I’m not much of a competition BBQ guy. Lugging all that gear, tables, pop-up canopy, coolers, tools, etc., plus that pit smoker, never seemed like much fun to me. Some of these serious BBQ guys have pits that would take a forest just to get up to temperature! When you figure you have to lug it all home again, wash it, and put it away, all that work really puts a dent in the fun quotient. Plus I think the competition among the grill masters kind of kills any camaraderie that might otherwise occur between competing chefs (Naw, you can’t peak at how I do things cuz you might learn some of my secrets and beat me next time). Also, way back in my KCBS judging days in CA, most competition BBQ events prohibited the general public from actually sampling what the competitors send to the judges table. I always thought the lack of the public’s opportunity to taste truly magnificent competition BBQ at these events negated the entire point of having these events in the first place.
About the only competition BBQ I enter are Big Green Egg EggFests, which are not really competitions at all. They do award a People’s Choice, but truthfully, what makes these events cool is the opportunity to talk to attendees who paid an entry fee and are looking to purchase an Egg of their own. Some of these folks have absolutely no clue about grilling and smoking and some actually know which end of the tongs to grasp. There are usually at least 20 cooks who are provided with a new, pristine Egg, lump charcoal is supplied, and the chefs can prepare anything they want to cook. At the conclusion of the event, the slightly used Eggs (mine always look like a war zone) are sold to the attendees at reduced prices.
EggFests usually start around 9AM or so with the lighting of the charcoal, and food starts coming off the Eggs at around 10. The chefs cook a variety of things all day long, and the attendees get to visit with, and eat everything that those 20 or so cooks make. There’s folks who make paella, cookies, brownies, cobblers, pizzas, breads, grilled Twinkies (really!), about the only thing I haven’t seen yet is grilled ice cream and foi gras. I’ve had the pleasure of cooking, “competing” and winning People’s Choice multiple times at EggFests in northern CA over the last several years. I don’t do breads, pizzas and desserts, but instead focus on more traditional BBQ fare, all seasoned with Miners Mix, of course!
If you’ve viewed the food porn slideshow, you’ve seen some of the oddball and the conventional items I’ve cooked at EggFests. It’s really cool to see the eye rolls and get those OMG! responses when people try bacon-wrapped Thanksgiving dinner or Mac N Cheese, for instance.
Lacking any real idea of just what I wanted to cook and having a temporary total lack of creativity, I started experimenting with different things to grill. Stuff to finish in less than an hour so I can get it out to the attendees. Sooner is better. Here’s a few of the things I fooled around with:
I was sent a BBQ Pit Boys youtube link to on making Beer Can Burgers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hq2kmbI_1EA&feature=player_embedded
I made these. Maybe I should have used a real beer can, but I had none with any beer, and nasty canned iced tea was all I had sitting around. Basically you take a lump of ground beef and jamb the can into the gob of meat, then form the meat up around the can to about half way up. It basically forms a cup. Wrap a couple strips of bacon around the meat, then gently rock and twist the can to loosen it and remove the can from the ground beef. Fill the meat cup with whatever you want to put in there and grill over indirect heat for 35 min to an hour or so, until everything is done. I used canned chili, caramelized onions, tortilla chills and lots of sharp cheddar cheese. The end result was not so great. While they looked spectacular, there was way too much meat compared to filling.
I decided to try again with smaller meat cups using small drinking glasses as the mold. We made the meat sides much thinner to try to get the filling/meat ratio right and we filled these with jalapenos and sharp cheddar, macaroni and marinara sauce (sort of an inside out meatball), canned chili, pulled pork with BBQ sauce, and some other things. I even made a cup out of breakfast sausage and filled the cup with waffles and maple syrup! These proved to be far too labor intensive to make in quantity for an EggFest and the end result was still not the result for which we were looking. While really impressive looking, the ratio of meat to filling was just not where it needed to be for maximum eye rolls.
Back to the drawing board
I’ve grilled/smoked a lot of unusual things wrapped in bacon. This stuff makes everything better. After perusing some of the BBQ recipe sites to get inspiration, I decided to put on the thinking cap and try something that had not been done before, as far as I know. I call my results Salty, Crusty Miners Balls!
My son and I smashed three medium potatoes without using milk or butter. I used about 8 oz. of sour cream and half a pack of Miners Mix OMGarlic! Cheese Bread Spread. To get the salt flavor right, we used some chicken bouillon. The resulting potatoes were pretty dense and stiff which is what we wanted. Josh rolled the potatoes into ping pong sized balls, around half a Lil Smokie cocktail sausage, and then wrapped a slice of bacon around the ball.
Next, I made some Stove Top cornbread stuffing with 1 cup of water and no butter, so that the stuffing was very dry and stiff. When it cooled, I cracked an egg into the mix so it would hold together when cooked. Josh rolled ping pong sized balls of stuffing and covered them with a strip of bacon. We sprinkled them liberally with Maynards Memphis Rub.
Then I decided to try prosciutto and cheese tortellini wrapped with bacon. These were in the refrigerated foods case, not frozen. We simply wrapped 1/3 slice of bacon around the uncooked tortellini and held it in place with a toothpick. These were finished off with a heavy sprinkle of Maynard’s Memphis Rub.
Finally, to balance our diet and get some beef into the mix, we sliced cube steak into strips, seasoned liberally with our Steak and Veggie Rub. Half of the strips got spiked with Lil Smokies sausage. Josh wrapped the cube steaks in bacon. Josh wants everyone to know he is truly the bacon wrapping king.
I placed all the balls on the grill over indirect heat, about 350F or so, and gave them about half an hour cook time.
This is what the tortellini, mashed potato and stuffing balls looked like when finished. We didn’t get pictures of the cube steak balls, but they looked pretty good as well!
We’re all pretty sure that these Salty, Crusty, Miners Balls will get the kind of responses we seek. Up here in the backwoods of CA, we call that kind of “OMG!” and eye roll, a Miners Mix response!
At the EggFest in a couple of weeks, I’m going to do pulled pork sliders ( I’ll smoke the pork ahead of time and crisp it up there in a grill basket, sort of carnitas style) as well as one of my Miners Mix standards, grilled mushrooms along with these Salty, Crusty Miners Balls. We should be good to go!
If you have a opportunity to attend an EggFest either as a chef or just to go and graze, it’s a great time either way. Low key and great BBQ makes a great combination. In the future, I hope to see you at one near me!