041 Craig – The BBQ Ninja

041 Craig - The BBQ

Alright, it is time to dig in folks. One of the things I love about BBQ comps is the networking that happens when you’re not even aware of it. One of the fantastic connections I made at the Houston World’s BBQ Championships was Craig Verhage, the BBQ Ninja. He was there helping out one of the British teams and was also working with another team as well, doing whole hogs for their evening soirees. He’s been competing for four times longer than our whole scene has been operating, has a wealth of knowledge, he’s a TV celebrity and in this episode he’s going to be giving us a lesson in whole hog cooking.

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SHOW NOTES

  • He recently cooked at an event called ‘Hogs for a Cause’ where they raise money for kids with cancer
  • Event raised $1.5 million for the kids
  • He has a Weber Smokey Joe on his back porch for cooking on at home
  • He got into BBQ in 1994 when we started a team with some buddies from college
  • The team split when they started getting jobs and getting married
  • He was approached by Ubon’s BBQ of Yazoo at this point in time
  • His day job is as an Insurance Salesman, but he handles the cooking and logistics for Ubons on weekends
  • They’ve won many World Championship awards at Memphis in May several times. Their pork shoulder has been their best performer
  • They decided ten years ago to use their success and reputation to do events raising money for charity etc. They have evolved from straight competition to festivals, events and charities
  • Mississippi BBQ
    • Influenced by Memphis (sweet) and Carolina (vinegar) styles
    • Mississippi is a pulled pork area, sweetened on a bun with coleslaw
  • The BBQ Ninja nickname – he has a pre-cook ritual of putting on a bandana and clapping his hands together and was given the nickname by a cameraman who was there filming a documentary about the team. He calls it his ‘Ninja Mode’
  • He’s a Brand Ambassador
    • Social Media is a massive opportunity for people to put sponsors products in front of people
    • Includes doing demos for brands too
  • He’s also a Consultant
    • It’s a broad term allowing him to help people by doing things like cooking a whole hog for an event, or helping restaurants develop their sauces etc. He also helps events put on a BBQ competition
  • He is now a TV BBQ Personality on ‘Chopped – Grillmasters’
    • One of five on their team
    • Being authentic was the key to his success on that show
  • BBQ TV Shows has really blown up the BBQ scene in the States
    • This has given rise to the BBQ Personality phenomenon
  • His Aussie connections
    • He was a guest chef for the Yak’s Festival in WA in 2017
    • It’s been the highlight of his BBQ career so far
    • He met some Australian reps at a competition in New York who lined it up
    • He loved seeing how the scene has exploded in Australia
  • Duties of a Guest Chef
    • They worked the entire festival the entire time they were there
    • They were cooking for the parties and banquets
    • They had to make their own sauces and rubs from scratch after they arrived
    • They faced issues such as regional differences in ingredients
    • They set up a booth and were cooking for sale to the public
    • They were doing demonstrations
    • Craig went from team to team to make sure that he met everybody
  • In the future for BBQ Ninja
    • He’s got a lot of work lined up with the team – about ten festivals
    • He’s focussing on getting his personal brand up and running stronger
  • Breeding the hogs has become as much an art as cooking the hog
    • Farms now specialise in breeds of hogs for whole hog cooking such as Berkshire or Red Wattle
    • They nurture the hog from piglet until it hits the smoker
    • Different farms raise them fatter or leaner
    • Some pitmasters now even raise their own hogs, controlling everything the pig eats e.g nothing but pecan or nothing but corn
  • Ways of cooking a whole hog
    • Cinder Block Pits
    • Ole Hickory Double Wide with Convecture technology
      • Has a Lazy Susan type set up inside so you can easily spin the hog to get to the other side
    • Offset
    • Running Style – shoulders up, belly down
      • A variation ‘HourGlass’
      • Trim the hog to represent an hourglass if looking down at it from on top
    • Stuff the cavity – put a number ten can inside to make the hog stand up nicely
    • Skin the hog down to the belly and sauce and glaze the fat underneath
    • Belly up hog – gets more bark in cavity
    • Breakfast hog
      • Take the ribs and separate them away
      • split the hog down the loin
      • Put breakfast sausage and bacon down and across the loin
      • The sausage and bacon cook down and give great flavour
  • Craig’s favourite way to do a whole hog
    • He loves the running style
    • It ‘shows’ the best
    • The hog is propped up so it looks like it’s running
    • The fat renders into the meat so you the benefits of moisture and flavour being dissolved into the hog
    • The fat also helps all the meat to cook evenly
  • If cooking belly up, the fat dissolves and is caught inside the skin as if the skin were a bowl, making it almost impossible for the meat to dry out
  • One trick he likes to do is put a pork belly across the loins and tenderloins to protect it a bit and make sure it all gets done at the same time
  • Pig spaghetti – reach in and pull out the belly and it looks like cooked spaghetti strands
  • The hams are a whiter, longer muscle
  • Crackly Skin
    • In a running style, cover the skin in vegetable oil and wrap it in a bed sheet, protecting the skin from getting black in the smoke
    • Low’n’Slow hog is never going to have edible skin
    • Crackle requires a much higher temperature
  • Top Three tips for cooking whole hog
    • Use a cinder block pit
    • Use an offset stick burner
    • Use an Ole Hickory Pit for perfect, consistent results

 

  • Brisket: fat side down
  • Chicken: wings
  • Pork Ribs: Baby Back
  • Sauce: on the meat
  • Temps: Low’n’Slow
  • Tricky to cook: Alligator
    • He hunts, cleans and cooks his own alligators
    • It’s in between a fish and a hog
    • It’s difficult to cook
  • One tip he wish he’d known sooner: be patient
  • Next trend in BBQ: getting back to its roots E.g low budget cooking
  • Pellet grills in competitions: Yay
  • Fantasy BBQ League: Smoking Hot Smartfires

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