Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Kosher BBQ competition in Memphis attracts Muslims as well

From JTA:

 If there’s anything that can bring the Jews of Tennessee together, it would be barbecue.
This past weekend, the 23rd annual Kosher BBQ Contest and Festival drew thousands of Jews from Tennessee and around the country.
It attracted a group of Muslims, too. Turns out they're not bad at cooking kosher brisket: The Memphis Islamic Center’s team, the "Halal Smokers," won a third-place award for their brisket entry.
The commingling of Jews and Muslims among tables heaped with baked beans, hamburgers and ribs provided a counterpoint to anti-Muslim protests in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and death threats aimed recently at mosques elsewhere in this state.
“This is what America is all about,” Adam Itayem, who manned the Halal Smokers’ booth, said during the event. Itayem is also the owner of Tom’s Bar-B-Q in Memphis.
“People from all over the community feel comfortable coming year after year,” observed Rabbi Joel Finkelstein, the rabbi of Anshei Sphard-Beth El Emeth, the Orthodox synagogue that organizes the annual event and holds it in its parking lot.
Every May, this Mississippi River city hosts the famed World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, held each year on a Saturday. That contest has an overwhelmingly porcine character.
The synagogue cooked up its contest more than two decades ago so that its Shabbat- and kosher-observant members could get in on the barbecue action.
“It is the only event I know that brings the entire Jewish community together,” said Steve Kaplan, a longtime organizer of the event. He estimated that 3,000 people in all came to the festival.
The kosher barbecue contest has become so popular that attendees from far and wide are trying to copy the Memphis model.
The Memphis Islamic Center’s booth drew a lot of curious Jews who chatted with the cooks about the similarities and differences of the laws governing halal and kosher meat.
I was wondering how the kosher status is assured, as well as other details, and I found out - from a local Memphis newspaper:
Attaining the kosher seal of approval requires that all teams use the synagogue's own kettle-style grills that are stored year-round under lock and key. Teams also must preorder meat, cooking supplies and spices through the synagogue so that event staff can ensure that they are kosher.

Everything from the meat to the salt must be inspected by the rabbi and certified as kosher. Finally, the utensils must undergo a mikvah, or ritual cleaning.

Without access to personal smokers, and with a limited amount of time to cook, the playing field is somewhat leveled. Even the most confident backyard griller must succumb to the limited space and heating capabilities of the kettle. The fear of overcooking the meat is palpable. Teams are primarily judged on taste (45 percent) and tenderness (45 percent). Looks aren't everything, just 10 percent.
Unfortunately, I cannot find any recipes online.