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Advantage ‘Cue Crew Competes in Winter Burn with 500-Gallon Primitive Pits Smoker

With our Primitive Pits smoker and the 26′ BBQ trailer in tow, the Advantage ‘Cue Crew got a great learning experience from Winter Burn Off BBQ competition in Des Plaines

Advantage Cue Crew

February isn’t exactly barbecue weather in Chicago, but the Advantage ‘Cue Crew, competed in the Winter Burn in Des Plaines on Sunday. The Advantage ‘Cue Crew is our in-house competition BBQ team.

Last fall, the Advantage ‘Cue Crew captured 1st place ribs and runner-up overall in the ‘Cue for a Cause in Elmhurst. This time, the team finished middle-of-the-pack against much tougher competition.

The annual Winter Burn competition is sponsored by KRE Smokers and held at River Rand Bowl in Des Plains. It is Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) sanctioned and packed with very successful professional BBQ teams.

Each team competed in four categories: sausage, chicken, pork ribs, and pork loin/tenderloin. KCBS judges scored each item on a scale of 2-9 based on appearance, taste, and tenderness.

Advantage Cue Crew - Primitive Pits smoker rental

Ribs and Chicken

We took Rosie, our 500-gallon Primitive Pits smoker trailer, to cook on. It has phenomenal heat retention and air flow. Most professional competition teams use drum-style smokers to cook hot and fast. We also took our 26′ BBQ trailer to use the kitchen for prep, away from the wind. Both trailers are available to rent for competitions, catering, tailgates, parties, and more.

After arriving at 6am, we fired up Rosie and had our meat inspected. Then, we got right to work prepping the ribs and brining the chicken. We trimmed the St. Louis cut ribs and peeled off the membrane. Then, we seasoned the ribs with Pasatiempo Barbecue’s Down With the Swine rub and let them rest until it was time to put them on the smoker.

For the chicken, we brined it in a mixture of apple cider vinegar, fresh squeezed lemons, vegetable oil, wheat beer, Song Bird rub, and red pepper flakes.

At 9am, we put the ribs in the smoker at 225 degrees.

After a couple hours in the brine, we prepped the chicken thighs. First, we pulled off the skin and scraped all the fat off of it. Then, we trimmed up the thighs, formed them and seasoned them with a layer of homemade Cuban rub and then Down With the Swine. We wrapped the thinned skin around them and seasoned the outside, then placed them into a foil pan surrounded by Kerrygold butter.

At 10:30, we put the chicken into the smoker at 250-275 degrees.

primitive pits smoker & 26' bbq trailer

Sausage and Pork Loin

Next, it was time to prep our sausage category. This was the biggest wildcard because the parameters were “anything goes”. As long as it involved sausage, it was fair game. Knowing that most teams would do some form of armadillo eggs, we opted for something different: Cuban cigars.

We took a tube of original breakfast sausage, flattened it out, and seasoned with our homemade Cuban rub. Then, we layered some Down Low sauce, a dill pickle slice, Swiss cheese, and shaved ham. We rolled it up and wrapped with bacon, then coated the outside in crushed Cap’n Crunch.

At 11:45, we put the Cuban cigars on the smoker at 250.

Once the rub on the outside of the ribs had set to the point that it didn’t come off on your finger when touched, we wrapped in foil with butter, maple sugar, and apple cider. We put the ribs back on the smoker, meat side down.

After the chicken had taken on smoke for about an hour, we covered the foil pan with foil and let cook for about another hour.

Next, it was time to prep the pork loin. The competition called for loin or tenderloin, but we decided to do both. First, we trimmed them. Then, we injected each one with a mixture of Knob Creek smoked maple bourbon, maple syrup, and fresh squeezed orange. After injecting, we put them in the fridge for a couple hours until it was time to cook.

We put the pork loin on the smoker at 12:15 and the tenderloin at 12:45. Both of them at 225 degrees.

Once the ribs had cooked in the foil for a couple hours and were starting to pull back from the bones, we took them out of the foil and flipped them meat side up. We brushed on a mixture of Up North sauce and the juice from the foil. Next, we placed them on a wire rack in a half-sized sheet pan and put them back into the smoker.

