Monday, December 31, 2007

Part 8- Landover Maryland 5/18-5/19

Our first contest, the quest for a plastic pig begins.

Other team members did not take to the new name as I had hoped they would. “That’s our name?” and “you’ve got to be kidding” were some of the nicer responses that I heard. Even after I explained the Butch Cassidy connection, I was still getting funny looks. I guess it was to be expected, the name being a little different and all, but I felt confident that it would grow on them as it had me. Just give it a little time I thought, we still had time to make a change if we had to.

The date for our first contest was fast approaching and before I knew it, there it was. Mike ordered the meat, I had been over the trailer a dozen times checking, and rechecking to make sure we would have everything we would need. Al was in charge of the Friday night feed, he whipped up a pot of potato soup, and brought along some bratwurst, one thing was for sure, we would eat well.

Al is the senior member of our team and a very fine home cook. I had asked if he would mind taking charge of the Friday night feed and he enthusiastically agreed. This is a great help as there are many things to do prior to a cook-off and any time some of the responsibility is shifted elsewhere, it is a good thing. Al had recently bought himself a new Harley Davidson, which displays the vanity tag “olefool” as his license plate. There seems to be some debate as to where the handle came from originally. Rumor has it that it was a name coined by his wife Pete, when Al rolled home on his new wheels, “look what that ole fool went and bought!” she was heard to say.

The only thing we were missing was some tunes. I took along some CD’s and decided to stop on my way down the road and buy a CD player. Most of the guys worked a half a day on Friday and somewhere around noon we were all headed south for the one hour or so drive to Landover.

This was the first year for this contest and I was not sure how many other teams would be attending. I knew of at least two other contests, one in Pennsylvania and the other in Virginia scheduled for the same weekend. This would surely split up the teams that would be available to cook this weekend.

When we arrived, John the contest rep met us. I told him this was our first contest and he said if there was anything we needed, just let him know. He made us feel very welcome, explained the meat inspection and stopped by several times to make sure things were OK. As it turned out, there were sixteen teams present for this contest. Not a large turnout, but certainly a respectable number for a first time contest. We did not know any of the other teams that were present with the exception of Brett Brown from Free Range BBQ who was one of our neighbors.

Once we had our meat inspected, we started the prep work. I had made some notes of how we wanted to season our different meats and with a good team effort, got our meat trimmed, rubbed and into the cooler ready to go into the smoker. We had one packer brisket, one brisket flat, 2 pork butts, 25 pieces of chicken and 4 racks of spare ribs. This is a lot of meat, when you consider you are only handing in enough for six judges to get a taste. Extra meat is cooked in the event that some of the product is not as good as you want it to be.

With all the meat ready to go into the smoker, it was time to kick back and relax a bit. We dined on Al’s potato soup and bratwurst, it really hit the spot as the night air was chilling down and the soup was very warm. We had Muddy Waters and Charlie Brown on the CD player and all was well in the world, at least it was pretty good in our little corner of Landover Maryland that night. After dinner, Bobby passed around a couple of fine cigars and with a few beers, we capped off a very relaxing evening.

It was not long and it was time to fire up the Tall Boy and get it up to temperature. We loaded the firebox with charcoal and lit it off. Before I knew it, we were up to 225 and ready for meat. The big meats, (pork and brisket) go on first, and then you have a couple of hours to get a little shuteye before the ribs go in.

Mike had brought along a lazy boy recliner that he had set up at the site. We moved it into the trailer for the night and that was were Mike slept. The name “lazy boy” was born. Bobby and Al slept in their trucks and I checked into the hotel Tahoe. Erich erected a cot under the canopy and racked out there, that guy can sleep anywhere. Bobby insisted that he could not sleep in a vehicle, however, we had to send in a wake up service the next day to roust him up for breakfast. So much for not sleeping well in a vehicle.

Personally, I do not sleep well at a contest, as I was up several times during the night checking on the cooker. The alarm on the Guru sounded a few times and I was bunked closest to the cooker. At some point before sunrise, one of our butts was done. Needless to say, it was a little early. It was wrapped and dropped into the cooler to be held until needed. The other meats were cooking along nicely. The ribs were inserted at the proper time. As other meats finished, they were transferred to the cooler to be held until turn in.

While sitting around having our morning coffee I thought this would be a good time to have a team meeting. I went over the duties and tasks that were ahead and outlined how I thought that they should be handled. Bobby volunteered to run the boxes to the judges table and was henceforth known as “the runner”. I also went over our team expectations. We all wanted to do well and I knew that as a group we would do the best that we could. I just wanted everyone to know no matter how we did, that we should not be disappointed if we did not get a call to the stage, this was our first contest after all. We would give it our best and see what happens. Everyone agreed for once, as we anxiously awaited the first turn in which was chicken.

