Wednesday, December 10, 2008

BBQ Folks = Good People

My good friends Tuffy and Jack

Many stories have been written over the years about the good people that you can meet on the BBQ circuit. I had read a lot of those stories over the years before I became a competitor. Stories about people helping each other, offering tips, lending equipment, helping set up, sharing camp food and drink, and even praying when needed. After two seasons on the BBQ circuit, I can tell you that those stories are true.

As many of you already know, I owe the success that we have enjoyed as a team to my good friend and mentor Steve Farin of the I Smell Smoke BBQ team. Steve took me under his wing and showed me the ropes, let me cook with him and still today, offers advice and guidance whenever it is needed. I have gotten to know his parents as well and now it is easy to see why Steve is who he is, good people all around.

In our two short years, we have also become friends with many of the other competitors from around these parts. Teams we have set up next to are the easiest to meet, we always try and introduce ourselves as we are setting up. Many that I have come to know on the various forums that I visit from time to time have also become good friends. I enjoy looking up a team that I have communicated with over the net and speaking to them in person. It is great to put a face with the name. I have even known a guy that let a forum friend prep his chicken. Although I can try and blame that one on too much firewater on behalf of the trimmer, the fact remains, these are some really good folks.

The only complaint that I have is in the contest setting, there is not a lot of time for visiting. At least, this has been my experience. It seems that when on site at a contest, we are always busy with something. The ideal situation is arriving at the contest site very early on Friday, get set up, get your prep work finished, then you might have a few minutes to walk around and visit. That is, of course, if the folks you are trying to visit have time to speak with you. I don’t like to walk into someone’s camp when they are trying to prep their meat, least we be accused of shigging.

After we get our big meats loaded into the cooker and get it somewhat stable, we will take a stroll around as a team and visit with some of our friends. I think many times this is my favorite time at a contest. Most of the crowd has gone; it is just the cooks and the smokers. We wonder about with a cold drink and shoot the breeze. Toss in some nice weather and you have got yourself a perfect evening.

There is also another time that I like to visit, that being late Friday night. I do not sleep very well when I am on the road and wound up in a contest, so I will usually wonder around the contest grounds after the rest of my team nests up for the night. I will keep stopping back to make sure our cooker is doing what I’ve asked it to do, but for the most part, this too is a relaxing time for me. The cooks are up tending their cookers and fires and all are very willing to engage anyone that comes by in a discussion about BBQ or anything else for that matter. It is a great time to exchange ideas, meet new people, tell lies, embellish stories and or BS. Good fun, good people, it don't git no bettter than this.

Aside from those times, we do not get much time to visit. Saturday morning I am busy with sauces, chicken, ribs and finishing the big meats. Erich dresses the boxes and sometimes we will even cook breakfast. With the first turn in due at 12:00, the morning usually rolls by pretty quickly. After the last box is sent to the judges, we begin to break everything down. Clean and wash the equipment. Cool the cookers, pack the leftovers, load the trailer, well, you get the picture. Most times we just get loaded up and it is time to head to the awards, every once in a while, we get a few minutes to sit down before the ceremony, but not too often. After the awards, a few handshakes, then its head for home, a hot shower and something to eat that isn’t BBQ, anything but BBQ. (More on this in another post)

At first I thought we were doing something wrong, we were not managing our time properly. Then I would see the posts on the forums, "sorry I didn’t get around to see everyone”, or something similar. Others have the same problem; they are busy at the contest with the contest. It is for this reason that I propose a KCBS sanctioned meet and greet. All teams are invited, we have a huge area reserved, teams arrive early Friday, cook all night, then on Saturday at 12:00, we have a giant picnic, everyone brings a dish. We sit around and kibitz, eat, drink, and be merry, then at 5:00, we pack up and head for home, with our designated driver of course. No contest, no trophies, just for fun. KCBS judges would be invited as well and could offer their opinions as they sampled everyones fair. I think it could also be very informative, getting input from the judges on your product. Sounds like a good time to me.

This brings me to the point of this entire post, the good people I have meet on the BBQ circuit. I have almost forgotten to mention two of the very best, my good friends, Tuffy Stone and Jack MacDavid. The truth be told, neither one of these guys has any idea who I am and have never heard of 'Who are those guys?' At a contest, they are just like your old friend. I have had the pleasure of speaking to both from time to time and found them to be very personable. They are always very friendly and will go the extra mile to help anyone they can. While I was at a contest in New Jersey, I saw Jack giving hands on advice to a first time team that had set up next to him. In addition to being nice guys, these two are both very good BBQ cooks. Tuffy and his team have won 9 Grand Championships this season and Jack has done it all from winning many Grands, to appearing on TV along side of Bobby Flay on the Food Network.

In a contest, these two are just a couple of the cooks, or so it seems. What I find most impressive is, on Saturday, late morning, along about 11:00 or so, when we are up to our elbows in alligators, you will see them. They will come past each and every site wishing the teams good luck. The thing to keep in mind is these are two of the guys that everyone is trying to beat. They come by with a smile and a wave, “good luck today fellows!”, and in my humble opinion, they really mean it. Very impressive in my book.

