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Injections, rubs key for great barbecue
Behind the scenes at Brenau Barbecue & Banjos
Smoke Shack Barbecue team member Cindy McDaniel of North Augusta, S.C., cuts a pig shoulder Friday at the Brenau Barbecue and Banjos in Gainesville. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Don't be confused by the name The Bastie Boys, one of the barbecue cook-off teams at last Saturday's Brenau Barbecue & Banjos event.

They didn't do any rapping - or basting - for the competition, but the local Gainesville boys did use some of their own secret techniques to wow the judges with their Boston butt and ribs smoked in a Big Green Egg.

"First we're going to marinate it and then do a dry rub and that's it," said Caleb Loring, a member of The Bastie Boys along with Robb Owens and Ben Hawkins, all of Gainesville. "We'll brine it, as in marinate it, in salt water. ... Before we turn it in to the judges we'll taste the two different ones and turn in the one that tastes best.

"It should all be good, but hopefully one will be real good."

Brenau Barbecue & Banjos, a barbecue competition at the Gainesville university sanctioned by the Memphis Barbecue Network, welcomed contestants and judges from several states.

There were two competition divisions for the Backyard Braggarts - or amateur cooks and local chefs - and three divisions for professionals who regularly compete in Memphis Barbecue Network contests.

The Bastie Boys used three specialty grills called Big Green Eggs - of varying sizes - for the competition. Loring said the Big Green Egg, "actually keeps the temperature like an oven."

The team recently placed in the Spring Chicken cook-off in Gainesville; on Saturday they barbecued four Boston butts and ribs for the judges.

Walking around behind the scenes at Saturday's cook-off, chefs were quick to point out their techniques - but drew a fine line at giving out details.

Contestants in the professional division told us they added dry rubs and injected seasonings into whole hogs, shoulders and ribs before they were thrown on the grill.

"We'll actually inject these shoulders - there are seven shoulders here - we'll end up going through about 8 gallons of injection," said Scott McDaniel, who competed in the professional division. "We'll put roughly a gallon of injection in each one of these. ... It's basically apple juice, salts, sugars and heat sources. The purpose of it, of course, is to get flavor down into it."

McDaniel, the leader of Smoke Shack Barbecue from North Augusta, S.C., has competed in many cook-offs and won several plaques and trophies in his 15 years of barbecuing with wife Cindy. He said it takes "trial and error" to find the winning recipe.

"All of our rubs are made from scratch. We don't use any commercial base like a seasoning salt. ... We use very high-quality ingredients - garlic ... we use a high-dollar paprika," McDaniel said. "It's something that you would never serve in a restaurant because you couldn't afford to do it, but out here you are trying to impress a small group of judges, and you are going to use the best you got."

The professional team Jurassic Pork, with cooks Dan McCutcheon and Tom Abernathy, used a similar injection technique, and McCutcheon said the rub and the injection is key to winning. Jurassic Pork's rub is made with half sugars, half salts and accent spices.

"We are going to inject them, and then we're gonna let them sit until about 10 p.m.," said the Norcross resident of the team's strategy the night before the competition. "We'll put them on there with some rub and cook them as hot as we can cook them, and we'll cook them until about 8 a.m."

Saturday's winners were Jack's Old South, led by Myron Mixon from Vienna, who won the grand champion of the professionals. Yazoo's Delta Q won in the rib category.

The Athens-based Big Al's Pit Crew won in the rib category for the Backyard Braggarts division, and Smokin' Butts won for Boston butts.

Alan Calhoun, who led Big Al's Pit Crew, said he began preparing his meat on Friday afternoon for midday judging on Saturday.

"We're cooking Boston butts, ribs, that's the only two for us," Calhoun said. "We'll start about midnight and cook the butts probably about nine hours and let them rest for a few hours. They (ribs) won't go on until about 6 a.m.

Calhoun added that the trick for perfect barbecue is keeping the right temperature. Teammate Roy Drinkard added that "It's a long process, but if you get the heat too high you can dry it out."

Then, part of the strategy in a cook-off is the presentation.

"When we serve the shoulders to the judge on site ... we put it on a tray and give it to them, and I'll pull it apart for them. I'll take the Boston Butt off, the shank off, we'll go in and pull the bones out," McDaniel said. "The judge wants to know that you know your way around that shoulder. They want to know that I could do this today and come back tomorrow and do the same; they want to know that we are consistent."

There also are garnishes to consider when presenting the cooked pork to the judges.

"We have a whole cooler full of garnish - pineapple, oranges, lemons, all kind of stuff - just to make it look nice and smell good," McDaniel said. "We use peach and pecan wood for our smoking and we want all of our flavors to complement all those. You are trying to build a flavor profile throughout the whole process; that is what you are looking for."

Thinking of replicating the professional barbecue experience at home?

McDaniel said it's a hefty task - and one that serves a different purpose.

"What we present to the judges is not the same as what we'd cook in our backyard," he said. "We know what the judges are looking for; it's a matter of experience."

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