When the chicken was nice and tender, we removed them from the foil pan and placed them onto a wire rack. We brushed the top with a combination of Down Low and Up North sauce, then put them back into the smoker.

Turn In Time!

As the first turn-in time approached, we turned our attention to finishing the Cuban cigars. We brushed on a coat of Down Low sauce. Once it set we removed them from the smoker and let rest for a few minutes while we prepped the turn-in box.

When the box was ready, we sliced the Cuban cigars in half and brushed some more Down Low sauce on the sliced side. Then, we carefully arranged them on top of the bed of parsley and turned in the box at the 1:30 turn-in time.

Chicken turn-in was next. We removed the thighs from the smoker and picked out the best six that were uniform in size and looked the nicest from the outside. We placed those in the turn-in box and brushed on a little more Up North sauce. As the seconds ticked down to 2pm, we turned it in.

Once the sauce on the ribs had set, we pulled them from the smoker. The challenge here was to find the best six ribs. We sliced most of them until we found the six that had the most meat and best appearance. Next, we brushed more Up North sauce on the exposed meat sides and placed them in the box. We turned in the box right at 2:30.

Lastly, we glazed the pork loin with Up North sauce and the tenderloin with Up North Hot BBQ sauce. Once it set, we removed them from the smoker and let rest while we compiled the final turn-in box. We cut the loin at an angle and then cut each large slice into a wedge so they fit in the box. Next, we sliced the tenderloin on an angle and placed six pieces along the front of the box. We turned it in at 3pm and then began clean-up.

The Results are In

Around 4:30pm, the competition organizers announced the top 10 for each category. The top five for each got money and the top three got a trophy made out of bowling pins.

The only category we heard our name called was pork loin. We got 9th out of 18 teams, but 3rd in appearance behind only Riskey Brisket (a very successful professional team who won grand champion) and Shmack BBQ (one of the top KCBS Backyard Series teams last year). Our overall pork loin score was hurt by Judge 2 who was significantly lower than the other five judges. Taste (8th) was mostly 8s (very good) and tenderness (10th) had multiple 9s (excellent).

Advantage 'Cue Crew - pork loin and tenderloin

Our next best category was sausage, where we finished 12th. Appearance really killed us in this category because the Cuban cigar mainly just looked like a round brown blob. In retrospect, the choice of a mustard-based BBQ sauce was the kiss of death for judges who want to see bright red shiny objects. They ranked us dead last in appearance.

That said, if there is one category to sacrifice, appearance is it. The weighted scoring factors appearance as about one-fourth of taste and half of tenderness. We garnered 5th in tenderness with all 8s and a 9, and 13th in taste with one 9.

Advantage Cue Crew - sausage

Our third-best category was ribs. This was the category we won at the ‘Cue for a Cause last fall. Unfortunately, we didn’t fare quite as well this weekend against much tougher competition. Even before we turned them in, we knew they weren’t as good as those were.

We did best in appearance (12th) with a 9 and an 8 amongst the six judges. Once again, it was Judge 2 that wasn’t a fan, scoring 6 in appearance, 5 in taste, and 6 in tenderness. All three of those scores were the lowest amongst the six judges. Shout out to Judge 1, however, who scored us 9, 8, 8!

Advantage Cue Crew - ribs

Last but not least was chicken. This category has been our nemesis in competition thus far. Competition chicken is completely different than the kind of chicken most people would cook for themselves or for restaurants/catering.

We scored nearly 7s across the board, with a pair of 8s in tenderness. Unfortunately, we let the exterior get way too dark so it wasn’t the bright shiny red the judges look for. We tried to mask it by brushing some additional sauce on top of each chicken thigh after boxing, but that just resulted in pooled sauce on them.

Advantage Cue Crew - chicken

Overall, the Winter Burn Off was a great learning experience. After the success we had at ‘Cue for a Cause, this showed us we still have a long way to go in order to compete with the big boys. But it was a fun day and a challenge we’re glad to accept.

If you are interested in renting our 500-gallon Primitive Pits smoker trailer or our 26′ BBQ trailer, please don’t hesitate to contact us at 630-580-5840 or email

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