Sunday, June 2, 2013

Carribean Chicken Wings, Memphis In May, and BBQ Pitmasters

I've been to the Sodom and Gomorrah of barbecue.

A few weeks ago I went to the Memphis In May Barbecue Cooking Contest.  I thought it would be like all of the other cook offs I have been to, only more teams.  I was dead wrong.  Everything was so much more...excessive.  And I liked it.  Just like Lot's wife (aka Fleur de Sel) , when it was time to leave, it is very hard NOT to look back.  

These wings are a tribute to Chef Sara.  You might know her from the second season of Hell's Kitchen or Food Network's Best In Smoke.  She'll be on BBQ Pitmasters this season.  At MIM she was a part of The Shed BBQ and Blues team that took First in Whole Hog.  One night at The Shed's booth, there was a funny mix-up about "Carribean chicken wings" with my BBQ BFF, Robyn Medlin-Lindars, Chef Sara, and myself.  It's too long to explain but it turned out there were no such wings at the time.  If there HAD been, I like to think they would have been like these.

Caribbean Chicken Wings


    you'll need
    • 18 chicken wings, trimmed into wingettes and drummettes
    for the marinade
    • 1/4 c canola oil
    • 1/4 c Soy sauce
    • 3/4 c White vinegar
    • 1/2 c sour orange juice
    • 1-2 habanero chile, seeded and finely diced
    • 2 spring onions, bulb and greens finely chopped
    • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
    • 2 Tbsp sea salt
    • 1 Tbsp ground allspice
    • 1 Tbsp sugar
    • 1 Tbsp dried thyme
    • 1 ½ tsp ground black pepper
    • 1 tsp dried sage
    • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
    • ¾ tsp ground nutmeg
    • ¾ tsp ground cinnamon
    • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
    1. Mix marinade ingredients together. Note: If you can't find sour orange juice, just add 1 Tbsp of lime juice to the orange juice. Wear gloves when seeding the habanero chiles and carefully wash your hands afterwards,
    2. Marinate the wing pieces for 6-8 hours, refrigerated .
    3. Remove from the marinade and let drain on a resting rack for 15-30 minutes in the fridge.
    4. Grilling Options
    5. Direct Heat - Raised Grate: Cook wings over 350f coals, turning every 5 minutes until crispy and done, about 20 minutes. Increasing the distance between the wings and coals let you cook the wings without burning them. On a Big Green Egg, you can raise the cooking grid with fire bricks, a grid extender, or use the fire ring from another Egg if you have two. For a grill like the Smoke Hollow, I lower the charcoal basket to the bottom setting.
    6. Indirect Heat: Bank the coals to each side and preheat to 375f. Grill wings over the void, turning occasionally, until crispy and cooked through, 20-30 minutes.
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    The resting rack lets the marinade drip off but keeps the good stuff (onions, habanero) behind.

    I used a second fire ring to raise my grate, notice how it's about 2" above the top.

    The new season of BBQ Pitmasters starts tonight at 9eastern on the Destination America channel.  They could have saved themselves a lot of time and money and just filmed the whole season at Memphis In May because there, you couldn't swing a dead cat at MIM without hitting a BBQ Pitmasters judge or contestant.  Partly because almost every BBQ Pitmaster judge or contestant was there but also because the Memphis in May organizers don't allow people to swing dead cats.   

    Memphis In May 2013

    The Event
    When it comes to the biggest, most revered, and well known BBQ contests, the big 3 are Jack Daniels Invitational, American Royal, and Memphis in May.  The contest is held on the scenic banks of the Mississippi River and hosts some 100,000 visitors during the event.  Some 250 teams sprawl a mile across Tom Lee Park, filling the air with sweet smoke.  It is part of the overall Memphis in May festival which includes a music festival, a concert series, and other festivities.

    The competition is a mile long...literally.

