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Barbecue School Days

Barbecue Pit Required School Supplies for Barbecue School
by John Raven, Ph. B.

Chef Paul Kirk brought his traveling School of Pitmasters to New Braunfels, Texas, to share his barbecue wit and wisdom. Chef Paul resides in Shawnee Mission, Kansas, and has won more than his share of barbecue contest prizes. Included are seven World Championships and the first head-to-head Texas versus The World Championship in Terlingua, Texas. Krause's Café in downtown New Braunfels hosted the event.

The School of Pitmasters is not for the faint of heart. It is a long, intensive, hands-on class. The 26 students at this session had their pits set up and smoking by 7:00 a.m. The students were organized into teams of two for the day. Each team provides its personal smoker, wood or charcoal, and tools needed for the day. Loaner smokers were available for those who could not transport their own smokers.

Brisket Basics, Pork Butts and Chicken

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The class began in the banquet room of Krause's Café where the caf provided the class with a fine country style breakfast to replace the calories already spent stoking the smokers. Then Chef Paul laid out the blueprints for the day's activities. First thing on the agenda was brisket basics. The class moved to the sausage-making room of Krause's where Chef Paul demonstrated how to select a brisket. He then showed the class how to properly trim and prepare the brisket for the pit. Each team then selected their brisket for the day and trimmed and prepared them. The briskets received a good sprinkle of Chef Paul's favorite rub and went on the pits.

Next came the pork butts. As was done with the briskets, Chef Paul demonstrated and then the teams performed.

With the briskets and pork butts absorbing heat and smoke, the class reformed in the banquet room for the third part of the lessons. Chef Paul lectured on the basics of making a good barbecue dry rub. The students participated by suggesting various spices and herbs that might be suitable for the rub. Each team then wrote down a recipe for their personal rub.

Chef Paul checked each recipe for any glaring errors. When he approved the recipe, the teams set about creating their rub from the huge variety of ingredients available. Chef Paul emphasizes balance in the rub recipe. No single ingredient is to overpower the others. When everyone had measured and mixed their rub, it was back to the sausage room.

Chef Paul showed the class how to select and prepare a chicken for the pit. When each team had the bird ready, it got a good sprinkle of their newly designed rub and went on the pit.

Back in the sausage room, the class next prepared a slab of spare ribs for the smoker and got them smoking.

Time for dinner. (In Texas, the noon meal is dinner -- not lunch.) Again, Krause's came up with nourishment in the form of build 'em yourself hamburgers. While the chomping and chewing was going on, Chef Paul fielded questions from the class. He insists that all questions and answers be shared with the whole class, and several hundred questions must have been answered during the course of the day. There were no flip answers; each question was accepted as important no matter that it might sound simple to most. Chef Paul says his answers are not set in concrete -- he is teaching things he has learned from experience.

He encourages his students to experiment after they have learned the basics. Chef Paul highly recommends that each student keep a log of his cooking activities. The log should record: the cut of meat, the size of the cut, spices used, time on and time off the smoker and anything else relating to the cooking that day. The student will soon have a reference work that will save countless hours of experimentation and duplication.

Chef Paul emphasizes balance in the rub recipe. No single ingredient is to overpower the others. Back at the blackboard, it's time to learn how to make barbecue sauce. Chef Paul uses a Kansas City style sauce, which has a ketchup base. Again, the students suggested ingredients for sauce and, again, Chef Paul emphasized balance. The students didn't make a sauce in class, but they left class knowing how to design their very own winning sauce.

We made a quick trip back to the sausage room where Chef Paul demonstrated how to season a batch of sausage for the smoker. Glenn Chandler from Krause's Café gave a quick demonstration of the tools and machines used by Krause's to make the hundreds of pounds of sausage they serve.

With the sausage on the pits, the students have a little slack time to tend their fires and see how the other items were coming along. It was also a good time to do some visiting with fellow students and discuss the day. Chef Paul was busy setting up the banquet room for the judging of the students' products.

Here Comes the Judge

When the judging tables were set up, Chef Paul used a random drawing to select the chicken of one of the teams. He then demonstrated to the class how to prepare the bird for presentation in the judging container. The Kansas City Barbeque Society's rules were being used for judging. KCBS puts a premium on the presentation of the samples. A sample that is properly sliced and placed in the container is so much more favorable than just a pile of meat in the middle of the platter. Chef Paul prepared the chicken by disjointing a leg and a wing. The leg was separated, drumstick from thigh and placed at the top of the container. Next Paul sliced a good portion of the breast, which was displayed under the leg. The disjointed wing went on top to make a very pleasing presentation. Next, each team prepared their chicken for presentation to the judges.

The judges were friends and family of Krause's Café. Their mission: to select the best sample of each product. To start, the judging containers are passed around so each judge might score it for appearance. Then, once the appearance scores are given, each judge takes a sample from each container and rates it on taste and tenderness. Scores are written on a scorecard. The scores go into a computer, which sorts the winners from the losers.

For each of the categories being judged, Chef Paul demonstrated the proper method of slicing and presenting. As the students prepared their entries, several found that their sample was so tender that it didn't want to slice. One team had a pork butt that was a little overcooked (I am being kind -- it was burnt to a clinker). Chef Paul was called in, and he managed to find a decent sample in the middle.

While the final judging was taking place, the students had time to review the events of the day and start packing their equipment for the trip home.

Who Won the Contest?

Now came the big event of the day. Chef Paul called out the winners of each division. Ribbons were awarded to the top six finishers in each division. The prizes were well distributed. Nearly everyone got a ribbon. Chef Paul was kind enough to point out that it wasn't a really fair accounting as the students had spent most of the day in the classroom while their smokers went unattended. This would account for samples being overdone or oversmoked.

Everyone made their good byes and rode off into the sunset. Chef Paul was left to pack up his hundreds of pounds of spices and other school supplies and find his way back to Kansas.

Most of the students in this class were competition barbecuers who were looking for information to make them consistent winners. One gentleman drove nearly 1300 miles from Minnesota to attend the class. A lady from Hawaii who has a catering service there was looking for the best way to present barbecue to her clients. Several of the students were just folks who like barbecue and wanted to find some new things to try at home. Everyone left knowing they learned something new during the day.

Chef Paul Kirk conducts his School of Pitmasters all over the States and will go to foreign countries to spread his barbecue gospel. If you are interested in attending one of his classes you can find information at www.bbqschool.com or you can call Chef Paul at (913) 262-6029.

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