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Kosher Barbeque Competitions

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I have been tasked with putting together a team for a new kosher barbecue event in Arizona, happening sometime later this year. The event was supposed to be in mid-April, but the venue decided to cancel. The organizers are busy looking for a new venue, and have assured us that this will happen.


Many details for the event are not quite settled yet, so, I am trying to prepare for all sorts of contingencies beyond the usual concerns about putting out good food. What is known is that we will be following the KCBS kosher rules. As far as I can tell, there were 10-12 such events held last year across the US. So, it's a pretty small world. I don't think there's a kosher championship ladder like the other barbecue events have, either. I think it's a good time to get in, get practice and see where it takes me.


Now, I've been reading and watching videos online with all sorts of info on smoking/cooking for competitions. I have watched some of the TV shows, and one documentary. It's been kind of a mixed bag in terms of usefulness. No one has posted much about kosher barbecue, so I am making changes to recipes and procedures and running a lot of tests. I currently have access to my home kitchen which is small but adequate, the stove is electric and unremarkable and about 7 years old. It does maintain temperature well, and can be set to run anywhere from 140°F to 550°F.  I also have access to an outdoor kitchen at a friend's place, with a relatively large charcoal type grill. At most of the kosher barbecue events the event organizers provide smokers/grills plus meats and many ingredients to ensure that everything is truly kosher. If needed, my team sponsor is prepared to purchase a grill/smoker which I will need to research once I know I will need it.


I should note that I am not Jewish and did not grow up around any kosher households, so I am also studying some of the finer points about running a kosher kitchen and learning about kosher ingredients. Modern competition barbecue is an odd mix of modernist techniques and ingredients, right alongside ordinary-folk foods like margarine, and bottled sauces.


For reference, the 4 categories for kosher events are: Chicken, Beef Ribs, Turkey, and Beef Brisket -to be served in that order.


So far, I have been running smokeless tests on chicken and beef ribs. Mostly learning to trim the chicken thighs (what a nightmare!) and seeing what happens at certain temperatures and times. I know things will be different with real smoking happening, but I want to see some baseline results so that I know what to strive for. I do have a bunch of thermometers, and have got some basic ideas about writing a competition timeline.


The chicken perplexes me in several ways. First, some of the competition cooks recommend boning while others recommend bone-in. Second, I see some folks injecting and brining, while others maybe do a quick half hour marinade, and even others are full-on modernist with citric acid under the skin, etc. Third, the braise vs non- braise chicken where some people load up their pan with a pound of butter, margarine or a couple cups of chicken stock while others do not. Fourth, The bite-through skin is driving me insane. Some people swear by transglutaminase to reattach the skin for a better bite. Catch is, only some types are kosher, and I can see having issues explaining it. I have tested an egg white egg wash which seems to attach the skin pretty well without showing. I think I need to go for longer times to get more tender skin. Today I did a pan (with olive oil) of six as follows: one hour at 220°, one hour under foil at 230°, then glazed and 20 minutes on a rack at 350°. It was only partly bite-though and the taste-testers wanted more crispiness. I tried showing them pictures and explained that it wasn't ever going to be crispy, that we're looking to go even softer. I am going to run tests on longer cook periods and see how it goes.


I want to ask people about the whole swimming in margarine thing which is in voque right now. people claim it makes the chicken juicy. I know that meat is mostly all about temperatures. I can see how the margarine acts like duck fat in a confit and helps prevent some oven-drying after hours and hours in the oven, but, in the end, isn't it just an insulator?


I've been making corned beef and other brisket dishes for over 20 years, so, I think I have a good handle on that. I will practice it in a couple of weeks. I simply don't need as much help on this item.


The turkey scares me. On TV, I see people dunking it in butter before serving it. This obviously is not kosher, and I don't want to do it with margarine I don't want to present anything in a competition made with margarine, there has to be something better! -Either cook the bird better or find a better dip, like maybe a flavorful nut oil or a sauce. That said, unlike ribs or brisket, it is not traditional to dunk turkey in a sauce.  I went with some friends to a chain place called Dickies to do a little research and their turkey breast was odd and kind of hammy. Not like Virginia ham, more like ham lunchmeat. It was very moist and unlike any turkey I have ever eaten. Ok, I admit to not being very fond of turkey, so my experiences with it have been a bit limited. I am assuming it was brined. Given the limited amount of time we will have (about a day and a half) to cook, I am planning on just cooking the breast. Other than that, I am open to suggestions. The internet has been least informative on the topic of turkey. People's videos and such just show rubbing the whole bird and letting it roast for a few hours. Any tips at all would be appreciated.


Whew! Thanks for reading all of this, I look forward to any advice you can give.

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As a resident of Greater Memphis, home of the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, for more than half my life, I'm bemused at the whole notion of a kosher barbecue competition. Despite what those people in Texas may try to tell you, barbecue is PORK.


