Kingsford Plant Tour

My previous post in this series ended with the group heading from St. Louis to Belle, Missouri to the site of the inaugural Kingsford Invitational barbecue competition. Not only were we about to be spectators to an incredible competition, but we'd also get to tour the largest Kingsford charcoal plant. As I said earlier, dudes love to see how things are made, so I was really looking forward to it.

Belle is a very small town located about two and a half hours southwest of St. Louis, and the drive has the palpable feel of midwest Americana. I spent my teen years in Columbia, which is smack dab between St. Louis and Kansas City, but it had been nearly 20 years since I'd been on the ground in this area of the country. What is known by some as "flyover country" was freshly familiar to me, and I enjoyed the trip.

Kingsford Plant Tour

The weather, minus the considerable wind, was just about as perfect as one could expect for early November in central Missouri. We enjoyed wall-to-wall sunshine with temperatures in the low 70's. The setting of the plant is not at all what I expected. It's in a what looks like a small valley that's surrounded by gently rolling hills, and at this time of year, trees still clad in multicolored leaves.

Kingsford Plant Tour

We walked to the plant and the first thing that catches your eye, other than the unexpected size of the complex, is the giant mound of what looks like dirt from a distance.

We went into the welcome area, donned our protective gear and, after a short safety briefing, we headed out to start the tour. We were split into several small groups and each was assigned a tour guide. Fortunately, my group had the plant manager, Steve Miller (no relation) as our guide. He was very friendly and more than eager to answer any and all of our questions.

Kingsford Plant Tour

Our first stop was that apparent dirt mound. It's actually an incredibly large pile of sawdust and wood that's recycled from various sources. How big? Well this plant produces something like seven million pounds of charcoal per day, and it takes eight pounds of raw wood to make one pound of what becomes the wood char from which the briquets are made. A little quick math tells you that this plant consumes about 56 million pounds of wood per day.

The wood (mostly oak, and some hickory) is trucked in and dumped. Then the dozer driver constantly mixes the wood so that the moisture level and age are as evenly distributed as possible. The dozer then pushes the wood into a huge chute that leads to what was described by Steve as a 200-horsepower garbage disposal. That machine chews up the wood and spits it out in a fairly uniform size onto the conveyor that feeds the plant.

Kingsford Plant Tour

Next the wood is fed into huge dryers that reduce the percentage of moisture in the wood from about 30 percent down to about five percent.

The dried wood then heads to the huge multi-stage oven, called a retort, that bakes the wood in an oxygen-starved environment at about 1000 degrees. The result is the wood char (black stuff) that makes up the bulk of each briquet.

Kingsford Plant Tour

Kingsford Plant Tour

What struck me as we walked past the retort was the absolute absence of any smell of anything burning. In fact, other than the smell of the wood pile, this plant has no smell.

When I asked Steve about that he pointed to the top of the stack on the right of the picture above and said, "See that? That's all the smoke that comes off of this plant." He went on to say that their retort is the most advanced in the world and that the emissions from this plant are incredibly low. Additionally, most of the energy used in the plant is recycled on-site.

The char is then mixed with a handful of other ingredients and is molded into the familiar briquet shape.

Kingsford Plant Tour

At this point the briquets have the consistency of a baked brownie. Steve handed each of us one and they were barely warm and easily broken apart by hand. The excess around the edges of each briquet is shaken off and recycled.

Kingsford Plant Tour

The briquets are then spread about a foot thick onto a huge conveyor which takes them through a gigantic dryer.

Kingsford Plant Tour

Hot air is forced through them from top and bottom and they emerge as the product that we know.

Kingsford Plant Tour

The product then heads to the bagging line.

Kingsford Plant Tour

The bags are blown open with air and filled.

Kingsford Plant Tour

Then they're sealed.

Kingsford Plant Tour

Next they head to the machine that automatically places the bags on pallets.

Kingsford Plant Tour

Kingsford Plant Tour

Finally, each pallet is robotically wrapped in plastic and placed for the forklift driver to take it to the warehouse.

Kingsford Plant Tour

Oh, and the warehouse is incredibly large. I think Steve said that it is 200,000 square feet.

Kingsford Plant Tour

As you can see, the pallets are stacked six high. Steve said that during the winter months that they work to fill the warehouse in preparation for the kick-off of grilling season (Memorial Day).

