BBQ Pitmasters In Their Own Words: Cotton Patch Cooking Crew

Last week, we had Randy Hill of Southern Krunk Burn One Boys BBQ talk about his experience of being on BBQ Pitmasters, with Charles and Alli Wilson of C-Dub’s Corruption BBQ Crew talking about their experience the week before.  I won’t waste any more time with a lengthy introduction – here’s Hank Vaiden of Cotton Patch Cooking Crew talking about BBQ Pitmasters, in his own words…

(NOTE: Images in this blog post are courtesy of Hank’s website)


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Lets begin this with a reality check – almost anyone that cooks on a grill, smokes on a pit, or competes at BBQ contest wanted to be on BBQ Pitmasters after they watched season one.  We were one of the fortunate teams that got chosen for season 3 from an audition tape sent in like so many others did. When I received the call at my restaurant, I was at a catering job and one of my waitresses called me and was hysterical and said I needed to call back to phone number about BBQ Pitmasters. I had told only a select few I had sent in an audition tape due to the fact I never thought I would be chosen, to be honest. I thought a joke was in the making, and the joke wasn’t going to be on me!!!!! In all seriousness, when I returned there was a number and it was legitimate.  So I called back and got the official word – Cotton Patch Cooking Crew was chosen to be on BBQ Pitmasters. I was excited and for a brief moment speechless. Then the wheels began to turn in my head, and it hit me: I hope I don’t make an ass of myself on national TV.

When we got all the paperwork and all the business side of things taken care of, we found out where our episode was going to be.  I was totally shocked and blown away and WORRIED – it was about 45 miles north of where we are located.  (Note from Big Wayner: Hank’s episode was the season premiere at the Don’t Be Cruel BBQ Duel in Tupelo, MS)  This was a good thing in regards to driving, but cooking at home town cooks have always been my jinx. Then the thoughts of all the locals and added pressure of being here at home shooting episode one of BBQ Pitmasters. How lucky can one man get!!!! (That’s sarcasm by the way.) I had much rather had cooked anywhere but home, but it all worked out and went rather smoothly.

Here is a little tidbit of info about Cotton Patch Cooking Crew and Hank Vaiden.  I have been cooking a lot of years… mostly MBN cooks and had been doing some KCBS cooks along the way… beginning to get into that format of cooking, I really enjoy it.  I love competing and cooking; that’s why I got into doing it, and at the same time cooking is how I make my living now.  When you find out the company you work for is going to close down,  you start thinking, “What will I do now?”  What I did is took a chance.  I turned my hobby into a career and opened Hanks BBQ, and for the last 3 years we have been blessed!  We took an old run down beer joint and turned it into one of the best BBQ joints in Mississippi.  When I told a good friend of mine (a gentleman I truly enjoy competing against) at one of the comps we were cooking that I was about to open a BBQ joint he laughed and told me,  “Hanky Panky, your damn days of cooking comps are over!”  To a degree that was true: in the last 3 years I kinda fell off the comp circuit and most of my time is now at Hanks BBQ . I still manage to cook a few comps along the way (MIM , The Big Pig Jig , Roast and Boast and Grilling on the River are a few), but for the most part I am at the store. But get ready here I come again back on the comp trail!!!!!!! I’m rambling… back to the topic at hand.

restaurant

When we arrived in Tupelo I was amazed at how a 2nd year contest (1styear with KCBS sanctioning) had so many teams. I think it was like 90 or 95 teams – it was incredible. We get to where we are supposed to be, and I was late as usual.  I meet the crew for the show and the guys I’m going to be cooking against: Solomon the Carolina Rib King and Big Jim of Bare Knuckles BBQ.  They were extremely nice guys – friendly and all that good stuff – but at the same time I had never heard of either one of them. I thought to myself Hank you haven’t cooked in three years, but I take competitors for what they are: competitors.  Bare Knuckles BBQ and Carolina Rib King were my 2 obstacles at a chance for 50 grand.  I don’t ever judge a book by its cover, and I never underestimate anyone because on any given day, you can get your ass beat.  That’s the cold hard truth… test the theory and go to a cook thinking it will be a cake walk.  Odds are you’ll get your feelings hurt at the end of the day, and that makes for a long ride home!!!!! So my game plan was to do what I do and cook my cook.  I didn’t care how they approached it.  All I thought about was the cash (well, and the title of being BBQ Pitmasters grand champion), but I looked at it one step at a time.  First step was to get through the first round.

So we’re standing there getting ready to kick this thing off and find out just what in the hell we are going to be cooking.  I open my cooler and what do I see: brisket. My first thought was that I can cook this – I’m familiar with it and have cooked them and been competitive in brisket.  Then the real fun begins when I find out that we have tri-tip. Guess what my thoughts were then?????  If you watched the show I wasn’t so excited about tri-tip.  Hell, I had never seen one let alone a cooked one, but I wasn’t scared (often one of my downfalls).  For damn sure, I wasn’t going to ask anyone how the hell to cook this thing. I looked at the tri tip and thought its just a damn steak I’ll cook it like one.  So we start prepping the brisket and did all the things we always do: trimming, injecting, and the other traditional stuff.  Then there was the tri tip prep… I looked at Richard, he looked at me, and I’m sure we looked like Shaggy and Scooby Doo looking at each other.  I said to him, “Hell it looks like a steak so lets cook it like a steak.”  And that’s what we did. I did know that tri-tip was a big thing on the west coast, but we were in North Mississippi and not on the west coast. So we didn’t inject, but we trimmed it a little and then rubbed it and let it be. Steaks don’t take long to cook and I decided to just let the cards fall where they may. Well I didn’t exactly care for how the cards fell at all, especially after hearing we lost by 1 point. Cotton Patch isn’t ashamed: we turned in a damn good brisket and the tri-tip was on as well. Guess what I have won with my worst and lost with my best. That’s why its called a competition.

Overall my experience of being allowed to participate on BBQ Pitmasters was great. I want to thank John Markus and all the staff for allowing Cotton Patch Cooking Crew to enjoy the experience.  Also to all the crew that worked so hard to bring everyone 42 minutes of TV, you guys were amazing to work with!!!!!!!!!  Until you see what goes into doing a TV show, the behind the scenes work, and how many people it takes to bring it all together… it’s amazing!!!!!  As for the judges, they were all gentlemen… truly great guys that knew their business and did their job. They judged a contest. In winding this down the thing that really amazed me the most afterwards was the negative comments and smartass BBQ critics. Some of those I truly hope we get to encounter out on the road!!!!!!!


I hope you enjoyed reading Hank’s account of being on BBQ Pitmasters. Tonight at 8pm EST, Gettin’ Sauced with Draper’s BBQ will have Hank on the show to talk further about his appearance.  I’ll be on there as well to help out.  You can tune in at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/bbqsuperstars/2012/08/02/gettin-sauced-with-drapers-bbq-1.  If you have any questions that you want to ask Hank, you can email Shane at [email protected] or myself at [email protected].