How the Highbrow BBQ Cook-Off Was Won

Some of you may have heard certain stories about New York magazine’s Highbrow BBQ last weekend. You may have seen a video about it on Grub Street, and if so, caught an unsightly glimpse of me chewing, or something. You may have even been there yourself, under the clear, blue sky at Solar One’s East River waterfront playground. But in any of these cases, what you probably haven’t seen is an up-close account of the cook-off that took place toward the end of the event. As one of the judges of this amateur grilling competition, I can share the inside story. And as promised, exclusive to Not Eating Out in New York, the winner’s homemade recipe.

CJ and crew serve it up

First, a shout-out to the event’s chef/host, CJ Jacobson of Top Chef Season 3 fame. For his part, he cooked an unconventional feast of pulled pork tacos with an orange-zesty, Moroccan-spicy flair, a watermelon, radish and feta salad, grilled corn with ricotta salata (a slight improvement on the typical cojita cotija, he told me specifically), and peach cobbler (shown at top).

Zeph starts the grills

Michael preps the garnish

chicken breasts go down

After grabbing a plateful of this grub, I had some time to spare before the cook-off. I also had the opportunity of chatting up the competitors, and watching them get prepared. These happened to include some familiar faces to this blog: at grill station 2 was Eugene Kim, of Great Hot Dog Cook-off Audience Favorite Award fame; at station 3, my friend and home chef extraordinaire Michael J. Cirino (also one of my co-chefs of the Finger on the Pulse/Dinner with the Band BBQ); at station 4 was another winner from the Great Hot Dog Cook-Off and Greenmarket goddess Melissa Pingleton; and at station 5 was Zeph Courtney, the reigning champion of the Brooklyn Chili Takedown.

Okay, so maybe I knew 4 of the 7 contestants from previous cooking events. But that just goes to show that this contest was populated by New York City amateur cooking elite, folks. And it’s a tight circle at the top.

Grub Street Editor Josh Ozersky (right) kept a close watch on the competition

co-judges Andrea Strong and Khouri Beatty

To get started, myself and the three other judges for the event – delightful veteran food writer and blogger of The Strong Buzz Andrea Strong, beer recipe-loving chef and member of the family-owned Harlem Brewing Company Khouri Beatty, and CJ Jacobson himself – were treated to a skirt steak. Marinated in a tangy, savory rub and topped with a lovely Bourbon and apple cider vinegar-based sauce, these steak slices were extremely tender, juicy and flavorful. Its creator, Kareen NeJame, is a culinary school graduate, and it showed.

skirt steak with a Bourbon-apple cider sauce, topped with cilantro moments later

Second in line was Eugene’s grilled chicken drumettes. Not only do I love the word “drumettes” and their fun, fat lollipop trimmed shape, but I liked how juicy the dark meat remained inside. His was served with a beautiful presentation of spicy wasabi and ginger, and glazed with a reddish-purple plum-based sauce (that we felt, sorry to say, could have simply benefited from a little more salt).

chicken drumettes in plum sauce

Next up we tasted Michael’s mole-braised duck taco, a savory-sweet-spicy creation topped with crema, cotija, sliced radishes, red onion and cilantro. The corn tacos had been lightly oiled and grilled to that warm, almost-crisp texture. A dark sauce made from the braising liquid was mixed with the tender shreds of duck legs. But apparently the duck legs were tempting enough on their own: when a tray of four legs were left out for a moment, pre-shredding, a security guard grabbed one and gobbled it up! He later said it tasted good.

mole-braised pulled duck taco

Anyway, our next bites of the afternoon were from Melissa’s short ribs. Her Asian-inspired rub was marked by fresh ginger, garlic and flakes of chili, and the subtle blend of flavors was so appealing that my only wish was that my piece had more of it. Every ingredient in her recipe was purchased at the Greenmarket, where she works, starting with the Flying Pigs Farm Tamarack Hollow Farm ribs.

short ribs rubbed with fresh Greenmarket spices

Next up was Zeph’s bold, spicy, satisfying all American-tasting short ribs. These were really quite good. He served them with two barbecue sauces, a traditional smoky, thick reddish-brown sauce and a thin vinegar-based sauce (my preferred of the two). The rub had seeped well into the ribs as to tint them a little bit orange (maybe turmeric was used?), and penetrate them with heavy flavor.

short ribs with classic kick

Next contestant Casey Comb’s entry had top-notch visual appeal. His chicken breasts were so precisely stuffed with a pungent cheese-based filling and grilled to a nice surface char that when sliced up for serving, the breasts’ stuffing stayed inside like any fine roulette. It was topped with homemade tomato sauce however, which for some reason made the dish feel more like a casserole bake rather than the grilled specialty that it was, for me at least.

stuffed chicken breast grilled to perfection

Finally, Kristin Johannessen’s barbecue chicken pizza was up. I had watched her place the dough on the hibachi and have some trouble with flipping it over – it seemed to want to slide through the grates when she first put it down and then stick to them once it was cooked. However, all the fuss must have paid off. My piece was a bit too puffy on the crust for my taste but the other judges must have had it better off. Kristin also grilled skewers of chicken and onions, and she topped her pizza with these drenched in a homemade barbecue sauce and some fresh mozzarella.

grilled pizza dough topped with homemade barbecue sauce, fresh mozzarella, and grilled chicken and onions

And guess what? She won! We all appreciated the risky, non-traditional move she took in barbecueing a pizza rather than a super meaty entry. It also sounds like the simplest in technique of all the other BBQ entries that day. Which is good for us, because we now have her winning recipe. Barbecue chicken grilled pizza tonight, anyone?

