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Saints vs Cowboys Tailgate party

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
I am a member of the Saintsreport forums and volunteered to host the SR tailgate party for our local game here in Shreveport yesterday. I will go over a few things that I learned from my day along with what I did and would do differently. I only wish I had found this forum much sooner, because perhaps my results could have been better. Not that there were any problems, in fact most folks said it was the best meat they had ever tasted, and it was pretty dog gone good, I just strive for perfection.

First things first, setting up a party this size, 100-200 people, is a MASSIVE UNDERTAKING not to be taken lightly. Trying to coordinate people all with what to bring and what time to show up is difficult, but with enough PMs, IMs, and Cell phone numbers things can and will finally come together. I ended up buying the majority of the meat and having folks merely "kick in" once they showed up. Given the chance, I would suggest buying as much as you can afford yourself and simply getting contributions or donations or whatever. It worked for me and will be less of a headache than trying to coordinate who is bringing buns and who is bringing beans and so forth.

Second, do as much of the prep work as you can as early as possible. Time WILL be short once you start bringing things together, so if you know you will need to pack tables, chairs, tents, wood, charcoal, and other non-perishable stuff, get it packed in the truck and ready to go because once it is GO time you can not be dilly-dallying trying to load stuff. This was my first problem of the day. I woke up early to try and get everything packed in the truck, but loading down for a party of this size is an ordeal and took me 2 hours to get everything in and strapped down on the trailer and truck bed.

Third, arrange to have folks meet you early to set up. I had a couple guys meet me at the Stadium and basically told them, if it is in the truck, take it out and set it up. They put up tents and arranged chairs and card tables. I used a 4X8 sheet of plywood across 2 sawhorses as my serving table and once covered with a cheapo table cloth nobody knew the difference.

Fourth, remember meat safety. I marinated my ribs overnight in a styrofoam cooler with apple juice and Jack Daniels and laid frozen water bottles across the top to keep the temps cold. My Briskets I soaked in a bottle of Lea and Perrins, half a bottle of soy, and a bottle of Sam Adams. I sliced through the fat cap in diagonal fashion every 2 inches or so to allow the marinate to permeate into the meat. Another member donated some chickens, but I did not think they stayed cool enough, so I am throwing them all away. No way I was going to kill off a bunch of my SR buddies with bad meat! Alas, meat safety is better to air on the side of caution.

Fifth, start your fire EARLY! First thing I did when I showed up was take my small grill off the back of the trailer and set it up. This is another home-made grill that is 16" round made from a forklift rim and 2-16" discs from a tiller. It is a wonderful grill for cooking steaks and keeps a nice hot fire going for direct cooking. It really holds in the heat since it is so thick. I fired it up with regular kingsford and once the coals got going well, I dumped a couple of large chunk charcoal bricks in. I then dumped a 10 lb sack of chunk charcoal in the fire pit of the Dragon and get it set up. Once the chunks in the small grill were going well, I moved them over to the Dragon and covered them up with the chunk charcoal. I placed a fan on top to blow down across the coals and voila, we have ignition! Then I started placing my Oak and Pecan logs into the small grill to pre-burn them and get them ready to add as well.

This was where my next problem occurred. I was having problems getting the smoke stack temps up to where I wanted, but eventually had to go with what I had. Next time I will start out with much more fuel and regulate with the intake more so instead of trying to add logs to keep the temps where I wanted.

Sixth lesson I learned was hydration. It was HOT! Very hot!! I drank a full 32-half liter case of water during the day as well as a 12 pack of gatoraid and was still badly dehydrated. I brought 2 cases of beer with me, and those same 2 cases are in the cooler in the truck still. Make sure you have a couple of towels as well. Carry one of them around with you at all times and keep the sweat off your face and out of your eyes. Dunk it into the cooler if you get to hot and drape it over your head and shoulders to drop your temperature down. Do this often. A cook that is flat on his back doesn't cook much meat!! There were people around me, walking through, that had heat stroke and none of them were standing next to a 400 degree firebox and 200 degree smoke stack. Don't die! Dying stinks and is not recommended!!

Seventh lesson I learned was to add time to everything. IF you think something will take 6 hours, allow 8. Something can and will go wrong which will delay your cooking times. In my case, it was smoke stack temps. I was fighting them all day long to keep them up. Again, I learned my lessons about using more fuel, but hopefully this is a lesson others can take from my experiences.

Next thing, and semi-related to #7 is that it takes a while to get the smokestack temps up once you lay 25lb of briskets and 10 slabs of ribs inside. I laid the briskets across the bottom rack of the dragon and the ribs on the top 3 racks. It was FULL of meat and it took a LONG time to get the temps back over 200.

