Wednesday, June 12, 2013

BBQ U (Colorado Springs, CO)

Bike Airplane:  Boeing 737-800
Route:  Flight Aware

I promise the next post will be a good old-fashioned Countryside Food Ride on the KTM, but it's gonna take something special to beat this trip. This is the first CFR using a jet plane and it was the best three-day vacation I've ever had.

To back up a bit, I spent the first seven or eight years after college living in a series of small apartments in Chicago, Nashville, and Pasadena -- small enough that I didn't have any room for a grill. So when I moved back home to Kentucky at the end of 2004 the first thing I purchased was a Weber kettle grill, and I grabbed a copy of Steven Raichlen's How to Grill at the same time. These two things go very well together for a new griller, and so began my fire cooking journey.

Over the years I've learned that after a hard workday (or week) nothing is more satisfying and relaxing than spending a couple hours prepping and grilling a meal for folks who appreciate it. For me, it's downright therapeutic. I've since picked up a Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker, built a Wood-Fired Pizza Oven, and collected several more grilling books (including my favorite, BBQ USA). We cook with fire four-to-five times per week year 'round. Between the grill and the wok (which I use outdoors and often on the grill), I really don't bother with the indoor stove/oven for much. That's my wife's territory; you'll find me outside.

I've heard mentions of Raichlen's Barbecue University over the years, but I never considered making the trip until I read Larry Olmsted's article for Forbes last year. It sold me. [At the end of the Forbes article, Olmsted acknowledges that he was a guest of The Broadmoor and he says that did not influence his BBQ U review. I was a paying guest and I agree with everything he said. I re-read his review after I returned home, and in retrospect I consider his story to be spot-on and very credible.]

Coincidentally, my wife was trying to plan a summer trip at the same time the 2013 BBQ U dates were announced. She wanted to do Hawaii, but neither of us could take a whole week off work. We'd never visited Colorado, and the BBQ U dates worked great for us, so here we go...

This is the first time I've used the new GoPro Hero3.
I think I dig it.

Sometimes the middle seat is OK.


The Broadmoor.
Hello, Beautiful.

The drive down to Colorado Springs was nice (I especially appreciate the 75 MPH speed limits), and we were suitably impressed when we arrived at The Broadmoor. I didn't do much research before the trip because I wanted to be surprised, and that made it fun. This is definitely the first time we've stayed at a AAA Five-Diamond resort. For a great description of the property, here's another Forbes article by Olmsted that depicts this impressive setting better than I can with words. I'll stick to pictures... a lot of pictures!

Recipe book (nearly 60 pages) and swag.

Told ya this place was pretty.

BBQ U Welcome Reception.

Whoa! The welcome reception the night before Day One was supercool. After we signed in, Mr. Raichlen himself was the first person to greet us and we met a lot of interesting folks from all over -- not just all over the US, but all over the world. The East Coast and the Midwest were well represented, and I think there were more folks from Texas than anywhere else. Over the next few days I also met students from as far away as Austria and Hong Kong.

The Broadmoor is known for its outstanding restaurants and each one of them had a chef or two serving small samples of their specialties at this party. I don't even remember what kind of veggie and dessert dishes my wife tried, but I sampled things like Duck Foie Gras Terrine, Chilled Steelhead Salmon 'Parisienne,' House-Made Charcuterie, Escargot Persillade, Dungeness Jumbo Lump Crab Cake, Hand-Chopped Beef Tartare, Smoked Pork Carnitas Tacos, and Huli Huli Chicken Sliders. They even made familiar staples like Deviled Eggs and Chicken Pot Pie taste better than they should.

If you ever attend BBQ U, do not miss the reception!

Woohoo! We're finally at BBQ U!

After dinner we walked off the meal by roaming around the property before heading back to the room. I was too excited to sleep. For real.

BBQ U Day One

Cheyenne Mountain Lodge.

Each morning we took a shuttle up the hill to Broadmoor's Cheyenne Mountain Lodge where a breakfast buffet was waiting. That same dining area was used for lunch later, and the other half of the lodge was setup as our classroom and work area. This space was nicely arranged with each row of seats being elevated so everyone had a good view of the stage, and two big TV monitors showed the action on Raichlen's cutting board as he demonstrated the techniques required for each recipe.


