Home cooking for Cink in Memphis
The first pork shoulder Stewart Cink ever smoked was, well, to put it bluntly, close to inedible. Cink and his wife Lisa annually host several dozen friends at their house on Lake Keowee in upstate South Carolina on July 4. But feeding that large a group is always a challenge – “You can only make spaghetti and chili so many times,” Cink says. So his buddy, Chad Parker, who is the general manager at East Lake Golf Club and one of the regular house guests, decided to give Cink a Big Green Egg, which is among the Cadillacs of outdoor cookers. Parker figured that would take care of one night’s meal. “We researched how to do it right, get the charcoal, get the smoke, get the flavoring and protect it and all that, and it was horrendous,” Cink recalls. “Like, it was terrible. We completely failed.” The failed experiment, though, turned into something of a challenge for Cink, and a decade later he’s cooking ribs, chicken, pork and brisket competitively. “I have this nature of excess,” Cink explains. “I didn't just learn how to have fun playing golf, I became a PGA TOUR player. Skiing, climbing, all of our hobbies, anything I've ever picked up, I just can't stop it. “I can't stop at okay or decent or good. I have to take it to a new high. So we went from let's try to feed 45 people with a pork shoulder that wasn't very good, so now we're entering contests and we have a pro team and all that stuff.” Cink learned a lot about making barbecue through trial and error, as well as on the internet. He learned the terminology and how to refine his searches to find different flavor profiles and timelines for cooking the meat. And everything – soup to nuts, so to speak -- has to be done in a smoker. Cink has three, in fact – the Big Green Egg at his lake house, a Primo in Atlanta and one of those big, black barrel-shaped smokers for competitions. It’s about 13 feet long and he pulls it behind a truck. “A lot of people like to start by boiling ribs or finishing them off in the oven,” Cink says. “You can do that. But to me, barbecue is meant to be cooked over a smoking case of charcoal, and that's the way it has to be done to me, so that's the way I do it.” Cink is well-aware of the different regional methods of cooking barbecue. North Carolina, for example, is a state divided with a pungent vinegar-based sauce in the east while the Lexington-style favored in the Piedmont and to the west uses ketchup in its sauce. Memphis, Texas and Kansas City also have their distinct flavors. “We use some western style North Carolina stuff,” Cink says. “We're more like Memphis style, I think. I like a dry rub and I like a sweet sauce but not too much.” In 2011, Cink and his wife decided to host a barbecue cook off to benefit their charitable foundation. He describes it as like a county fair without the rides – complete with a stage for the bands and more than 70 different vendors. “We had to set up all the operations for it –- water, power -- and it was in the middle of a field,” Cink recalls. “… So we learned a lot. “We also learned that it was a lot of work for minimal charity because the second year we also decided to start a golf tournament for our foundation, and it made like seven times the money for about 10 percent of the work.” They staged the event again a year later and this time the competition was sanctioned by the PGA TOUR of smoking, the Kansas City Barbecue Society. Cink and his cooking partners, Parker and his swing coach Mike Lipnick, ended up winning. Suffice it to say, they caught the bug. So now, several times a year, the three pack up their tent, hitch the smoker to a truck and head to a competition. They sit under the stars and stoke the fire all night. The KCBS sanctions more than 500 cook offs s a year. One of the people Cink and his friends competed against once told them he was participating in his 37th event of the year. “I mean, that's full‑time,” Cink says. “If you do it like that you get a rhythm and you learn your timeline and you have very little change, and you really start to perfect it. We can't do that. We're close, but we can't do that. “We still have to build in some wiggle room in case we mess up, so that extra 30 or 40 minutes from the time when your meat is perfect until it gets turned in, it's only getting worse. So we're not quite that consistent. “ But some weeks they are very good – once besting 40 teams to win first place for ribs at the Atlanta barbecue festival. In fact, the three have placed in every competitive category except for pork. Cink isn’t the only TOUR player who competes, either. Davis Love III is also serious about the pursuit and other players are eager to learn the fine art of barbecue after receiving Big Green Eggs as gifts from the Sanderson Farms Championship. The TOUR newbies often come to Cink for advice. He recently gave Kyle Stanley the step-by-step instructions he prepared for the men in the barbecue class he and Parker taught to raise money for charity at East Lake. Cink also hosts a barbecue dinner at his Atlanta home to raise money for his foundation. The going rate is in the neighborhood of $25,000. “We have a good time,” Cink says. “We've gotten some really good relationships out of it, and it's fun for us to be able to open up our home. “I like to share my passion of golf ‑‑ I like to cook and I like to see people enjoy what I made and teach them a little something along the way.” Cink gets a busman’s holiday of sorts this week when he plays at the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis, too. Don’t be surprised if Cink and Love go on a barbecue tour. They’ll get friends like former TOUR pro Mike Hulbert and hit, maybe, four restaurants in one night, ordering a sampler platter at each place. And at least once Cink will make a pilgrimage to the Cozy Corner, a bare-bones joint that has been featured in Bon Appetit, Gourmet and Food and Wine magazines, among others. “You talk about ribs, if you like ribs, dry ribs, Cozy Corner, you can't beat it,” he says. Right down Cink’s alley.
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