Meat Madness: BBQ Couple is In It to Win It!

Mary Cressler and Sean Martin are on a mission to win the 2015 Tournament Bracket. Down to the Final Four in Round Five of Traeger Wood Pellet Grills #MeatMadness recipe contest has Mary posting pictures of herself rockin’ some Totally ’80s Bangs, another of her standing in front a propeller plane, and a “Vote for Nachos” nod to Napoleon Dynamite.

The contest started on March 15th with 64 entrants for the first round of the “Meat Madness Sweepstakes.” If their Brisket Nachos beat a dry brine Utah turkey (and of course, it should!) when voting ends this Saturday, April 4th at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, Mary and Sean have a chance to win a Texas Pro Grill valued at $1300, along with bragging rights as the King and Queen of the 2015 Meat Madness Sweepstakes. (Turkey Smurkey — go vote for them HERE.)

UPDATE: Mary & Sean won that bracket and are now in the CHAMPIONSHIP! They’re up against a former IT professional from Austin that managed to come from waaaay behind in the last few minutes of his round, so we need to be on our TOP GAME to help them win the finals:

So your new mission: VOTE FOR BEEF BRISKET NACHOS.

Voting ends April 6, 2015 at 9:15 PM EASTERN.

Go. Now! Then come back and finish reading about them.

Go on, I’ll wait…

Just Who ARE These People?

Sean is an insurance executive by day, pitmaster by night. Mary is a wine, food and travel writer, sommelier and founder of Vindulge Wine Education & Consulting. They are also parents of energetic twin boys. We got to know all four of them when the twins were still in strollers, back in 2011. I had never seen happier babies!

Mary is a wine contributor for Barbecue America Magazine, and authors the popular Vindulge blog where Sean contributes posts in the BBQ Corner. You can find all sorts of tasty recipes, wine notes and pairing suggestions, as well as barbecue basics on heat, rubs, glazes sauces and styles.

(Photo by Cypress Street Studio)

All About the BBQ

Here in Texas, we are all about the barbecue, so I was delighted to find that Mary and Sean’s BBQ smack down entry recipe was for Brisket Nachos. I wanted to learn more about Sean’s fascination with BBQ.

“I learned to love BBQ as I traveled around the country for work in 2006/2007,” say Sean. “What I came to appreciate is the passion each ‘region’ developed over generations of cooking.”

Speaking of regions, it seems everyone has a favorite. Some folks claim nothing tops Memphis-style and others swear by Kansas City. You hear wet rub, dry rub, Carolina — and to me nothing beats Texas smoked brisket. Give me a little sauce on the side, but I want to taste the meat. I asked Sean about his favorite.

“It’s hard to say I have a favorite,” he says. “First, when I hear “Style” I go to the meat. Carolina’s are all about pork, Texas; brisket. Living in the Pacific Northwest I’d say my style is very local since we cook all types of meats and vegetables.

“Mary and I like to experiment with local woods, mostly apple. We tend to stay away from too much heat as we find a lot of folk don’t appreciate it, and use very little sauce,” he says.

Sean says that if they do use a sauce, it is usually wine-based, or something with vinegar for acidity and added flavor (gives a nod to Carolina).

“But my favorite cut of meat to cook is pork shoulder, he says. “I find we can do so much with pulled pork and the flavor is so awesome.”

So what inspired you to get serious, I asked?

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow! - (Photo by Mary Cressler)
Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow! Now that’s serious! (Photo by Mary Cressler)

“As I tasted BBQ at places like Jack’s Stack or Oklahoma Joe’s, I began to try and replicate the flavors on my own and develop my own style,” he says.

Sean says he has always enjoyed being outside and grilling, but his foray into BBQ did not begin until he purchased a Traeger Pellet Grill in 2007. “After reading reviews on various styles of cookers, it became clear that the pellet grill and smoker was a great fit for a novice to enter the world of BBQ,” he says. “I cooked up salmon filet and a pork butt the very next day after we bought it.”

"It came out better than any salmon I had ever had," Mary says. "He seriously won over my palate forever with this salmon."

Mary was once a vegetarian, now she’s all about the meat. I asked her what brought her over to “the dark side.” How did Sean convince her to start eating meat? Mary recalls that initial salmon filet…

“It came out better than any salmon I had ever had,” she says. “Tender, juicy, with a great outer char.” Mary says the smoke flavor was mild, and she could taste balance of the meat and seasonings along with the smoke.

Because salmon tends to easily dry out, it take some serious finesse to do well on a grill. She goes on:

“It was so complex, and so incredibly delicious. Salmon is a hard thing to do well on a grill, but on the smoker it retained its moisture and texture and developed complex flavors,” she says. “He seriously won over my palate forever with this salmon.”

But it was not just the salmon that convinced her. She says she also appreciated Sean’s sincere interest and focus on cooking quality food. “First, I learned how to trust the source of where we were getting our meat.” Mary says they always choose quality butchers or good local meat purveyors. “Second, I trust the cook,” she says, “I married the dude, and hopefully he’s not out to poison me.” Mary laughs as she remembers the first time Sean grilled ground turkey for her it was under-cooked, but luckily she did not get sick.

“Finally, he proved early on that his food is fantastic, Mary says. “I had to convert!”

So Why Traeger?

I had not heard about Traeger grills before the contest, so I asked Sean what makes them special.

“I think there is a special passion for Traeger within the pellet grill market,” says Sean. “They were the first to patent this style of cooker and there is even a closed Facebook page with over 5,000 Traeger owners across the country.” Sean says the company is based in Oregon, “so the local support is awesome.”