And here then is the reason why people sign up for BBQ U...
It's the patio of our dreams!

The smoker section.

Two Big Green Eggs start the charcoal section.

The charcoal grills give way to wood cookers, including a WFO in the corner.

We finish up with the gas/hybrid/infrared behemoths and a nice mountain view.

Each morning before class, Mr. Raichlen leads The Firemen into action.
(A handful of folks are deputized and put in charge of getting the lump charcoal going in chimney starters so the coals are ready when we are ready to cook.)


All three days are structured about the same -- we start off in the classroom where Raichlen discusses and demonstrates each recipe, and along the way groups of volunteers peel off in teams to prep each dish for the grill. When the dishes are ready we go outside to cook on the patio. Each team later plates their final product just in time for lunch. Then we feast.

There was probably more classroom time on the first day, as housekeeping/scheduling details were discussed before Raichlen delivered an enjoyable opening lecture briefly covering the history of live fire cooking and some key concepts that we need to keep in mind while we cook over the next three days. If you visit BBQ U, pay attention on Day One because there is a final exam!

I somehow found myself sitting in the media section (not that there was an official media section). Next to me was Tim from Cooking Light, and they also had Matt the Photographer on hand for Day One. Nice folks. I bought a subscription when I got home, and I think I'll get some great ideas from them about how to use our CSA baskets each week. Sitting behind me was Daniel from Texas Monthly BBQ and Derrick from About.Com. I'll update this space with links to their stories when I see them.

UPDATE (6/21/13):  The Cocktail Farmers couple (introduced below on Day Two) are writing about their BBQ U experience on their friend's blog here. Check it out -- they recount details that I didn't think to mention, and they are doing separate posts for each day. I look forward to viewing the next two.

On Day One, we had a guided tour of the patio and a brief overview of the various grills & smokers.

I was really happy to see these Brazilian rotisseries.
The one on the right folds up like a suitcase... a big heavy suitcase!
It would be awesome for tailgating.

I've read about them, and since I'll probably never own one it was nice to see them in action.

I was not on a cooking team on the first day, so I had plenty of time to walk around and see the various grills in action. It was fun cooking on the following days, but it was just as much fun spectating today.

This big rotisserie-style pepper roaster from Roast 'Em Up was put to good use on one side of the patio.

On the other side of the patio some peppers were roasting in a fashion I'm more familiar with.

Here's a good view of the charcoal section that features several kettle grills not pictured above.

Cooking Light & Texas Monthly BBQ snapped pictures of Day One's funnest project.
So did I.
So did everyone!

Pork chops grilled on shovels directly on the coals.

One of the things I really like about Raichlen's approach to grilling is that he likes to have fun. Not everything is done simply because it makes the food taste better. Sometimes you grill on a shovel because it's cool, and because your neighbor doesn't do it, and because your guests won't forget it. It's OK to plan ahead and take pride in your perfect grill marks, and then plate your food in an attractive way that impresses your friends before they are even more impressed when they taste your grilled treats. If you're proud of your work it, show it off!

That being said, the shovel thing isn't just a gimmick. Those pork chops were awesome and it was neat to watch the smoke curl up around the shovel and flavor the meat in a way that probably wouldn't happen if you were using a cast iron pan, for example. I've tried Raichlen's Caveman T-Bone recipe before, and it was a home run even though I charred that steak a bit too much. It's primal, and it's fun. It should always be fun.

Day One on The Broadmoor's BBQ U patio.

Hopefully we'll see one of these dishes in a magazine soon.

Grilled veggies, beautifully presented.

Buffa-Que Shrimp.

BBQ U Day One Lunch Spread.

I have to mention the Smoked Creme Brulee shown in the bottom left corner. Talk about a crowd pleaser! I didn't get any pictures of the action, but the sugar is carmelized with a hot iron fresh off the coals instead of a blow torch and that step puts on quite a show. The ladies who did the work say the iron actually vibrates while it hisses and blows smoke this way and that. Of course I purchased Steven's Cast Iron Creme Brulee set when I got home. My wife and my mom are gonna dig this. Kids will, too...