Kingsford Plant Tour

I can't thank the folks at the Kingsford plant in Belle enough for their hospitality and for the incredible tour. Steve was a great tour guide, and I could tell that he takes great pride in his crew and his plant. The place was incredibly clean for a charcoal plant. Oh, and it struck me that along the tour Steve stopped and thanked every worker that we encountered for coming in that day. It was the opening day of deer season, and the folks working that day volunteered to work. That kind of leadership is sadly rare these days.

In the next installment of this series I'll cover the Kingsford Invitational competition itself.

Related posts:
Kingsford Invitational - Part One
Kingsford Invitational - Part Two

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Butternut-Ale Soup (via patiodaddiobbq.com)

This soup was inspired by two dishes that I enjoyed during my recent trip to St. Louis. The first was a hearty butternut squash at The Farmhaus, and the second was a cheddar-jalapeno soup made with Budweiser at the Anheuser-Busch brewery.

I took what I found to be the best aspects of each soup and combined them. Fall is a great time for a butternut squash soup, but I thought that I could bring some beer to the party. Rather than use Bud, I chose the unfiltered goodness of Shock Top Belgian White. I felt that the soup needed a hearty beer to help cut through the natural sweetness of the butternut squash. It really worked, and I think you'll enjoy this twist on a fall classic.

Ingredients
8 cups Peeled and chopped butternut squash, cut to 1"
2 Tbsp Light olive oil
3 tsp Kosher salt, divided
1 1/2 tsp Ground black pepper
1/2 tsp Ground ancho chile
1/2 tsp Ground nutmeg
24 oz Shock Top Belgian White, or your favorite unfiltered ale
1/4 tsp Ground ginger
1/4 tsp Ground cumin
6 cups Chicken stock
1 tsp Ground white pepper
2 Tbsp Butter, unsalted

Method
Preheat your oven to 350º.

Combine the squash, oil, 2 teaspoons of the salt, pepper, ancho and nutmeg in a large mixing bowl. Toss/stir to mix well, then spread in a single layer on a sheet pan. Roast in the oven until the squash is very tender and lightly browned and slightly crispy around the edges, about 1 hour.

Combine the beer, remaining 1 teaspoon salt, ginger, and cumin in a stock pot, bring to a moderate boil over medium-high heat and reduce by 1/2.

Add the stock, squash and white pepper to the beer and stock liquid, simmer 30 minutes.

Remove the soup from the heat and blend with an immersion/stick blender until it's very smooth. Whisk in the butter.

Serve and enjoy! I served mine with a little peppered bacon and chopped chives.

Butternut-Ale Soup (via patiodaddiobbq.com)

Makes 8 servings

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Thanksgiving Recipe Ideas Barbecued Sweet Potato Pie Grilled & Glazed Carrots The Ultimate Thanksgiving Turkey Brine Barbecued Sweet Potatoes Thanksgiving Stuffing Balls Simple Barbecued Turkey

With Thanksgiving just around the corner I thought I'd share a round-up of my recipes in a sort of one-stop-shopping way. Here I think you'll find something that will add a unique twist to your Thanksgiving feast. If you try one of these recipes, please drop me a line in a comment and give me your thoughts.

Just click any of the images to get to the recipe.

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2012 Kingsford Invitational

On day two of the Kingford Invitational trip I enjoyed a great hearty room service breakfast (and I'm not usually a breakfast eater), then it was down to the lobby to get on the bus for the day's festivities, which began with a tour of the Anheuser-Busch brewery. Nine o'clock seemed a little early for beer, but I was looking forward to the tour, as most dudes love to see how things are made.

After a short ride, we arrived at the brewery and I was immediately struck by that familiar yeasty beer smell in the air. It was like the brewery equivalent of the outdoor aroma from a bakery. It left no doubt as to what was happening there.

2012 Kingsford Invitational

Here's the area where the tour begins. It's chock full of all manner of Anheuser-Busch memorabilia.

2012 Kingsford Invitational

After a short introduction about the history of the company, we set out for our first tour stop -- the famous Clydesdales. We've all seen them on television and in print, but nothing can really prepare you for seeing them in person.

2012 Kingsford Invitational

These beautiful animals are huge! How huge? Well, here are the requirements from the Anheuser-Busch site:
To qualify for one of the traveling hitches, a Budweiser Clydesdale must be a gelding at least four years of age, stand 72 inches at the shoulder when fully mature, weigh between 1,800 and 2,300 pounds, have a bay coat, four white legs, a white blaze, and a black mane and tail.
For comparison purposes, here I am standing next to their largest horse. I'm 6'4", and he's 19.5 hands tall. Also, check the feet. I wear a size 13, and each of dude's shoes are 20 inches from end-to-end and weigh about 5 pounds.

