The attention of drivers at the annual 13-hour endurance race at Virginia's International Raceway is constantly split between the track and the delicious scent of smoking meats wafting into their race cars. That's thanks to a crazy competition pitting teams of corner safety workers against each other in a trackside cook-off.
This year's winner created an entire Thanksgiving dinner between turns three and four. Here's how he did it — along with his recipe for "Trackside Smoked Turkey."
You'll remember from my 13-hour race report that I consumed 21 units of meat products in the roughly 36 hours I was there. The whole experience was as much a giant BBQ as a race, and the people involved in the cooking portion took it extremely seriously.
One of the drivers on our team half-complained of going a little crazy every time he rounded the turn where corner workers were simultaneously cooking four varieties of meat along with watching the track.
The chef everyone said I had to find was Brian Huff, whose late father Bob Huff the race is named in honor of, so I could see how he was cooking multiple meals throughout the day.
"It's kind of a family out here, a flagger family, and we're out here cooking the big family dinner," Huff tells me. "That's why we're here and it's some good food I think."
He ain't lying.
I sneak some pork-and-beans as a mid-afternoon snack and the rich salty flavor of the pork wakes me up. Amazingly, Huff didn't pre-make anything. There are no microwaves. All of the work is done using a propane-powered range, two smokers, and a chef's kit of knives and bowls.
Later in the day I come back for the judging. There's a skillet full of stuffing, some delicious potatoes with gravy, an apple crisp, and that beautiful dark "Trackside Smoked Turkey."
Huff sets out two plates on a table for the judges, complete with candles and some much appreciated french press coffee.
"The smoke is fantastic on the turkey, you can tell it's been cooked, you can see the smoke-ring on the outside of it," says one of the judges. "It's juicy."
The trick to preparing such a feast, it's clear, is having the right attitude and the right equipment. Huff manages to cook two meals for more than a dozen track workers, two judges and a hungry journalist.
When all the judging is complete Huff splits the award with another corner, and like a lot of people on the track he thinks he knows why.
"I lost to Cool Whip on the dessert," Huff tells me later. "The judges said that we were a class above the rest and it was only little details and the Cool Whip won."
Ultimately, Huff isn't that bothered by the split-decision.
"All was good, it was a fun competition."
The chef isn't just generous with his food, he's also willing to share his recipe should you find yourself flagging a corner for a race around Thanksgiving.
Brian Huff's Trackside Smoked Turkey
- Approximately 12-pound bird
- Butter, lots of butter
- Four strips of bacon (everything is better with bacon!)
- Kosher salt
- Fresh-ground black pepper
- Other spices to taste
- Fist-size hunk of apple
- Cherry and hickory wood
- Tire smoke, race gas and exhaust fume-tainted air
Rub the turkey down with butter, salt/pepper and spices. Remember to pull out all the plastic bags of parts, they hide all over. Fire up your smoker (I used Weber Smokey Mountain) with a good hot fire. Shoot for 300-350. Colder is OK but at 350 the skin crisps, lower and it ends up chewey.
Once fire is set and temp is regulated steady in smoker add the turkey to the smoker. Add the smoking wood to the smoker. Try to keep the heat up in the smoker, add more charcoal as needed. At 1 hour baste bird with more butter and insert temperature probe into meatiest part of breast.
Push a car. At about hour two lay bacon on breasts to crisp up the skin. Baste with more butter. Wave some flags, push some cars. Continue to smoke till temperate reaches 160. Pull turkey and wrap in foil. Temp should creep up to 165. Rest bird for about 30 min (once temp creeps down) slice and serve</blockquote
Special thanks to Brian for the recipe and the SCCA/VIR staff for letting me run around with my camera eating their food!