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Winners of the Brenau Barbecue Championship share a few good pointers

POSTED: May 30, 2012 1:30 a.m.

We’ve all been there — a backyard barbecue with a chef who talks a good game, but unfortunately can’t back it up.

Like most endeavors, it doesn’t hurt to get a few tips from the experts before giving it a go on your own. According to Rick Godfrey of Dixie-Que BBQ in Macon, the three keys to quality barbecue are: tenderness, flavor and moisture.

"When you can get all three of those just right, that’s when you get the best piece of meat," said Godfrey, who took home first place in the rib portion of the Brenau BBQ Championship over the weekend.

"You also have to be confident with your (grill) and know how to work it. That’s 90 percent of it."

If smoking is on your cooking agenda, the key to success is dry wood, says Richard Shaw, owner of Rick’s Smokin’ Pig BBQ in Gainesville.

"You can’t smoke with green wood," said Shaw, who also competed in Brenau’s cook-off, which was sanctioned by the Memphis Barbecue Network.

"If the wood isn’t dry, it imparts a very bitter taste to whatever you’re cooking.

"It almost takes a year after the wood has been cut and stacked for it to be dried out enough for you to smoke with."

Although "green" wood produces a lot of smoke, that doesn’t equal a quality end result.

"Really, smoking is kind of a misnomer," Shaw said.

"It’s not smoking, it’s cooking with radiant heat that’s coming from the wood.

"Green wood is fine for the fire place, but not for your smoker. You want clean smoke for that, so the wood’s gotta be dry."

When it comes to choosing a type of wood, there’s more room for flexibility.

"It really depends on the flavor and taste you want to impart on your meat," Shaw said.

Popular types include red and white oak, hickory and applewood.

Prepping your grill and choosing a fuel to burn are keys to building a strong foundation to showcase your grilling prowess, but it’s the last few moments during cooking that can make or break your barbecue.

"You have to know when to take your meat off the grill," Godfrey said.

"It doesn’t matter how much flavor you’ve got in your meat, if you leave it on the grill too long, it’s going to become dry and inedible."

According to the USDA, food continues to cook for three minutes after it is removed from a heating source. So that steak you thought was cooked to medium on the grill, may end up medium-well by the time it gets to your guests’ plates.

Once you’ve removed your meat from the grill, be sure to exercise restraint and give it a chance to rest before you cut into it, Godfrey said.

If you cut the meat while it is piping hot, the juices will run out and you’ll be left with a platter of what seems like sawdust-infused barbecue.

Just to give you an idea of how long to wait, Godfrey allowed his whole hog entry for the cooking competition to rest for three hours before slicing it. That dedication earned him a second-place prize.

"Six years ago, I was on the same level as anybody because all I did was backyard barbecue," Godfrey said.

"Then I stumbled into (competing) by accident. It takes some time to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

"You just have to be patient."


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