2012 Kingsford Invitational
Photo courtesy of Chris Grove, NibbleMeThis.com


Here's a wide shot of the horse paddock that had already been decorated for Christmas. The shot above was taken in the center.

2012 Kingsford Invitational

Free photography tip: Never shoot in a room ringed in stained glass on a sunny day. Most cameras don't have a "filter out the random blasts of Star Trek tractor beam-like colored light" setting.

These gentle giants have some seriously nice stables. Their names are really simple, like Duke, General, Bill, Annie, etc. Wait... Annie? I thought that they all had to be geldings. Oh well, it must be a PC thing.

2012 Kingsford Invitational

Next we headed into the various parts of the brewery, which covers 119 acres on the original site. You can feel the history in the charming old-world architecture.

2012 Kingsford Invitational

2012 Kingsford Invitational

2012 Kingsford Invitational

These pictures really can't do justice to the enormity of the brewery operation. Here are a couple of the brew kettles.

2012 Kingsford Invitational

Here are just a few of the mash tanks. These are on the second or third story of the monstrous brew house building, I can't remember.

2012 Kingsford Invitational

The last step of the brewing process is Anheuser-Busch's unique beechwood aging. The beer is stored in these massive tanks that have curls of beechwood in them to draw out and collect the particulate yeast. That's what helps make Bud so crystal clear and crisp. This also naturally carbonates the beer.

2012 Kingsford Invitational

To give you an idea of how big these tanks are, our tour guide said that each one contains 250,000 six packs. To put it another way, you'd have to drink a case of beer per day for 137 years to drain one. Oh, and there are 150 of these tanks just at this site alone. Let your brain do some mathematical fermentation on that for a minute.

2012 Kingsford Invitational

The beechwood is raked out of the tanks, cleaned, sanitized and reused as many as six or seven times.

Next, the beer is on to the packaging lines. Again, these pictures cannot begin to capture the enormity of this operation. The line is like a river of bottles (lower right) that sing as they gently mingle and flow. It truly is mind boggling.

2012 Kingsford Invitational

After the tour we went to their hospitality room for a four-course lunch with beer pairings. I'll admit that I'd never thought of beer like most do of wine, but it worked.

We started with a salad and Shock Top vinaigrette. The orange and cranberry in the salad really paired well with the beer.

2012 Kingsford Invitational

The next course was an outstanding cheese and jalapeno soup made with Budweiser. To me this was the second best pairing. They served it with Budweiser, obviously, and it really was a perfect combination that I didn't expect. Who knew that Bud and jalapenos were a match made for each other? Trust me, they are. The chef said that this soup is a regular favorite in the brewery cafe, and I understand why.

2012 Kingsford Invitational

The main course was a beer-marinated flank steak with a shiitake mushroom and green onion yakitori skewer. With this course the pairing was Stella Artois. The steak was cooked perfectly, and the combination of flavors worked well. You can't go wrong with a grilled steak, mushrooms and onions.

2012 Kingsford Invitational

The dessert course, and the one that completely blew me away was a cheesecake with a wonderfully crunchy brulée top and a side of smoked vanilla ice cream. The beer pairing was the Bourbon Cask Lager from their seasonal Brewmaster's Project 12. Here's how they describe the beer:
We took staves from fresh bourbon barrels and we aged the beer on those staves and spiced it with a hint of vanilla,” said [Daniel] Westmoreland, who has been a Budweiser brewmaster for more than 30 years. “It’s an all-malt brew, and it has a perfect color that is similar to the color of bourbon itself. Batch No. 23185 has a nice vanilla aroma with a little oakiness on the end – it’s a great beer.
2012 Kingsford Invitational

If someone would have told me that I'd dig beer, any beer, with cheesecake I would have told them that they'd been smoking too much vanilla. I can't describe why it worked, but it really did. The Project 12 sampler packs are still available, but when they're gone, they're gone.

I really enjoyed the brewery tour and lunch. It was great to see a true slice of Americana. Thanks to you, Mr. I Brew Bud For A Living Guy!

After lunch we all piled back into the bus and headed Southwest to Belle for the Kingsford Invitational.

