Gateway Drum Smoker Produces Award-Winning BBQ

In the world of barbecue cooking, there’s a long-standing rule for how to achieve the best taste — low and slow. Cook the meat over low heat for a long period of time.

Not any more. Two local cooks are turning that tried and true technique on its head.

Jeff Brinker of B&B BBQ, Washington, and Tim Scheer of Shake ’N’ Bake BBQ, New Haven, are following the exact opposite formula — hot and fast.

Before you go thinking they are fools, consider this: The men have won a series of barbecue contests with this method.

The secret, they say, is their take on “the ugly drum smoker,” which isn’t so ugly.

“We’ve taken the concept, cleaned it up, tweaked the design to make it user friendly and more reliable for contests,” said Scheer, noting the result is a marriage of “moisture and flavor.”

Barbecue contests are something Scheer and Brinker know a lot about. Both men have been competing separately with their barbecue for years, and most recently have decided to team up and compete under the name, the online shop that Scheer opened earlier this year and which also has a storefront component attached to his Scheer Landscape Company located in Washington.

The men have won dozens of awards in contests all across the country and are aiming to win even more in 2013 with hopes that by teaming up, they will earn enough points to be named Team of the Year by the Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS), an international nonprofit organization of barbecue and grilling enthusiasts with over 15,000 members worldwide.

Just last month, the men competed together under the Gateway name and won Grand Champion at the Holy Smokers competition in Valley Park.

“We’re just getting started with what we can do,” Brinker remarked.

The biggest awards the men have won to date were at the American Royal contest in Kansas City. It’s the largest contest in the country with some 545 teams competing, said Brinker.

Ribbons are awarded to the top 10 teams in each of four categories — chicken, ribs, pork shoulder and brisket. There’s also an overall grand champion and a reserve grand champion, Brinker explained.

Six judges evaluate each entry and give a score of one to nine for appearance, taste and tenderness, he said, noting the scores are weighted with taste being more important and appearance being the least important.

A perfect score in any of the four categories is 180, which is rare to achieve, said Brinker, adding that teams who earn a 180 are given a gold pin. This year, his team, B&B BBQ, earned two gold pins at the same contest, the American Royal.

“We were the first team in 2012 to do that,” he said, noting the prizes were for his chicken and pork.

Still, those two perfect scores weren’t enough to win him the grand champion or even the reserve grand champion.

“We ended up fourth overall,” said Brinker. “That’s how tough the competition was.”

A perfect overall score is a 720, and neither Brinker nor Scheer has ever known a team to earn that. A 680 is usually enough to win a contest, they said, and at this year’s American Royal, B&B finished with a score of 697.

Cooking for a barbecue contest can be tricky, the men agreed. There’s a certain amount of subjectivity that comes into play.

“It’s easy to cook barbecue that your friends like, but it’s not as easy to cook barbecue that six judges you don’t know like,” said Brinker.

“You want to wow them, not offend them, and if you make your barbecue hot (spicy), but two judges don’t like it hot, then you don’t win.”

That’s why the men keep in mind what region they are in for any particular contest.

“We don’t modify what we do much,” said Brinker, “but if we’re in Georgia, we will be heavier on the vinegar in our sauce.

“If we’re in KC, we’ll make it sweeter. In Memphis, we’ll lay off the sauce and make it more tomato-based. In California, we’ll make it fruitier.”

‘Hot and Fast’

Scheer can still remember the first time he saw Brinker cooking his barbecue “hot and fast” with an “ugly drum smoker,” and promptly gave him trouble about it — until he sampled the ribs Brinker had cooked this way.

“It would usually take four to six hours to cook ribs,” said Scheer. “Jeff did it in two, and they were the best ribs I’d ever tasted.

“That sold me.”

And it was no fluke. They took the drum smoker to contests and cooked their meat “hot and fast.” It drew a lot of stares, said Scheer.

“We showed up Saturday morning and cooked in four hours instead of 14 . . . and won.

“We won a top 10, then sixth (place) and then first.”

Now the barbecue duo want to share the secret of their success. Gateway BBQ Store is offering a class on how to cook the “hot and fast” way using a drum smoker. For more information, people can contact Scheer at 636-390-9898.

Cash Prizes

Winning these contests is a source of pride for any barbecue aficionado, but it also is a source of cash. An individual contest can give out between $5,000 and $50,000 in total prize money, said Scheer. The prize for grand champion alone can be $1,000 or more.

Although neither Brinker nor Scheer were willing to say how much money they have earned, they both admit to being “ahead for the year.”

The most Scheer has won total for a single contest is $3,500. For Brinker, his best is $5,000 at one event.

