072 The BBQ Ninja – Smoking Alligator

Smoking Alligator

072 The BBQ Ninja


This is Episode 6 of Season 6, my U.S. Road Trip Part II. In this episode I get to have a good yarn with my old mate The BBQ Ninja. You know the guy. Bushy beard. Wears a bandana. Has a real thing for flame throwers. The plan was originally to record this session on site at Hogs for the Cause, but he arrived into New Orleans a little late and I had to leave New Orleans a little early. However being the kind of guy he is, we found another time to record over the phone and we had a great chat about the incredible ways in which BBQ can be utilised for philanthropy before getting into the finer details of hunting, cleaning and smoking alligator!



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  •  The time spent together with the Ubon’s BBQ crew is as important as the competition itself for them
  • The Hogs for the Cause competition is one of the first events to go on their calendar every year
  • They joined Hogs for the Cause in its second year, where it raised $50k
    • Now it’s raised $2 million this year alone
    • It’s become THE competition that teams focus on to raise money for 
  • The last thing he BBQ’d was for a fundraiser up in Pig Beach, NYC
    • Events and Fundraisers are most of what he does now
  • He was doing ‘Flamethrower Chicken Wings’
    • They dry rub them
    • Smoke them for a few hours with a mild wood
    • Put them on a charcoal grill and finish them with a flamethrower
    • The flamethrower is a very functional tool
    • It caramelises the sugars from the sauce on the outside of the chicken skin and a little char, giving the wings a very distinct and unique flavour
    • They started out using the flamethrower to start the charcoal for their fires
    • The sound of the thing drew people’s attention and made Craig think about other ways he could use it
  • Pig Beach Charity Event at NYC
    • Raising money for a chef that died of a brain aneurysm right after his 36th birthday
    • He left behind a wife and a 16 month old daughter
    • So the BBQ community got together to raise money for his family
    • The event will expand to benefit more people and organisations in the future
  • BBQ means family to Craig and Ubon’s
    • They ‘bring their front porch everywhere they go and everyone’s invited’
  • Craig is now a Brand Ambassador for Royal Oak Charcoal
    • They first got to know that brand a decade ago at the Big Apple BBQ Block Party in New York City
    • Royal Oak told them that they’d never need to buy charcoal again
    • The company recently changed hands and the new owners are more aggressive in their marketing
    • It’d be 15 years since Craig has used any other brand of charcoal so it was a natural fit
    • It’s all-American wood
    • You don’t need to pre-burn, there’s no chemicals, and less ash than briquettes
  • Brand Ambassador vs Sponsorship
    • They want to use him in promotions, videos etc
    • They want content – recipes, how-to’s etc
    • He wears Royal Oak attire at the events
    • He makes sure it’s visible at the events
    • They promote him in return, exchanging audiences and so both of them grow
    • It’s more than just ‘here’s a bag of charcoal – take some pictures’
    • The marketing team hasn’t been to a lot of BBQ competitions etc so Craig’s role is to teach them about BBQ too
  • The crossover of hunting and BBQ
    • A lot of BBQ’ers hunt and a lot of hunter BBQ
    • BBQ Season usually runs from March until October
    • Hunting Season usually runs from November until February
    • People who hunt, harvest, cook and eat what they catch
    • Craig is passionate about this, showing people how he BBQ’s while hunting
    • He even delivers game hunting classes
    • This way he gets to BBQ all year round
    • It’s now become a trend all of its own
  • Ben’s idea: a crossover competition – 48 hours to hunt a beast and 24 hours to cook it
  • Craig’s schedule
    • He cooks with Ubon’s
    • He also does events under his own BBQ Ninja brand
    • He has events all around the country lined up for the rest of the year
  • Sourcing alligator
    • There are alligator farms in Louisiana and Texas
    • They are harvested at 35 – 45lb, or 4 – 5 ft as they fit best in a smoker
    • He prefers to hunt 10 footers
    • Some of the companies will ship them as well as crawfish
  • How he hunts alligators
    • Commercial hunters will hang a chicken or a liver on a hook above the water and catch them that way
    • The gator takes the bait and swallows the hook
    • The gator is brought out of the water and shot in the back of the head
    • Craig goes out in a boat on the water and uses a light to find the reflections of their eyes
    • He throws a treble hook on a line over behind the alligator and then pulls it back in, so it will catch the alligator
    • Then it’s a fight to get them to the surface
    • They roll until they wear themselves out
    • Then they put a noose and electrical tape over the nose. Then it is killed with a shotgun
    • They are cleaned 
  • The cleaning process is tedious
    • The skin is very tough and if you don’t have the right knife, you’ll be sharpening it every 12 inches
    • He has a knife now that has removable razor blades so once the blade is dull, he just replaces it
    • The ones that are under 7 feet he cleans himself. Bigger than that, he takes them to a processor
    • He keeps the leather for boots, wallets, belts etc
    • The tail, legs, jowls and tenderloins of the alligator are the only good eating parts
    • If you accidently cut the stomach of the alligator, the acid inside is very strong and will ruin the meat
  • The main and best meat of an alligator is in the tail
    • There are two muscles on the top and the bottom, separated by bones
    • There is also a tenderloin between
    • The legs on bigger alligator is good too
    • The jowls are also good but has no fat on it whatsoever
  • Smoking alligator
    • Cut it into little pieces, bread it, and fry it
    • It’s very difficult to cook it tender due to the almost 0% fat in it
    • It’s a white meat, very neutral, and will take on whatever flavours you add to it
    • He likes to stuff the tails by separating the muscles and stuff it with boudain or sausages
  • When cooking them whole, he likes to use an Old Hickory with a lazy Suie on it to rotate to make glazing etc easier and a more balanced, even cook
    • Check out his facebook page for more pics showing how to do it:
    • He uses cherry, apple or peach wood as they are milder
    • He leans toward the milder woods always
    • It needs to be ‘A’ flavour, not ‘THE’ flavour
    • He uses pecan or hickory on larger cuts like pork shoulders or briskets
  • Top 3 Pieces of Advice for smoking alligator
    • Don’t be intimidated by it
      • Cooking is always time and temperature
    • Make sure that you introduce to it is what you want to get from it
    • Give it a shot and have fun with it
  • Lump charcoal over briquettes
  • Chicken – wings
  • Whole hog – Running style
  • Sauce on the meat
  • Money muscle – overrated. It shouldn’t be the only thing off a shoulder or whole hog in a box
  • Offset smokers – standard flow
  • One tip or trick he wishes he’d known sooner – be patient and stop opening the smoker
  • The future – the blend of hunting and BBQ. Game categories in BBQ competitions
  • Pellet grills in competitions – undecided, leaning towards yay
  • Fantasy BBQ Team – Ubon’s is the perfect team for him


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