If you’ve read this column for the past few years, you know that some of my fellow food writers and I get together each spring for the Tucson Food Media Barbecue Throwdown.
This annual competition among food journalists takes place at an undisclosed location—for national security purposes, of course—with local chefs sitting in judgment over us to see who can season and smoke as well as they report and write.
But there can only be one winner, and this year’s battle of the brisket honors, which also included a cocktail category, went to the blogging team 520 Eats.
What was their strategy to rob my team of victory this year?
Oh, that peach. That darned peach.
“We fell in love with this year’s peach harvest and wanted to highlight local fruit in keeping our dish as southwest as possible,” said James Blue, a member of the 520 Eats team and account manager at Quail Distributing.
Highlight it they did. Their cowboy chuck wagon-themed dish was anchored by brisket that had been smoked in pecan shells and pecan wood before being wrapped in peach paper. Peach paper? Really?
The brisket was then sliced and plated on juniper tree rings alongside pickled veggies and a peach whiskey sauce, with a skillet of southwest baked beans topped with peach wood-smoked bacon.
Still not peachy enough for you? The dish was garnished with white and yellow Arizona peaches.
“Although we know we’d never make it as ranch hands, we felt there was a place for us on the ranch,” Blue said. “That place was seated next to the campfire reminiscing of days past, with an elevated home-cooked meal and mug of whiskey.”
The Tucson Foodie team went with an Asian approach, with Sichuan brisket, Savoy cabbage, enoki mushrooms and other vegetables, chili oil and 50-day lacto-fermented garlic scapes.
“Our dish was a play on the Sichuan dish called water boiled beef,” said Jackie Tran, senior writer with Tucson Foodie. “But rather than poaching the beef, we featured a Sichuan pepper-rubbed and cherry wood-smoked brisket. A Chinese take on American barbecue.”
My On the Menu Live team offered up a deconstructed version of the Italian beef sandwich with whispers from the Sonoran Desert, featuring a smoked beef fat and mesquite bean waffle, smoked brisket, a Sonoran-inspired veggie giardiniera, boozy mezcal pickles and a creamy burnt end mousse sprinkled with toasted barrel cactus seeds.
This year’s food judges were chefs Ivor Cryderman of Diablo Burger, Janet Jones of Tanque Verde Ranch and Kyle Nottingham of Prep & Pastry and Commoner & Co.
The cocktail judge was bar manager Eric Harding of Elvira’s, who dazzled guests with a cocktail demonstration of his own.
The officiating and score tallying were executed by Mike Lopez, food and beverage director at The Forum at Tucson.
The beautiful briskets were generously donated by butcher Ben Forbes of Forbes Meat Co., and guests were treated to an extraordinary brew, called Amarillo Sunset, donated by Ten55 Brewing and Sausage House, the self-described “unofficial sponsor of cool people doing cool stuff.”
With our loss now behind us, my team has a full year to hatch a plan to bring that trophy back home where it resided after our pulled pork victory in 2017.
But first, does anyone know where I can procure some peach paper?
Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Russell is also a regular contributor to “Tales of the Keg” on ESPN Tucson, KFFN 1490 AM & 104.9 FM, as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM.