Sunday, June 1, 2014

Interview: Hot Grill on Grill Action

Team: Hot Grill on Grill Action
Location: Omaha, NE
Web Page:
FaceBook: Hot Grill on Grill Action on Facebook


My fellow Q-blogger Big Wayner put me in contact with Matt of Hot Grill on Grill action. They were one of the contestants on BBQ Pitmasters back in season 2. Going back and forth with Matt in emails has been fun. He and the Hot Grill on Grill team are a group I would love to hang out with at a BBQ competition.  They were happy to oblige me with an interview and I'm in the process of reviewing their BBQ book The Book on Competition BarbequeVolume 1- Priceless for Beginners, Perfect for the Pros. So far it's great and it has a lot of information for those who want to start a team. Read on and find out more about this team.

Q4F: How did you get started doing BBQ?  
HGoGA: Well, this answer varies by every member of our team and, while there is some overlap in terms of our ‘roots’, I can only speak about my personal situation.  There is no question on how I got started and it all begins with being lucky enough to grow up next door to Pete Amys, Pitmaster of ‘Omaha’s Blowin’ Smoke’.  Pete is Ryan’s Dad and I spent the first 17 years of my life living right next door to Pete and Ryan (at least until Ryan left for college). 

You see, Pete is one of the true pioneers and a real life legend of competition BBQ.  He was one of the first few to sacrifice for us all.  He spent countless hours and $$$ practicing and competing while growing the sport for what amounted to peanuts, compared to the prize money thrown around today.  I grew up next door with my Mom and brother and he was so good to our family.  I can remember him starting out on, what I seem to remember as a ‘1st generation’ Weber Kettle (though he’d probably smack me for dating him as such).  I remember, quite vividly, the days Pete would bring smoked meats over to my house as he was learning the ropes and it was, without question, the trigger for me to start learning how to cook on a grill.  Over the years I watched Pete graduate from Weber Kettle to a custom pit made especially for him by David Klose at Klose Pits and, while I didn’t get my start in competition until several years later, it is clear in hindsight that this was the trigger. 

After Ryan moved back to Omaha from several stays in several cities for his career, he started telling me about how he was following in his Dad’s footsteps and had competed in the Pacific Northwest and it sounded like pure heaven to me.  After letting me convince him I was worthy, we decided to give a contest a shot, took first in a category and we’ve been hooked ever since. 

Everyone on our team is incredibly competitive, but we looked at it as an opportunity to have a few cool ones and do some cooking (in that order).  We are still just as competitive and take losing very personal…but we stick to our M.O and do it in that order to this day, vowing to have fun while still kicking a$$.
The Hot Grill on Grill Team

Q4F: How did you come up with the name Hot Grill on Grill Action? 
HGoGA: Well, this is the stuff of legend and really requires a night hanging out with us to get the full story, but let’s just say we have one of the wittiest people on the planet as part of our team in Logan Hendrickson.  Anytime you mix hanging out with him and a few beverages, you better hold onto your seat!

Q4F: What was your first competition and how did you fare? 
HGoGA: Our first contest as a team was at Springfield Days in Springfield, NE.  A contest that is now gone, but at one point was one of the largest, most sought after contests in NE.  How did we fare?  I guess it depends on what part we are talking about.  We were rookies and made jusssssst a few rookie mistakes (like being fully prepared for rain because it rained and, you know, darkness because it got dark).  This contest was one of our main inspirations for writing our book. 

It was an awesome time!  We had a ton of friends and family out because it’s close to home and in the end…we ended up with 1st place Chicken, which was both awesome and shocking.  Of course, we thought we were BBQ gods after that, followed by quickly coming back to earth the next contest.  Great contest, great show, invaluable learning lessons for us.

Q4F: How many competitions a year do you compete in? What’s the furthest you've travelled for one? 
HGoGA: This all varies by the season (this will be our 9th) because we all have demanding careers and little ones at various stages of life, but generally speaking we do 8-10 per year.  Some years we travel further, some years we stay more local depending on our work / life situation.  We’ve been invited to the Jack, which was the furthest we’ve gone for a contest.  The furthest we’ve traveled for BBQ reasons was our quest out to California to do the BBQ Pitmasters show.
A grill with a view. 

Q4F: What is your favorite style of competition? KCBS, MB, other? Why? 
HGoGA: KCBS is all we have done.  It’s by far and away the most prominent society in the midwest, (in the world, for that matter) so we stick to what we know and try to improve each and every time.

Q4F: Your team was in Episode 1 Season 2 of BBQ Pitmasters, what was that like? Is cooking for the camera hard? does it interfere with what you're doing? 
HGoGA: You know, it’s clich√© (and again I can only speak for myself) but this is one of those rare lifetime opportunities that is easy to take for granted while it's happening.  It was an amazing experience, especially with some hindsight.  I mean, 4 guys who are best of friends getting to take a 3 day road trip – each way – to go film a television show?  You can’t ask for much more especially when it’s something you literally live and breathe for; not just a hobby.  We are all pretty natural in front of a camera, all have quick wit; a good sense of humor and generally like to have fun and be a bit childish.  The show had a format they needed to stick to and we fully respect and understand that, but given a different situation, we think Hot Grill on Grill Action could have been cast in a much lighter, much more entertaining and much more fan friendly light.  I think, if you talk to those that have spent any amount of time with us, we are about as hospitable as it comes and pretty much force feed laughs and a good time.  To answer your question directly:  nope, the camera didn’t affect us at all.  There were a lot of things that camera took home with it which should have made it to the screen, however.
Pork ready to turn in.