Sean says BBQ (or low and slow style cooking) can be intimidating with a wood fire, and he also own a smoker that burns wood. “But the Traeger allows for great flavor and requires the same cooking techniques to get that specific style of BBQ you are looking for. Even in the competition scene you’ll see a lot of Traeger’s and placing or winning those contests.”

But what about those folks who haven’t yet crossed the line to meat? I asked Mary which vegetables work best on a Traeger.

“So many! We love to smoke tomatoes and use them to make tomato bisque, or even tomato salsa,” she says. “Eggplant smokes well to make dips like baba ghanoush.” She continues, “Potatoes. Mac & Cheese–yes, you can smoke that!”

Mary says you name it, they can smoke it. “We even smoke water to then freeze to make smoked ice cubes. Totally vegetarian!” Mary says their next attempt will be smoked eggplant marinara–yum! And not just veggies and ice cubes, some fruit smokes well, too!

“We smoke strawberries to make a smoked strawberry shortcake in the summer months.”

The Recipe: Brisket Nachos with Brisket Chili

Definitely a great party food! Great for watching the NFL draft coming up soon. But nachos in Oregon in February? I asked Mary how they came up with the recipe. She says that it might be considered recipe by accident (or act of God) but Mother Nature definitely had a hand in it. You can read the story on her blog (along with a printable copy of the full recipe, here) but for a quick summary…

Smoked Brisket Nachos (photo by Mary Cressler)
Smoked Brisket Nachos (photo by Mary Cressler)

“We were snowed in one afternoon and hungry,” Mary says. Without being able to go to the store for any fresh food, she says they had to come up with a meal based on what they had at home. “We called this a pantry purge,” shes says. Mary and Sean used brisket they had cooked prior to the snowstorm, and made a rich chili out of it, then used that as a base for the nachos.

“And really, who doesn’t crave a big tasty plate of nachos?!” says Mary. “Best snow day food ever!”

Beef Brisket Nachos Wine and Beer Pairings

In Texas, many folks tend to pair brisket with big bold reds. I asked Mary about some more unconventional pairings.

Rosé. Mary loves to pair rosé with brisket. She says that’s probably unconventional. Not so much! I happen to know that Ryan Braden, Executive Chef at Brenner’s on the Bayou and Sommelier Armando Dawdy have created some tasty brisket and rose’ pairings for the upcoming Brenner’s on the Bayou annual Wine Festival in Houston (I had a sneak preview, just this afternoon!  Moët & Chandon Rosé Impérial with Texas Smoked Brisket, yay!)

Assyrtiko. “We like to experiment with so many different meats and vegetables; therefore we’re not limited to the traditional “big juicy wine with big ribs” pairing,” says Mary. She recently posted a recipe for smoked baba ghanoush where she paired it with an Assyrtiko from Santorini. “I’ve never seen anyone recommend Assyrtiko with BBQ before, so I’d say that’s pretty unconventional,” she says.

Photo by Mary Cressler
Vote for this recipe at (Photo by Mary Cressler)

What about Beer?

The last time I saw Sean he was drinking a PBR, and Mary says that’s what he drank with the nachos on the snow day.

Sean says, “I love beer, and PBR is my go to because it’s so easy to drink. However, I do enjoy craft beers and I have to say my go-to style is Kolsch.” Sean says he loves the texture and the flavor of Kolsch, and recommends Occidental or Double Mountain Kolsch. “it cuts through the heat from the jalapenos and has a bright flavor that balances well with how rich the chili and brisket is.”

Brisket Wine Pairing

I ask Mary about her favorite Brisket Wine Pairing.

“Oh, tough one,” she says. “Well, a couple of weeks ago we paired brisket with the 2009 Soter Vineyards Mineral Springs Brut Rosé from Yamhill-Carlton here in Oregon. Granted it wasn’t straight up brisket, instead it was smoked brisket grilled cheese – layers of fresh tender brisket sandwiched between gooey melted smoked cheddar and crispy buttery toasted bread – but still loads of brisket in there! Does that count?”

Of course it counts — and sounds delicious!

Everybody who barbecues has a funny story — or several. We asked,

What’s your funniest BBQ moment?

Mary: Well, there was that one time that Sean accidentally caught the Traeger smoker on fire and almost caught the whole backyard and house on fire as a result. Lesson? Keep a fire extinguisher on hand.

Sean: No comment.

Okay if you just could not stop reading and have not yet voted, there is still time to VOTE in the Traeger Grills Meat Madness Competition FINAL 4. However over the cute picture of Mary and Sean, and the recipes will pop up. Sometimes it’s on the left and sometimes it is on the right — so pay attention! Vote at home, vote at work, and get your friends and family to vote TOO. But do it before Saturday, April 4th at 7 p.m. EASTERN (6 p.m. Central, 5 p.m. Pacific — and you’ll have to figure out your own time zone if it is not one of those). VOTE HERE! Please send them to the final round!


The WineWonkette

Posted in Beer, Best of AWB, Cooking, Featured, Pairings, Posts, Wine News

Amy Corron Power View posts by Amy Corron Power

A licensed attorney, Amy is a wine-lover, foodie, photographer, political junkie and award-winning author who writes about Wine, Food, Beer & Spirits. As Managing Editor & Tasting Director for Another Wine Blog, she travels all over the world's wine regions to share her experiences with her readers and legions of twitter, Instagram and Facebook friends and fans. Amy holds certifications through the International Sommelier Guild, and is also certified, with honors, as a California Wine Appellation Specialist (CWAS). She is a member of the Guild of Sommeliers, The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas and regularly attends Houston Sommelier Association events. Amy is also a contributor to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books, and was most recently published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Gratitude.
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