McCormick’s Grill Mates American BBQ Pitmaster Class & Dinner!

I’ve written before that this blog was started first and foremost for me. It was always designed to be my online journal, a place to record my food and travel adventures. So when my little blog is seen by others and my work deems me worthy of being invited to special events like this one, well it’s just a little bit exciting for me!

I received an email a few weeks ago with a generous invitation to attend a special American BBQ pitmaster class and dinner, in celebration of and collaboration with McCormick’s and their new Grill Mates American BBQ sauces, seasonings, dry rubs and marinades. I was absolutely thrilled to attend, because properly done American BBQ meat is something I love to eat and there’s plenty of it around right now as it’s been gaining massive popularity in Melbourne (particularly at places like The Gem, Le Bon Ton and Nieuw Amsterdam), but I actually don’t have a heap of knowledge on how to do it properly at home.

We arrived at Beer DeLuxe in Hawthorn on Monday night for an evening presented by the McCormick Grill Mates range, which are finally making their way to Aussie shores. We were greeted with big smiles, some pretty nice aprons, and a warning that we’d be getting our hands dirty throwing some food together and eating a LOT of meat! Chef Eric Luhning, his wonderful BBQ cohort Cassie, and their assistant Kat from BBQ School gave us the heads up that one of the several courses of the night involved 16kg of brisket. THAT’S a party!

And as if all that wasn’t amazing enough, I was over the moon to realise that one by one, some of the amazing women I’ve become friends with through blogging were turning up too – Terri at Little Wanderings (and her lovely partner who really knows his way around a salad table), Tian at Eat More, Mon at Mon’s Adventure (and her very irresponsible photographer who you shouldn’t allow in your tent while camping) and Karma at Good Food Good Karma. Let the good times roll!

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Once we all got settled, we were introduced to pitmaster Eric, who gave us an education on BBQ, using some of the 6 BBQs set up for the night – from what equipment to use, how to heat your coals, what to wrap your meat in and how to measure the done-ness of your meat, he covered it all. We thankfully also all got sent home with recipes and further instructions, we got to enjoy the show instead of worrying about writing notes!

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After round one of fun learning time, we made our way back inside to watch our entrees come together, using the Grill Mates range. Before I go on, let me give you a quick rundown of the range (which will now be available at Coles and some independent supermarkets):
Slow & Low BBQ Rubs
– Tennessee Smokehouse
– Smokin’ Texas

Burger Seasoning
– All Star
– Jalapeño & Cheddar

Dry Marinade
– Chipotle & Roasted Garlic

Sauces
– Sweet Pepper Steakhouse BBQ Sauce
– Brown Sugar Bourbon BBQ Sauce
– Vintage Smokehouse BBQ Sauce

For our entrees, we used that Jalapeño & Cheddar seasoning on some chicken along with a little coriander, which was thrown on the grill and cooked up for our quesadillas, and we got the All Star seasoning in with some beef mince and onion for our sliders. I followed the suggestions on the menu above, and put some of the Sweet Pepper Steakhouse BBQ Sauce on the slider, and tried the other two out with the quesadilla.

Let’s pause here for a second and talk product:
1. That Jalapeño & Cheddar seasoning is seriously delicious. Oh wow… strong enough to give the chicken an amazing flavour, subtle enough to allow the chicken to still taste like, well, chicken – perfect! I’m also thinking it’d be a perfect savoury popcorn seasoning…
2. Vintage Smokehouse BBQ Sauce – this will now be the BBQ sauce against which all other sauces shall be measured. For me, it was the perfect, smoky BBQ flavour which you could use with just about anything. I love.

Ok, let’s move on to more food for now. We got a crash course on brisket preparation, being encouraged to lovingly and thoroughly rub that slab of meat with reckless abandon. Mon certainly seemed to enjoy herself under some very passionate guidance from Chef Eric…

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While the meat that Chef Eric lovingly started cooking at 9am for our 8pm dinner was pulled off the heat and brought inside, a men versus women salad challenge was going down. 3 on 3, taking turns to choose two ingredients each. I hate to betray my fellow ladies, who certainly gave it a good crack, but the boys smashed it with their choices which included charred corn off the cob, lime, coriander, fresh chili, tomato and red onion. Top notch salad, boys!

But let’s get to the good stuff. The meat. The most tender pork imaginable, which had been marinaded with Chipotle & Roasted Garlic dry marinade was pulled and doused with BBQ sauce. A big, sexy lump of brisket, which had been paired off with the Smokin’ Texas BBQ Rub was sliced like butter. And the ribs, rubbed with the Tennessee Smokehouse, came out so tender that a knife wasn’t entirely necessary to separate them.

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Quick side note: I’ve also been reminded as I’m typing this that there was beer matching going on throughout the meal. Husband was the official beer taster, there was a pale ale, an IPA and a stout involved, and they were all very good I’m sorry I can’t tell you more – I’m not a beer girl, myself! He was also a happy man because he got the “money muscle,” that sexy bit of flesh below, all rendered and fatty and marvelous. Happy anniversary, love!

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Cassie and Kat kindly covered the table in deliciousness, and we just got stuck right into it…

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Not to state the obvious, but holy wow the food was INCREDIBLE!! Surprise dish of the night for everyone, I think, would have been the babyback ribs… I’m comfortable saying that they were the best, most magnificently cooked pieces of BBQ meat I’ve ever had the honour of eating.

As for the McCormick range that was used on the meat, A+. I’ll state the often unsaid obvious here, that when you’re invited to something like this, you’re usually a little skeptical about just how good the product is really going to be. Having tasted it myself,  I’ll quite happily join Burger Mary (AKA Jess Pryles) in endorsing this stuff, and I’m not even being paid to do it! The whole point of the range is to make American BBQ easier, less intimidating, more accessible and a little more entry level for us mere mortals who do not possess the mad BBQ skills of guys like Eric. Their aim is to take the really hard parts like making sure your proportions of seasonings are right and getting your apple wood chips to infuse smoke into your meat out of the process by ensuring that smoky flavour is already in the seasonings. And that’s something I’m all about – yes, it would be amazing to be a fully fledged pitmaster and do EVERYTHING from scratch, but the reality is that we don’t all have the time, knowledge or confidence for that. By having the right seasonings for the meat, you’ve already got a massive head start in making it all taste good, which means more people might be willing to give it a crack themselves!

After all of that, when a bleary eyed glance around the room showed the meat sweats and comas already kicking in, dessert was served – a cinnamon and chili BBQ brownie, which used some of the Grill Mates seasoning and was actually cooked using the BBQ! Amazing!

To cap of an amazing night, we were all spoiled with a gift box full of Grill Mates seasonings and sauces, and I was also lucky enough to walk away winning a shiny new Weber grill – cannot wait to get back from Japan so I can test this out!!! And thank you SO much McCormick’s – I honestly don’t win things very often/ever, so this was one hell of a prize for me, and such a great end to an amazing night!

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