World champion pitmaster living high on the hog

By Don Coble don@claytodayonline.com
Posted 8/24/22

FLEMING ISLAND – All Josh Skipper needs is a match, a bag of charcoal, a chunk of wood and a hunk of meat to create a mouth-watering masterpiece.Skipper played a major role in Blues Hog’s …

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World champion pitmaster living high on the hog

Posted

FLEMING ISLAND – All Josh Skipper needs is a match, a bag of charcoal, a chunk of wood and a hunk of meat to create a mouth-watering masterpiece.
Skipper played a major role in Blues Hog’s Grand Champion victory at the renowned Memphis in May competition, a cookoff that’s considered the world championship of barbecue.
Hours of preparation and a 550-gallon drum cooker smoked the competition – literally – and earned the team a total of $36,000 in prize money.
Just don’t expect Skipper to taste his success.
“I really don’t eat barbecue,” he said. “I’ll taste it, but I don’t eat it.”
Skipper learned to cook from “a bunch of old-school guys,” but every pitmaster takes a unique path to smokey success.
Blues Hog uses its proprietary spice blends, injections and lump charcoal. But more than anything else, the team use a giant barrel cooker that accelerated the low-and-slow process. While others spent nearly a day cooking a hog, Blues Hog only needed 9½ hours.
The team cooked three hogs belly-side down. The result was crispy, mahogany skin and succulent meat that dripped with flavor. Since the shoulders and hams take longer to cook, Blues Hog placed bags of ice or beef briskets on the middle of the back to keep the loin from overcooking and drying out.
“It’s a crazy amount of moisture you get out of it,” Skipper said.
Bill Arnold created Blues Hog but the team was sold to Scheer in 2015. Scheer owns Marble Ridge Farms in New Haven, Missouri where he raises wagyu cattle and Mangalitsa-Berkshire-Duroc pigs. Many of them wind up on the grill.
Skipper said he’s probably cooked 30 whole hogs. He’s also done half steers, ribs, chicken and Boston butts. In fact, he has a 1,000-gallon grill that he’s used to cooking a steer and whole hog at the same time.
The team’s victory at Memphis in May was featured in season one, episode six of Michael Symon’s “BBQ USA” on the Food Network.
Skipper didn’t know what to expect when Scheer brought his new barrel cooker to a cooking competition in Miami. Now he’s so impressed, that he has a smaller version of the Gateway Drum Smokers on his back porch.

“When I met Tim down in Miami, probably about November of last year, they brought the big mega drum,” Skipper said. “And so the mega drum was used once before on a whole hog at Kansas City at a big festival. And so they brought a 300-, 320-pound Mangalitsa-Berkshire-Duroc hog to put on this mega drum. We were shooting a YouTube video and I had this big pit down there. We’re shooting a YouTube video for half a cow half of a cow and then doing the whole hog. So they throw that thing on there. We used a skid-steer to lift that hog up and inject it all up.”
And like any master, he’s always looking for ways to improve his methods.
“There isn’t there’s never a perfect cook,” he said. “I’m a bit of a perfectionist. A pitmaster or somebody that wins a world championship has to be better than perfect. You need to keep working to make it perfect, or to adjust to what you need to make the best product you can.”
Skipper has a goal to build a local “brick and mortar” barbecue restaurant. In the meantime, he cooks at special events and competitions. He will be at the Daytona International Speedway on Friday night to cook for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Xfinity teams and sponsor Brandt.
He’s become so immune to smoke and the splattering of fat, he can’t smell smoke. Skipper said the toughest part of working at a competition is spending hours tending to the fire.
“If you get a couple hours of sleep, you’re lucky,” he said. “It’s crazy sometimes because I don’t smell anything anymore. Now the whole COVID thing. I’ve been smelling barbecue and smoke all day that I just really don’t smell it anymore. But yeah, you kind of get used to it but the worst part is all the grease and stuff. Probably you can ruin some clothes really fast.”
Blues Hog sells its rubs, charcoal, injections, sauces and cookers. They can be found online at blueshog.com or at local Ace Hardware stores. The team’s website also has a variety of recipes.

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