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Unread 09-14-2008, 01:24 PM   #1
Brauma
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Default Clusterfark avoided - Murphy's Law mod

I did my second catering gig yesterday and flew solo. BeerGuy gave me reassurance that he would run down if I needed him. But I felt I could handle this one on my own.

*Note- I'll post this here so more people will see it. This doesnt just pertain to catering. This is about making BBQ'ing mistakes in general.

I cooked 5 butts in my Bandera, made Keri's Beans, and cooked two steaks on my Weber for a private party of 45 people. No problem, right?

Well, things started off well enough. I started the fire at 6:30 and watched the Dera get up to temp. I put the butts on at 7:15.

*I need to say here that I decided to try something new at this point (Big Bozo Move #1). I decided to lay two firebricks in my charcoal basket to form a "U" and pile the charcoal around them to achieve that extended burn. This probably worked just fine, but more on this later.

So, I put the meat on and the temp drops accordingly. After I clean up my table I watch and wait for the temp to come up. And I wait, and wait... The temp on my trusty Spicewine dial thermometer sticks at 120* for an hour and doesn't move. At this point I slowly open all the vents and try to raise the temp. Nothing. Hmmm.

Fark. My trusty Spicewine must have taken a crap (I thought). So I drop a probe down the chimney and take a reading: 300*!!!! Holy Crap! Now I've got a full bed of blazing coals and the temp is rising!

Damper down!! Damper down!!

I take a sheet of HD Aluminum foil and block all the vents on my Dera. And I wait. I open the main door and let some of the heat out. And I wait. Finally 250*. OK. Here we go.

I decide to remove the Spicewine big dial thermometer from the door and recalibrate to 250 to match the digital thermometer. (This will prove to be Big Bozo Move #2)

OK, now things are smoothing out (I thought). I scaled the fire back to just a small fire on one side of the bricks. But the temps continue to creep back to 300*. WTF??

I decide to blame the firebricks for the extra heat. Yeah, thats it. I pull out one of the bricks and manage to stabilize the heat around 270-280*. I decide this will be fine for butts. Butts are hard to fark up right? So we cruise at this high temp for several hours. My Bandera is running at 270 with a very small fire and I'm starting to like it. I would have liked it better if it was cruising at 225* for hours with just a small fire, but this will do.

So around lunchtime I decide to check the meat and spritz with apple juice. The meat is probing at 100*. Hmmm. I would've thought it would've been a little higher. Thats when I noticed something: the probe of the Spicewine door thermometer was touching one of the butts when the door was closed.

Oh no! Could this be what was farking me up all along??? I close the door and think this through.... The digital thermometer says the main chamber is at 280*. So I stick that probe into the same butt that just read 120* from my handheld pocket dial stick. It reads 250*. No matter where I stick a butt it reads 245- 250*

OH CHIT!!!

Panic starts to set in. WTF am I gonna do? I have bastardized the Spicewine and now have no way to recalibrate it. I now realize that I have no friggin idea what temp I'm cooking at. Big-time panic mod.

So I dig through my BBQ box. Luckily I have my Tel-Tru thermometer that I use on my Egg. I pull the Spicewine and rig the Tel-Tru thru the front door. I'm at 180*. That farking digital probe was reading 100* higher than reality. Then I remember: I cooked thru the hurricane in West VA last weekend at the BBQ comp. Everything I had got wet. Even my cell phone whacked out.

Gotta think fast here. Don't let the customer see that anything is wrong. I've still got 5 hours to make this right. I rip the foil off the firebox door and ramp up the heat...

Long, long story shortened, I did manage to cook at 275-280*. This got the butts to 160* around 4PM. I foiled and bumped fire to 300*. At 5PM I was at 190-195*. I coolered the butts and ran home for a quick shower and to get the beans. (Luckily this party was just 3 miles from my house) I had to serve the food at 6!

There were other things I had planned to do for this party like ABT's and party lights over my setup and all of that had to be dropped when cruchtime set in. I had planned on having the butts in the cooler by 4 at the latest. This would have given my plenty of time. Not to be on this gig.

Lessons learned:
  • Have multiple thermometers in your BBQ kit
  • Verify your calibration often
  • Never try anything new at a party or paid gig

This could have been a disaster. But from all of the training that I received right here, all turned out well.

Oh, and several frantic phone calls to BeerGuy helped too. Thanks buddy.

When everyone was fed and I was able to sit back, I chugged 3 beers and shook my head in disbelief that I pulled it off.

Thanks Brethren.
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Unread 09-14-2008, 01:37 PM   #2
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Nice recovery, Mark! Glad it all turned out.
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Unread 09-14-2008, 01:39 PM   #3
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Sounds like a good time was had by all. Seriously though, congrats on pulling (pun intended) it off.
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Unread 09-14-2008, 01:44 PM   #4
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Congrats! Glad everything turned out ok. Sometimes that is the best way to learn.
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Unread 09-14-2008, 01:58 PM   #5
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Very clear written story. I followed ya, nice job with the recovery mod.
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Unread 09-14-2008, 02:01 PM   #6
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Nice save Mark!
Never ever change anything when your doing a catering job or contest!
Go with what you know works and dont deviate from what works.
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Unread 09-14-2008, 02:51 PM   #7
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Good job mark ! It was great cooking with yall last weekend keep up the good work
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Unread 09-14-2008, 02:58 PM   #8
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I'm glad it all worked out! A few years ago, I never would have imagined how much I would depend on thermometers. I have several different types from those cheap dial types to my Thermapen. Heck, I might have developed a thermometer fetish as well as my foil fetish.
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Unread 09-14-2008, 03:24 PM   #9
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Great Story. That's definitely one to write in the books to remember.
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Unread 09-14-2008, 03:37 PM   #10
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Great recap, Mark. And to boot, it was one of the hottest , most humid days to be standing in a field cookin. The fact that all of Keri'sHog apple beans went and everyone had a great time shows you stayed cool as a cucumber under pressure. Lesson learned, backup therometers, checked and ready.
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Unread 09-14-2008, 05:10 PM   #11
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AND... dont let your main door thermometer touch the meat Unbelievable. I have kicked myself a thousand times for that bone-head stunt.

The meat was OK. Couldve been better but you know what, they didnt know that. Two of the bigger butts were sliceable, the two smaller butts were perfect. The 5th butt was sort of a medium size and it was half pullable and half sliceable if you know what I mean. I told them that I like to have some sliced and some pulled for folks to choose from.
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"Life's too short to drink cheap beer or eat crotchpot BBQ"

NB Bandera - refurbished; Two Big Green Eggs: Poncho - Large, and Lefty - Small; Weber Kettles; 6' fire pit; Super fast Blue Thermapen
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Unread 09-14-2008, 06:43 PM   #12
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Nice save. You did real well. Boils down to experience and you kept a cool head. Bravo!
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Unread 09-14-2008, 09:11 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brauma View Post
I told them that I like to have some sliced and some pulled for folks to choose from.

A really nice way to set a customer's expectations. And then you met the expectations, which is at least part of why they were happy. Well done.
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Unread 09-15-2008, 02:22 AM   #14
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Sorry you had to go through that!! Nice recovery tho!!! Thanks for sharing, a lesson learned for me!
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Unread 09-15-2008, 02:58 AM   #15
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One for the books for sure.
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