Thursday, August 10, 2017

Cooking For A Crowd

When your kid is on a high school extracurricular program, you get roped into fund raising "opportunities".  Our youngest plays football and when we had the team parents meeting at the end of last school year, one of the opportunities was a BBQ party to kick off the 2017-18 season and school year.  Obviously, that's the one I went with!

We were told to plan for 600 portions.  We said that we would just do pulled pork but we decided to add in chicken, slaw, and BBQ beans too.....because why not, right?

Here are the few snapshots that we took during that weekend and a little insight in to how we prepared for such a big event.

How to Calculate How Much Pulled Pork For A Crowd

  1. Determine your crowd size.  This is the biggest unknown and being off will make you run out of food or have too much waste.  That's why my biggest advice for fundraisers is to pre-sell tickets!!!  This gives you hard numbers to use and keeps you from suffering from weather related poor turnouts.  They told me 600-700 people but it was a guess based on the annual team dinner plus extra people invited.
  2. Calculate how much cooked pulled pork you will need.  You will do 4 oz per person for regular sandwiches and 5.3 oz for large sandwiches.  We usually go with 4oz.  So 700 x 4= 2,800 ounces or 175 pounds
  3. Calculate how much raw pork you will need.  Conservative figures are about a 50% yield for pulled pork and 60% yield for chopped smoked pork.  We were doing chopped so 175 pounds divided by .6 (60% yield) comes out to just under 300 pounds of raw pork needed (291.6667).

Another great tool is SoEzzy's Free BBQ Catering Planner Spreadsheet.  It's much more in depth and takes a lot of factors into consideration, such as; # of meats, # of sides, types, and costs.  This also provides much more information to help you ensure a profit.  

Smithfield Prime Reserve pork butts from Sam's saved us time in trimming.
Our calculations showed that we needed about 37 pork butts so we bought 5 cases of Smithfield Prime Reserve pork butts from our nearby Sam's Wholesale Club.  Another supply store had butts for $.15/lb cheaper (case price) but there was a lot more fat on theirs which would require more time trimming, plus a lower yield.  It's not always about price - it was worth paying more.

The Flame Boss 300 is the engine to my Deep South Smokers GC36
The Deep South was going to run for 36 hours, the Flame Boss 300 had a lot of work to do. The orange tie downs?  We were getting a strong series of storms coming through during the cook so we had to tie that EZ-up down.

An Igloo 150 will hold 3 cases of pork butts and enough ice for several days.

Keep It Cool

One of the challenges is having enough refrigeration and/or cold storage.  We have 3 refrigerators and a cook of this size still pushes our limits. Yeti coolers are awesome, I have a 75.  But Igloo 150's do a solid job for $60 each.  An Igloo 150 will easily hold 3 cases of butts with sufficient ice to hold them for 2 days if they are staying closed.

  1. Keeping vs Getting Cold - Coolers and ice do a great job KEEPING things cold.  They aren't as great at GETTING things cold.  Everything going into your coolers should be pre-chilled if possible.  
  2. Appropriately sized cooler - You want a cooler big enough to be about 2/3rds to 3/4ths full when all of your product is in there and then filled with ice.
  3. Layer It - If the meat is very cold, I'll just cover it to the top with ice.  But if it is just cool, I like to add a thin layer of ice between each layer of meat.  Then pile it on, up top.
  4. Know your temps - Food safety is serious, don't guess.  You can get a refrigerator thermometer for just a few bucks (Amazon Affiliate link) or a fancy data logging, alert messaging unit like Thermoworks new Thermadata (no sponsorship or affiliate).

We cook pork butts in pans on the Deep South but I didn't have enough trivets/resting racks for them all.  So we improvised and used 3 "beams" of rolled up aluminum foil under each butt and that worked well.  

Lesson Learned: Order your rubs and injections early.
I was wanting to use Meat Church Honey Hog but waited too late to order it to ensure I could get it in time. It's not cool to make your lack of planning become a supplier's problem. It PROBABLY would have been here in time but I've learned to give BBQ supplies at least 2 full weeks and didn't want to risk it.  So I had to make up 20 cups of BBQ rub from scratch.

