Ask a Pitmaster: Mark Lambert’s BBQ tips and advice.
Twist’d Q: Hey Mark, how does your team work together at BBQ competitions? Who do you take with you?
Mark: We have a full crew for local Memphis cooks (like 9-10 people). When I travel, I sometimes cook by myself or take a friend. All of my teammates have regular jobs and have trouble getting off at a moment’s notice sometimes.
Twist’d Q: Mark, in the video we see you picking some fresh herbs. Do you grow your own?
Mark: I do. I have Serrano peppers, rosemary, thyme, garlic, chives, oregano and sage.
Twist’d Q: Do fresh herbs make a big difference in flavor? Or are there some that you would rather use dried?
Mark: I use fresh when they are available.
Scott D. : Can wood be over-seasoned, too dry?
Mark: No, it can’t be too dry, but it can be too old and cause a bitter acrid smoke! If it looks like it’s decaying, throw it out!
Scott D. : Too old! So the stack of 4-year-old mixed hardwood I have should only go in my fireplace at this point? How old is too old?
Mark: Only if it appears to be decaying. Has it gone soft? Or is it going soft? The fibers will disappear and appear spongy.
Scott D. : It hasn’t started to decay yet that I can see. But my last two cooks have had that acrid flavor.
Tyler C. : Hey Mark! Thighs seem to be the big winner in Kansas City Barbeque Society with legs now showing up on the scene more often. How do you think wings would do stacked up against those two?
Mark: A properly cooked wing is my fave! Personally, I’d give a properly cooked wing a higher score. You see a lot of wings at the Jack [Daniels Competition]! If that’s your specialty, I’d say do it. Took a while for legs to catch on, too!
Mark: The chicken winner at the Jack [Daniels Competition] last year turned in flats!
Tyler C. : Nice! I’ve been considering putting flats in the box with my thighs.
Patrick B. : What is the secret to cooking world-class pork? Is it the skill of the pitmaster, or is the meat quality most important? I really think it’s both!
Mark: Cooking really good pork is easy when you start with good meat and seasonings. What takes skill is getting it from the whole cut into the box. You have to get all of the best pieces in the box while it stays hot and make it look good all at the same time!
Melissa F. : What is the best thing you have ever cooked?
Mark: Probably a blackened comport pork chop with a sweet cherry pepper gastrique!
Q: How did that first MiM [Memphis in May] win feel? What advice do you have for young pitmasters with that goal in mind?
Mark: Made me tingle all over! You can step out and do your own thing at MiM! Use a little more personality at MiM! It’s allowed there. Not only in your flavor but in your presentation both in and out of the box. The second win was even better because it was when there were multiple MiM champions in the finals that year.
Cloys F. : What’s the best way to start doing competitions? I love to BBQ it’s what I would like to be doing full-time. I’m just not sure how to start.
Mark: If you want to compete? Find a reputable competition class and invest the money and time. It will pay back much quicker than learning from the school of hard knocks. One class instead of one competition will move you way out in front of the learning curve.
Want to put Mark’s tips to the test?
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