When it comes to presentation, the Tuna Team was pretty slick!

Day One Lunch (first plate).

Class II of BBQ U XIV.
[Thanks to BBQ U for the photo.]

Yeah, I wore a football jersey each day. Why? Partly to confirm my wife's believe that I'm a fool, but mostly because they said the dress code was grilling casual and I most often grill in football jerseys. I'm usually sweating half-to-death while standing over a grill in the Kentucky heat & humidity, but the weather was perfect in Colorado. Even though Colorado Springs hit record temperatures on Day One (98 degrees) and Day Two (97 degrees), it was very comfortable with just 2% humidity. Some of the locals didn't seem so happy with the heat, but we thought it felt great.

After lunch we have the rest of the day free, so Les & I did the typical tourist things in the afternoons. She spent this morning in the fitness center and the spa before joining us for lunch, and we spent the rest of the day driving up and down Pikes Peak.

Pikes Peak Highway.
Tollgate in the background.

The starting line for the Pikes Peak Hill Climb is already setup and I have a rental Jeep to thrash?
Start the stopwatch!

I'm a huge fan of almost all motorsports, and I've been watching Pikes Peak Hill Climb footage for as long as I can remember. I don't think my wife even believed they raced up this road before we encountered the starting line setup for the races that take place later this month. This place is special. Right up there with Indy and Laguna Seca, now that I think about it. I later spent a couple hours just watching Pikes Peak videos when we got back to the room. My favorite is Monster Tajima's record-setting 2011 run below, before the road was fully paved. [It is now 100% paved and this record was beat by only a few seconds in 2012.]

Glen Cove, just below the timberline.
Monster arrived here in just four-and-a-half minutes, and he blasted through that gate at triple-digit speeds.
It took us 14 minutes, and we stopped for a break.

Just above Glen Cove is one of my favorite corners in the world of racing, mostly just because it looks cool.
I put it up there with Laguna Seca's Corkscrew, Indy's Turn One, and Spa's Eau Rouge.
I held a perfect line at 20 MPH going up and down.
Monster might have carried a little more speed through this turn at the 4:50 mark of his record-setting run.


We made it.

Forget all that stopwatch talk bravado. This was the scariest drive of my life. Nearly every part of the road above the timberline is downright terrifying. I will never never ever do this again. Next time, we're taking the Pikes Peak Cog Railway! Mad respect for Monster and the other consistently fast folks who race against the clock on this mountain road (Unsers, Millens, etc.). And super mad respect for the guys who do it on motorcycles. Unbelievable. Now that the road is paved, I think a bike might take the overall record soon. Hopefully a KTM does it, but the fastest guys are on electric bikes this year for some reason.

On the bright side, I've never driven a motor vehicle to such heights. PB! I've hiked Mt. Whitney, which is a few hundred feet higher, but we park and camp at 8,000 feet there. I wonder how many roads are paved up above 14,000? I don't really want to find out.

It's fifty degrees colder here than it was on my favorite patio.

America the Beautiful.

The cog railway track as it rounds the final corner right at the summit.

It's warm in there, and they have donuts.

Eating donuts on top of the world while the train pulls in.
They didn't have white milk here. Dude said it explodes before it reaches the summit.

Leaving the summit, terrified again.

Visible in the video above are crazy spectators who actually stand on the outside of these guardrails during the race.

This is one beautiful ribbon of road.
Monster attacks this section between 5:35 and 6:10 in his video.

Same spot.
This should be a Jeep ad.
Call me, Jeep!

Not quite as terrifying as the stuff up above.

Back below the timberline.
Ciao, Pikes Peak Highway...

I'll end Day One with an even cooler and scarier bonus video -- Greg Tracy's sub-ten 2012 ride. I now laugh at my original plan to rent a bike and ride to the summit. That would have been a waste of money and it's never gonna happen!

BBQ U Day Two

Back in the classroom after breakfast.

I was surprised to see how many products SR had on display.
I was more surprised to see how many products are for sale at Barbecue Bible.
Back home, I purchased a few items that I found helpful here at BBQ U.

I was on the Tandoori Lamb Rib team for Day Two.
Cooking is more fun when somebody measures and prepares all your ingredients!

