It's Time for BBQ

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Most police officers don’t appreciate being called pigs, but when it comes to name calling, three UWG police officers don’t mind it at all.  Lt. Charlie Marlar, Lt. Ned Watson and Sgt. Billy Stuart are the “Smokin’ Pigs Barbeque” team that has been rubbing and smoking their way through the state since last August.

Each team member has their own specialty in the four meat categories allowed in the contests. Billy smokes the ribs, Ned specializes in brisket and Charlie handles the chicken and pork. They are already planning for their fifth barbeque competition in October.

“It seems we are always preparing for the next competition,” said Charlie, who is a team captain of sorts. “A lot of the staple materials we reuse, but many have to be replaced.”

The list of equipment and ingredients needed for a successful outing can be a long one. A smoker the size of a small submarine is an important piece of equipment. The Smokin’ Pigs’ cooker has been custom designed out of a discarded propane gas tank and attached to a trailer.

Carefully chosen utensils, carefully bought meat, spices for the secret sauces and rubs, and seasoned wood are also on the list.

And not just any wood will do. At least four months of seasoning is needed for the best gourmet wood that ranges from peach, cherry and apple to hickory, oak and pecan.

Other items on the list are paper products, electric cords, lights, a sink, hose, pipe, a tent, soap and food for meals for what can be a 48-hour campout next to a hot wood box full of flaming chips. 

The cooking gets so serious, teams hide their makeshift kitchens with tarps. It’s a sweaty, competitive and fun affair that brings sons and daughters, mothers and in-laws, aunts and uncles and friends together on judging day to taste the entries and support the team.

It is a Father-Son affair for Ned and his 14-year-old son, Bradley. “I love to cook and began cooking when I was about Bradley’s age,” said Ned. “He’s seen me in kitchen growing up and he enjoys cooking, too. He enjoys cooking together.”

Billy said when he joined the Pigs, he just wanted to learn how to cook. “I like to eat barbeque,” said Billy. “So, I thought I should learn to cook it. Since I am so competitive, I’ve stuck with it. Hopefully, I can perfect my recipe and win.”

Charlie showed him the basics and the sergeant went on from there. He has his own recipe for the rub that he puts on his ribs and a honey glaze that finishes off the meat at the end. It takes him six hours to cook the ribs with a 3-2-1 method. Three hours smoked with a rub, two hours smoked in foil and one hour cooked bare with a glazing applied toward the end.

“The rub is a typical Kansas City rub with paprika, chili powder and cayenne,” said Billy. “I’m tinkering with it and looking for that winning recipe. If I gave up anything more of the ingredients, though, I’d be giving away my secrets.”

The team has not placed in the top ten but had their first top ten call for their pork, a step in the right direction. Judges score on appearance, taste and tenderness, and it’s not only a matter of being a great cook, but also giving judges what they want.

Right now, what the judges seem to like and what the barbeque trend is favoring is a spicy flavor for the pork, spicy and sweet for the chicken and ribs, and a bold taste for the brisket.

Competition is tough with restaurants and professional barbeque suppliers sponsoring many of the contestants. The Smokin’ Pigs are new to the circuit and since they have a day job at a state institution, they don’t have the money and the time to compete as often as they would like. But, nonetheless, they did beat the Jacks Old South team, a Food Network favorite, in two out of four meat categories at a recent cook off.

“The judging is very subjective and it is difficult to know what the judges are looking for,” said Charlie. “What we decided to do is cook to our own tastes and alter them to what research shows the trends to be.”

Research includes reading up on the latest techniques and recipes, googling competitions and lots and lots of practice.

While camping out and eating leftover barbeque may sound like a mini vacation, the first weekend the team cooked together has been labeled the worst ever by all.

With the outdoor temperature hovering over 100 degrees and a low in the 90s the following morning at 5 a.m., the camp and the cooking was hot, muggy and miserable. And the Smokin’ Pigs did not win or place.

But, their experiences have improved since then and the team is now tweaking their recipes for the Coweta Up in Smoke BBQ Cook Off in Newnan this October.

“We would not be able to have our little weekend trips if our families were not involved,” said Charlie. “All of our parents and wives, aunts and uncles, cousins and neighbors have shown up at the competitions and have supported our efforts.”