The Steak Cookoff Association’s First-Ever Event in Idaho Offers Cash to Cook the Best Steak – and an Opportunity to Earn More | Food News | Spokane | Interior of the Pacific Northwest

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Could this steak be worth $10,000?

Jthe best grilled steak you will ever eat may not be from a restaurant. Imagine a sirloin one inch thick, tender enough to cut with a plastic knife. Inside: a uniform ring of gray wrapped around a light pink center. And the flavor! Just enough salt and spices to complement the meat of the steak with chunks of buttery fat melting on your tongue.

Impossible? Not for countless home cooks who still grill great steaks, including competitors at a recent steak competition in Athol, Idaho.

Maybe you are one of them. If so, organizations like the Steak Cookoff Association are paying out big bucks to would-be grillmasters, alongside the rise of barbecue competitions (which are usually about chicken or pork and the most important sauce).

The Texas-based Steak Cookoff Association, which members and the association refer to as SCA, helps event planners standardize steak ratings nationally with a growing number of international members. He was trained by restaurant industry recruiters and home grilling enthusiasts Brett Gallaway and Ken Phillips, who realized that judgment of kitchens varied from place to place. In 2013 they created SCA, which sanctioned 19 events the following year.

This year, SCA events could exceed 600, including international ones, according to Michelle Dang, who works both in healthcare and as an SCA representative. Dang flew in from Texas to help coordinate Idaho’s first-ever SCA event, held July 23 at Super One Foods in Athol.

The North Idaho event featured 16 teams and two events costing competitors $160 each. Some cooks are local like Daryl Kunzi of Coeur d’Alene’s Drummin Up BBQ food truck, who took third and eighth place, earning $500 in total.

Others hail from as far away as Oregon, like Alta Hertz and her husband, Jason, who split contests, each taking first place, winning $1,000 and a “golden ticket” to the championships. of 2023, where the top prize is $10,000.

“I like SCA because it’s a level playing field,” says Dang, explaining that SCA supplies the meat for every competition, which shifts the focus from who can afford the best raw materials to who has the best. culinary skills.

Dang leads the 10 hour pre-competition Meet, going over rules such as how steaks must arrive to be judged: one per polystyrene shell, nothing more; no toothpicks, skewers or strings that some cooks often use to keep their steaks even.

“I’m an operating nurse,” she jokes. “We count what goes in, we count what goes out.”

After the meeting, contestants line up to select the two steaks they get per cook, in this case beautifully marbled USDA Choice Angus Rib Eyes, which Super One usually sells for $15.98 a pound, according to the event organizer Dan Wright.

Competitors have 30 seconds to choose what they hope will be the winners, then rush to their individual tents.

Sandpoint resident Josh Roberts and his son wear matching BBQ360 shirts. Roberts’ gear is new and he moves like someone used to competitive sports. He will chill the steaks to firm them up, after which he will trim them, skewer them, tie them up, and then marinate them.

About 20 minutes before handover time, the steaks will go on the 540-degree grill, says Roberts, who works in medical sales and cooks as a hobby.

“Then you cross your fingers and hope it works out,” says Roberts, who picked up $200 for his fifth-place finish.

Jake Parli came from Lewiston, Idaho with the black Weber kettle he inherited from his father and fond memories of backyard barbecues. A paper towel with the words “Not a Pitmaster” hangs in his tent.

“Normally I have a banner but I forgot it,” says Parli, who works as a traffic light technician.

Parli wears gray camo shorts, a purple Team Thrash hat, and a black t-shirt that reveals a dirt bike tattoo covering one arm and a hydra-themed sleeve on the other. He accepts a piece of steak from Tanya Schoonover-Turner (which turns out to be a runner-up) and chats amiably with other contestants.

“Everyone is really friendly,” he says. “They helped me a lot.”

At the end of the day awards ceremony, after coyly admitting that he had dropped one of his steaks, Parli pocketed $400 for his fourth and ninth place finishes.

Click to enlarge The Steak Cookoff Association's First-Ever Event in Idaho Offers Money to Cook the Best Steak — and an Opportunity to Earn More

Photo by Carrie Scozzaro

Jake Parli packed his Lewiston Weber to compete.

SCA is like a family. It’s not like other competitionss. You hear these remarks from competitors, everyone who has ever been judged, and SCA representatives.

Another difference: in addition to providing steaks, SCA offers judging workshops, which are also open to future cooks. It demystifies the appraisal process, makes judging fun, and helps build a network of well-trained appraisers.

“Every box that comes to you…it’s a 10,” Dang said during the judges’ training, which includes a hands-on evaluation of two steaks.

Rebecca Boifeuille, who works in the floral department at Super One, signed up for the judging class to learn the secrets of cooking great steaks.

“And I like to eat them,” she adds.

At the appointed time, the steaks begin to arrive, one per Styrofoam box, on which is stuck an empty envelope and a randomly assigned ticket for the double-blind judging process. Dang opens the container, cuts the steak in half, seals the container, and hands it to one of the judges. She wipes her knife and waits for the next box.

“You don’t compare one box to another,” Dang reminds the 10 male judges and three female judges. “You judge each box by itself.”

Like the other judges, Gary Tellesen paid $100 to learn the critical method from SCA (of which $60 was reimbursed by the event organizer). Tellesen, whose sons Dusty and Kacy Tellesen started Nordic Smoke BBQ in Spokane, also took the previous night’s cooking class ($125), taught by championship grill Marty Plute.

Plute knows steak. He’s the current Alabama and Georgia cooking champion, an SCA top 10 pointer with six wins this year, and has his own line of rubs called Twisted Steel.

Competition steaks are judged on appearance, doneness, texture, taste and overall impression, says Plute, who notes that texture was the toughest category for him. It uses both manual tenderizing and marinades, varying the time depending on the steak.

“I’ve learned to let my steak tell me what it needs,” says Plute, an Illinois-based cabinetmaker by trade. “Every steak is different and should be approached differently.”

Other tips: let the steak warm up before grilling, which helps melt the friction in the meat, and use a temperature probe inserted into the steak for continuous feedback. Plute also uses lights to match those in the judging area so he can see what the judges are seeing.

“For competition, they’re looking for a medium steak or a hot pink center, and the lighting can make or break you there,” says Plute, who offered to teach the steak cooking class to help increase SCA’s reach in the Pacific Northwest.

Plute’s must-have gear includes duck grease to oil the grill grates and give the finished steak a shine, a reliable way to check the temperature of steaks and the grill, sharp knives, a timer and, of course, a grill and fuel.

He also includes “good music and good friends” on his list of essentials.

“Because at the end of the day,” Plute says, “it’s the friends I’ve made all over the country that keep me coming back for more.” ♦