The chutney was prepared and the ribs were marinating in no time.
Ready for go time.

Another fun thing at BBQ U is the little side projects that students are encouraged to take on with left over ingredients.
Finished with our rib prep early, I helped a nice lady from Texas with these beef skewers.
Sadly, I lost track of them once we started grilling and never got to taste one...

Tandoori Lamb Ribs ready for the big Big Green Egg.
This was my first experience with a BGE.

This Kalamazoo gas/charcoal/wood hybrid was one of my Favorite Four grills on the patio.
Here it is cooking one of my favorite treats of the week -- a Brazilian-Style Stuffed Prime Rib Roast .

I never knew Lodge made a Hibachi-style grill like the one on the left. Tailgating option?
And I've used my wok for tea smoking chicken and poultry, but I've never seen a wok converted into a grill as shown in this FireGrill setup on the right.

Day Two on The Broadmoor's BBQ U patio.

The ribs are cooked and it's time to make them pretty.

Tandoori Lamb Ribs w/ Three Herb Chutney.

Team Tandoori.
Thanks to my teammates for making us look good, because I didn't do much!
Charlie from Chicago was on his third BBQ U visit, and the couple on the left run a fun blog called Cocktail Farmers.
I think I made some new friends. I hope so, anyway.

The previously pictured Prime Rib deserves another picture, for sure.
Wow. It was as good as it looked...

BBQ U Day Two Lunch Spread.

About five minutes later...
You really do eat what you cook at BBQ U!

Day Two Lunch (first plate).

Back at The Broadmoor...

...where my wife had spent a pleasant morning at the pool.

On this afternoon we visited Garden of the Gods.

Balancing Rock, at one of the park entrances.

A Segway tour? That actually looks like fun.

Wife's iPhone photo.

GoPro photo from just down the road.

I hate to spoil the mood and be a downer, but I can't discuss this trip without mentioning the fires. On the ride up to the lodge this morning I talked to the driver about the weather and he mentioned the Waldo Canyon fire from last year. We agreed that the conditions were all too perfect for another bad deal. Five hours later it actually happened. This afternoon was especially windy and especially hot -- it reminded me of the Santa Anna winds in Southern California -- and once the fire started there was nothing they could do to contain it. For our last 18 hours in Colorado Springs the TV and radio stations broadcast fire evacuation info 24/7, and by the time we got home it was already declared the worst fire in Colorado history. It eventually consumed more than 500 homes.

FLASHBACK:  A photo of the Waldo Canyon Fire near Garden of the Gods one year ago.
[Thanks to Jeff from The Broadmoor for this image, and the friendly conversations each day.]

Today's new Black Forest Fire as seen from Garden of the Gods.


I took these two pictures exactly two-and-a-half hours apart.
They never had a chance...

Smokey sunset back at The Broadmoor.
Eerily pretty.

BBQ U Day Three

Beautiful morning.


I think more people were cooking on the final day than either of the previous two days.
[You can cook as much as you want, but everybody has to volunteer for at least one recipe.]
Today's theme was "tailgating," and I'd like to think I was dressed appropriately!

I was on the brisket team.
This was our brisket stuff.

It didn't take long to get the meat rubbed down...

...and get the sauce started on a side burner...

...and get everything loaded into this offset smoker.
After that, it was time to see what everyone else was up to.

If the professor is taking pictures of your Smoked Cherry Crisp, then you know your dessert looks good!

Smoked Slaw getting started.
I tried this recipe back home and it was a big hit.

Wood-Fired Mac & Cheese.
My wife has already requested this one next time we fire up the pizza oven.

My new friend Jody (and fellow WKU alumn -- Go Tops!) was on a team that did great stuff with Salmon this afternoon.
On the left you can see a Grilling Grate Oiler Brush. I ordered one of these handy tools when I got back home.

Here's another member of my Favorite Four.

Regrettably, I did not note who manufactures and sells this work of art, but it is great for cooking over wood and I think it would be ideal for making our beloved semi-local Monroe County-Style BBQ (perhaps with different grates). The cooking height can be quickly adjusted using that wheel on the right, so it's easy to keep your cooking temp right where you want it.

