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Exclusive: 'BBQ Pitmasters' judges Tuffy Stone, Moe Cason talk tasty BBQ

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When it comes to creating truly great BBQ, Tuffy Stone and Moe Cason, who serve as judges on the Destination America reality TV show "BBQ Pitmasters," are masters of the craft. Examiner caught up with the smoker-savvy duo on June 26 for an exclusive interview which featured their thoughts on the show as well as a hearty helping of BBQ tips for aspiring at-home cooks.

For lay cooks who don't know a whole lot about the subject, what is the difference between plain old grilling and BBQ?

Tuffy: BBQ tends to refer to some of your cuts of meat that might take a little more time on the cooker to get those meats broken down to a state of tender. For us we're BBQing ribs today, we're tailgaiting at the races. You can cook great BBQ on a smoker, a cooker, or a grill, if that's the only tool you have. We've tried real hard to create some recipes, share some of our methods and our techniques, and we put them all on the website ReadySetRibs.com to share with your [readers] how to do that. BBQ takes longer, grilling tends to be maybe a pork chop, just grilled. Ribs, pork shoulders, we're going to be BBQ those, even if they're on the grill.

Okay, so it's a more involved process then.

Moe: Yes. With grilling, that's generally 300 degrees and above. Anything below 300 is more considered BBQing.

What tips do you guys have for BBQers who want to become pitmasters?

Tuffy: If we're talking about backyard BBQers wanting to cook competition-level quality ribs.... If they're already got a grill --even if it's a gas grill-- they don't need to go out and buy anything. They can use the tool that they have. If you're cooking ribs on a charcoal grill or a gas grill, what you want to do is set it up with two zones of heat. So if it's a gas grill, you want to turn off one of your burners and create a lower temperature on part of that grate, and then keep a low to moderate flame on your other grate.... If you're cooking with charcoal, you want to have half of the bottom of the pit with charcoal and the other half with none at all so you work that meat back and forth. And you want to season these ribs. We went out to Walmart today and they had some beautiful baby back and St. Louis cut ribs. We got some seasoned ingredients and here we are working our St. Louis cut spare recipe.

Moe: A tip that I can give you is when you go and choose your St. Louis style ribs, what you want to do is when you turn the rib over, there's a membrane here on this rib. You want to remove that membrane. You can use a knife, you can use a skewer. Get a paper towel or towels and rip that membrane off. What that's going to do is give you a better rib at the end. When this is left on and cooked, it'll take on a wax paper type texture that's unpleasant in the mouth. It'll also allow slow seasoning and sauce to penetrate the back side of that rib [and will give you] a better overall experience eating that rib.

Oh, I totally know what you mean when you talk about the wax paper! I've definitely had that experience in the past and wondered what it was.

Tuffy: Yes. Just some simple things that can take anybody's ribs to the next level: Remove the membrane. Season those ribs... and give it a nice good liberal coating on each side to where you don't really see much of the pork. And then you let it sweat or dissolve, and those salts and sugars and spices starts to soak into that meat. You put it on your [pit] --you want to give it the right amount of smoke. When it's mahogany brown, it's probably got the right amount of smoke. We want to taste this delicious pork. We want the smoke, the spice, the sauce to be backdrop flavors, and you really want to cook it til it's juicy tender. No one wants a tough rib so cooking it long enough, 200 to 205 internal temperature... don't over smoke it, use aluminum foil. Once it's got that nice color, use aluminum foil and put it back on the tent. But cook it until it's tender. No one wants a tough rib.

I'm going to switch to "BBQ Pitmasters" for a minute here. Moe, I know you just finished your first season as a judge. What are some things you learned from that experience, and how did it differ from being a contestant?

Moe: For me personally, it was a great experience for me. It just allowed me to be able to tell the viewer at home how I feel about BBQ, and it was just a great experience. It has made me a better judge, it has made me a better cook. It's all-around a positive thing for me.

Tuffy, I'm going to put you on the spot here for a second and ask you what might be kind of a hard question. I know you've been a show judge for quite a while now, so who delivered the single most delicious piece of meat you've had on the show?

Tuffy: Oh wow, I've had some good ones. Some of the ones that stick out.... Johnny Trigg served a really delicious rib to us one time that went to a level that blew my mind. Melissa Cookston, she turned in a pork shoulder one time that was just, like, out of this world, out-of-body experience kind of eating. There's been so many great ones, but those are two that come out.

I know that both of you have very different cooking roots. Tuffy, you're classically trained and Moe, self-taught. Do you feel like you've learned anything new from working together?

Tuffy: I've learned that we both are great friends, we both cook great BBQ and we like to eat it.

Moe: You know that saying 'never trust a skinny cook'? That's a lie because I trust this man right here. He is an outstanding cook, he's a friend, he's a mentor, he's just a great guy.

Tuffy: We gotta go, but go to ReadySetRibs.com. You can get some recipes, some helpful techniques.

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