2009-07-03 / Columns

All barbecue agrees well with my stomach

LEDGER COLUMNIST
Scott POWELL LEDGER STAFF WRITER

Cool Smoke blazed a trail through the barbecue scene last month while I made my semi-annual pilgrimage to the Blue Ridge BBQ competition in Tryon, N.C.

Cool Smoke was the reserve grand champion, finishing second overall at this year's event.

The head cook is named Tuffy Stone, which on first reference sounds more like an NFL linebacker's name than a great barbecue chef.

I spoke with Tuffy by phone a few days before the Blue Ridge barbecue event began. I was desperate for some type of local angle so I could somehow justify my efforts to call the festival event "a working assignment" even though it is located in North Carolina.

Tuffy's story is similar to what county residents will learn if they happen to speak with cooks involved with the South Carolina Peach Festival barbecue contest scheduled for July 17-18.

Cooks are best caught for conversation on Friday night when they aren't on the clock for meeting the contest deadlines.

Barbecue cooks typically fall into two camps — professional cooks and people who enjoy barbecue as a hobby.

Cool Smoke was formed while Tuffy was looking for a new culinary challenge. His upscale catering business in Virginia, A Sharper Palate, had started to pull him away from his first love of cooking.

This led him to research barbecue and find a new hobby.

"Barbecue cooked with a wood fire really appealed to me. I liked the rich history of barbecue," Tuffy said. "Through much research, I learned about pits and cooking techniques. I also learned about barbecue competitions."

In the summer of 2004, Tuffy purchased his first wood-burning pit and began to practice.

His Cool Smoke competition barbecue team cooked in its first contest in September 2004 in Lynchburg, Va.

"It was a humbling and exciting experience," Tuffy said. "Learning to cook with nothing but a wood fire is one of the greatest learning challenges I have faced in the kitchen and I had greatly underestimated this cooking process. As I began to learn, I also felt reenergized as a cook and put much time and energy into barbecue."

Barbecue is a slow cooking process and cannot be rushed.

The crucial element to good barbecue, when cooking with real wood, is fire or smoke management. A poorly run fire can ruin large pieces of meat, such as brisket, or pork shoulder.

Tuffy and his Cool Smoke team have gotten better with this barbecue business over the past three years. They have won 10 state championships and cooked for the first time last October at the Jack Daniels World Championship.

This column was my first opportunity to publish my interview with Tuffy Stone.

While wandering around the cooking area "Hog's Heaven," I happened to run into Luther Vaughan Elementary teacher Danyel Mayes.

She and her husband, Paul, brought their Triple J barbecue team to compete in the Blue Ridge BBQ contest.

The Mayes were gracious enough to let me watch for an hour while they worked to complete their entries Saturday for the pulled pork and brisket contests.

Triple J is among the barbecue teams competing in the Peach Festival's first-ever barbecue contest. The event is sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society.

I was allowed to sample the ribs and pulled pork cooked by Triple J.

With a full stomach, I reluctantly said goodbye to the Mayes and made a quick stop over to the Cool Smoke vending booth on my way back to the car.

I was starting to get a bit sleepy and lightheaded from my great meal with the Triple J team.

I had promised Tuffy I would stop by and speak with him.

I managed to put away three ribs with a nice spice rub cooked by his Cool Smoke team.

I waddled back to the car and wondered how judges can possibly tell the difference when picking championship barbecue winners.

I guess you could say that all barbecue agrees well with my stomach.

The progressive sounds of Dream Theater helped keep me awake on the ride home.

I passed out for four hours and was useless for the rest of this Saturday. This is what great food will do for you.

The South Carolina Peach Festival wasn't able to schedule a judging class in time for this year's event.

While this is a little disappointing, the Peach Festival actually made my decision this year easier. It would have been really tough for me to give up a free beach trip to Edisto Beach to help judge a barbecue contest.

Scott Powell (spowell@gaffneyledger.com) covers education issues for The Gaffney Ledger.

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