Beer and BBQ Challenge

This crazy little thing happened. A friend of ours, John, competes in a Beer & BBQ competition each year. In April, I got an email inviting me to join his team. I love smoking and barbecuing meat, so of course, I said yes without the slightest hesitation.

The event is to raise money for a local Catholic school. The organizers paid up BBQ teams with a brewery and the basic jest is to create a beer and bbq pairing that go well together. So, the process really got started with a meeting at Haymarket Pub & Brewery where the teams were their assigned brewery. None of us had ever heard of our brewery, Open Outcry, but a well-known brewer had gone there, so everyone seemed to feel okay about it. This was my first time ever doing anything like this, so I, obviously, had no opinion. We briefly discussed ideas, but in a very broad manner, such as noting that it was super hot last year and so maybe we want a light and refreshing menu.

We were told at this meeting to give the organizers time to get our info to the brewers before reaching out. Weeks went by and not a word. Finally, we get an email suggesting a day and time to go visit this brewery. We all meet up on a Tuesday afternoon in the farthest southern end of Chicago I think I have ever gone, short of driving through. But the brewery was beautiful. We tried 6 or 7 beers. We talked about potential menu ideas, but it was all still very loose. We toured the brewery, which has an awesome rooftop if you need to plan an event. We left with only one really solid idea…pineapple.

So we had pork (organizers supply the meat), and we had the idea of pineapple. John had recently smoked pineapple and really liked it. My mind instantly went to Cuban, Latin, South American, you see where this is going. I decided to experiment with a play on al pastor. I researched a lot of recipes for it, including some that were using smoking. I eventually came up with a mixture I thought sounded good. When we were at the brewery, we had tried a bourbon rye or bourbon stout, so I had my husband go to the store and find me the closest thing he could to use in the marinade, and I mixed in and marinated my pork 24 hours.

I smoke the pork for 5-6 hours and then put the pineapple on top for the last couple of hours, kind of mimicking how al pastor is done. I only smoked it to a sliceable point and not to pullable in this time, but it was delicious, if a little on the HOT side. Unfortunately, John was out of town, so he didn’t get to try it. However, he must have believed me or my husband that it was pretty good. I sent him the recipe I used, making a few suggestions on how we could make it better and less likely to set someone on fire. He experimented with it a couple of times, and we had a recipe for the meat.

In the mean time, John had been experimenting with the pineapple. He found that cold smoked pineapple had great flavor and held it’s texture better, and he came up with a fantastic cold smoked pineapple salsa.

We’re on the phone, days before our recipe needs to be turned in and discussing what medium to serve all this goodness on. I suggested arepas. After I finally spelled it and we both googled to find out what all was in them and how they were made, this idea sounded pretty good. John started experimenting with the arepas, and I guess it didn’t go badly because he turned our recipe in with them listed. He also came up with a sweet and tangy vinegar based sauce for our meat.

John had a second tasting out at the brewery. Then he and I met up with the brewer and John’s wife, Jill, and had another tasting with beers, including one none of us had tried but that sounded good. He had made up arepas with cold smoked pablanos, jalapenos, and just plain. We had a very nice hazy IPA, and an ESB. Then we had the Hazy IPA with ghost pepper infusion. This was to die for. We were totally sold, even though we knew it was a big risk given the reputation of those peppers. Oh, and I forgot to mention the brewer happened to have a rye whiskey barrel-aged stout he’d been working on when we came up with our idea, which we used in our marinade for the actual event!

This was one of the biggest cooking collaborations I have ever done. I work alone most of the time, and I’ve never competed in any type of cooking competition, but this entire process was so much fun. I know, you’re thinking “That’s it? You aren’t going to tell us what happened?” Well, I will, but the actual competition weekend deserves its own entry, so it’ll be out in a few days. For now, I just wanted to talk about the process.

Pork practice

So I’m assisting on a team at a bbq & beer contest in August. This is super exciting, as you can imagine. In preparation for this, I get to have a lot of fun practicing and tasting beer, so it’s even better than I would have thought. Seriously, I went to the other side of Chicago on a Tuesday at noon to have beer! The biggest part of the competition is the beer and bbq pairing contest.

So after tasting some delicious beers from Open Outcry Brewing, I got inspired to try out some pork recipes. I used a bourbon aged stout to create an Al Pastor-inspired marinade and sauce. For the marinade, I blended guajillo peppers, achiote paste, cumin, salt, pepper and garlic. I marinated pork shoulder in that overnight. I had saved half of that mixture and I heated it on the stove and added brown sugar, apple cider vinegar and some tomato sauce to make a sauce that I used on the shoulder about 3/4 of the way through smoking. I also smoked a pineapple over the pork for the last 2 hours. The dish was pretty delicious. I would like to tone the heat down a bit. I only smoked it to a slicing doneness, and I think it would be better if smoked until pull-able and then served like a taco, though I’m curious how an arepas would hold up.

I also made a heated brine with water, salt, pepper, cumin, whole garlic cloves and bay leaves. After chilling it, I brined a pork shoulder in it overnight. I rubbed this one with fresh ground black pepper, cumin, garlic, salt, brown sugar and onion powder. I admittedly went to heavy on the black pepper. The pork was delicious and tender, but the outside could definitely have used a little less pepper. Again, I did this one to slice and not pull, so I would adjust that for the actual competition.

This coming weekend, I have a picnic ham thawing because I’m currently out of pork shoulder. I figure there will be some difference, but it’ll still allow me to play with flavors. And I’m gonna cook that until it just falls apart! (kidding, mostly). I still have some of the al pastor inspired sauce, so I thought I’d play with it a bit more. I’m thinking if I add orange juice to mellow it out a bit…not sure, that’ll be in a blog next week!