That said: as a West Tennessee kid, I was a 4-H Club member. As such, I got drafted every year into helping with the American Cancer Society chicken barbecue fundraiser. In that process, I suspect I have helped to turn out something more than 10,000 barbecued chicken dinners, consisting of a half a barbecued chicken, beans, slaw and a roll. Here is a recipe that is very close to the sauce we used, except that as I recall, ours had paprika in it as well. We did not turn the chicken as frequently as these instructions say; it was more like every 20 minutes. Once it's turned, you "mop" it with the sauce.


I can say I have never had better barbecued chicken.


Except that Vivian Howard's recipe for pork steak cooked in Blue Q blueberry barbecue sauce, from Deep Run Roots, adopts REALLY well to chicken. You might want to look at that.


I've never had barbecued turkey. Smoked turkey, sans any kind of sauce, is a different animal. If I felt like I had to serve it with sauce, it'd be some sort of cranberry based sauce. I might try making something like the above Blue Q sauce, but substituting cranberries.


Can't testify on brisket. I can corn one and cook you up a hellacious corned beef and cabbage, but I've never tried to barbecue one, and don't plan to. Well, except for smoking pastrami, but I don't think that counts.


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Don't ask. Eat it.


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More Memphis memories.  A few of my friends/classmates from Optometry school entered the Memphis in May BBQ contest.  Must have been  around  1979 or1980.  I think it was the 2nd year of the event.  This Jewish boy knew nothing about the pig but I was just starting to get into cooking for myself.  Hey it's organic chemistry.    We came in 2nd in pork shoulder.   Served on a cheap paper plate that was limping over as we fed the judges, one who one of my class mates was hitting on.  We were drunk as skunks on beer at turn in time.  It still has me wondering how we did so well given the odds 

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Ah, the barbecue contest. Only place I've ever been drunk with 250,000 other people.


So you were at SCO, huh? I was at Tiger High, aka Memphis State. 1973-78, Memphis State's five-year plan.


Was The Cupboard, over on Union at Kimbrough, one of your haunts? That place and the Buntyn Cafe stood between me and malnutrition for many years.


Edited by kayb (log)

Don't ask. Eat it.


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Check out Kosher Dosher's blogs.


AKA Lloyd

Lloyd, who happens to be a great guy, has posted about several of his BBQ creations.

His food always looks good.




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~Martin :)

I just don't want to look back and think "I could have eaten that."

Unsupervised, rebellious, radical agrarian experimenter, minimalist penny-pincher, and adventurous cook. Crotchety, cantankerous, terse curmudgeon, non-conformist, and contrarian who questions everything!

The best thing about a vegetable garden is all the meat you can hunt and trap out of it!


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6 hours ago, scubadoo97 said:

Doesn't ring a bell, not that I could remember. Lamb's Eat Shop , oh yeah. Big slices of roast pork


Sadly, Lamb's is no more. Nor is the Curb Market. However, the old Sears Crosstown has been turned into a gleaming new retail/office/apartment development.

Don't ask. Eat it.


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Everyone has issues with competition chicken thighs.  When I have judged, I would say I get bone-in at least 3x more often than boneless; however, the knuckles are cut off the ends of the bones so it is just one small bone.  Also, because everyone wants crispy skin, the entries are generally a lot darker-colored/well done than you might expect.  That is why teams cook thighs - it is hard to overcook thigh meat.  As for meat glue, I presume you know that the main reason that is done is so that you can scrape the underside of the skin.  That makes it thinner and less fatty, thereby somewhat easier to get crispy.  We have a hate/love relationship with using meat glue.  We hate to do it, but it works.  If you don't, it is going to be almost impossible to get bite-through skin that won''t slip off during judging.  The general technique for crispy skin involves cooking the thighs through at a lower temperature (cool side of the grill), then carefully using the hot side of the grill and frequent flipping and/or switching to the cool side to get the skin crisp but not burned.


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A friend who owns a couple chain BBQ restaurants does a lot of good will cooks using his mobile pit around the area.  


Recently did one for his synagogue and the briskets were kosher, had excellent marbling and were fantastic.  Some of the best smoked brisket I’ve had

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I have tried to judge the Dallas event a couple of times but I guess they were not taking out of state judges.  A friend from over in Arkansas did get to judge at Kansas City last year and enjoyed the experience.  

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It is good to be a BBQ Judge.  And now it is even gooder to be a Steak Cookoff Association Judge.  Life just got even better.  Woo Hoo!!!

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HERE's a link showing what is fairly common in cooking the chicken now. Note the photos of the final product with a bite out of it. The judges will take one bite and they expect their teeth to go straight through. Any hint of the skin being pulled off the meat and you lose serious points. I suspect that crispy skin simply will not do this, it has to be braised. I have been scraping the skin then jaccarding it and attaching with an egg white wash. I ran one test with olive oil instead of butter/margarine, and it was ok, I plan on getting some almond oil to try adding flavor. I guess I should test the chicken stock lots of places say is a substitute for the butter/margarine, but never actually use it.


I did make some great ribs yesterday, so, not many worries there. I am using an Americanized sauce that is vaguely Chinese.


