Hang on folks because this one is a bit long (at least for my posts). If you like BBQ I promise it is worth it. If you make it to the end your patience will be rewarded with an award-winning rib recipe (or you could just scroll down to the recipe, I won’t tell).
Back Where (Kosher Competitive) BBQ (In Chicago) All Began
What you may or may not know is that Rachel and I have a competitive kosher BBQ team called 5 Dudes and a Vegetarian. Here is a little history how that came to be. In 2014, I competed in my first kosher BBQ competition at Anshe Emet Synagogue in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago. I assembled a team, developed some recipes, watched some YouTube videos, and came up with a plan.
Kosher BBQ Competitions KCBS Style
I am going to pause here and provide a little background on the format of kosher BBQ competitions established by the Kansas City BBQ Society (KCBS):
Teams compete in four categories, chicken, beef ribs, turkey, and brisket. They are judged by six judges on taste, tenderness, and presentation. Judges score entries on a scale of 2-9, with the lowest judge’s score dropped. The scores are then tallied and the winners are announced. In order to keep everything kosher the competition provides all of the equipment, meat, and ingredients. Usually, there is prep time Thursday night or Friday morning ahead of the event. At this point meat, ingredients, and utensils are given out and access to a kosher kitchen is provided. The event swings in to full gear Saturday night, where the teams are provided a smoker and a grill, and start cooking, drinking, and having an all around good time. The teams pit-masters tend their fires throughout the night until it is time to turn their hard work in to the judges.
Now back to Our Regularly Scheduled Program
Prep was on Friday afternoon at Milt’s BBQ for the Perplexed, who was co-hosting the event. My teammates and I spent a good few hours blending a myriad of spices, trimming meats, and simmering sauces. We had a different rub and sauce for each meat, which I have since learned is definitely NOT the way to go, but that is a story for another time. There were close to 20 teams, which made for some close quarters, while working on little 4-top restaurant tables. While this wasn’t ideal it did make for great camaraderie between the teams.
If I had to pick the thing I like the most about competing in kosher BBQ competitions, it is relationships I have developed over the years with other teams. I have met a lot of awesome people and made some great friends. I want to call out one specific person who I met on my BBQ odyssey, Mendel Segal. Mendel Segal, currently the pit-master at Backyard BBQ and Brew in Surfside, FL, was helping organize the event. At the time he was the executive director of the Vaad Hakashruth of Kansas City, and is responsible for bringing competitive BBQ to the kosher world. He has encouraged me to indulge my BBQ obsession, and guided me along the way.
Time to Kick the Tires and Light the Fires
Now let’s fast forward about thirty hours. We showed up Saturday night at Anshe Emet to cook (and drink) through the night. To be honest, despite all of the planning and research I had done, I made lots of rookie mistakes, but again that is a story for another time. The weather was perfect, the crowd was great, and a good time was had all around. To be honest I don’t remember how we did in three of the four categories, but we did take home a third place trophy for our BBQ Baked Beans (this was early on, so they did beans instead of turkey).
From there on I was officially hooked. Since then we have competed in kosher competitions in Kansas City and St. Louis. This year we are hoping to compete in Dallas, Boca Raton, and Phoenix. The Chicago competition lasted one more year and then fizzled out, that is until this year.
Bringing BBQ Back to the Windy City
I was determined to bring kosher competition BBQ back to Chicago (and compete in it at the same time), but I knew I could not do it alone. I reached out to the organizers of the Greater Chicago Jewish Festival. Back in 2014 their event was the week after the Chicago Kosher BBQ Competition. Their event has been running for decades. They have large outdoor event logistics down to a science. When I approached the organizers about incorporating the Kosher BBQ Competition in to the Jewish Festival they were very excited about it.
To be honest, I don’t know how I could have done it with them. The festival took care of the fundraising and logistics such as tents, lighting, water, refrigeration, and port-o-potties. I was also able to obtain ten smokers and ten grills from the organizers of the original Chicago Kosher BBQ Competition. That helped us over the major hurdle of finding equipment, but at the same time that became our maximum number of teams.
Help! I Need Somebody, Help!
Having someone else worrying about logistics freed me up to concentrate on the BBQ competition and its culinary related tasks. One thing I learned the hard way is that putting on a BBQ competition is way more work than you could possibly imagine. Only attempt this if it is truly your passion. If you just think it will be something fun to do, or if you are on the fence, do not attempt it. Also, get trusted help, and more of it than you think you need. Even with the help of the fine folks from the Greater Chicago Jewish Festival and some occasional help from friends* this was still way more work than I expected.