This October at Dover, where we were lucky enough to take Reserve Grand Champion, the past two years the contest was won by Tuffy and his team Cool Smoke. As soon as the awards presentation was over, we were still reeling from the shock of the call, the very first person to walk up and offer his congratulations was my friend, Tuffy Stone. Good people I tell ya.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Diamond State BBQ Championship Oct 17-18, 2008

Only 6 months till Salisbury

Getting ready for the cook-off at Dover Downs had its ups and downs. On one hand, we were anxious to get back and cook after our exciting time at the New Holland Summer Fest. Since New Holland, I had been working on our chicken attack, basically throwing everything out the window and going for what I thought would be uncharted territory in regards to the presentation, and it taste pretty good too. I figured it was either top ten, or the judges would kick it to the curb and we would be in the bottom ten, possibly DAL. Either way, I was looking forward to giving it a try.

On the other hand, this was to be our last contest of the year. Where did the season go? It seems like only a week or two ago we were loading up to head to Salisbury for the season opener. And last weekend weren’t we just in Bel Air with about 150 of our friends and family enjoying a warm summer evening? Time flies when you’re having fun is what most would try and tell you. I think it’s a direct result of growing older. It seems like the older we get, the faster time moves or something like that. Oh well, that is enough pontification on the aging process, lets get back to baabeque.

Everything was in the trailer, the coolers were packed, and plans were all made. I was taking the entire day off on Friday and was really looking forward to the trip. When I called the guys to arrange a departure time, they wanted to know why we were leaving so early. The short answer was I wanted to get over there and have a little time to enjoy the day on Friday, and that we did.

The drive down was uneventful, we arrived at our site and set up very quickly, after 6 previous contests this year, set up was a breeze. Although, I think that this was the first contest where everyone was able to arrive all at once and help with set up. Of course, the team members that had missed a few set ups, (me included), were being ridden hard by those that didn’t, thin skins won’t last on this team.

After we got everything into place, we grilled some burgers for lunch, and then began to trim the meat. We took our time and had a lot of laughs and before I knew it everything was trimmed and back in the coolers. Then took a stroll around. We walked onto the track and then into the turns, the banking in the turns is incredible, the straight-aways are even banked.

A few visits with friends then it was back to the site for, get this, and I think it’s a first, we all took a nap! Wow, time to relax and take a little snooze, we must have really gotten here early or we are getting very efficient. No, we didn’t pass out from drinking too much beer while trimming the meat, we were just relaxing.

There were 78 teams signed up for the Diamond State BBQ Contest, one of the largest contestant fields for us this year. The list included many top flight teams. The weatherman said no rain, but it looked like it could be a little breezy. Hopefully we would not get the winds that we had last year, but 10-20 mph would be windy enough, especially with the cool temperatures that they were predicting.

Everything went into the cooker on time and things ran smoothly until morning. When I got up to get the ribs on, most of the meat was a little behind. Nothing drastic, just not where I wanted it to be. A little nudge on the cooker temp and we should be OK.

The chicken cook was a combination of past and new methods; it would take several hands and some timing to pull it off. We had not cooked this way for a contest, I would recommend not trying this. Ideally, you should have practiced your methods BEFORE the contest, not AT the contest. I had done it at home, in the kitchen, with a lot of flexibility on my timing. Never using the cooker, on site, and up against the clock.

We went over everything in the morning and I have to say that the cook went very well. One thing was for sure, after building the chicken box, the rest of the boxes would be a breeze. The entire turn in went very smooth with the exception of fighting the cold wind. We tried our best to keep things warm, and I have to think that in some small way, we did.

The brisket box was in, and we were done for the season, happy and sad at the same time. We packed up the trailer in record time as the awards were at 3:00, we had to hustle. The team ambled over to the awards area and took up a spot. I really wanted to see how our chicken made out. Fred Bohn, the contest organizer began to call the chicken category first, beginning with tenth place. As he mover up the latter, I was getting more and more discouraged. First place chicken went to the team that was next to us, Smokey T’s. We had met those guys for the first time this weekend and they really seemed like good folks. Congratulations to Smokey T’s, first place chicken.

After chicken, Fred moved onto ribs. Al looked at me and I just shook my head, I just knew my chicken experiment had gone wrong, horribly wrong. Ribs came and went, then onto pork, still no mention for the team from Street. Man, we really blew it this time I thought. I spent the next 10 minutes trying to come up with a good excuse. Surely I could blame the cold breeze, everyone would back me up on that one.

He was well into brisket, the next to last category before we heard our name called for third place. Wow, that was alright, it certainly took some of the sting from my chicken defeat away. We could at least hold our head up with a third out of 78 teams in the brisket category. I was very happy, to hell with that chicken!

The overalls again started at 10th, no one team had really dominated where you could easily pick the top three before they were announced like you can at some contests, it seemed like it could be anybody’s game. Second place, reserve grand champion, goes to…..they even had a drum roll guy……..”Who are those guys?”...... what did he say? you are kidding…..what?….wow…we’ll take it….

