With more than 30 years of cooking experience, Sterling “Big Poppa” Ball’s passion for cooking outdoors has led him to have his hand in almost every aspect of the barbecue world. From veteran pitmasters to weekend warriors, outdoor cooks across the nation trust Sterling’s taste when it comes to which meats, rubs and sauces to use.
As the head cook of the Big Poppa Smokers BBQ Team, he has won over 140 first place trophies. In addition to those awards, Big Poppa Smokers is the first team west of Oklahoma to win the American Royal Invitational (2012) and has cooked in over 10 different states. Sterling has been the KCBS National Pork champion, Tri-State Champion, 3x CA Team of the Year, inducted into the CA BBQ Hall of Fame, and has consistently ranked in the top 20 in KCBS since 2012.
Big Poppa’s Tips
Flavor without the heat
If you want the flavor of fresh jalapeños without the spicy heat, remove the seeds and white internal membrane when slicing. That’ll dial back the heat without losing any of the pepper’s distinctive flavor.
The bend test
Baby back ribs are done when they have a good “bend” or smile to them when you pick them up. At this point, they should not be falling off the bone. If you want your ribs even more tender, continue cooking until you can’t hold both ends of the rack without breaking in the center.
Most people cook too hot on cast iron. While that’s great for some purposes, it can quickly lead to over caramelizing on the outside of a nice, juicy steak. If you have an infrared thermometer, use it to monitor the heat of the pan and make sure it doesn’t go over 325°F. If not, try using the hand test; if you can hold an open palm three inches above your pan for 6 to 7 seconds without pulling away, you’re likely at the right temperature.