Of course, competing comes with a significant amount of expenses, anywhere from $700 to $1,000 on average for a single contest. That includes the cost of meat, which, Brinker said, you shouldn’t skimp on if you want to win.

“When I first started competing, I could go to Sam’s (Club), get all of the meat I needed, and win,” he said. “Now it’s different. You have to buy specialized meats, specific chicken.

“If you expect to win, you’d better be cooking a $6 per pound brisket.”

Love to Compete

Both Brinker and Scheer grew up on farms, but neither of their fathers were big on barbecue. It’s a taste and sport they acquired as adults.

“I was exposed to barbecue through my job,” said Brinker. “I do a lot of traveling all over Memphis and the Carolinas.”

As someone who loves to cook, he was compelled to try to master barbecue and, in 2005, he and his wife, Tricia, opened B&B BBQ. They set up a vendor stand at Bluff Road and began offering catering services, both of which produced strong sales.

That first year, the couple entered their first barbecue contest and, while they didn’t win, they placed fourth for their ribs. The next was different. They won and, as time went on, they continued to win.

“Our initial claim to fame was winning 17 contests in a row,” said Brinker. “We got an award for something at every one. Some were top 10s. There were a number of first places and one grand champion.”

In 2012 alone B&B has won four grand championships (plus two others by teaming up with Scheer) to compete under the Gateway name, and over 35 individual awards for chicken, ribs, pork and brisket.

B&B BBQ is sponsored locally by Gateway BBQ Store and the Bank of Franklin County, as well as Pappy’s Smokehouse in St. Louis, Rebel Smokers, Blues Hog BBQ Sauce and Plowboys rubs.

Scheer’s love of barbecue goes back to his college days at Southeast Missouri State University, where he roomed with a student from Memphis.

“He introduced me to ‘real’ barbecue,” Scheer said, with a smile.

After he graduated and returned home, Scheer began buying barbecue from Brinker, talking to him about his technique and picking his brain for how-to tips so he could perfect his own backyard grilling.

“It was a lot of trial and error,” he said.

Then two years ago Scheer decided to jump into the world of barbecue competition too.

His team, Shake ’N’ Bake BBQ, is a family affair, just like Brinker’s. Scheer’s team includes his wife, Terri, their daughters Tatum, 4, Taylor, 3, and Tenley, 1 month, as well as Joe Munsinger (JoeRib) and his family.

The team’s first contest was Roots and Blues in Columbia, and while they didn’t bring home any awards that time, they were vindicated this year, when they won reserve grand champion at the event.

Other top awards the Shake ’N’ Bake team won this year include first place ribs at the American Royal Open in Kansas City and Grand Champion at the Lake of the Ozarks Blues & BBQ.

Both men said there’s an adrenalin rush that comes with competition. That’s part of what keeps them going — that, and the cash prizes.

“I love to do it,” said Brinker. “I love to compete. I love to party with the guys.

“It’s a hobby that pays.”

Scheer added, “It’s a fairly addictive hobby.”

And now, after a couple of years of being friendly local competitors, Brinker and Scheer have formed a new team under the name Gateway BBQ Store.

“Our barbecue contest presence will be melded into Gateway,” said Brinker.

“We will compete together under the Gateway name to make a better run at being Team of the Year,” Brinker explained. “Gateway will cook every weekend, and if one of us wants to cook outside of that under his own name, we can do that too.”

The men say their techniques are very complimentary of each other. Scheer has more consistent success with chicken and ribs (small meat), and Brinker has more success with pork shoulder and brisket (large meat).

Charitable Hobby

One of the most heart-warming aspects of these barbecue competitions is that many times the left-over food is donated to local food pantries, the elderly living in local nursing homes or other people in need. Once it was taken to a funeral home for the family and friends of someone who had recently passed away, said Brinker, and another time it was given to tornado victims.

Gateway BBQ Store also believes in giving back and is currently collecting donations for Operation BBQ Relief, a nonprofit organization that provides meals to people affected by natural disasters, like Hurricane Sandy.

“Operation BBQ Relief uses its expertise in cooking and catering barbecue meals and the ability to quickly mobilize teams into any area where nature disrupts and tears apart the lives of Americans to restore hope and offer compassion to those affected,” said Scheer.

Items being collected include paper towels, aluminum foil, paper plates, plastic wear, salt/pepper, latex gloves, Clorox wipes, hand soap, kitchen rags and No. 10 cans of beans or vegetables.

Anyone who makes a donation will receive a 10 percent discount off a purchase at Gateway, Scheer noted.