Below is just a small list of things I needed to attend to:
Building a website (www.chicagokosherbbqcompetition.com)
Promoting the event on social media
Coordinating with KCBS
Coordinating with the festival
and so much more…..
One day I’ll write a book about organizing a BBQ competition but suffice it to say it is a lot of work.
Who’ll Stop the Rain
While most things went fairly smoothly, but there were some minor issues and one big one. Prep went well Thursday night and the logistics came together nicely on Friday. The teams arrived fairly promptly on Saturday night and started cooking. All was going well until about 3:00 AM when it started raining buckets. Luckily we were under a tent, but we definitely were not on high ground and the tent flooded. It rained on and off through the night and the next morning, leaving the grounds a muddy mess.
As I stated earlier, the greatest thing about competition BBQ are the relationships you make. When you have less than ideal conditions, like crummy weather, it serves to strengthen those relationships. Teams help each other out and everyone just tries to laugh it off together. My team was in the area that was flooded the worst and the team next to us went out of their way to help us move our smoker out of the mud. To be honest, most of the cooking was a bit of a blur but the overall camaraderie really did make an impression on me.
At the end of the day my team took home a first place trophy for our ribs (see recipe below), and third overall. I would be happy with those results at any competition. The fact that I spent most of my energy organizing the event and not competing, made those results that much sweeter.
Check out Rachel’s take on the competition here: 2018 Chicago Kosher BBQ Competition!
*Thank you to Robert Feiger, Ryan Gottesman, and Elliott Fliegelman for all your help with the manual labor. Thanks to Debbie and Dennis Burg for the use of you power washer. Thanks to Eli “Moose” Greenberg for help with the refrigeration situation. Thanks to all the teams for coming out and staying even when the weather got rough. Thanks to the fine folks of the Greater Chicago Jewish Festival for welcoming us in to their event. Finally, thanks to Steven Weinberger for everything.
This is my award winning rib recipe that took first place in the 2018 Chicago Kosher BBQ competition. The recipe includes instructions for cooking on a smoker or in an oven.
- 1 Rack Beef Back Ribs 5 Bones
- 2 Cups Apple Juice In a spray bottle
- 1/2 Cup Kosher Salt
- 1/2 Cup Black Pepper
- 1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
- 1/4 Cup Granulated Galic
- 1/4 Cup Granulated Onion
- 1/4 Cup Paprika Smoked if you have it
- 1/4 Cup Celery Seed
- 2 Cups Ketchup
- 1/2 Cup Pomegranate Molasses
- 1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
- 1/2 Cup Honey
- 1/2 Cup Apple Cider Vinager
- 1/2 Cup Spice Rub
- 1/2 Cup Apple Juice
- 1 Smoker
- 2 Logs Apple Wood For flavor
- 2 Logs Cherry Wood For flavor
- Charcoal/Propane/Electricity/Wood For fueling your smoker
Add the kosher salt, pepper, granulated garlic, granulated onion, paprika and celery seed to a large mixing bowl and stir until thoroughly combined. Reserve a 1/2 cup of the spice rub for the sauce.
Start by removing the membrane from the back of the ribs. This isn't 100% necessary but makes for a more tender rib and allows for better smoke penetration, if you decide to smoke the ribs. Then trim any loose bits of meat and fat as they will just burn during cooking.
Sprinkle the ribs liberally with the spice rub on both sides.
If you are going to smoke the ribs, fire up your smoker to 250°F and put in a log each of apple and cherry wood. Place the ribs on the rack concave side down.
After about an hour add the other 2 logs. If you see spots on the ribs that start to look dry spray with the apple juice.
Cook until the tender, about 3 hours. A skewer should slide through the meat with almost no resistance.
Preheat your oven to to 250°F and the put the ribs on a foil lined sheet pan.
Bake until the tender, about 3 hours. A skewer should slide through the meat with almost no resistance.
Add the ketchup, pomegranate molasses, brown sugar, honey, apple cider vinegar, apple juice, and spice rub to a medium pot. Place the pot over medium heat and simmer, stirring constantly until all the solids are are dissolved.
Lightly brush the ribs with the sauce and place back on the smoker or in the oven for 5 minutes to set the sauce. Slice and serve immediately.