Our prep for these butts was:
  • Injected with a mix of 2 quarts apple juice, 1 quart water, several cups each of salt and raw sugar.  
  • Slathered with mustard
  • Seasoned them with Melissa Cookston's (World Champion BBQ Bad Ass) Sweet Memphis BBQ Rub recipe.
  • Put them in pans and smoked with hickory and apple wood at 290°f until they reached an internal temp of 193°f.  This is a lower temp but they will sit in a cooler with 20 other pork butts which will cook them until extra tender.

It's very dark but I think this batch went on around midnight.  We fit 20 butts in steam pans on just 4 of the 5 racks.

Lesson Learned (or reminded):  Lots of cold meat throws off thermometers and impedes airflow.  
I had the Deep South stable at 290°f but as soon as we put the meat in, the built in thermometers and electronic thermometers all dipped down 100 degrees and it took over an hour for them to get relatively back up to temp.  I just let the Flame Boss do it's thing and everything turned out okay.  
  • I did learn that with a full Deep South like this, it did become necessary to swap the top and bottom rack half way through the cook.  
  • On the flip side, there was so much moisture in there that spritzing the meat was not necessary.

Cooking Strategy
Alexis and I doubted the 600-700 estimate but didn't want to run short, so we compromised.  We cooked half of the butts Thursday night to have on hand as reserves.  We shredded them, cooled them down quickly, vacuum sealed them, and then refrigerated them.  That way, if we needed them, we could quickly warm what we needed on site.  Anything left over after the event could go straight into the freezer with no loss.

Then we cooked the second half and took them to the event still hot.  It worked perfectly.

Food Safety Warning 
Sticking 20 pork butts worth of warm chopped pork in a residential fridge can be a problem.  It likely won't cool that much meat fast enough and will leave it in the 140-40°f danger zone for too long.  We split ours up between three fridges and a freezer.  

We also smoked a bunch of split chicken breasts (bone in) and thighs.  Used our Ba'Cock Rub, smoked them for a few hours and then pulled the meat for pulled chicken.

We did 8 half steam pans of BBQ pit beans - the typical onions, bell peppers, jalapeno, mustard, BBQ sauce, rub, chopped pork, and Bush Beans.  Chips were supposed to be the "side" but I had to make these and some slaw. 

On the "day of" we had 3 kamados, a Grilla, and the Deep South all running to cook everything that we had to get done.

Grill Dome and one of our Green Eggs running in the back yard.

We pulled the butts at 193f because of the carry over cooking they will have in a stuffed cooler. We did about half of the wrap ingredients that we do for competition and then foiled them, but they didn't go back on the cooker.  Instead they just went to rest.

Of course, with 40+ pork butts, we weren't pulling by hand.  We used a drill mounted shredder like this one.  I don't like using them unless we are doing a ton.

The event was held on the Jim Bruner practice field next to the high school's stadium. It was empty when we got there.

Team Nibble Me This
Endzone, baby!  All set up and ready to start serving.

We took in a little extra over $150 in tips for the team besides what people paid to get in for the food.

People started strolling in as the gates open, not too big of a crowd at first.  We weren't sure what to expect.

By 15 minutes after the gates opened, we were slammed!  This is looking out of our serving window.  We only had 3 of us inside serving which was fine, until we needed something replenished.  5 would have been the perfect number of people.

The Char-Broil Kamander kamdo grill is surprisingly good in my opinion.
The only grill we brought was my Char Broil Kamander, mainly because it was the lightest of our kamados and easier to move.  It was just for warming up chicken and grilling hot dogs.  

We had lines from 6:15 until right about 9pm.  

It was a beautiful evening and a great way to kick off the school year.  The kids were all over the field having a blast.  I'm actually going to miss having kids in school after this year.

It was a fun event and we learned a good deal in the process.  It was also a LOT of work but it was for a good cause and definitely worth it!