Calculate how much wood you think you will need and then bring more! Cooking for lots of folks takes lots of fuel, so bring lots. I had maybe 75lb of oak and 100lb of pecan and wish I had more. I still have a couple sticks left over, but as mentioned multiple times above, I need to start with more and add more frequently to keep the temps up.

Another thing to consider is people always wanting to look at your meat or your rig. I had TONS of people asking to see inside. They wanted to gawk at the meat and had to tell them no. Some got semi-offended I would not open it up, but with my temp problems, no way was I going to let what I had built up escape. I told folks when it was time to baste that they could look then, but not before.

Now to the actual cooking and times. As said above, I had 10 slabs of ribs on the top 3 racks and 2 briskets down below. I let them go for 2 hours before I cracked the doors to check. Everything was looking fine even though the temps were only about 210. I had squirt bottles loaded with basting goodness. One was apple juice with a couple shots of Jack Daniels for good measure and the other was a Lea and Perrins, Soy, and Sam Adams blend. I sprayed the meat down with the basting stuffage and added some hot-link sausage before closing it back up.

An important thing to note here is to have some wood ready to go on once you close it back up because it will take a few to get back up to temps. I had 3 or 4 sticks of wood on the small grill charring so once I closed it back, I tossed those in and drank some water. Every time I opened the doors required me to load in more wood, so be prepared for that and have things ready to go. Fuel Fuel Fuel. Have I stressed this enough yet? It was the biggest lesson I learned throughout the day!

Since I was having problems keeping things over 200, I decided not to crack the doors again for another 2 hours. When I did, I had a guy help me with some foil in a roaster pan. He would layer it with foil and I would pull ribs out and place inside. We poured some liberal splashes of apple juice into the foil pouches and sealed them back up and put them back inside. The briskets I squirted a bunch more and it was looking REALLY NICE! Nice dark bark on both! I removed the sausage for snacking goodness, although I never actually had a chance to eat any, I had tons of folks tell me they were the best links they had ever eaten. I guess folks never smoked their links before!

This was where I started doing the math. I knew that the briskets would not be ready until after the game, but I had expected the ribs to be done. I thought kick-off was at 8, but I learned it was at 7 instead, so things became rushed. Remember earlier when I said to allow more time for everything, well this was when we had lots of folks showing up ready to eat and things were starting to come together slowly.

I had my smallish grill that I was using to cook "snacks" as well. I have an incredible grilled chicken wing recipe that is super simple, but has awesome reviews from everyone. Chicken wings dusted with Tony's, 2 sticks of butter and a large bottle of Louisiana hot sauce. Melt the butter and add the hotsauce. Stir it well and let it cook for a few then pour half over the chicken wings and let them sit for a few. Then toss them over coals flipping often to keep them from burning. Folks devoured the wings almost as fast as I could pull them off. I guess people were really hungry!

Next time I cracked the doors on the dragon, I squirted the briskets down. They were a beautiful reddish black. A quick note here is that I did the briskets fat cap down since I was using the bottom rack and they would be right over the diffuser plate. I have usually done them fat cap up on a higher rack, but this seemed to work well to smooth out any temp fluctuations.

We removed the foil pouches and tossed the ribs back in. They were still not where I wanted them to be, but things were starting to run short on time since kick-off was moved up an hour. I squirted them down and tossed a half bag of chunk charcoal in to get heat back up quickly. I know low and slow, but at this point I was looking to get my heat up so I could feed this crowd of folks. We had another grill set up with an SR member doing burgers and chicken strips to assauge the hungry masses, but the smell emanating from my smoker had everyone craving ribs!!

About 90 minutes before the game, I took the ribs out and put them into a styro-foam cooler lined with foil and let them sit for 20 minutes. At this point folks knew I had meat ready and were chomping at the bit to eat. The ribs were not nearly as tender as I wanted or expected, but they were good. An hour before kick-off is NOT the time to start serving though and some folks had to leave early to get to their seats. We went through 4 slabs and I decided to toss the other 6 back into the smoker again.

At 30 minutes before kick-off, I stoked the firebox good. I added another half bag of chunk charcoal and 6 logs. The dragon started Puffing good, but at this point, my mind drifted to the game and I knew we needed to start heading that way. I put my unopened cooler of beer inside the truck, didn't want anyone drinking the beer I was not drinking and left everything else as it sat.

No clue what temps the smoker hit for the next 3 and a half hours, but at halftime we had a humdinger of a rainstorm that thankfully dropped the air temps by 10 degrees and provided one crazy breeze. I almost started to leave at the half to check the smoker and stoke the fire again, but at $100 a ticket, I wanted to see the whole game.