In a previous test, I made them too spicy by using a rub consisting of: ¼cup white pepper, ¼cup dry ginger, 1TBSP kosher salt, 1TBSP brown sugar. It was actually spicier than I thought possible without any chile peppers. So, I've changed it to be equal amounts of each ingredient, by weight - I decided that I needed to get serious about getting things perfect.

Edited by Tempranillo (log)
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2 hours ago, Tempranillo said:

HERE's a link showing what is fairly common in cooking the chicken now


I did make some great ribs yesterday, so, not many worries there. I am using an Americanized sauce that is vaguely Chinese.


That link gives a clear view of the prep.  Many teams do the cupcake chicken thing, but many don't and they definitely aren't braising in butter.


Many judges are looking for a fairly narrow range of seasoning - with the "ideal" varying to some extent from region to region. If your seasoning stands out in some way, it will almost certainly be a topic of discussion after it is judged - as in, "What the heck was that in #4?  I did not like it."  Obviously that is less than ideal from a culinary perspective and many are not happy about that, but I doubt it will change.  One time I judged a chicken entry with a mustard herb sauce.  I thought it was quite tasty and a pleasant change of pace, but it came in dead last on our table (probably overall as well).


With that said, I think there is more leeway given with brisket seasoning so that would probably also be true for beef ribs.  The beef flavor seems to stay in the lead with almost any seasoning.  With chicken and pork, the seasoning is more prominent and therefore, I suspect, more closely scrutinized and/or criticized.


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Brisket is the test for this upcoming weekend, I had been waiting for local markets to get them in for St Patrick's day and the price just dropped about a dollar a pound. I am recalling how much my family enjoyed meals where my father grilled flank steak which had been marinated in teriyaki sauce, the thin type. My plan for brisket is a one hour marinade plus injections of Kikkoman regular teriyaki. Then a basic rub of garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, white pepper, salt, and a little sugar. (the rub helps build bark) At the very end, after slicing, I will brush on a little of the thick Kikkoman teriyaki glaze very lightly. Burnt ends may or may not happen this week. I may cut the brisket in half and run tests a day or two apart. It's pricey testing and a LOT of food.


I'll be doing more thighs on Thursday, a couple days from now. My current orange chicken flavor profile is popular with my patron and his family and friends. I have no idea how it's going to go over with other people. This is the first year for this event here, maybe that will help me with a non-traditional flavor. Besides, oranges are a local food here. Anyway, flavorwise, I am simply marinating in teriyaki, smoking with no rub (no need for bark), then dunking in strained and heated orange marmalade, and sprinkling on a tiny amount of 5-spice powder as 'pixie dust'. I trim and remove skins, then marinade for an hour with Kikkoman thin teriyaki sauce. Then I bake in a mini-loaf pan for a couple of hours, turning halfway through. Unlike the link showing how to cook the thighs, which shows putting a pat of butter in each cavity of the pan, plus a pat of butter on top of the (upside-down) bottom of each piece. The woman swears that the butter is what gives the bite-through effect, and I need to find another solution as butter on chicken is NOT kosher. I will possible try doing half with stock and half with oil in the pan to braise the fat. The flavor part is working very well, every tester has loved it. They just don't love the skin, and it isn't performing the way I'd like it to. My egg-white wash under the skins does perform better than thighs without it.


Sometimes, when prepping chicken -it takes about 15 minutes per thigh, I dream about thumbing my nose at the judges and just preparing the oysters (which are usually discarded for competitions) with a crispy nickel-sized disk of rendered skin on top like a tiny hat. -Making it really just about one bite. With my luck, that will be considered too avant-garde this year, but, status-quo 5 years from now.


Turkey tests will begin in about 2 weeks.

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Our instructions are to judge what we are given, not what we think should be in the box.  In my time, the best chicken I was privileged to judge happened in Ada, Oklahoma.  The box was 6 breasts, no garnish.  It got dinged because of the presentation aspect but let me tell you, that was absolutely the very best chicken turn in that has ever hit my table.  Juicy and great texture, wonderful smokey flavor, no sauce, NO sauce.  The balance was so incredible that I can remember and probably secretly judge all others by.  So if your oysters totally rock, I hope I get to judge them at my table sometime.  It would be my honor.  Firelake will be my 170 contest to judge.  

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It is good to be a BBQ Judge.  And now it is even gooder to be a Steak Cookoff Association Judge.  Life just got even better.  Woo Hoo!!!

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In my opinion, the biggest challenge for kosher cooking -- regardless of cooking style -- is that meat and poultry must be "soaked and salted" prior to cooking in order to be kosher.  As a result, proteins in beef are denatured and poultry is waterlogged.  I think that this process does much less damage to poultry than it does to meat (which is basically ruined by the koshering process).  If I were going to try and make kosher BBQ (or kosher food generally) as good as it could possibly get, I would be trying to find a way to satisfy the minimal kosher requirements, while soaking and salting the meat only to the extent necessary to make it kosher, but no more than that.  I suspect that much of the quality of the meat could be preserved if the soaking and salting were done with more care, and without overkill. 

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