crown style roasts are  seasonal holiday favorites.

Beef, Lamb & Veal Ribs

The anatomy of pork, beef, lamb and veal is pretty much the same.  Beef ribs are typically produced as Beef Back Ribs, Beef Short Ribs and Beef Rib Chops – aka bone-in rib eye steak.  Denver Ribs are like St. Louis pork ribs but cut from lamb.

A set of five or more ribs together is known as a “rack”; veal and lamb ribs are sold as ‘racks’. Lamb and veal racks are typically roasted whole or cut between the rib bones into chops.

Top Grilling Tips

Regardless of the species, ribs are full of flavor and can be prepared in any number of ways.  You can be creative with different rubs, sauces and marinades, to grill, roast, smoke or braise a variety of rib dishes.  Our Corporate Chef, Russ Kramer, shares his top grill tips below:

Tip #1 – Cook to Perfection

There are a few methods to prepare pork ribs for the summer. Your number one goal should be to serve ribs that have a tender bite off the bone but never where the meat falls off the bone. Ribs that fall off the bone will do you in at competition BBQ s!

Tip #2 – Use Rubs

Rib rubs differ from steak rubs because they are generally sweeter; steak rubs are more savory. As a general guideline, use a Paprika base with spices such as, garlic, onion, cinnamon, clove and dry mustard. (For sweet, I use turbinado sugar.) Herbs are best left for steak rubs.

Generously sprinkle your favorite rib rub a good hour before cooking to let the flavors work into the meat. Be creative and experiment with your different combinations of spice and sweet until you find your favorite.

Tip #3 – Cooking Method

Over medium heat, grill the slabs until they are seared and caramelized, then switch to the indirect heat method and slowly finish cooking. This can take about 3 hours to get the nice bite off the bone. Then sauce them at the end.

Extra Tip  Use a spray bottle with some apple juice in it and spray the ribs every 30 minutes to help keep them moist.

Tip #4 – Smoke Ribs (Competition Style)

Stoke the fire using lump charcoal and fruit wood such as apple. The fruit woods work well with pork since their smoke profile tends to be milder than a hickory or mesquite. Pork, being a lighter meat works best with a milder smoke.

Generously sprinkle your favorite rib rub a good hour before cooking to let the flavors work into the meat. You can also rub on some yellow mustard for a tangy flavor.

Maintain the smoker temperature at 250 degrees. Place ribs in the smoker and slow smoke for 4 hours spraying them down every 30 to 40 minutes with the apple juice infused with a bit of apple cider vinegar.

Foil the slabs after 4 hours by wrapping each slab individually in foil. In the foil pouch, add brown sugar and/or honey, some butter and a little apple juice to help steam the ribs a bit while in the smoker for the final time.

Let them cook for an hour and check for doneness. You will see the bones exposed a bit at the bottom of the slab – that’s a good sign. Remember that ‘tender bite off the bone’ is what you are looking for.

Once the ribs have cooked to perfection, pull the slabs from the foil and brush with your favorite sauce. Return to the smoker for about 10 minutes more to glaze the sauce.

Whether you use the traditional grill or the wood smoked method, have a fantastic grilling season!

From the desk of John Cecala  Twitter @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook  Fan Page

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