The rest is a blur, the team stumbled up to the front to collect our extra large trophy, which, in keeping with the Dover theme, contained a working slot machine. Grand Champion went to the Midnight Smokers, the same team we finished second to at New Holland, congrats to them.

There were pictures, handshakes, smiles, and back slaps all around. Wow, I couldn’t believe it, second place, 78 teams, one call, 3rd place brisket, as my friend MC Dan would say, INDEED! Our other stuff was very solid, 13th chicken, 14th in both pork and ribs. Third place overall went to our neighbors, Smokey T’s, congratulations to those guys as well.

Next week end is the World Championship contest in Lynchburg TN, the Jack Daniels Invitational. Several teams that we have become friends with are making the trek to the hills of Tennessee. Maybe one day, if we are lucky we will get a chance to go down and cook against some of the very best cooks around, I am sure it is a very exciting time and we wish all of our friends well.

Our season has ended, but what a season it has been. We were second place in the last two contests we cooked, and for that I am very grateful. We had a very enjoyable season, met a lot of new friends, and learned a lot along the way. The team is really working well together and I am very thankful to have them as teammates and friends.

My wife, Joann, has been helping out in Mikes absence. I think she is going to submit an application to join the team as an official member; I will leave that discussion for another day. She has been a big help, and also a great sounding board for many of my wild ideas and plans, and for that, I am also grateful.

Finally, in an attempt to end this long winded, nonsensical blog entry, I say, we had a great time this season and look forward to next year, after all, its only 6 months until Salisbury, that should be enough time to work on my chicken…..

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Bridgeton NJ, King Pig BBQ, September 19-20, 2008

…what is this?

Thursday morning I received an email from Dan Hixon, 3 Eyz BBQ. Dan was cooking in Bridgeton NJ on Friday and needed some help. Mutha Chicken Dan was going to help on Friday but could not stay the night due to a previous commitment. Dan would be by himself for turn in’s on Saturday and was inquiring if I would like to come on down.

I glanced at the schedule and found nothing pressing. A quick call to the boss and I was clear for take off. Dan said I wasn’t needed until the morning, but I was welcome to come down on Friday. As soon I was finished work I was bound for New Jersey. After a few stops I made it on site by about 7:30.

I helped make the boxes and eat the chicken wings, it was a good time. It was nice being at a contest without the pressure. Don’t get me wrong, I still wanted to do a good job, but it was a different feeling than the usual Friday night stressing that I have come to know.

Dan and Dan had all the meat prepped before I arrived. After the boxes were made, we only had to light the cooker and load in the big meats at the appropriate time. After the meats went in, MC Dan took off for home, while 3E Dan and I wondered over to visit with the Dizzy Pig gang.

When the DP team is at a contest, their site is always a gathering place for many of the cooks. Chris and the crew always make everyone feel welcome, often times passing around samples of some really tasty camp grub. This time they made lettuce wraps and grilled pizza, good would be an understatement. Followed with a sip or two of some really smooth tequila and I was ready for the sack.

The next day I slept in and didn’t get up until after 8:00. If I could only sleep like that when I am cooking at a contest. Dan and I went over what he wanted to do when it came to crunch time. I would assist and run boxes, everything was in place. His meats came off on time and all was well, we were working together without a hitch. Chicken time came and our box went in with time to spare.

Pork ribs were next, into the box, then off to the judges, two down. Dan had asked if I would like to build the pork box, sure I would. His pork was tasty and I was working on separating my selection for placement into the box. Things were humming along.

I looked up from my task and saw the contest rep, Linda, heading our way carrying a turn in box. Correct me if I am wrong, but aren’t the boxes supposed to be going TO the judges, not away from them? I froze; Dan whose back was facing the rep could only see my face, which I am sure showed an expression of absolute shock. “What’s the matter?” He had barely uttered the words as Linda came to a stop along the work table. Soon, we both would know what was up.

Linda lifted the lid, lying in the box were two ribs. Stuck on the end of one rib was something sticking straight up. “what is this? “ asked Linda. Dan and I both were speechless, my mind was racing, my mouth dry. As you know, anything other than the meat and garnish in the box is an automatic disqualification. What could it be? I looked closer; it sure wasn’t anything we PUT into the box. Then it hit me, the item looked like a slivered almond.

Dan had encountered a crooked set of bones while slicing his ribs for the box. I remembered as he was not happy with the look of the rib on the end, if you looked, you could see the slice into the cartilage/bone. The sliver was a piece of bone that had apparently surfaced when the top layer of ribs was removed during judging, whew, that was a bit stressful.

Linda returned the box to the judges’ tent. When I dropped off the pork box and inquired, she advised the box had been accepted, as a bone sliver was part of the meat, wow, a close one.

The brisket box went in at 1:30 and we got everything cleaned up in pretty short order. The only hitch was the contest organizer decided he did not want a mass exodus of the cooks after the awards, so he announced the awards wouldn’t be given until 5:30. The contest reps had the results ready by 2:30 and everyone had to sit around and wait. The awards, as late as they were scheduled, were even late getting started, beginning at 5:45. As the awards began, it was announced if a team wins any prize money, they must report to the judges tent AFTER awards to have the check written. I thought that perhaps, the checks could have been written in the extremely long down time between turn in and awards, but that is just me.