Stay tuned...

Related posts:
Kingsford Invitational - Part One
Kingsford Invitational - Part Three

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2012 Kingsford Invitational

As I mentioned earlier, I attended the first annual Kingsford Invitational barbecue competition as a spectator last weekend. This is the first of my series of posts covering this great event.

First, let me thank the great folks at Kingsford and Current (their PR firm) for the invite, and for a great time. I'm always impressed at how good this team is at putting on a first-class event. They are truly a pleasure to work with.

The competition was held in Belle, Missouri, but we all flew in and out of St. Louis. I spent my teen years growing up just two hours West (in Columbia) and it was nice to be back in Missouri. While in St. Louis we stayed at the Four Seasons. As you can see, the rooms were great.

2012 Kingsford Invitational

My room overlooked the arch.

2012 Kingsford Invitational

2012 Kingsford Invitational

After arriving at the hotel I had to wait a while for my room to be ready, so I text'd my buddy and barbecue whisperer Meathead of Amazing Ribs and he joined me in the bar. Next we called Greg Rempe of BBQ Central Radio fame and he came down to hang with us.

People kept trickling into the hotel and soon we were joined by a serious crowd of fellow barbecue friends, some of whom I'd never met. Among the group were Chris Lilly, Tuffy Stone, Amy Mills-Tunnicliffe (daughter of Mike Mills), Brad and Craig "Daddy-O" Orrison of The Shed, Robyn Lindars of GrillGrrrl.com, and Derrick Riches of About.com. It was really nice hanging out and talking about our shared passion and the competition ahead.

Next we all got on a bus and headed to a farm-to-table dinner at The Farmhaus. Before we were served the folks from Kingsford welcomed us, and Chris Lilly talked about the current food trends, and little bit about the competition.

2012 Kingsford Invitational
Photo courtesy of Craig "Meathead" Goldwyn, AmazingRibs.com

As you'd expect at a restaurant like this, the menu featured a variety of locally-sourced seasonal ingredients. I ordered the sweet potato nachos with bleu cheese and bacon, butternut squash soup with a jalapeno doughnut, a grilled pork chop with house sauerkraut and mustard reduction, and smoked apple pie with house-made vanilla ice cream for dessert.

After dinner we headed back to the hotel to rest up for the next day's events, which I'll cover soon.

Related posts:
Kingsford Invitational - Part Two
Kingsford Invitational - Part Three

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Pit Barrel Cooker
If you've been keeping up with things here for the past several months you know that I am a huge fan of the Pit Barrel Cooker. It has become my go-to cooker for all but large cooks. I even used it as my sole competition cooker this year. The thing is great!

My friends at Pit Barrel are launching an outstanding promotion just in time for Thanksgiving turkey cooking or Christmas giving. If you sign up at Kingsford's grilling site, Grilling.com (it's free), you'll get a promo code that's good for over $100 off a Pit Barrel. That puts it at $225 to your door, via free FedEx shipping.

If you're not familiar with the Pit Barrel, check out my first look and first cook posts. Additionally, there are some great how-to videos on their site.

I recently cooked my first turkey on the PBC and it was simple, and simply amazing. If you're looking for a way to truly impress your Thanksgiving guests, order today and you'll likely have the cooker in time for Thanksgiving. If you have any questions, head over to their site and give them a call. They always answer the phone and they're more than happy to help. Tell 'em Daddio sent you.

Note: The last I heard was that this promotion will run through the end of 2012.

Obligatory Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in this deal. I'm just spreading the word about a product that I use and truly believe in.

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Kingsford Invitational (via patiodaddiobbq.com)

The great folks at Kingsford® have invited me to come hang with them in St. Louis and to attend (as a spectator) the $50K winner-take-all Kingsford Invitational competition in Belle, Missouri this weekend.

This is a competition like no other in the world of competition barbecue. Kingsford has invited the cream of the cream of the crop to a contest that seeks to bridge the gaps between the various competitive barbecue sanctioning bodies to crown the best in the nation.

In order to get an invitation to this event the teams had to win one of only a select few competitions. Folks, we're talking about only eight teams. That's how exclusive this gig is.

In addition to top teams, Kingsford has also recruited a group of true barbecue experts to be the judges. It's only fitting for competition of this caliber.

I look forward to attending the contest, and you can look forward to a series of posts about the competition and the events surrounding it.

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