042 Eric – Hammond BBQ

042 Eric - BBQ Challenge

Folks, there are only a handful of times in your life when you get to meet an innovator, an OG. This was one of them. I was very lucky to be introduced to Eric from the Hammond BBQ Challenge. Eric is a BBQ competitor, event promoter and was on the ground when Hurricane Katrina hit the deck in Louisiana in 2005. Every year, Eric and his team put on the Hammond BBQ Challenge, which has been the biggest competition in the state of Louisiana for well over a decade and has raised some serious cash for charity. Let’s get into it.

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SHOW NOTES

  • Last thing he BBQ was 320 chicken quarters and 108 racks of baby back racks for the Louisiana State football team, 350 people in total for a Coach’s Clinic
  • He has an Ole Hickory CTO that he cooks big meats and ribs on as well as a Big Green Egg for chicken, steaks and pizza
  • He has another Ole Hickory on a trailer that is a rotisserie that he uses for tailgating. It can do 60 racks of ribs or 40 pork butts at one time
  • He got into BBQ as his Mum and Dad are KCBS judges and have been doing it for 28 years
    • They originally kicked off the Hammond BBQ Challenge
    • Eric and his friends spent 18 months running around researching other BBQ comps before putting on their first comp
  • Eric and his wife are also judges and one of his daughters. BBQ is in the blood
  • All states have counties except Louisiana which has parishes
    • Different parishes have festivals
    • Hammond is the biggest seat in the parish and didn’t have a festival
    • It’s a big football and party area so a BBQ contest was a natural choice when they were looking to put on a festival
  • The first event was 15 years ago
    • It was small
    • It is held downtown near the railway tracks
    • The first comp had 34 professional teams and 30 local teams for the Backyard Boogie and 8 kid’s teams for the Chicken Little
    • Now they have 60 pro teams (cut off from a waiting list!) and 50-60 backyard teams and 8 to 12 chicken little teams
    • It’s one of the earliest comps in the year, in the 4th weekend of March and many teams travel south just for the weather
    • They’ve only had one rain-out in those 15 years
  • The Hammond BBQ Contest has been the largest one in the State for the last 15 years
  • What is it that makes the Hammond comp so popular?
    • The weather
    • Location – it’s held in the middle of town: there’s restaurants, bars and stores all around
    • The organisers feed the teams traditional Louisianan meals
    • The mayor comes out and busses the tables at meals
    • They have really focussed on the atmosphere
  • What is it about BBQ that lends itself to charity?
    • The spirit of giving and passion for helping others is as strong as the passion for BBQ in Southern Louisiana
  • Eric was in Louisiana when Katrina hit
    • He’s about 40 miles north of New Orleans
    • Hammond airport was used as a staging area during Katrina
    • His friend lent him a giant Ole Hickory and they cooked for the Police, Rescue, Army etc
    • They kept the cooker for 3 months, cooking and feeding responders every Friday, Saturday and Sunday
    • The Ole Hickory was big enough to cook 60 pork butts at once
    • A lot of the food was donated
    • Big companies including Kingsford got involved straight away
    • KCBS got involved and gave them a lot of help
  • KCBS
    • They only have four meats: Chicken, Pork Ribs, Pork Butt and Brisket
    • KCBS runs the comp
    • For 50 teams, KCBS sends 3 representatives
    • The scoring system is wonderful as it counts down to the 10,000’s so there is very seldom a tie unless there are perfect scores
    • There are occasionally ancilliary categories like sausage, but Hammond BBQ doesn’t do that
    • They don’t add extra categories coz the teams come to have fun so they only want to do the four categories and then go play in the bars and restaurants
    • Only Thursday nights they have ‘Pints & Pairings’ where they pair meals with beers. This was really popular with the women. It sells out 60 seats every year within 4-5 hours
  • Backyard Boogie
    • Local teams
    • A competition within the competition called ‘Tip to Taste’. Teams can cook anything they like and the public will tip the teams to taste the food. The money is donated to the competition and a prize is awarded for who can raise the most
  • Chicken Little
    • 6 – 16 years old. Usually 8 – 12
    • The local fire department comes out and does a fire safety talk and lights the pits for them
    • They then get a Police escort through the crowd to the turn-in tent
    • Many KCBS teams bring their kids and put them in the Chicken Little
    • Grandparents love to get involved in the comp
  • In the future for Hammond BBQ
    • Eric is the last original board member
    • They have some ladies on the board now
    • Two local high schools have culinary programs. One of the board members handles the vending and the high schools have now joined in the compeition as vending, and they get 20% of the vending proceeds
    • They’re going to keep doing what they’re doing for as long as it’s still fun
  • BBQ and Louisianan BBQ
    • It’s not what it used to be
    • It used to be ‘Cochon de Lait’ – it means a French Cajun pig roast
    • They used to dig a pit for a whole hog and it was called a Cajun Microwave
    • A modern Cajun Microwave is done in cinder block pits, above ground and shovelling in charcoal
  • Pork is the main protein of Louisiana
    • There is no particular cut – all of the cuts are common
  • Wild boars are starting to become a pest and so they are now becoming popular to be used on the pig roast
  • Eric’s favourite way to cook pork
    • Season
    • Don’t inject
    • Low’n’slow
    • He likes country style ribs
  • What is Cajun Food?
    • Not so spicy it burns, but it’s about the flavour
    • Not to be confused with Creole – it’s from the Caribbean and is more tomato-based
    • Cajun is more the ‘down-home’ cook
    • ‘The holy trinity’ is bell peppers, onions, celery. Add tomato to make Creole
  • Influence of Cajun and Creole on BBQ?
    • The spices cross over into BBQ
    • He likes to grind cayenne pepper really fine and use it as a dust to give a little kick on the back end
  • Fuels
    • Pecan is very big in Louisiana
    • It’s a sweet, mild wood
    • He likes to do pork butts with hickory, but his ribs and chicken he always used pecan
    • Pecan nuts are very common in all sorts of foods down there
    • Find someone who shells them and get some. Throw some pecan shells in to make smoke that will give a little extra pecan kick
  • What distinguishes Louisianan BBQ from Texas BBQ?
    • Texas tends to be salt and pepper based beef
    • Louisianan BBQ is sweeter, with some of that Cajun heat and usually on pork
  • What sets a Louisianan Competition apart from other comps?
    • The atmosphere – they have restaurants feeding the teams classic Cajun dishes
    • The locations is in the middle of downtown which is unique
    • The structure that you build around the comp is as important as the comp itself
  • Top 3 tips
    • Find a cooker that you’re comfortable with
    • Practice – timing is everything
    • Get tenderness down first and then worry about taste
  • When they start making a rub, they taste it a couple of times and then stop and do something else before coming back to it later
  • Brisket – start with fat side up and then turn after two hours
    • He starts with fat side up to get a good bark on the top
    • Then he turns it to get a good smoke on the other side
  • Chicken – things coz they’re moist
  • Ribs – St Louis
  • Sauce – on the side
  • Temperature – Low’n’Slow
  • Tricky to cook – Nothing is really tricky for him to cook. He enjoys the challenge of everything
  • Tip or trick he wishes he’d known sooner
    • Flavour – Cayenne pepper, browned and powdered so it can be layered
  • The future – he hopes it goes back to the way it was
    • Everybody loves everybody and gets along
  • Pellet grills in comps – yay
  • Fantasy BBQ league – Johnny Trigg and Darren Worth from Smokey Dee’s

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