The contest was won by Stumpy Coal BBQ, reserve was Jacks Down Home, Dizzy Pigs were a close third. The best part of the event was the trophies for reserve and grand. A local chain saw artist carves King Pigs from a whole log. Then there is the King Pig Crown, really cool.

Stumpy Coal, along with the winner from the contest held this weekend in Westport CT, R2BQ, were both graduates of the Steve Farin, ISS cooking class that I attended this past June. It seems that folks that have attended his class improve their scores, just an observation.

The weather was great, the food was tasty, the venue was nice, (along the banks of a large pond), and the festival music was rockin, who could ask for anything more. (Other than a more timely awards presentation) I had a great time cookin and hangin with Dan and Dan, Overall, a great weekend spent on the Jersey shore.

Friday, August 29, 2008

New Holland Summer Fest August 22-23 2008

…is that thing supposed to be smoking like that?

After I recovered from what is now known as, the “Bel Air Chicken Incident” I began to look forward to New Holland. Some might remember that we had our best showing ever at New Holland last year, so in some regard, we were anxious to return. New Holland boasted a 72 team field, all of the sudden, 40th place chicken wasn’t looking quite so bad. Still, I wanted to try and improve, I knew we had it in us.

The weather forecast the week before showed the Summer Fest in the direct path from the remnants of a tropical storm, showing rain for both Friday and Saturday. I had been scheduled to have the day off Friday the 22nd, but at the last minute, things at work changed and I had to work, what a bummer.

Erich and Al came through again and hauled the trailer up to Lancaster County on Friday morning to begin the site set up. I don’t think I am paying those two enough, perhaps a raise in their salaries……maybe not. Anyway, it was mighty nice of them and it was a big time saver. I took off as soon as I was finished work and arrived just in time to trim the brisket and chicken, at least they left me something to do.

The weatherman changed his forecast mid week and it looked like great weather all weekend, comfortable days and cool nights, who could ask for anything more in mid August? The meat trimming went off without a hitch and we all sat down for another super pasta meal prepared by Al, complete with red wine and fresh baked bread. Erich remarked he was glad he didn’t have to run out for wine this time.

After dinner has become one of our favorite times at a contest, it was time for the evening walk. We all grab a drink and wonder around the contest site visiting and yacking with the other contestants. Of course no stroll would be complete without a visit to Jim, the guy with the magic cherries. Enough said about that!

Eventually, we all drifted back to our site, Erich and Bobby opting to hit the cots while Al and I decided we were in the mood for a nightcap. Al mixed some concoction of which I do not know the ingredients, which was, as it turned out, not such a good idea on my part. That drink, oh yea, did I mention the watermelon drink that Steve (Team Agave & I Smell Smoke) gave me just before dinner? Toss in a few of Jims cherries, well, you can see were I am going with this. Just a little bit too much of the high octane stuff for a 50+ year old light beer drinker from Essex.

Al and I also decided to go on another road trip while enjoying our night cap. We stopped at Sled’s site around 1:00 am just as he was preparing to trim his chicken. Sled was commenting on how he hated to trim chicken. I glanced over and saw the two packs, how long could that take, 12 thighs, piece of cake. With all the trimming practice I had this winter, this was a 10 minute job. “If you’ve got some gloves and a sharp knife, I’ll trim it up for you.” These words, or some other drunken, must have been out of my extremely large head comment, spilled from my unusually big clap trap.

Whatever the case, Sled was more than happy to pass this unwanted duty off to me. What I didn’t see was the additional packs that were under the two that were visible. To this day, I have no idea how many thighs I trimmed for my friend Sled, but I think he was planning to open a KFC the next day judging from the number of thighs on hand. I didn’t think I would ever get finished. The worse part was, as I told Sled the next day, the thighs I trimmed for him looked a hell of a lot better than what we had back in our cooler. I almost went up to his site Saturday morning to see if he was using them all. I have received several e mail requests for chicken trimming at Dover, our next contest, maybe I am on to something here. A small fee perhaps?

Upon finishing with Sleds yardbird, Al and I stumbled back to our site to grab a little shuteye. Usually at a contest I have a hard time sleeping, but I gotta tell you, I slept like a rock this night, perhaps it was the cool night air, who knows, but the next thing I knew, it was after 6:00 AM and we didn’t even have our ribs on the heat yet.

I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter, when out on the lawn, there arose such a clatter. The clatter, as it turned out was my aching head. Three Tylenol and 45 minutes later and I was as good as new and off to wolf down a fine breakfast prepared by the guys at Smoken Dudes. After, of course, we stuck the ribs into the cooker.

Our meats were coming off the cooker as planned, maybe even a tad early, everything sure was running smooth. Maybe a little too smooth. Just about everything was resting, it was after 9:30 and I was jacking up the heat in the cooker to get ready for our chicken cook. Everything was running itself, so I thought I would run across the street to the mens room to take care of a small matter. I told Bobby where I was going, Al went down to buy a raffle ticket and Erich was out visiting. Everything was fine, I would only be 10 or 15 minutes at most. We would assemble around 10 to get the chicken started.

