I have been meaning to get this post out for a while, but it was a pretty crazy summer and life got in the way. Back on June 25th, 2017, Rachel and I competed in the 2nd Annual St. Louis Kosher BBQ competition hosted by Nusach Hari B’nai Zion (NHBZ) under the banner of our kosher BBQ team “5 Dudes and a Vegetarian”. It was a whirlwind trip that included kosher BBQ, Indian food, and doughnuts. Rachel’s husband Elliott picked me and Rachel up from her office Thursday afternoon and of course it began to rain just as we were leaving. Lucky for us, the rain didn’t last long. We hit a little traffic leaving Chicago but still made decent time, getting to St. Louis at about 9:30PM and crashed for the night.
The next morning, after some coffee and Krispy Kreme doughnuts provided by our awesome BBQ teammate, Debbie Burg, we got down to work prepping for the competition at NHBZ. The competition was sanctioned by the Kansas city BBQ Society (KCBS). Their are several organizations that certify BBQ conceptions but the KCBS is probably the largest. They started sanctioning kosher competitions about five years ago and about 2 years ago released an official set rules for kosher BBQ competitions. In kosher BBQ competitions there are generally four categories:
- Beef Ribs
There was trimming of meats, mixing of rubs, simmering of sauces, and one or two spills, but it was all good fun. We prepped pretty much everything except the chicken, which we left up to Debbie to do Saturday night. Rachel’s Aunt Sue (pictured below) joined us for the prep and was stuck with the unenviable task of doing the dishes.
After we finished prep we headed to Schnucks, a local grocery with a decent kosher selection, although it pales in comparison to Chicago’s Jewel-Osco. I was particularly discouraged to find out all their cakes were dairy, as it was Debbie’s birthday and we hoping to bring a pareve (non-dairy) cake to the competition. As the competition was obviously fleshig (meat), the rules as well as biblical kosher requirements forbid (among other things) the mixing of milk and meat. We picked up some snacks, beer, and last minute supplies for the competition.
Then it was time for lunch at Gokul Indian restaurant. Definitely go for the buffet if they are offering it when you visit. I way over ordered, as I almost never get to eat Indian. Unfortunately, my family members aren’t as culinarily adventurous as I am, and there are no kosher Indian joints in Chicago. I ordered the combo appetizer plate of Miorchi Bhajia, Samosa, Bataka Vada, and Vegetable Pakora to split with Elliott, but ended eating most of it myself, followed by the buffet where I had a little bit of everything on the menu, and side of puffy flat bread known as Puri and washed it all down with a mango lassi. Needless to say, I was stuffed.
I then spend a relaxing Shabbat (sabbath) with the Freund family who were very gracious hosts, proving me with excellent food, company, and some much needed rest ahead of long night of cooking and drinking. As a bonus, they invited a long time friend of mine, Judy Haber, for lunch.
Right after Shabbat we headed to the competition grounds and to set up. We needed to build our own tent which was a surprise to me as this was has always been something that was done by organizers in my previous experiences. When you get to a competition, any extra work can throw you off your game when all you want to do is get set up, and start cooking (and drinking). Lucky our final teammate, Rob Feiger, got there ahead of us and had already put up the tent.
There were a few familiar faces there, including David Horesh and his family who make up team SephardiQ and Mordechai Stricks of team Uncle Mordy and Meatzvah Girls. A few other teams showed up late, that had not done any prep earlier. These teams needed to choose their meat, which in a kosher competition is provided by the organizers, but they were a little short on ribs. At one point, the organizers came around to reclaim one of three racks of ribs they had issued to the teams to redistribute them to the other teams that were shorted.
In order to keep things kosher, most of the kosher competitions supply all needed ingredients and equipment. This event did provide a grill and a smoker as well as a basic set of culinary tools. I have to be honest though, the knives were fairly dull and the ingredient pantry was basically non-existent. I did reach out the organizers ahead of time and learned that it would be slim pickings for supplies so I brought most of what I needed with me from Chicago.
Sometime in the early morning hours the wind picked up. This makes tending the fire a bit tricky, but we managed to keep our temperature fairly stable. The real problem was the fact that tents, which are essentially giant sails, were fairly light weight and were not sufficiently staked down, and started to fly away. After the tents to left and the right of me blew over, I got smart and tied mine down to our two tables, which managed to hold it for the remainder of the event.
The spectators showed up around 11:00 AM. The competition sold tasting tickets so the spectators could get a “taste” of the action. I had a fewfriends stop including my co-worker Brian Kinney who was in town visiting his father, my grade school friend Nathan Waldman who moved to St. Louis for college and never left, and Judy Haber’s daughter Aliza, who at one point was Rachel’s roommate. Rachel’s parents also came down, making the drive from Kansas City and bringing bagels.
To be honest all of our food came out mediocre and our scores reflected it. Our ribs were overcooked, the turkey wasn’t the prettiest, and brisket was a bit tough. I have tendency to rush and end up slicing my meat a little too early. We ended up placing fifth overall. All four teams that beat us were more experienced than us, and deserved to beat us. Of course team RaBBi-Q took top honors. Only Mendel Segal could roll in late having done no prep and take overall grand champion. Despite a few bumps, all in all it was a great time.
Check out Rachel’s take on the trip here: St. Louis Kosher BBQ Competition Re-cap By Rachel