The winter off-season doesn't last long for local competitive barbecue teams.
This month, the Q2U Cook Team of Lake Wylie was crowned South Carolina's best pit masters by the S.C. Barbeque Association. Chester's Palmetto Cookers finished third in the state.
Similar to NASCAR, South Carolina competitive barbecue is based on a points system. Contests are held across the state throughout the year.
Recently, The Herald talked with Mark Cieslikowski of Q2U and Larry "Big Larry" Stewart of The Palmetto Cookers about what barbecue warriors do on their month off, what makes good barbecue and what beer goes best with their pork.
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Comments have been edited for brevity.
Q. What do you do in the off-season?
Q2U: "You make sure the cookers are working right. If you want to make any changes, this is when you do it. But really ... we don't have much of an off-season."
Palmetto Cookers: "Work. ... This is just a hobby. Off-season, I usually cut wood for my smoking wood -- Hickory wood -- and start the drying process, getting ready for the next season."
Q. Do you eat barbecue when you're not competing?
Q2U: "When we're cooking in a competition, we'll cook the whole hog or (Boston) butts, or whatever and you won't even see me taste it. ... I'm standing there and I smell that Hickory for two straight days and the last thing I want to do is eat barbecue. And that's just me. Now, when I'm away from it, like if we go to a restaurant ... I like to try it other places."
Palmetto Cookers: "Very seldom. ... I get enough of it during competition. Most cooks will tell you they enjoy cooking it more than they do eating it."
Q. Any changes for next year?
Q2U: "We're gonna start out in Orangeburg doing what we've been doing here (in) the last year. ... The main thing with barbecue and competition is consistency."
Palmetto Cookers: "I'm all the time changing my rub and my sauce. So I've fine-tuned my rub a little bit, and I've got a new rub that I'm going to be using in the first contest in January."
Q. What beer goes best with your barbecue?
Q2U: "I drink Mich Ultra and Brian (Rich) drinks Miller Lite, so I mean that's pretty much what goes best with it."
Palmetto Cookers: "I don't drink much beer ... When we do toasts, we'll toast with a Budweiser."
Q. Which part of the process is the most important? Sauce? Dry rub?
Q2U: "The sauce has a lot to do with it. We make our own dry rub, too. That has a lot to do with it. The amount we mix with the pork ... the time and temperature we cook it at to get the consistency. ... If it gets overcooked, it gets really mushy. You want a little stiffness to it. And you can adjust for that."
Palmetto Cookers: "I think the rub and the sauce are the two most important things. You hear people saying that the secret's in the sauce and I think there's a lot to that."
Q. Any chance you'd share what's in your sauce or dry rub?
Palmetto Cookers: "I'll be glad to give you some of it, but I can't give you the recipe."