I ambled across the street and had a successful visit. I returned about 15 minutes later and everything appeared to be normal as I walked towards our site, contemplating my latest attack on the waiting chicken thighs.

It was then that I learned the truth. Jo, my wife and Bobby had been the only ones in camp, Bobby’s back to the cooker as they were in deep discussion about the chefs choice entry that Jo was preparing. It was then that Jo noticed a large amount of smoke billowing from the cooker. “…is that thing supposed to be smoking like that?” Jo asked Bobby before he wheeled around and saw for his self. He moved toward the cooker, opened the door, then the smoke really rolled. They had to back out of the area to be able to see, Al retuned to the site and together he and Bobby got the fire under control and everything back to somewhat normal.

Of course, there were some shouts and jeers form nearby competitors, many inquiring as to the brand name of the tire that we were burning, and all of this happening before I returned to the site. Once I was back, it took a few minutes of convincing before I believed the true story. Fortunately for us, most of our meats had already been removed from the cooker. I thought the team handled the problem very well, despite their fearless leader being off site, preoccupied as it were. In other words, I am glad that I missed it.

The rest of the morning was fairly uneventful, the boxes came together very well and we were all happy with our product. We felt like all of our submissions were about were we wanted them to be. Even with the grease fire, we were still very satisfied. This contest included two additional non KCBS categories, sausage and a chefs choice. In total, we had 6 entries to prepare between 11:30 and 2:00 PM.

At New Holland during the awards, they call from 15th place up, which I think is very nice. The field is large, and to get the recognition of hearing your team name called is very fulfilling to anyone that cooks competitively. We sat as they called sausage, chefs choice, and chicken without a mention of our name. Ribs came and was getting down to the last, when we heard our name called for 1st place. Wow, our best call ever for ribs had been an 8th last year here, and now we were 1st, unbelievable. Looks like the ISS cooking class was a big help.

Pork came and went, no call. Brisket, we took 5th, very respectable considering the level of competition that was here. Now it was time for the overall awards, Midnite Smokers had taken 1st in brisket and pork, also getting a chicken call, so everyone figured them for Grand, but who would Reserve be? They started the call at 5th then moved up, some of the names we tossed around for Reserve had already been called, who could it be?

Honestly, we never even considered our team, I am sure no one would have predicted it, but there it was, Who are those guys? Reserve Champions, 2nd place overall. I was frozen, stuck to my chair. It wasn’t until everyone was urging me to get up that I could finally rise and head towards the announcer, after, of course, gathering the other members of the team. We walked forward together to collect our trophy, all of us absolutely astonished. Grins were all around.

The rest of the afternoon is a bit of a blurr. Many others came up and offered their congratulations, hands shakes and back slaps were a plenty. This would be another easy ride home. We had won Reserve Champion with only two stage calls, but, I guess our two other finishes, chicken at 22nd and pork at 24th were solid enough to keep us in the hunt. Jo’s submission of a peach & blueberry bread pudding with a rum butter sauce finished a disappointing 36th. I thought it was great; the judges however, had the last word.

It was very rewarding getting the kudos from the other cooks that day and later on the various forums that I visit. Reserve Grand Champion at New Holland, to say we were happy would be an understatement. The best part was the feeling that we had as a team, we had been working very hard all year and this was our best finish ever. Maybe we were improving. I think we all were surprised and at the same time satisfied with our finish. Additionally, we are all very grateful for a memory of a super weekend that will last a very long time, grease fire and all.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Bel Air BBQ Bash Aug 8-9 2008

Did anyone get a tag number on that truck?

Have you ever been hit so hard that the wind gets knocked from your lungs? You struggle just to get a breath, your head spins, your heart races. Well, Saturday afternoon, around 4:45 PM, just after receiving the final score sheets for the Bel Air BBQ Bash, that’s exactly how I felt, and I wasn’t even physically hit. I felt, however, like I had been hit by a screaming Mack truck.

We were walking back to our site, the awards ceremony having just ended. We had one call to the stage for 5th place pork, we were fairly upbeat when I glanced at the over all finishing order and found we had finished 14th overall. The field at this contest was very strong and included a lot of very good teams, so we were quite happy with our overall finish.

The happiness was short lived however. While still walking, I turned to page two which contained the chicken results. Looking from the top down, as is a natural way to review such information, I was into the thirty somethings and had not found our name. My weary, over taxed, alcohol preserved, working on 2 hours sleep, pea brain was having difficulty processing this revelation. Surely, I had read over our name in my haste to read and walk at the same time, a difficult feat for me even without throwing in a marathon weekend BBQ contest. A multi task person I am not. (and don’t call me Shirley!)

I would just need to stop for a minute and take a good look. The team and I all thought our chicken box was one of our better submissions for the day. At Bel Air, they call from 8th place forward; we must have been somewhere near there, even though our name wasn’t called to the stage. Top twenty for sure, it was that good. Flavorful, bite through skin, tasty, tender, we had it all packed into that first entry of the day.