I'm paraphrasing here, but Raichlen said something that really hit home when discussing these units that are well equipped for using wood as fuel. People often debate charcoal vs. gas, but the real debate should be wood vs. not wood. I've tried cooking over wood coals on my Weber kettle with mixed results -- it's not quite big enough for the task. I've cooked 18 inches above a wood fire with great results using my WSM with the water pan removed. And I've had my best results on the fire pit. I think this grill would be most like the fire pit, with the added bonus of quicker and easier height adjustment.

Today this grill was used for burgers.

Fire-Eater Wings on the Traeger.
I do have experience with this same grill and I love it.
I also loved these wings and I made them for the boys the day after we got home.

In no particular order, here is the third member of my Favorite Four.
Planked salmon at the top, and seasoned salmon skin below.
This was another recipe we tried back home (twice so far).

The Weber kettle is pretty much all I know, and this Ranch Kettle is like my grill on steroids. It is huge. It's big enough to cook with wood, and it's big enough to cook for a pretty darn big party. There were two such units on our patio, and a third that the Broadmoor kitchen crew was using everyday to cook up massive amounts of food following our BBQ U recipes. Two of my Favorite Four are probably unobtainable, but I hope to own this big boy someday.

Day Three on The Broadmoor's BBQ U patio.

Sometimes magic happens at BBQ U.
While our brisket should have taken about ten hours, we were able to trade with the staff who had started these hunks of smoked meat well before breakfast. Everybody wins!

Back inside, it was time to make "our" brisket presentable.

Hill Country Brisket w/ Dr. Pepper BBQ Sauce.

Team Brisket.
Thanks to my teammates who once again made us look good while I didn't do much of anything.
Siegmar from Austria is pretty serious about his BBQ, as is Derrick from
I hope the Texans liked it; I sure did!

On the right side of that picture is the fourth member of my Favorite Four. The Pit Barrel Cooker is a Colorado product fashioned from a 30-gallon drum that seems very user-friendly. I love my WSM, but I think I would probably use this deal more often because it's easier to setup and clean up, and I would use less fuel when not cooking a ton of meat. One of the fellows from Texas placed an order after cooking with it on Day Two, and I'll probably place my own order soon...

BBQ U Day Three Lunch Spread.

Day Three Lunch (second plate).

Before lunch we had our final exam (written and oral).
Thankfully, I passed. My wife would have left me in Colorado if I didn't.
[This photo taken later back home. Thanks to BBQ U for providing the pictures.]

And with that it was time to sign the banner and leave. Bittersweet, that.

Ciao, Professor...

Ciao, BBQ U...

Ciao, Cheyenne Mountain Lodge...

Ciao, Broadmoor...

On the way out of town the two big fires burning near Colorado Springs dominated the horizon, and when we got to Denver it was shrouded in the smoke of another fire further north. Doom and gloom aside, we made a fun stop on the way to the airport.

Steve Oliver @ Hops Grill & Brewery in Littleton.

Steve is an old college buddy and roommate. Oddly enough, he was my buddy and my wife's roommate. Does that sound weird? Regardless, I have to say he's probably used his college education better than myself or any of my friends did, and I'm not really talking about the class work. Steve is now a Master Brewer and Director of Brewer Operations for Hops. All of the Hops!

When the Master Brewer suggests you try his Hops Mexican Cerveza, you order the Hops Mexican Cerveza.
And if he's buying, you order a big one!
Thanks, Steve.  Keep up the good work...

The Denver airport is nowhere near Denver, and the gates are nowhere near the terminal.
Therefore, trains!

Flying out of Denver [or somewhere in Colorado] amid the wildfire smoke.

Headin' home... as the sun sets over Kansas.

Final Thoughts

Will I go back? Yes!

I can't wait to go back. We met father-son teams, father & son-in-law teams, husband-wife teams, a cool group of four guys from Texas who worked together as a team, and several people who were previous graduates. Some folks were on their third BBQ U trip and some were on their fifth. A few days before we arrived, another couple was on-site for their tenth class experience. If you attend once, you will want to return.

