Another year has begun. Where will 2019 take us?
Actually, this is something I never really think about because our catering business is very much like the product, we turn out to our customers… “consistent.” We’ll consistently do what we have always done and go wherever the job takes us.
If you don’t already know, let me tell you a secret about barbeque. Actually, let me tell you a secret about “great” barbeque; Great barbeque is not so much about how you cook it or the rub or sauce you put on it. What makes for great barbeque is to first make “good” barbeque. What I mean by this is; so many people who start out learning to cook barbeque “overthink” it. Whether you’re roasting a whole hog or smoking ribs & chicken, everybody fakes themselves into thinking the secret to good barbeque has to be in the wood that is being used to cook or it has to be the rub or whatever. Some guys/gals will think that they need a more expensive smoker and I can tell you first hand about the more expensive smoker theory (*I’ll debunk that in a minute, but first).
First and foremost, you make good barbeque by cooking something that is done and editable. What you’ve cooked tastes good, everybody likes it and they would like to have it again next week. The big question is; can you make it exactly the same next week? Can you make it exactly the same next month or next year? And I do mean exactly the same, because you can’t fool a person’s memory when it comes to the taste of food. Once we taste something that really turns us on, we never forget it. That taste will haunt us until the next time we taste it.
Let me run you through and example that I have been faced with many times in the 22 years of cooking barbeque; I cater a customer’s party with a roasted pig and smoked barbeque chicken, along with all the side dishes. The party was for a high school graduation and everybody loved the food. One guy in particular liked the smoked chicken so much he came over and talked to me about it. He new very little about what actual barbeque is. His first question was; what did you marinate the chicken in? He said it was the best chicken he had ever eaten in his life. Wow! Really, “the best ever,” I ask. So, we talk a while and I find out he has traveled the world over as corporate accountant, so he has certainly had his fair share of cuisine from around the world.
Now here we are five years later and my customer calls me up and says “the kid is now graduating college” and he want us to cater the event with the same fine food we cooked five years earlier. So here we are the day of the party and there he is; the corporate accountant and as he makes his way into the party, he is talking with family members and all of the sudden he sees the pig roasting oven and he sees me and here he comes on a mission. First question out of his mouth is if we have the “same chicken” we cooked five years ago? Then he goes on to brag to everybody how this chicken he had five years ago was “the very best chicken he ever had.”
Of course, the when we serve the food he is first in line and he has the chicken on his plate. After going through the food line, he makes his way over to where I was standing and he takes his first bite of the chicken. “I have waited five years for this moment” and we all laugh. He loved it and was so happy.
Sadly, the man lived on the west coast otherwise I think he would hire us to cater a party for himself. Also, he got to eat the chicken again four years later when the customer hired me again to cater his daughter’s wedding.
And that is what I mean when I say great barbeque has to be consistent. First you make something good and then you just keep doing it the same way over and over every time and that is what will make your barbeque “great.” A race car driver does not become “great” from winning one single race. Winning one race makes him a good race car driver, winning race after race makes him a great racecar driver.
Our business is very much like our product, no matter what the weather or the location we will be there to turn out the same good food we turned out last year or ten years ago. We’ll travel to north Jersey, south Jersey, Staten Island and down the shore, we’ll be in backyards, on construction sites, in parking lots, warehouses and in some cases cooking right in the street. There will rainy days, cold days and some down right hot as hell days, but no matter what the day the barbeque will always taste the same.
*Do you need a high dollar smoker to make great barbeque?
I was cooking as a contestant at a KCBS sanctioned event at the Jersey shore. There was an older gentleman from Virginia who arrived and begin to set up a few spots don from me. He had a really nice rig. He had a custom-built trailer/smoker combo and his smoker could easily cook enough meat for 500 people in one cooking cycle. However, while he was unpacking, I seen him set up a small Brinkmann bullet style smoker. If you looked really close you could see the smoker used to be green, but it hardly had any paint left on it and it was charred and dented all over. It looked almost as old as the man himself.
He cooked all his meat in his big fancy smoker, but he cooked his chicken in the dirty ole bullet smoker. “Yes,” he won first place in the chicken category while all of his other entries placed in the lower part of the top ten.
And that is the day I learned that “you do not need a fancy high dollar smoker to turn out winning barbeque.” His little bullet smoker was no different that any other bullet smoker anybody could buy at Home Depot or Walmart.