Oh, and did I mention it looked good too. We were able to get 10 thighs into our box, I think that’s gotta be a world record. In short, our chicken box had it all as they say, it was the complete package.

I moved to the side a bit to get out of the main flow of the large crowd and perused the list a little more carefully this time. Where was our name? It has to be there. It was then that it happened. Out of nowhere, bam, I was down. I believe that I lost consciousness, although maybe not completely. I had thought the road was closed to traffic.

Have you ever read accounts from those that have had near death experiences, many speak of the bright light that draws them. Some have even said they could feel the light pulling them. Well, I did not see just a plain light. What I saw was a large neon sign, the light was flashing, and I could barely see it through the thick fog that was also present, (possibly related to my Patron intake the night before.) A force felt as though I was being pulled to the light. I felt like I had to at least get a little close, I had to see what the light was saying. What was it trying to tell me? Just a little closer and the fog wouldn’t be so thick, I thought as I inched closer and closer, fighting the urge to run in the opposite direction.

As I moved closer I finally could make it out, I saw a large four and a zero, the numbers must have been over ten feet tall and were blinking wildly, like the disco lights from the Babylon Club on Route 40 back in the eighties. Maybe this is what they meant by a disco inferno. The lights were not pulling me. In fact, it was just the opposite, the closer I got, the more I wanted, or should I say, needed, to run. The light was driving me away, it was repulsing, it was making me ill, I had to get away. This must be what chemical warfare is like. The whole thing just wasn’t making any sense. I couldn’t breathe; my head was spinning and also aching. Somebody, quick, call me a Doctor.

The next thing that I knew, I was blinking my eyes and scratching my head, trying to get my bearings and remember what had happened. I was looking up from the ground, surrounded by my team members and several concerned citizens. I think a stranger asked if I was alright. I know Bobby asked me, “how’d we do in chicken?” Although I am sure he meant to say, “how you feelin?”

The score sheet was still clenched in my sweat soaked paw, I picked it up and glanced again at the chicken page, struggling to get my eyes focused, and there it was, in bold black ink,
who are those guys? 40th place chicken.

I tried without results to mouth the words to Bobby and the rest of the team, but they wouldn’t come out. My mouth was as dry as the Sahara desert, I couldn’t speak. Instead, I thrust the sheet in their direction and let them read it for themselves, as I struggled to my feet. I could see they were more concerned with our chicken score than they were of my well being. I can’t say that I blame them for that.

I stumbled back to our site, struggling to understand, to grasp, to comprehend. The crowd seemed surreal, I could hear faint voices from off in the distance, “you idiot you”, “what the hell did he do?”, “I wonder if he even KNOWS how to cook a piece of thigh meat?”, “**** that chicken”, were just a few of the comments that I can recall. I am sure there were more. The fellows just weren’t happy.

The 3 or 4 regular readers of this blog, (at least I hope I have a reader or two), will recall that I have spent a lot of time this past winter working on my chicken method. Some have even considered it a chicken obsession. I would have thought that, at the very least, I had a small understanding of the procedure. Now I think not. I have hit the wall. Maybe, striking the wall was what knocked the wind from my lungs, causing Saturdays episode. At the very least, it certainly knocked the wind from my sail. I feel dead in the water. I don’t know where to turn. I feel like I am spinning wheels. I suppose its back to the drawing board, again.

After a hot shower and a good nights sleep and it was time for the contest debriefing. The only thing I could say without question was the weather this past weekend was great, it could not have been better.

I looked our chicken score over, all 7’s and 6’s, with the exception of Judge #5 who gave us 3-9’s, the highest score possible. That Judge must have been one of the 150 people that passed through our site Friday evening. Either that or he was drunk. One or the other, or maybe both.

All 6’s & 7’s, nothing “wrong” with the chicken. Average. Just nothing right about it, no “wow” factor. The same chicken we finished 8th with two weeks ago in Stevensville. The only variable was the quality of the chicken we received from our supplier.

While for the most part, we have been very happy with the quality of the meat they have been giving us all season, this week was different. The thighs were all very small, and looked somewhat thin. I thought perhaps they gave us thigh meat from Cornish hens instead of chicken, but who knows.

But alas, they are not to blame, for it was I that trimmed, prepared and cooked the chicken. And we all know you have to play the cards that you are dealt. A good cook should be able to overcome adversity and still produce some decent product, and in this case, I failed.

Failure might be a bit strong here, but I will certainly try and do better. We have New Holland in two weeks and there will be over 70 teams cooking there, no time for a relapse.

The rest of our entries were fairly solid considering the field, 5th place pork, 15th ribs, and 19th brisket. Pork, which had been our anchor last year, seems to be improving.

The over all winner was the team from BBQ Guru. Congratulations to Bob, Fred and the rest of the gang for their first Grand Championship. Back in March, there was a post on one of the forums asking who would be a first time Champion this season. My prediction was the Guru gang, I am very glad for them. Also kudos to Stoddard and Brown for winning reserve, those guys are so hot, the rest of the circuit better watch out in Kansas City and Lynchburg.

