The American Meat Science Association (AMSA) 71st Reciprocal Meat Conference (RMC) hosted in Kansas City, Mo., this past June was a celebration of barbecue from the very beginning. Whether working with the Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) for the Iron Chef competition or featuring barbecue at most every meal, attendees at this year’s RMC really tasted and experienced authentic Kansas City-style barbecue. AMSA embraced something unique with this opportunity and planned a full three-hour session entirely about barbecue, featuring experts and professionals in the field who shared with members the history, trends and educational outreach of barbecue. These speakers enlightened members with the art and science behind Kansas City barbecue, making for a great last session of the AMSA 71st RMC.
The first set of speakers of the day included two of KCBS’s best: well-known KCBS judge Ardie Davis and executive director of KCBS Carolyn Wells. Davis started the session with exploring the real meaning and history behind barbecue. In Davis’ words, barbecuing needs to include four main things: meat, fire, wood and smoke. He said that given these parameters, “as soon as people discovered fire, that’s when we had barbecue.” Davis also defended those who use a grill to make barbecue instead of a smoker. Grilling, he says, included the same four elements he considers necessary for barbecue. So, regardless of whether barbecue is made on a small camping grill or in an electric smoker, Davis believes we can call it all barbecue.
Following Davis was the executive director of KCBS, Carolyn Wells, who laid out the background of the Kansas City Barbecue Society, which she co-founded in 1986 with her late husband and a close friend. She then gave a brief overview of the “Barbecue Capitals of the World.” Referencing Carolina, Memphis and Texas barbecue, Carolyn described Kansas City barbecue as a “melting pot” of all the different styles from the other capitals across the country.
After highlighting the history and style of Kansas City barbecue from the members of KCBS, Tappecue presented information about their products and research conducted on the “stall,” a phenomenon that occurs while smoking a piece of meat. As the temperature of the meat rises, the moisture inside the meat starts to evaporate and cool the meat back down. With the evaporative process and the cooking process occurring at the same time, they will begin to balance each other out in what is called the stall, where the temperature of the meat will not change. During this period where the meat holds a constant temperature, most consumers will pull their meat from the smoker and wrap it in foil or they will bump up the temperature to overcome this problem. But how can someone know when their meat hits the stall? Tappecue created a product that tracks the temperature and give consumers more control over their smoking experience. Tappecue connects to the cook’s cell phone to give them freedom to leave their smoker, a feature the company urges consumers to use in order to monitor meat in their smoker — even from across town. Tappecue showed the members what kind of freedom there can be while smoking meat.
Next in the session, Rob Magee led a discussion about the business of barbecue. Rob is the owner of a barbecue restaurant in Kansas City called Q39. The restaurant showcases a unique blend of made-from-scratch dishes and signature barbecue sauces and rubs. Given his passions for barbecue and cooking, Magee felt opening Q39 was what he needed to do and recalled the process of opening his doors. Magee also discussed the importance of choosing cuts of meat that will ensure consistency throughout the cooking process and provide the quality product that customers desire.
After Magee, another vital member of the KCBS team, Paul Kirk, presented the anatomy of a barbecue rub. The principal ingredients in all of Kirk’s rubs are salt and sugar. For his Kansas City barbecue rub, he prefers to use cane sugar for a unique flavor and balances that with salts. Dissatisfied with using kosher salt, Kirk prefers adding flavor wherever he can, so he recommended using garlic or onion salt to enhance his rub. Paprika is a staple in barbecue rubs, but Kirk classified paprika as a color enhancer for a rub. Finishing out his framework for a barbecue rub, Kirk said one must balance pepper and chili powder. Five ingredients — sugar, salt, paprika, pepper and chili powder — are Kirk’s essentials to a basic barbecue rub. From there, Kirk recommended adding other spices to create a unique flavor profile. He also recommended keeping all granules in a rub the same size. For example, very fine chili powder mixed with coarse ground black pepper will wind up separating, resulting in a rub that will not offer even distribution of the spices.
Attendees lastly learned about alternative beef cuts that can be prepared like a beef brisket. Dr. Phil Bass of the University of Idaho briefed the audience on the most common beef cuts used for barbecue, with brisket reigning king over all other cuts. Brisket inarguably is the most popular, and the price reflects that demand. Rising in popularity are beef ribs, Bass said. Beef ribs can be found as beef back ribs and beef short ribs, and both carry a hefty price. Bass has been working on finding alternatives for the brisket and brought samples for the audience to try. These samples included chuck roll, chuck flap, sirloin tip and a bottom round flat. All of these can be used for barbecue and provide amazing flavor but don’t cost the consumer nearly as much.
Whether sharing their knowledge about rubs and sauces or introducing alternative beef cuts to barbecue in lieu of a brisket, the speakers for the “BBQ — History, Trends and Educational Outreach” session went above and beyond. From the educational technical programs to the mouthwatering barbecue, the AMSA 71st RMC served up truly unique experience for everyone in attendance. NP