After the game, I checked the firebox temps and they were down to 250 while the smoke stack was sitting at 175. The fire was mostly out, but I had told everyone to swing back through after the game for more eating goodness. Unfortunately the rainstorm chased a lot of folks out early, but those that stuck around were rewarded with some awesome brisket and some delectible ribs. There was a "block party" going on next to us and they could not help but wander over to see what the smells were. At this point, I was exhausted. I had been going steady for 2 days with only 3 hours sleep in 100+ degree temps. I grabbed the briskets out of the smoker and we started slicing after letting them rest for only 10 minutes. I just wanted to get things over with and get to sleep. We fed the block party and any remaining Saints report folks.

I have about 2 lb of brisket left and 2 slabs of ribs in the fridge. I wish I had been able to take a picture of the brisket when it came out, but it was quite dark outside. It was the prettiest I have seen in a while! The smoke ring was about 3/8ths inch deep. The ribs were all tender with some being much more tender than others. One slab literally fell apart when I was pulling it out after the game. Those went fast and I did not get to try them, but alas, I made lots of folks happy.

In short, yeah like anything about this post is short, plan ahead. Do as much stuff as you can as early as you can. Start the fire early and remember that cooking this much meat at once is an ordeal requiring LOTS OF FUEL! Keep yourself hydrated and plan on extra time for any unforseen problems. Make sure you have snacky type food for folks to eat while they wait for the primary meat to get done. The meat is done when the meat is done. Not at some predetermined time. This is not some casserole in the oven that takes 20 minutes at 325. This is meat and all meat is different.
post #2 of 9

Re: Saints vs Cowboys Tailgate party

WOW! Thanks for sharing all of that! I watched the game, saw the rain, and was thinking about your smoke. Sounds like the best eats were at the end. That was probably helpful in easing the pain of that big egg the Saints laid... Again, thanks for the wonderful post. I enjoyed reading it. Great info as well!
post #3 of 9

Re: Saints vs Cowboys Tailgate party

Zardnok that has got to be the longest thread that I have stopped and actually taken the time to read! :shock:

Great post! There is a lot of good, solid adivce in your story along with a well told tale about the event. 8)

Thanks for taking the time to bring us along to your party. It sure sounded a good time. :D
post #4 of 9

Re: Saints vs Cowboys Tailgate party

Zardnok. All I can say is WOW you had your hands full. I am often asked by the wife when the meat will be ready and she knows the answer,
It's done when it's done but I can give her an idea of when things will be ready so she can start the veggies. I have to take my hat off to you for taking on such an event. The most I have cooked for is 25 to 30 people and that was a trip so I can't imagine 100 people.

Thanks for sharing and the advice,
post #5 of 9
Thread Starter 

Re: Saints vs Cowboys Tailgate party

Some folks have asked for pictures. I have not gotten my film developed yet, but one of the forum members posted a pic of me cooking throughout the day. I thought I would post a link here so you folks could at least see what my rig, albeit from behind and closed up.

Behold, Puff the Magic Dragon with Zardnok, the mighty dragon slayer at the helm.

post #6 of 9

Re: Saints vs Cowboys Tailgate party

That is one impressive smoker. WOW

post #7 of 9
That is a nice rig, and a great report. I would not attempt to handle a cook of that size, but to each his own. Hope you have better luck on your future cooks, and would love to try out some ribs from the dragon. Do you have any idea of what stage of production you were in when the picture was taken. I see no white smoke, which is a good thing.
post #8 of 9

Re: Saints vs Cowboys Tailgate party

Hello Zardnok,

Glad to see another Saint's fan onboard. 8)

I feel your pain on the heat we been going through :evil: Look's like a kick ass rig you got there :D

Keep us posted on what's happening over on the left coast of Louisiana 8)
post #9 of 9
Thread Starter 
Well... I see two styrofoam coolers on the table, so I am going to assume that is about the time I am taking the ribs out to let them rest before initial serving. I had both coolers lined with aluminum foil and ready to go. At that point, my smoke stack temps were sitting about 215ish and my firebox temps were around 400. Ribs had been inside for close to 7 hours total.

As for whether I will ever do it again, not sure. My girlfriend forbid me to ever do it again in August!! We will see how things go next season and who knows, if the Saints come back for another Shreveport game, I will most likely be out there again with Puff fired up! I learned my lessons, so next time I will have a big head start on the party!

I will post lots more pics of my rig once I get some buddies over to help me get it off the trailer and back on the patio where it belongs.
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