Podlucky: ‘Let the meat speak for itself’
AMANDA PODLUCKY of Orlando and her boyfriend, Lee Thompson, now own nine grills and have a professional logo for their team dubbed Pig-Chicka-Cow-Cow.
Podlucky: ‘Let the meat speak for itself’
Orlando lawyer goes hog-wild for BBQ
It all started innocently enough Memorial Day weekend in 2011. Amanda Podlucky gave her boyfriend this birthday gift: an electric smoker, the only kind of grill allowed at their apartment.
For inspiration, they watched grilling shows on the Food Network to learn how to play with their new smoker, making St. Louis-style ribs and chicken wings.
“It was kind of a perfect storm of interests,” said Podlucky, of Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman, and Goggin in Orlando, where she practices general liability defense.
That perfect storm blew up into a barbecue competition whirlwind.
Podlucky and her engineer boyfriend, Lee Thompson, now own nine grills, including four Weber Smokey Mountain cooker charcoal smokers, four Weber kettle charcoal grills, and an “Ugly Drum Smoker” custom made from a 55-gallon steel barrel. They have a professional logo for their team dubbed Pig-Chicka-Cow-Cow. And after a few competitions in the Florida sun, they now have a 20-foot cargo trailer tricked out with bunk beds, shower, full kitchen, and air-conditioning.
This year, they are fired up after winning first place in the pro division for brisket, with a perfect score, fourth place in ribs, and 10th overall out of 80 teams at the Old Florida Outdoor Festival BBQ Competition in Apopka.
“We are very competitive. We both take it very seriously, and we definitely want to win,” Podlucky said. “I was completely shocked we got a perfect score of 200.”
Part of their success, she said, is starting with a nice marbled piece of Japanese Wagyu brisket, cooking it until the fat is rendered down to create flavor she described as “traditional Texas style.”
“And then we just let the meat speak for itself,” she said.
Because they are so competitive, this year’s challenge for Pig-Chicka-Cow-Cow is to participate in every pro-level competition sanctioned by the Florida BBQ Association. Their goal: Finish in the top five overall. Oh, since they are so competitive, Podlucky admits they are really dreaming of first place overall.
Because she’s a good lawyer who does her research, Podlucky and Thompson first became certified judges of the Florida BBQ Association in 2015.
“We wanted to start competing, but we didn’t know where to jump in. It’s a huge advantage,” she said, describing how they know what it takes to score big in the three categories of presentation, taste, and tenderness. They bypassed the “backyard” category of competitors, and plunged into the “pros.”
Years before they jumped into judging, in 2012 they took a weeklong multi-state tour of six of the best BBQ joints in Alabama, southern Illinois; Memphis, Tennessee; and southern Mississippi. They took notes and scored the meat, sauce, and overall experience.
“We called it research and development,” Podlucky said, adding they gave samples to their dog, a Pomperanian named Cooper, who voted, paws down, for the chicken samples on his BBQ plate at 17th Street Bar & Grill in Murphysboro, IL, owned and operated by the legendary Mike Mills.
“This was the place that inspired us the most to take the first trip in 2012, and to get involved in the BBQ world, and probably the main reason we put the trip together,” she said.
“There is such a fantastic culture in the world of BBQ. People are so friendly, welcoming, and helpful. Everyone wants to be the best, but would do whatever it took to help each other out.”
She notes that some of the best pit masters in the South banded together after the 2011 Joplin, Missouri, tornadoes to form Operation BBQ Relief, and now travel to all disaster sites — including to help those devastated by Hurricane Harvey — feeding thousands of stranded people and first-responders.
So while many Florida lawyers fired up their backyard grills for Labor Day weekend, Podlucky and Thompson were busy gearing up for that first competition September 8 in Apopka. But Hurricane Irma postponed that contest to the weekend prior to Halloween. They finally got to start the season on September 23 in Perry, where they finished in the Top 10 in four of the five possible categories (ribs, brisket, and pork, and overall). They headed to Dothan, Alabama, on September 29 to compete in a dual event for the Kansas City Barbecue Society and the Florida BBQ Association.
They’ll spend about $300 on meat that will include a 16-pound brisket, four pork butts, four racks of ribs, and 20 chicken thighs. This is the grill drill at every competition: On Friday morning, the meat will be inspected.
“They look at it to make sure it’s legitimate, that you didn’t just kill a chicken in the backyard,” Podlucky said. The meat can be trimmed but must be nakedly unseasoned.
Friday afternoon, they will inject the meat with seasonings. At Friday 5 p.m., they’ll attend the cooks’ meeting, where they go over the rules. Around 9 p.m. they will light the smokers. That night, they’ll put the pork and brisket on, and climb into their air-conditioned cargo trailer for a snooze.
At 4:30 a.m. Saturday, it’s time for the ribs to hit the grills, and the chicken is last, beginning to sizzle around 9 a.m.
With precision, they keep to a four-hour process to turn the meat: Chicken at 11 a.m.; ribs at noon; pork a 1 p.m., brisket at 2.
There’s a 10-minute window to turn in the meat for judging, in Styrofoam take-out boxes with their name and number. The reps take off the identifying info and put it on a “blind judging table.”
Awards are given at 5 p.m., with the Top 10 for each category.
Overall, the grand champ is the highest payout, of anywhere between $1,500 to $2,500.
As delicious as award-winning BBQ is, no way can they eat all their leftovers. A recent office pool party reaped the rewards.
When they started barbecuing, this competitive duo made a pact.
“The one stipulation is we have to keep running. We also train for half marathons,” Podlucky said, committed to keeping fit and trim, even if they do gorge on pork butts.
Since her boyfriend is a foot taller than she is, she can’t keep up with him during the 16 half marathons they have entered so far.
But back at the grill, watch out: This lawyer is smokin’ hot!