    The Teams
    I was on the Too Sauced To Pork team this year, captained by Neil Gallagher.  The big name teams were all there, such as; Big Bob Gibson's, Jack's Old South, Apple City BBQ, The Shed, and Yazoo's Delta Que.  Many of the teams are sponsored by corporate funding and that is a good thing since participation can easily run $10-15,000 a team.  The hospitality between teams was astounding.  We went booth hoping on Thursday night and at every booth, gracious hosts plied us with food and adult beverages.  

    This team name made me laugh, great name.

    My favorite booth - Porkasaurus

    The Danish team loves their Webers!

    The Booths
    Normally when I write about a BBQ contest, I like to show pictures off all the cookers used to smoke up that que.  But the team booths at MIM are an amazing thing to see.   They are uniquely decorated, often multi-story structures with dance lights and music systems.   Just see for yourself.

    The winning booth was a copy of the famous Swedish building Moderna Museet.

    The Competition
    Unlike KCBS events, Memphis In May has unique rules.  One difference instead of cooking the 4 main categories of KCBS (chicken, ribs, pork, brisket), MIM teams enter for only ONE main category of whole hog, pork shoulder, or ribs.  There is a plethora of ancillary categories too but those are the three main ones.  Judging is also different in that in addition to the blind box judging, a series of 3 judges come to your booth for face to face judging.  Your team has to do a presentation of the entry in person, explaining cookers, flavor profiles, techniques, etc.  
    How many racks does it take to make 1 blind box and 3 judge samples?  A helluvalot!

    The team doing the final taste testing.

    Getting booth ready for onsite judging.

    We had the National Pork Board onsite taping for a feature piece.

    During onsite judging, it's like a golf tournament, everyone gets quiet and watches.

    The Weather
    It wouldn't have the nickname Memphis In Mud if it didn't rain some....errr a lot.  But fortunately the rain pretty much stayed away during the day and the temperatures were actually comfortable.

    Someone came prepared!

    Our booth on Friday, just to give you an idea of the crowds.

    The sidewalks were okay but there was Mississippi mud everywhere else.

    The Results
    The results are presented each day as the ancillary awards are handed out.  I have never been to awards ceremony like those, it was a sea of people and very exciting to be a part of it.  We came in 48th in ribs out of 121 team in the rib category.  Our highest finish was 7th in mustard sauce.   The FULL RESULTS are here, but the big winners were
    • First Place Hog - The Shed BBQ and Blues Joint
    • First Place Shoulder - Sweet Swine o' Mine
    • First Place Ribs - High Life On The Hog
    • Grand Champion - Sweet Swine o' Mine

    The presentation stage was HUGE.  I'm used to an organizer reading awards over a small PA system.

    There were thousands of people in any given direction.

    I had a great time at Memphis in May with a ton of wonderful people, too many to name, but special thanks to Eddie Medlin and Robyn Medlin-Lindars, Wayne Brown, and the whole Too Sauced to Pork team.
    The Kingsford folks show up at The Shed

    We had a great time talking with the Kingsford team at Big Bob Gibson's booth.

    Ken lining up bourbon shots.

    Scott, Linda, Brad and Robyn hanging out at The Shed.

    Thursday night was my favorite with the teams hanging out together.

    Wayne Brown and Brad Orrison catching up.

    Eddie Medlin and Chef Sara

    Socializing at the Ubon's booth.
     And then the photobombing started.  You couldn't take a picture without someone goofing off in front of or behind it.  Here Wayne and I were taking a pic of Craig talking to Don and Carolyn McLemore when Sara jumped in.

    Clint with his "naughty rib" pose.

    This started out as a serious picture and then....

    Clint and Eddie photobombing Robyn, Brooke, and Sara.
    We ate a lot at the Too Sauced To Pork booth. 

    Team Captain, Neil Gallagher, meets visitors.

    Wayne with the Queen of BBQ, Danielle "DivaQ" Dimovski.

    Me with Robyn "Grill Grrrl" Medlin-Lindars

     Can't wait until next year!