We chat to Ben Arnot from Smoking Hot Confessions about getting started in Low & Slow and winning 1st place in the chicken category at the Blues and BBQ Festival in Port Macquarie using his trusty ProQ Frontier smoker!
How did you get into comp BBQ?
I first got into competition BBQ in 2014 when I went to the Australian Pitmaster Titles. It was an independent competition whose goal was to kick-off a series of backyard competitions, similar to the grassroots competitions in the US. It was there that I first met the Meat Sweats and Greg from Burleigh BBQ and they really educated me on what competition BBQ was all about as I had no idea. All I’d done before was play around a bit with recipes from the Pro Q cook book. I managed to take out first place in Beef at that comp, but I only got to hold the trophy for long enough to take a photo before my then 3 year old son declared it was his cow and I’ve never seen it again.
What was the first thing you ever cooked on the Frontier?
The first thing I ever cooked on my 1st generation Pro Q Frontier, was actually my first ever attempt at Low & Slow. I was under the tutelage of my mother-in-law who was visiting from Arkansas and was horrified when she saw my gas grill and ashamed when she saw how proud I was of it. It was on her insistence that I bought the Pro Q and then she spent the last two weeks of her visit teaching me how to use it. I followed the recipe from the Pro Q book to the letter but I chickened out in the ‘stall’ – a common rookie mistake. The shoulder ended up more like a roast than a pulled pork, with me having to very aggressively tear at it to pull it. However, the flavour was delicious and I was hooked from that moment on. I was so impressed with it that I even wrote about it in another blog that I was working on at the time. That would have been early 2013.
How long did it take to perfect your winning chicken recipe?
Hm… the winning chicken recipe… We had a collaborative team between friends who hadn’t competed together before, so everything was a fun decision based on instinct and our favourite rubs and glazes we’d brought. We knew the temp we’d be cooking at, the wood flavour we’d use on top of the quality lump charcoal and what our favourite flavours were. We went deliberately light in flavour aside from the glaze because the temptation is to go hard with smoke and spice but after 24 hours of sitting around a fire it’s sometimes hard to know if you can trust your taste buds, so we trusted experience. We used some light pecan and Mediterranean rub flavours and set the wings and breast on at the same time, using the Smartfire digital controller to keep the ProQ hovering at 280F. Small wood chunks were added every 15-20 minutes to keep the smoke mild. We did this softly softly approach to compliment the more robust flavours of spice and sugars in the glaze. Everything came out beautifully from the ProQ and it was time to slice and box!
Biggest BBQ fail?
Geez, there’s so many to pick from… I think my brisket would have to be my worst. I didn’t know anything about brisket, so I just grabbed a rolled one from the butcher, took it home, cut the strings, unrolled it, and threw it on my smoker. Well, I hadn’t trimmed any of the fat, so when the meat was done it was all soft and gooey and delicious. And we hit that fatty brisket like there was no tomorrow. We gorged ourselves on it… and then had to take the next day off work sick as we were up all night taking turns in the bathroom…
What advice do you have for someone looking to get into Low N Slow BBQ?
My biggest advice to people getting started in Low’n’Slow would be to go easy on yourself at the start. Get yourself a Pro Q – they’re compact but have a high cooking capacity, they’re reliable, consistent, and most importantly very forgiving. I’d also recommend pairing it with a Smartfire – this will allow you to focus on getting your flavour profiles sorted while the fire takes care of itself. Or, if you’re like me, you can literally cook briskets in your sleep!
Learn more about the ProQ Frontier here
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