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It’s a shame it took me so long to go on with the trail of passion. I want to excuse me to Mike Wozniak. After being chosen by Byron Chism to follow him up in the trail of passion he took his time to write down this story in between a busy competition series. Unfortunately it took me more time than I wanted to finish this post. Nevertheless am I convinced this will be an interesting read about one of KCBS’s former team of the year cooks. Please take some time to share this story by Mike Wozniak to those that might be interested. They won’t complain!
Mike Wozniak: “Interested in cooking from an early age”
My mother was a mediocre cook preferring to use a pressure cooker or pot to cook most meals. From an early age I would sit on the countertop to cook soup or pudding on the stove top. So, I learned to be self sufficient cooking wise. Some years later I started cooking myself and rolled into the BBQ scene gradually. My first experience with BBQ was with a small Brinkman water smoker. It worked ok. In 2000 we entered a couple local ribfests. At that time we were cooking ribs in the steam of a pressure cooker and finishing them over a gas grill. We weren’t very successful.
At the second ribfest we met Mike Lake who was president of KCBS at the time, he was vending at the event. From him I learned about KCBS contests and the 4 categories. I knew about chicken & ribs, but had no idea what a pork butt was and the only beef brisket I ever had was a corned beef. Mike talked my wife and I into taking a KCBS judging class. I also started building a cooker out of a 300 gallon tank.
In 2001 we cooked 5 sanctioned contests. Finally, in the final contest of that year we got our 1st call in one of the 4 meat categories: “a 3rd place in chicken”. We were hooked! I have been a competitive person my whole life, I raced motorcycles for 11 years until a industrial accident crushed my left hip ending that career. (Byron Chism also raced motorcycles) BBQ fulfilled that competitive need in me and is a lot less dangerous. Not only is BBQ competitive but, we have made many many friends on the BBQ circuit. That’s where I met Byron too.
Mike Wozniak: “As you can read, Byron Chism is a very generous person”
When I started cooking in 2001, Byron was already established as one of the top cooks in the country. We both entered many of the same contests the first few years of our career. So, getting to know Byron was a gradual process, since we competed in so many common contests. Over the years we have imposed upon Byron’s generosity by leaving our competition trailer at both his place in Florida and his rural farm in Tennessee. He has spots at the farm with RV hookups for cooks who need a place to leave their trailer plugged in for a week or two.
As you can read, Byron is a very generous person, always willing to help a fellow cook. Once Byron is your friend he is always your friend. There’s a great story about Byron I’ve missed at the moment but which lead to some funny stories afterwords. At the contest in Winchester Tennessee we skipped, Byron was unloading one of his cookers. The cook sites surround a lake. Byron wasn’t paying attention to the cooker he had unloaded and one of them got away and rolled into the water and became partially submerged. All was well, they got the cooker out. With the help of the late great Fred Gould they got the electrics dried out and functional.
Mike’s advice to beginning cooks
Over the years I gave found that beginning cooks tend to under cook and over smoke their BBQ. Too much smoke can be very bad. Meat needs just enough smoke to give a pleasant light flavor. I normally use oak or cherry chunks to add smoke flavor. Likewise, new cooks shouldn’t be afraid to cook at higher temps. The only meat we do at low temps is pork, I find it easier to remove inner silver skin when cooked at low temps. But what sticks with me as the most important piece of BBQ advice I ever received, it came from Byron, is “work on your worst category until it becomes your best!” A simple advice, but very true. For years I helped out a cooking class for a cancer charity, I always used that quote in my introduction. I believe, following that advice helped us win the 2010 KCBS Team of the year trophy. However we were pretty solid in the other three categories it had always been hit or miss with pork. But we kept trying different approaches to our worst category. Finally, we were Pork team of the Year in both 2010 and 2011. Thanks to Byron!
2010 was a stellar year for us. We won 11 Grand Championships, KCBS Team of the Year (ToY), KCBS Pork ToY, the Jack Daniels World BBQ Championship and the Kingsford (charcoal) Points Championship. My passion in BBQ is striving to improve our BBQ, through constant experimentation. We won our first Grand Championship in 2002, looking back that BBQ would be bottom of the heap in 2016. If you want to have any longevity in this sport you must constantly be improving. In this part I need to repete what Byron said, ” work on your worst category until it becomes your best”. By constantly following that advice you can’t help but improve!
The love for smoke goes deeper than BBQ
Besides my passion for BBQ which leads me to great places I also love staying my home, enjoying the country. I live on a 550 acre farm with a nice view. Over there I have a large cooking area set up in our barn with various BBQ pits and Ceramic eggs. I do a lot of test and practice cooking over there and cook some family meals. If I’m doing a BBQ dish for myself I like to do beef ribs. They are not a more commonly BBQd item but when properly cooked are a real treat.
Meanwhile I can enjoy my other passion. There’s still some smoking involved. Yet it is another kind of smoking than the BBQ related one. I’m talking about my love for fine cigars now. I have a 12 cubic foot humidor which is nearly full. I think I have pretty good taste buds and enjoy the nuances of various tobaccos and aging processes. Padron and Olive cigars are my favorite brands. But I actually like all cigars.
Following Mike Wozniak in the trail of passion:
I’m going to suggest that Scottie Johnson of Cancer Sucks Chicago follow. Scottie’s initial BBQ career was cut short when his wife was diagnosed with cancer. After her passing he started cooking again with his 2 small daughters and the help of his sister. We watched his daughters grow up on the BBQ circuit. Scottie won the 2006 Jack Daniels world championship, and has always been a tough competitor. Presently, he has curtailed his cooking since his daughters are teenagers and are involved in other activities.
Thank you Mike Wozniak for sharing your insight and advice in one of the most beautiful passions in life. I want to wish you all the succes you want with QUAU. I’m not in competition BBQ (yet?) but if we might “meat” some time in the future we’ll share a good beer and enjoy a nice piece of meat together.