Q4F: When filming BBQ Pitmasters and the pitmasters are commenting on what the judges are saying, Is that all live? As in your watching on a TV while they're judging you? if so that has to be nerve wracking. 
HGoGA: The filming was all live. For Ryan (who was our Pitmaster for the show), it had to be much more unnerving standing on stage. I can only speak for myself and say that, yep, my stomach was rumbling. I've spent alot of time on stage as a musician, so it wasn't TV nerves. It was wanting to win nerves.  We love to have a good time, as I've stated before, but we love to win just as much, if not more.  Let's face it, it's more fun to win.  Don't think for a second that we didn't go into that show with every expectation to take home the prize.  Credit Mo for pulling it out, but it was disappointing not taking home the trophy over a side dish.

Q4F:How do you prepare differently in what you bring to a competition than what you take on Pitmasters? Do they give you an idea of what meats you'll be cooking? How do you prepare for the curve balls? 
HGoGA: Well, it was quite different for us to prepare for this vs. a contest.  For one, we'd have the ability and time to run to the store for a contest if we forgot something.  For the show, what we brought is what we had at our disposal.  The show gave us a long list of meats that might be drawn, many of which were quite exotic (armadillo anyone???), so we prepared as best we could.  We brought every cave man tool we own and we practiced and researched darn near every possibility, so we were quite prepared for the worst, so to speak.
Mmm... chicken

Q4F: Do you have any advice for those wanting to start competing in BBQ? 
HGoGA: Alright cheap plug time!  Yes, buy our book and ask questions later!  We don’t pretend to be the most experienced team out there and we certainly aren’t the most decorated, but we do have our share of success as collateral and something very unique to offer and that is: The single greatest tool ever shared in public to get a team off the ground the right way, eliminating a ridiculous amount of wasted time and money.  Our advice is this: Find ways to have fun, find ways to offset the costs, find ways to learn from others, find ways to improve.  You can find how to do all this on the internet or by asking around, but it’s in fragments and you can’t necessarily trust what you read online.  There is a consolidated view into all of this, from our perspective anyway, in the form of this book.

Q4F: You have a book, The Book on Competition BarbequeVolume 1- Priceless for Beginners, Perfect for the Pros -, which has great info in it for a team that is starting out. Why did you guys decide to write it and share your “secrets”? 
HGoGA: Boiling it down, the book has three goals, really. 

The 1st: We’ll be honest – it helps us offset the costs of competing.  It’s one of our foundational rules and we’d be silly not to use all outlets to do just that. 

The 2nd: Because we genuinely do NOT want anyone to waste the time and money we did learning the basics.  We can tell you with a straight face that we spent much more than 100x the cost of that book learning everything we put in that book.  It’s a resource, in hindsight, we would have loved to have and so, we wrote it.  Of course we share all our recipes and techniques, but it’s so much more than this.  It’s a guide on how to go about it, to create a lasting environment for your team, to be able to do it for years in the future without unnecessary stress.

The 3rd: We are ambassadors of the sport, we want to see it grow.  We’d love to see it become the biggest sport in America.  If this book helps just a few teams get into the sport that wouldn’t have otherwise, well then we did something right because the odds are at least one of those teams will drag in a new one and they will drag in a new one and so on.  Seeing this sport grow and succeed is important.

Q4F: Can you give one piece of advice for those who want to cook BBQ? 
HGoGA: Learn your cooker.  With enough practice and effort, just about any cooker worth a darn can cook the way you want it to, it just takes knowing it in and out.  Learn the hot spots, learn the cool spots, learn what it does on a windy day, on a cold day, learn what it does when you sing to it, praise it and scream at it!  At the same time you are learning your cooker you can try out different rubs and sauces…but getting the food cooked right should be priority #1.  We see people win with trash cans, we see people win with Jambos…the same basic principal is at work:  The winners know their cookers.  Rubs and sauces are ever evolving and always there to fine tune once the cooker is known inside and out.

Q4F: What is your favorite meat to cook? What is your favorite to eat? 
HGoGA: This is easy.  My favorite thing to cook are pork spare ribs, which is actually a new found love for me.  I’ve been the chicken guy on the team for a while now and chicken was always up there….but I’ve been spending a lot of time cooking ribs lately and I just love it.  It’s a good blend of needing some TLC, yet not an overnight cook.  Good competition ribs and chicken come in at a tie for me, in terms of taste buds.  I love them both when done right and couldn’t possibly choose.

Q4F: Do you cook anything special for fathers day for your family? 
HGoGA: It depends on how far back we go.  I used to be a burger / brat guy for simplicity sake.  However, I’ve become quite a pizza nerd over the last few years.  I think it’s safe to say I’ve cooked somewhere around 500 pizzas the last 3 years on my Kettle Pizza.  I’ve tried so many dough recipes it’s dizzying.  Anyhow, this is the father’s day meal of choice in our house now.  I usually smoke some chicken and sausage the day before and use it for toppings.

Q4F: What is the strangest thing you have ever cooked on a pit? 
HGoGA: It depends on how you define ‘cook’ and ‘pit’ but HGOGA has a pretty good story about a lemon and how said lemon stood the test of time.  I’ll leave this one open ended and if you ever see us on the circuit……it’s a good one to ask about after a flabongo or two.

Thanks again to Hot Grill on Grill Action for taking the time to answer a few questions and share their insights on BBQ. If you see them at a competition stop by and say. "hi" and ask them how they got their name. 

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