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Monday, January 08, 2007 

Don't forget to step outside the box.

Since I entered into the world of competitive barbecue, I've discovered that I tend to always cook as though I'm competing. In some ways this is good. I'm always trying to make my barbecue the best I can. I'm very aware of timing and appearance. But I've also realized that there are some downsides to this approach.

When I cook KCBS style for the New England judges, I make everything red and sweet, even if it's not my preference. If I did well using a particular method of cooking (as I did with my pork shoulder in Warren, NH), I tend to stick with that method. While it's good to be sure my methods are consistent when competing, I've realized that it stunts my experimentation.

I find myself needing to remember that I learned how to cook by experimenting. Sure, I had some food service experience and lots of cooks to watch when I was a kid, but there is nothing as important to a cook than trying new ideas and recipes. I have a number of barbecue cookbooks that have never been used. Why? Because I forget to try the new stuff!

This weekend, while cooking for the Rookie, I tried a wing Rub out of Paul Kirk's "Championship Barbecue" cookbook. It's a great book, and I have used it a lot - but not for the recipes. I've used it constantly for the excellent temperature charts in the first chapter. To date, I think I'd only made one recipe out of the book, a watermelon salsa (which was absolutely fantastic).

The wing rub was supposed to be sweet and spicy, and it lived up to the name. It had some interesting things in it like Ginger and Mace (I made mine without the mace because that's not an ingredient I ever have). I'm really glad I did it, because the wings were wonderful. It was a good reminder that there's so much more for me to learn and so much farther to take my barbecue.

So, during this offseason I'm going to endeavor to cook some things I wouldn't ordinarily cook. I'm going to expand my horizons a bit and make use of some of my more unused cookbooks. Perhaps it'll give me an edge during the next competitive barbecue season!