Barbecue class has all the trimmings
It was obvious from the smell of the fresh barbecue brisket what brought Mike Flach last weekend from St. Louis to Zimmerman's Kill Creek Farm.
It wasn't just any brisket that's pleasing aroma filled Zimmerman's barn, but one prepared by the Leawood couple Rob and Sherri Gray, of the winning competitive team of Pellet Envy.
"It's like painting," Flach said. "Anybody can paint most of a house. It's the fine detail like trim and windows that make a professional job.
"A lot of people can cook but not with the fine details that he does. That's why he wins."
The brisket was the final lesson in the Grays' first-ever Pellet Envy Team Barbecue Competitive Cooking Class offered Friday and Saturday at Zimmerman's Kill Creek Farm, attracting 35 students from as near as Linwood and as far as the East Coast.
Although Rod was reluctant to admit to a reputation, the attendance spoke of itself about his standing in competition barbecue cooking.
"He's one of the top-10 cooks in the U.S.," said John Andres of Walnut Valley, Minn. "Kansas City is the heart and soul of barbecue, and he's as good as they get."
Last year, the Grays went to 30 contests. When the schedules aligned right, they made three during a weekend.
They won seven times and were reserve champions in four contests.
The secret to the Grays' success is their consistency, Rod said.
"Some guys are always experimenting or changing their recipes," he said. "We're very repetitive. Wherever we go, we always do the same thing.
"We've done pretty well with it."
And that repetitive routine is what the Grays shared in their class.
"We looked at what other classes were offering. They were more technique classes," Sherri said. "We shared with people every secret we have. We showed them all the products we used, how we use the product and we showed them how they are presented."
In addition to their step-by-step presentation of how they prepare, cook and present meats, the Grays' class included guest presentations from the knife manufacturer the Grays use, a meat wholesaler and a pork provider.
"I included a lot of minutia," Rod said. "My biggest concern when I scheduled was if they would find any true value in it."
No problem, Andres said. Like Flach, details were what he wanted from the class. He filled half a legal notebook with notes from the class, including a diagram of the Pellet Team's presentation box.
"I've done about nine contests and finished third at one," Andres said. "My presentation boxes have been really bad.
"My ribs have not been that good, and he was really good with ribs."
It was the second class for Robbie Atkinson of Pine Bluff, Ark. At the first in Dallas, he and other class members cooked and the instructor offered tips and criticism.
"He didn't cook a lick," Atkinson said. "I learned a lot more watching a pro cook than me getting out there stumbling around."
The Grays, who will offer another class July 6 and 7 at the American Royal, said they would like to return to De Soto for another class.
"We loved this place," Sherri said. "Mr. (Darrel) Zimmerman made arrangements with the local motel. I think we helped fill it last night. This was a good place for people with RVs."
Rod said he was happy with the students, who ranged from dedicated backyard cookers to friends met on the competitive barbecue circuit, including a recent American Royal open champion.
"He's a guy who will leave no stone unturned to stay on top of his game," Rod said.
He would "quietly" track how others in the class performed in future competitions, Rod said.
"I hope they do well," he said. "They have all our secrets. There's nothing more I can tell them."