’93, Master's in Business Administration
When it comes to barbecue, Harry Soo is more than a pit master who watches the flame and mops on sauce. He’s also a conductor of a symphony of flavors.
“If you want your barbecue to taste good, you’ve got to have layers and layers of flavors. It’s like conducting an orchestra with all the different sections,” he says.
What was once a hobby is now a competitive sport for Soo, who works as an IT manager. From April through October, barbecue competitions dominate his schedule, and he races to cook the very best chicken, pork, pork ribs and beef brisket. Soo sums up the challenge: “To win first in one category is tough. To win in two categories is extremely difficult. To win three is impossible, and to win all four has never been done before.”
Though relatively new to the competition circuit, Soo’s team, Slap Yo’ Daddy BBQ, is off to a fast start, winning Best New California Team and Rookie of the Year from the California BBQ Association last year. In July, Soo and teammate Mark Tung won first in all four meat categories at the Way Out West BBQ Championship in Stockton.
Soo is far from your average pit master. In fact, his background and techniques defy tradition.
An immigrant from Malaysia, Soo first tasted barbecue in 1983 when he was a college freshman in Texas. Over the years, he developed his passion for cooking by watching TV and serving family and friends. In 2006, he volunteered to barbecue brisket for a Black Employees Association fundraiser at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, where he works. It wasn’t until a year later when the film “The Bucket List” inspired him to cook competitively.
At the team’s first event, the Ground Hog Chili & BBQ Cook-Off in Palm Desert in April 2008, Slap Yo’ Daddy BBQ won the chicken category and placed second overall. After that, the trophies started rolling in: Grand Champion at the Bakersfield Biggest Baddest BBQ State Championship in June, People’s Choice Award at the 2009 Palm Desert Cook Off, and first place in the tri tip category at the Santa Maria Championship in July. In two years, they’ve racked up nearly 40 awards.
In Kansas City, arguably the mecca of American barbecue, the team won Reserve Champion (second overall) at the Great American Barbecue in May. The feat was a first for California. “We were two IT geeks using backyard Weber grills and cooking against professional teams. We stunned the crowd. It was the Cinderella story,” Tung says.
While others use mega-size smokers, they use two small Webers and employ computer technology to control cooking temperatures. Although they spent more than a year perfecting their sauce, which includes at least 11 ingredients, they’re not afraid of change. Based on where they’re competing, they’ll adjust their sauce recipe — sweet and bland in the South but spicy and strong in California.
“We’re very adaptable. We have no preconceived notions of what barbecue is, and we don’t have family
traditions to follow,” Soo says. “Our goal is to please as many judges as we can.” Next on the team’s to-do list is to score an invitation to the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue competition, or quite simply, the Jack. It’s the most prestigious barbecue contest in the world, and many
successful teams never receive an invitation.
“Just getting invited will be like getting to climb Mt. Everest,” Soo says. “It’s like making it into the NBA finals or biking in the Tour de France.”
Slap Yo’ Daddy BBQ is featured on a Discovery network reality series, “BBQ Pitmasters,” which follows seven teams competing around the country. The series premiered Dec. 3 and airs Thursday evenings on TLC. For more information about the show, visit http://tlc.discovery.com/tv/bbq-pitmasters/bbq-pitmasters.html.
Soo also blogs about barbecue and competition at www.slapyodaddybbq.com/blog/.
Barbecue Tips from Harry Soo
- Don’t use too much smoke. Smoke is like a spice to be used in moderation.
- There’s no such thing as too tender. Just be careful the meat doesn’t fall apart.
- Foiling your meat is GOOD.
- Don’t rush. Low and slow is the key.
- Don’t use lighter fluid on your charcoal.
- Opening your smoker is bad.
- Just let your meat cook.
- No matter the result, have fun!
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