Erich had prepped the boxes and with our eyes on the clock we loaded the chicken into its box for turn in with time to spare. Ribs were next, our ribs looked good but a mistake cutting two racks into individual ribs by yours truly added a little excitement into what had so far been a very smooth morning. I finished cutting the remaining ribs correctly and we laid them all out on the cutting boards and tried to decide which we would turn in. The correctly cut ribs did not look half as good as the ones that I had botched. After we tasted and bickered, we decided to go ahead with one of the racks that I had “miss-cut”. Of course, I would like to blame the cutting malfunction on anyone else but me, unfortunately, I had to take the heat, as I was the one holding the knife.

The ribs made it to the judges with a few minutes to spare but I could tell by everyone’s reaction that we had cut it close. Pork was next, I was not happy at all with our pork butt. I felt that it was all over cooked and mushy. Mike and I did what we could, pulling what we thought to be the better stuff from both butts and assembling some selected bark sections to begin to build our box. The box was completed and Bobby took it to the table. It seemed for a minute or two that we were back on schedule.

We then broke out the brisket. We took a center slice from the ones we had cooked and debated on which was the better product. After lengthy discussion, it was decided and we began to build our brisket box. I do not know what happened to the time, but before I knew it, we were into our last 5 minutes. I finished just in time and took off across the grounds towards the judges. They could see me running and yelled to me to slow down as I had plenty of time. I dropped the box at the table with a good 45-50 seconds to spare, a little too close to being disqualified for me.

Nevertheless, we had gotten all of our meats in on time and with the exception of just a few glitches, things went off very well. We talked about our turn ins as we broke down the site, packed up the trailer and awaited the awards set for 4:00.

With only sixteen teams in the contest, the organizers decided to call the top five in each category. As we walked to the awards area, I again told the guys that they had done a great job and not to be discouraged if we did not hear our team name called. The awards are in the same order as turn-ins starting with chicken. The award for second place chicken goes to “who are those guys?” You could have knocked me over with a feather, unbelievable, I was floored, I think we all were. A call for chicken in our first contest, we were on cloud nine. I walked up to receive the trophy and floated back to the team as they stood clapping and beaming with smiles all around. Can you believe this? We were amazed.

We stood, clapped and congratulated the others on their calls and looked at each other in shock. Pork and ribs came and went without hearing our name again but it did not matter, we had a trophy for 2nd place chicken and that is all we needed. Brisket, the final category, and second place goes to “who are those guys?” Did he say us again? Flabbergasted was the only word that comes to mind. Two calls in our first contest, you would have thought we had just won a world championship.

As we walked back to the vehicles for the ride home, I think we were all in shock. We had finished 6th place in a 16 team field.When we split up, I thanked everyone for their efforts and promised to send the scoring breakdown that is given out after each contest by the judges. I would make copies and mail everyone their own.

While on the ride home I called Jo to tell her how we did, she too was amazed as was just about everyone else. I was thinking back over the events of the past 28 hours or so and realized that we had done very well for our first outing. Not a huge field of teams, but two second place calls and sixth place overall was a decent showing.

Our pork was the anchor this time and in rethinking the final stages of the prep for the pork, I made the realization that I had not sauced our entry. While some teams submit an un-sauced box, the plan for us was to sauce our pork and I had forgotten to do that part. Our pork finished 13th place out of 16. Three teams did not submit a pork box. I think that our pork box could be considered for the not so coveted DAL award for the pork category in the contest. In case you are wondering what the DAL award is, I will enlighten you, DAL equals dead-ass last. My mistake, enough said. Rest assured that I have not, to this day, heard the end of this, nor should I. Our miss-cut ribs had finished a respectable sixth, nothing wrong with that.

We had worked very well together as a team, had a few laughs, ate some good food, met new friends, gotten two calls and just had a good time all around. I could not help thinking back to what I had read on one of the BBQ forums that I visit, it is hard to believe how much time and money a person will spend to win a $4.99 trophy with a plastic pig on it, words of wisdom there. I do not know how others feel, but for us, that plastic chicken and cow were priceless.

Sunday morning as Jo and I were having breakfast at home with the boys, I got a surprise call from Steve. He wanted to know what the name of our team was because he had been reading the Forum and saw the results from Landover posted on line. I told him the name we had chosen and he congratulated us on our results.

The guys on the team could not wait for our next contest which was scheduled for August in Bel Air. Wait a minute, did you say August? That is two and a half months away, we would probably forget how to cook BBQ by then, I hope not.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great blog through 2007! Now I will look forward to reading your 2008 experiences and wish you Good Luck in your contests!!