One of the best days of the year for an amateur St. Louis BBQer was yesterday at the Pavilion in Chesterfield’s Central Park: the Annual Schlafly World Pork Steak Championships. I have been practicing for a few weeks on an entree and my pork steaks, and my partner, Mike, has been working on an appetizer. We’ve done this together for four years now and it’s always a blast, despite the fact that we always get too drunk and finish near last.
We got the tent set up around 8:30 or so. Say hello to everyone, Mike! Be sure to look as silly as possible.
Easily one of the coolest CPAs I know…
Mike brought his fancy Weber 22.5″ and I brought the Big Blue smoker.
Appetizer due at 2:00pm, entree due at 2:30pm, and pork steaks due at 3:00pm.
Appetizer – Balsamic marinaded chicken kebabs, paired with a porter beer
Entree – Smoked steelhead trout BLT paninis, paired with an IPA
Pork Steaks – Smoked for about 2 hours at 200 degrees after a dredging in a mustard/beer/brown sugar paste, followed by a brief sear on each side
Competitor Meeting at 9:30am:
No foreign objects allowed, as in no kebab skewers. Also, you can garnish as much as you want, contrary to what the rules said. Also, beer sales are at 12:00 noon, and apparently you could have brought your own package beer after all. Mike was totally bent out of shape by all of this.
Appetizer: (Sorry, but I didn’t get any photos of this)
With some input from my wife, Mike changed things on the fly to lettuce wraps with the chicken and some grilled veggies. He also changed the beer pairing from a dark beer to a summer lager.
Mike toasted peanuts in a foil pouch, grilled some bok choy (Chinese cabbage) and bell peppers, and grilled his chicken as usual. It was all chopped up and tossed in some large leaf lettuce with peanut sauce and dry asian slaw.
Frankly, the appetizer was delicious. We all liked it, but apparently the judges didn’t find it top ten worthy. It was probably Mike’s best effort to date. Good work.
I generally followed the recipe from a few practice sessions ago when we first tried the smoked steelhead trout BLT paninis. Both huge filets were generously covered on the non-skin side with Lawry’s seasoned salt and coarse black pepper.
Due to some grill space issues, one of the cedar planks had to be put on the Weber 22″ over indirect heat and the other had to go on the smoker where the pork steaks (discussed later) were already in the midst of a hickory wood smoke.
As entree assembly time approached, only the fish on the smoker grate was ready to go. The one on the Weber was underdone. This would turn out to be a critical piece of fortune.
After about 30-40 minutes of cooking, the skin peeled right off in one piece and the fish was ready for a little more cooking.
The BLTs were assembled with the pre-cooked thick-cut maple bacon, some real mayonnaise, arugula, and vine ripened tomatoes, all on white ciabatta bread rolls.
After putting generous, massive pieces of fish on each sandwich, I put the assembled sandwiches on the smoker and used a paver brick wrapped in foil as a panini press.
While the sandwiches finished, we tried the remaining filet. Much to our surprise, the flavor was much richer and buttery than it had been in the past. Something about the two wood smoking and the drum smoker as opposed to the Weber improved the fish dramatically.
Then, after each side of the sandwich got a pressing, we pulled them and cut each in half. Six individual servings were required.
They looked good. They tasted amazing. I felt pretty good about my chances. If nothing else, I made something delicious and was getting excited to make some sandwiches for the group once the other filet finished on the Weber.
I needed to pair it with a beer. What better to go with something sweet and smoky and full of fish than an IPA? I selected the Goose Island IPA as my pairing.
I turned it in and was pleased… despite the pork steak fiasco. Read on.
The plan was to replicate my prior successes at making pork steaks by dredging them through some paste/mud of mustard, beer, brown sugar, pepper, spice, paprika, etc.
Each of the pork steaks, and the only gave us three this year, was liberally coated.
Rubber gloves for food safety. After all, the county health inspector is around.
The witches’ brew of hickory smoke billowed from Big Blue. The time for pork steaks is at hand.
The pork steaks met the smoke about 2 hours before turn in time. We were busy getting the appetizer and entree prepared and they are a low-maintenance dish. Little did I realize that the temperature was climbing, rapidly and dangerously.
Big Blue usually sits at 200 degrees, barely going over 225. Today, however, it rose to 300 then 350. When I finally realized it was at 350, I knew I was screwed.
In the part trial runs, these things were ready for a flip and continued smoke at an hour. After two hours, they were super tender, hyper-moist, and very flavorful. My plan was to give them a brief sear to get some BBQish crispiness on the outside, at about 2 minutes per side or less, after the smoking was over. No point now.
What a nightmare. I was quite dejected, a feeling that passed later for reasons you will read. Eventually, as explained below, I figured out why this happened. Basically this was the low part of the day.
I cut six slices from the least awful pork steak and turned them in with zero expectations of success. The other two were inedible. Time for a shitload of beers and some contemplation how this freak accident happened.
Whilst we waited for them to announce the awards, we hit the craft beer tent pretty hard.
Mike caught up on his summer reading.
They announced the appetizer winners without mentioning us. Damned shame, but better luck next year.
As a quick aside, my expectations were low. While we were prepping our pork steaks, the guy next to us came over and let us try some of his Tri-Tip that he turned in as his entree. Holy MFing Shit, it was amazing. Juicy, flavorful, perfectly cooked. If this is what I am up against, then I’m screwed.
Much to my pleasant surprise, I was announced as the Third Place winner in the entree category!
It was my first BBQ trophy that didn’t involve something that’s apparently unethical, like parboiling pork ribs.
Obviously we were thrilled!
Oh, and I didn’t place in the pork steaks. They sucked. I knew they sucked when I made them and turned them in. I seriously messed up, as explained below. Whatever. I was happy to win something for the entree.
Not to ruin the story, but I was already dead in the water with respect to the pork steaks and I didn’t know it, before ever showing up that morning.
The night before the competition, I thoroughly cleaned out Big Blue. For weeks, I had been practicing with a lining of BBQ drippings, ash, coal, etc. all cemented to the bottom and lower walls of the smoker. It had been performing consistently and in a manner that I could control and predict. I don’t know why I cleaned it out; I just did.
During the competition, the temperature spiked uncontrollably a few times. It went up to 350 out of nowhere and stayed hot. Even after dousing the fire and closing the baffles, it jumped to 400. Two of the three pork steaks dried out and the third was a mediocre shadow of my previous practice successes. A total fiasco that left me puzzled until I had a eureka moment in the middle of the night last night. Dammit. Live and learn.
Still, a great time and a good finish.
Mike was annoyed about the change in the package liquor rules. According to the original entry form, we would be disqualified if we had outside package beer or liquor. Tons of people had outside package beer and liquor, but not us. I mentioned to Mike that every prior year we had gotten blasted and someone had burnt themselves (usually Mike) and we had turned in sub-par food. This year we stayed bright, drank tons of water, and turned in some wonderful food. He begrudgingly agreed.
Now would be a good time for a beer. This one was awesome: