Blake Marcum is a Memphis Barbecue Network Judge, Competes on a Competition BBQ Team, and craft beer lover. Here is is latest installment to his column “Scoring Q and Drinking Brew”:
I would like to thank my readers (both of you) for pointing out that I posted Lesson 4 before Lesson 3 in this blog. I would love to blame it on the fact that I’m a huge Tarantino film buff and I had just watched Pulp Fiction and thought writing out of order would be an avant-garde tribute to my fellow Tennessean. Upon further thought, I will just blame it on that.
Without further ado…
Lesson 3: How to enjoy BBQ when you’re NOT at a competition
One of the most frequent questions friends ask me is whether or not I can enjoy restaurant BBQ since I’ve been competing and judging for so long. When picking restaurants they want BBQ often and I’m always more than willing to go along, but the comments always come.
“I bet this isn’t as good as what you’re used to,” is the most common comment. No, it isn’t. But I’m blessed to cook with smokers that cost thousands of dollars and to have put almost a decade of research into how to cook BBQ the right way.
Even though I’m a competitor and judge, I do NOT want to be the pretentious guy that constantly looks down on a good BBQ meal from a local establishment. I love going to BBQ restaurants. Barbeque is wonderful food, occasionally even when done horribly wrong, so it’s wonderful when you find places that do it incredibly right. I want to enjoy my meal and mop up every last drop of sauce that is left on my plate with a piece of bread and enjoy every savory bit of flavor I can wrestle from the plate.
“We’re gonna need a bigger boat,” might be a common comment for anyone ordering a full slab of baby back ribs and sides at the Memphis BBQ Company in Horn Lake, MS.
I know some BBQ competitors and judges that never go out for BBQ. That just shows me that their brain is working against them and holding them back from enjoying some good food. This is a quick guide for how to shut down your brain and enjoy the BBQ.
1. Variety is the key to happiness.
When I go to a BBQ restaurant the first thing I look for or ask for is whether or not they offer a combo plate. I always want to try the ribs, but if they let me pair a few ribs with some pulled pork and/or some brisket, I’m a very happy camper. This makes sure that if I don’t enjoy one of their meats, I’ve still got a 50-66% chance of enjoying the rest of my meal.
BBQ Sampler at Gridley’s II in Bartlett, TN had ribs served on top of pulled pork and brisket. It was like digging for BBQ treasure.
2. Look for Creativity.
You’re at a restaurant that has a BBQ creation on the menu, but you didn’t notice any smoke outside the building when you approached or see anyone licking their plate clean. But there it is, on the menu. After checking your friends menu to make sure it wasn’t some large typo and asking the server to verify, you decide to order it. It may be bad, but it may be good. Be courageous friends. It may be worth the risk.
3. Don’t be THAT guy.
You’re with your friends (if you still have any) and they’re all enjoying their meal. They do NOT want to hear about ho
w the membrane was not removed from the ribs and would never do well in competition. They are not in a BBQ seminar. Unless you are asked directly by someone, don’t try and rule the table with your BBQ knowledge. Just do your best to keep excess sauce off your shirt and talk about sports or movies… or beer. Delicious beer… mmmmm.
If you keep an open mind and keep your training and experience out of the way, you can be rewarded with a variety of different approaches to BBQ. Not all of them are going to be great. But there are some hidden gems waiting to be found and enjoyed.
Remember to stay out of your own way, keep an eye out for a cloud full of smoke coming out of an old shack, and always have cash on hand. Doing those things along with my other tips, can pave the way to some great BBQ. Also look for reviews or blogs about BBQ places in your area. One of my favorites is http://memhisque.blogspot.com written by my friend Craig who is on a quest to enjoy every barbecue and soul food restaurant in the mid-south area. I always check out his reviews before making my way to a new BBQ spot. Reviews like his can give you the times to order, tips on what to order, and let you in on some key details to make sure to enjoy when you’re there.
For information on how to become a trained or certified judge, go to the Memphis Barbecue Network’s page at www.mbnbbq.com or the Kansas City Barbeque Society’s page at www.kcbs.us for information about upcoming judging classes.
have any questions, ideas you would like me to write about, or comments, feel free to email me at ScoringQ@gmail.com