The BBQ Experience – Part I

Part one of a multi-part series detailing my experiences going from BBQ school student to competition BBQ team member!

Back in June of 2016, my wife Stacey sent me back to school. BBQ school, that is! Stacey had heard of a BBQ school through a co-worker, and she knew from the description that I’d love it. After she showed me the website for Southern Thunder BBQ’s ‘Que University, I was excited about the idea and got a good friend of mine, Craig, on board.

Leading up to the class, I was very excited and had read many reviews on it. I also learned that you could bring your own cooler of beer, so I was definitely prepared the morning of. My buddy Craig picked me up and we were at the location by 0730 to sign in.  Inside for breakfast they had sausage, biscuits and gravy, and a small bloody Mary bar set up.  It was a relaxing way to start an early morning and meet some of my fellow BBQ students. There were twenty students total enrolled in the class; one who came from Germany to attend.

After an introduction from the instructors; Pete, Rick and Dave, we officially got the day started with a ceremonial lighting of the smokers. I’m not ashamed to admit that I cracked my first Pabst Blue Ribbon at this point; enjoying a cold beer seems an integral part of lighting off any smoker, whether for a casual cook at home or a “serious” BBQ competition.

My choice for BBQ pit lighting ceremonies!

The classroom was set up very thoughtfully. Several workstations were set up on one side of the room while seating for classroom learning was arranged down the other side, with each student being provided with a binder of course material. And a very important point when considering the hot Georgia weather, it was comfortably air conditioned! The workstations were at a convenient height for food prep and had several food prep items laid out, and we were provided with aprons to keep our clothes from getting dirty while going hands on with the meats.

We started out with a classroom portion on pork shoulders and then, after being divided into groups, we got hands-on by trimming, injecting, and rubbing pork shoulders on the lab side of the room. Once the pork shoulder was prepared, outside we went to put them on the smokers for dinner. 

Pork shoulders trimmed, injected, and rubbed! Time to go the smokers!

The instructors were running multiple smokers, including a Primo kamado smoker that I had a particular interest in since I smoke on a kamado myself.  They also had two vertical Webber Smokey Mountains, two homemade vertical barrel smokers, a smoking cabinet, and a big horizontal trailer unit all set up and fired up. This was great because it gave the students the opportunity to experience using many different types of smokers. This is important when considering students may have different types of smokers at home, or may be looking into purchasing the right smoker for themselves down the road.

‘Que University keeps a good rotation of smokers going to give students experience on a variety of equipment.

We went back inside for a classroom portion on brisket and then got to work trimming, injecting, and rubbing brisket at the works stations.  This was a big part of the class for me as I was a little intimidated by the idea of barbecuing brisket. The whole process is laid out very well, taking a lot of the intimidation out of it; it is overall pretty easy to do. The brisket went on the smokers for dinner, and was tended to under the watchful eye of “the pit master” since it had to cook using the “hot and fast” method for it to be ready for in time for our BBQ banquet dinner.

Craig with our trimmed, injected, and rubbed brisket before it went on the smoker.

After the brisket went on the smoker for dinner, we started making lunch; pork lion, pork tenderloin, and chicken legs and wings done with dry rub. It was a particularly good lunch!

Some of our lunch being prepared. Hands-on learning with edible rewards!
Lunch was phenomenal!

After lunch we learned how to spatchcock prepare chicken, with injection and rub, after a classroom session. Those also went onto the smokers for dinner.  Out of everything I learned in class, this is probably what I use most at home; my wife loves chicken!

Spatchcock chicken.

Then it was on to St. Louis style ribs.  We started this with more classroom discussion and then trimmed the ribs St. Louis style, rubbed them, and took ’em out to the smoker.

St. Louis style ribs!

At this point, all of the meat was on the smoker and we again went back inside of the classroom to discuss a multitude of BBQ related topics such as tools, food safety, brines, rubs, injections, and sauces.  We also discussed brisket burnt ends before going outside and separating the point from the flat on the brisket to actually make burnt ends. Then it was time to pull the ribs from the smoker while discussing the “3-2-1” method of preparing ribs while adding honey, sugar, and butter to them. 

We learned the secret to great tasting ribs!

Once again we found ourselves back in the classroom where proper shredding of meat was covered, before we actually pulled the pork and chicken. Several more topics were also discussed while the instructors’ support staff set up a buffet with all of our hard work laid out on it.  Side dishes such as mac and cheese and BBQ baked beans were also added to the buffet, along with some really good cobbler.  Craig’s wife and my wife showed up just in time for the BBQ banquet, and Stacey seemed to really enjoy the brisket. At the end of the class, certificates where handed out before we all went home, full of good food and feeling like we accomplished something during a day packed with learning and activity.

My plate at the end of the day, loaded with brisket, pork shoulder, chicken, and sides. It was damn good!

Soon after attending the class, someone asked me how much it cost and if it worth it. When I sat back and thought about the amount of preparation, what was going on in the background with the support staff, the amount of food provided, and the quality of the instruction; I decided it was well worth it. I feel I can tackle a brisket now. It most likely wouldn’t win a competition, but it would raise a couple of eyebrows! Also, you get to walk away with your binder of class materials containing everything we discussed in class.  In the back of the guide were appendices that included recipes for all of their rubs, injections, brines, sauces, and even their side dishes. Most importantly, if I need to I can reach out to the instructors with any questions I have pertaining to BBQ.

So look them up! You can get information about the class and enroll on their website (and if you enroll with a friend you save money!). The instructors are a great group of guys and you’ll meet some good folks involved in the class!

Stay tuned to Good Food, Bad Food! to learn how Southern Thunder’s ‘Que University prepared a bunch of us students to be Backyard BBQ Grand Champions!

What you need to know about Southern Thunder BBQ’s ‘Que University:

  • It’s an all inclusive class that includes the instruction, the meats, and learning materials. All you need to do is show up! (Well, with beer maybe!)
  • You get to eat the fruit of your labors in the class! And the food is GREAT!
  • The quality of the instruction is top notch!
  • You get to take home your class material to reference during future cooks!

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