I agree with Larry Olmsted when he said everybody will learn something here. I learned little tips that have already helped me out and I learned big lessons about things I've been doing wrong. But really, I mostly just had a ton of fun. Big thanks to Steven, Nancy, Krista, Julia, Joe, Thad, and the others who make this happen. You folks are doing something special here.

I can't realistically plan to attend every year, but I would love to come back with my boys. This was the 14th year of BBQ U, so I'm thinking I should return for Year 17 and Year 27. And when I do, my team will be wearing matching football jerseys.

With that in mind, please don't retire anytime soon Mr. Raichlen...

Future BBQ U students.


I've been back home for eight days and we've been grilling for eight days, going through BBQ U recipes each evening. I'll keep this section updated with pictures of BBQ U food...

My first grill and my first grilling book (now properly signed).
Both are still serving me well.

The boys wanted some game food on the first night back home, so they got Fire-Eater Wings.

Caveman Pork Chops.
[I didn't have a shovel handy.]

Smoked Salmon BBQ U-Style w/ Smoked Slaw & Sesame Soy Grilled Corn.

In class we used Scotch as a fish marinade and a cream cheese flavoring, but back home in Kentucky on National Bourbon Day we did not use Scotch!

Shrimp & Chicken Skewers w/ Dark Rum Glaze.

In class we had big huge shrimp on sugarcane skewers. Back home I could not find big huge shrimp or sugarcane. I almost gave up, but I'm thinking the professor would say, "We go to war not with the shrimp and skewers we want, but with the shrimp and skewers we have. Grill on!"

So I did. It was awesome.

Mango Slaw & Thai Grilled Chicken.

Baby Back Ribs (two ways) & Twice-Smoked Potatoes.

The ribs on the right used the Spice-Rubbed w/ Dark & Stormy BBQ Sauce recipe we learned at BBQ U. The ribs on the left side used one of my go-to recipe combinations -- Raichlen's Lord of the 'Que recipe finished with Nashville Sweet Sauce (pages 284 & 669 in BBQ USA, respectively). I think it was a toss-up, but my 12-year-old assistant gave the Indy-Nashville combo a slight edge, perhaps because he modified the Nashville sauce by adding honey when I wasn't looking.

The Ultimate Philly Chicken Cheese Steak w/ Little Bitty Asparagus Rafts.

In class we did this with a beef tenderloin and back home we tried it with chicken breasts. Wow! I'm a rib and steak guy, but this was my favorite so far. That's saying something. I should also mention that I just discovered Elephant Garlic at my Farmers Market this past weekend and this stuff is ridiculously cool. I love roasted garlic, but it's hard to handle. No problem if you're working with elephant garlic cloves. We grill-roasted a few cloves and enjoyed some killer grilled garlic bread three or four nights in a row thereafter...

The Great American Hamburger and the Cajun Grilled Okra w/ Smoky Remoulade from BBQ U.

Smoked Blueberry Crisp.
In class we used cherries (as pictured above on Day 3), and with Raichlen's Berry Crisp recipe you can substitute any seasonal fruit. Although I use hickory for almost everything, this is definitely better with apple or cherry wood.

More Planked Salmon w/ Grilled Peaches.

Grilled Tandoori Lamb Chop with Grilled Corn, Onions, Zucchini, & Squash and Stir-Fried Bok Choy w/ Jowl Bacon.
My favorite lamb farmer will have some ribs for me soon, but the recipe worked great on chops, too.

Tandoori Lamb Ribs & Three-Herb Chutney.

Tandoori Lamb Ribs II.

We love that Tandoori Lamb.

Hill Country Brisket w/ Coca-Cola BBQ Sauce on Sourdough.

GRAND FINALE: Volcanic Shrimp Cocktail

Below are a few old pictures of my favorite shrimp recipe -- the Volcanic Shrimp Cocktail from BBQ USA. It's a favorite among family, friends, and guests on the grill or in the WFO. We never have a pizza night without it, and I feel compelled to recommend it to everyone I know. If you haven't tried it yet, try it...

The Cocktail Sauce is great if you can get real horseradish root, and we also like to serve the shrimp with Sweet Thai Chili Sauce.

[Thanks to Wes Berry for snapping and sharing these photos a few weeks before BBQ U.]