(Oh, and good for her, too, because she won $1,000!)

Kristin Johannessen’s Barbecued BBQ Chicken Pizza

Homemade Pizza Dough:
4 1/2 cups of flour
4 tsp. of salt
1 tsp. of sugar
1 tsp. of instant yeast
1/8 cup of extra Virgin olive oil
1/8 cup of garlic extra virgin olive oil
1 3/4 cups of freezing water (I had put some ice-cubes in to make it REALLY cold)

Combine all of the dry ingredients in a bowl and slowly add in the oils and water with your hands. Get messy and kneed the dough vigorously, until it has a nice stretchy consistency. Place the dough in the fridge at least for one night to reach its perfected state.

Homemade BBQ Sauce:
2 tbsp. butter
1 cup of water
2 tbsp. of apple cider vinegar
1 cup of ketchup
1 small onion
2 tbsp. liquid smoke
2 tbsp. of marinara sauce
3 tbsp of brown sugar
2 tbsp. of Worcestershire sauce
Add honey until your desired sweetness.

Mince the small onion and saute in the 2 tbsp. of butter. Once the onions are caramelized add the additional ingredients. Let the sauce simmer until desired consistency. I had it on the stove for about 40 minutes and added salt and pepper to taste. Feel free to add more/less dependent on your own taste-buds. I like my BBQ sauce sweet, so I added a fair amount of fresh honey.

Cooking the Pizza:

Cut up three chicken cutlets into rather tiny pieces and slide them onto kabobs.

Cut up on small onion and slide these onto kabobs.

Drizzle extra virgin olive oil and garlic oil lightly over both the chicken and onions.

Grill kabobs on stove-top grill or outdoor BBQ until the onions are caramelized and the chicken is cooked through and tender. Remove the kabobs and prepare the dough by stretching it until is round and the desired thickness. Oil both sides with both the garlic and olive oils and place on the grill. When the sides of the dough have changed color and appear to be almost cooked, flip to the other side and add toppings to the pizza. Generously spread the chicken, onion, BBQ sauce and fresh mozzarella on the pizza and season with Italian seasonings. I used a garlic and Parmesan mixture. Let the pizza cool for several minutes before slicing and serving. Enjoy!

Cost Calculator, Health Factor and Green Factor ratings respectfully omitted for guest recipe contributions.

11 Responses

  1. sarah

    hello from the girl who said hi to you while you were talking to CJ and taking the photo above. 🙂 i envy you for getting to taste all those cook-off entries– i was salivating especially at the skirt steak! it looked so tender & yummy.

    i was glad i got there early enough to get a full plate, as some of my friends who ran a bit late missed out on the corn completely! that weirded me out, as i figured they would’ve ordered the exact number of tix they sold, no? my theory is the chefs were supposed to have cut the cobs in half before serving…? hmm.

  2. AB

    Very nice report. One small, friendly quibble, though. The Mexican cheese referred to is called “cotija.” “Cojita,” on the other hand, means “a crippled or lame little girl” and sounds perilously close to dirty Mexican slang as well.

  3. Midge

    i can’t believe the pizza pulled through and kristin’s hands are not burned for a lifetime! and not that i don’t enjoy a lovely package of russian sausage from flying pigs farm now and then but my meat was from tamarack hollow farm from vermont, also a Greenmarket farmer.

  4. Midge

    ps. “greenmarket goodess”, do you mind if we trademark that term for the office?

  5. […] How the Highbrow BBQ Cook-Off Was Won […]

  6. Adam

    Thanks, Cathy! The next best thing to eating short ribs is reading about them here.

  7. cathy

    Midge: Own that “Greenmarket Goddess” title like only you can!
    AB: Thank you so much. I had no idea I had been telling people to dust their tacos with lame little girls instead of aged Mexican cheese…

  8. Yvo

    Ack, I should fix the cojita cheese reference on my site too!

    PS I like the angle you chose 😉

  9. Steaks University

    skirt steak and chicken drumettes looks delicious 🙂 will try your pizza recipe someday, Thanks

  10. […] public links >> surface How the Highbrow BBQ Cook-Off Was Won Saved by innerkyuubi on Thu 30-10-2008 Workshop: Digital_Design_Fabrication with Paracloud Saved […]

  11. […] as it may sound, a pizza placed on top of a charcoal-burning grill rack won first place at a barbecue cook-off I co-judged last summer. That one actually had barbecue sauce beneath the cheese, to tie together […]

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