I know, I know, there will be a draw for S&B to get to the Jack. I will tell you this, at the Guru/ISS class last month there was a drawing for a new Digi Que. And the winner was, Brett Brown, the Brown in Stoddard and Brown. Talk about hot, I told Brett he should go out and buy a few lottery tickets. On fire is an understatement, somebody call the fire department.

With the exception of our feathered friend we were very happy with our scores. The team again worked well together as they are becoming more familiar with the routine and are moving ahead making the operation run better at each outing. If only the head cook could pick things up a notch or two we might be able to improve our scores. We’ll see.

As I said before, we have New Holland in two weeks. This is always a favorite of mine. I like the area and the organizers do a great job of running the show. The only down side is, it is held in the end of August, summer is disappearing quickly, where did it go? Seems like only a week or two ago we were heading down to Salisbury. Time flies when you’re having fun is what they say. This time I think “they” are right.

That’s all for this weeks edition from the WATG? blog, be sure to look in next week when the topic of discussion will be, how to feed and entertain 150 of your closest family and friends in a 20 x 20 foot site while trying to compete in a BBQ contest or next year why don’t I just fill my shoes with hot coals and walk around instead? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

July 25-26 Stevensville MD Chesapeake Bay Cook-off

A new team is forming and there is nothing I can do to stop it………

When picking days off during the summer months I was told that I could not have the date of July 25th as I requested. No big deal, I had been given most of the other days I had asked for and the contest was only 1 ½ hours away. Erich was taking the entire day off and volunteered to haul the trailer down to Stevensville and begin to set up. My wife Jo, who would cook the seafood contest Friday night, went along on the trip from Street to the eastern shore. Al picked up our chicken and would meet them there.

Everything came together as Bobby worked a ½ day then drove right to the site. The teammates set up the site and began to prep the meat before I was even off work. I finished work at 5:00 and took off for the contest. I had the radio on during the afternoon and was listening to the traffic reports for the Bay Bridge which is usually jamming on a Friday evening. All reports were saying no back ups so I decided to take a chance and take that route.

The trip went off without a hitch and I arrived at the contest site around 6:30 to find a complete set up, most of the meat was trimmed and resting in the cooler as it should be at this time, we weren’t behind at all, and I hadn’t even been there. Hmmmm, what did they need me for, I thought to myself. They did leave the brisket for me to trim, I suppose to make me feel at least a little useful.

They were going to let me help Jo get her entry boxed, although I noticed when I started grilling the shrimp, Al came over and took the tongs from my hands. Oh well, I took a walk around the grounds and greeted some of the other teams. After the seafood turn-in I returned to the site and trimmed the brisket. After which, we enjoyed a great meal complete with farm fresh tomatoes and sweet corn, man, was it good.

After dark, we were treated to a great 20 minute fireworks display, Erich broke out the stogies and all was well, or was it, things had run a little too smooth in my absence. I sensed something was afoot. I’d have to get to the bottom of this one.

My plan was to ply them with alcohol, then ask a few general questions to see what I could find out. The plan was moving along nicely, with plenty of beers being knocked off during dinner and the fireworks. Then I broke out the Crown Royal and Patron. Things get a little foggy from here on out, I think I forgot what to ask. Come to think of it, I think I even forgot the focus of the investigation. Oh well, we got the big meats in on time and took a leisurely stroll around the site visiting with the other teams, to hell with the inquisition, I’d work on that in the morning.

The weather was great and I think even got a few hours sleep, with the exception of a rather loud laughing girl a few sites down. I don’t think they knocked off until after 3 AM. These organizers really need to enforce quiet times. Most teams agree, but there are always a few…..

The next morning I was up early prepping the ribs for the fire. I was joined by the usual suspects, Bobby and Al, with a special guest appearance by Erich. He will claim he always rises early, to which we all disagree. We were all in stitches when Christy from the VA Pirates wondered into our site at around 9:00 AM and exclaimed upon seeing a vertical Erich, “what are you doing up?” Nuff said.

The cook went surprisingly well. Timing was on, no rushing; things went into the box without too much trouble. I think we only ventured into the last five minutes of one window. I ranked our boxes from best to worse, brisket, chicken, ribs, pork. The judges agreed for the most part, as you can see by the results. The best part was Jo’s seafood dish took 2nd place. We were all very happy for her and she was beaming when she walked up to collect her ribbon.

Our goal here was to try and break into the top ten overall, and we were successful for the first time this year with our sixth place finish. We are moving in the right direction, 16th Salisbury, 14th Chesapeake, 11th Landover and now 6th. I would like to keep it up, time will tell.

After we packed up the gear and were waiting for the awards, the fellows finally spilled the beans. They are considering starting their own team, now that they realize they don’t need me around barking out orders, they can get along just fine without me. Some are planning on passing out resumes at the Bel Air contest. I think they are serious, they have even come up for a name for the new team, “We were those guys!” Then, they say, I have to change the name of my team to “Where are those guys?”

