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Feats of Smoke (3)

To obtain barbeque perfection they cook “low and slow,” smoking meat at a relatively low temperature (around 220°F) for half a day or longer.

“If you’re looking, you aren’t cooking,” says Liz, repeating another often-used phrase in her pit. Relaxed in a lawn chair under the awning in front of the trailer, nine months pregnant, and fiddling with her smartphone, she tells about how she once threatened to install a dead bolt on the door of the smoker because a certain team member (husband Josh’s name was not spoken) continually opened the door to check on the meat.

Now an array of thermometers with digital read-outs allows the Meadow Valley team to monitor the temperature of their cooker without letting the precious heat and smoke escape. Meadow Valley’s cooker requires little attention during the 15 hours it will take to smoke brisket.

The logistics involved in traveling to and setting up at competitions each weekend are impressive and require a massive team effort.

Giant, 400-pound smokers and grills are detached from trailers and made ready for cooking. 

Tables, chairs, and enormous trunks of kitchen gadgetry are unpacked. Outdoor lighting systems are erected and generators are primed. Wood, charcoal, and pellets are stockpiled. Most important, ice chests full of uncooked chicken, ribs, pork shoulder, and brisket are lugged to the prep area.

It helps that Steve and Josh are big men because unloading their trailer is a task equal to that of a Bob Seger roadie.

A cursory glance around the pits reveals that the majority of the cooks fall well to the plus side of the bell curve in terms of average height and weight. Many of these guys are built like NFL nose tackles.

Once the meat goes on, each team has a system for organizing tasks that has in some cases been perfected over time.

Steve Bryant has his system down to a science, which should be of no surprise considering his day job as manager of the Iowa State University Meat Lab

(Read more about Feats of Smoke)

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