I wonder what this is going to cost me. I wonder if it’s not too late, if I can reform and be a better person, a better, more understanding, more compassionate and flexible leader. Maybe I will experience a revelation of sorts, similar to old Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning.

Wait a minute, hold the phone, me, more compassionate, more understanding, and dare I say flexible,……..nahhhh...... I don’t see THAT happenin!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

ISS Competition Cooking Class

You want me to do WHAT to my chicken?!???!

The weekend of July 28-29 team mate Al and I traveled to Warminster PA, just north of Philadelphia to the home of the BBQ Guru for the I Smell Smoke cooking class. The class was to be held in a contest format and included everything from meat selection to box building and presentation. Steve Farin even promised to reveal their new, top secret and successful chicken method. I couldn’t wait; we both were looking forward to the event.

Dan Hixon from the successful 3 Eyzs BBQ team, fresh off their third Grand Championship win at The Art of BBQ held in New Jersey, was planning to join us for the weekend. Al and I arrived early and began to set up. We were about halfway finished when Jim from Pequea Pullers parked next to us, remember Jim , the “cherry guy” from Bel Air. Jim is a good cook and an all around nice fellow from near Lancaster PA. He always travels with a jar of cherries that are usually swimming in some type of high octane rum. Another word to describe them would be flame throwers, wow, they are strong.

Anyway, before we finished our setup, out new neighbor Jim was set up, had out his lawn chair, had mixed himself a drink, and was lighting up a cigar as he sat down to watch the rest of us finish our work. Now, either I am bringing way too much junk or Jim has a bit of Houdini blood in his veins, (maybe from all of those cherries), but I gotta pay attention to my buddy Jim next time to see what I am doing wrong. He’s always got a prime seat to watching the world go by, and I have to admire that!

It wasn’t long and the class began. Steve and the rest of the I Smell Smoke team did a great job of explaining how they select the cuts that they cook and also what they do to prepare the meat for the cooker. They were very patient and answered all of the questions that were asked. Regular readers of this blog will know that Steve Farin is my BBQ mentor and basically taught me what little I know about cooking competition Que. I had cooked with Steve in the past but never had the opportunity to take notes and observe his work from a student’s perspective. It was great.

After demonstrating all the prep work, we were all given a full load of contest meats to take back to our sites and get ready to cook. The ISS gang wandered around, observed, answered questions, and gave pointers to everyone as we prepped our own meats for the cooker. Dan, Al and I worked to get our meats ready as instructed. It was then that Steve asked if I had any extra room in my cooker for his big meats, as they did not bring their competition trailer which contains the cookers they use in competition.

“Sure” I said without even hesitating. I had plenty of room. It wasn’t until after all of the meat, his and ours was prepped and shoved into the Tall Boy that it hit me. What if I blew it and ruined his meats. He was the teacher, the instructor, the Mack Daddy, if I didn’t properly cook his stuff, I couldn’t hide in the back of the class like I could if I had only ruined my meat, the whole world would know, particularly Steve, my friend and mentor. I couldn’t let him down. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep a wink all night, worrying about the cook. It was even worse than at a contest, and I can’t explain why.

The next day when I joked with Steve that he had applied too much pressure on me with his meat cooking, he calmly, (as he always is), said that if mine didn’t turn out, he would just grab someone else’s to use for demonstrational purposes. Why didn’t I think of that, if I had, I might have been able to grab a few hours of shut eye.

The BBQ Guru team did a great job with the class setup. They served up a super dinner Saturday night that included Phili style pork loin sammys, complete with broccoli rob and provolone cheese. I had never had this sandwich before, but it sure was good. After dinner we were given a tour of the Themomegatech / Guru shop. My only comment here is WOW. I always thought that Shotgun Fred, the company founder was an on the ball guy, but I think I had underestimated him, genius is more fitting. The guy has 23 US patents registered in his name. Speaking of Fred, you will remember he suffered a stroke while attending the contest in Salisbury this past April. Fred was in attendance at the class on both Saturday and Sunday, looking good and in great spirits. It was a real blessing seeing and speaking to Fred after what he has been through.

Overall, I found the class to be very informative and helpful and I look forward to using some of our newly acquired skills in the next competition, which for us is July 25-26 at Stevensville, MD. I also enjoyed hanging out with fellow competitors Dan, Steve, Brett and Jim. It was good having time to shoot the breeze without the pressure that exists when involved in a contest. Anytime you get that many BBQ cooks together, you know you are in for some good stories, a few cold beers, and a lot of laughs, trust me, this weekend did not disappoint.

If you ever get the chance and you want to try and improve your game, I would suggest taking a class. Even for an experienced cook, it is great to see what others are doing and I am sure you will pick up a few tips that will help you gain a few more points. It is money well spent in my humble opinion. Even for the average backyard BBQer, (like yours truly), a class cuts months and months off of the learning curve.

Some of you may recall my battle this winter past with our friend the yardbird. I have to tell you, these guys at ISS have a whole new twist on the chicken attack. If I had known then what I know now……well..…I guess its back to the drawing board!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Are you ready you retire from competition cooking?

Retire? we are just getting started...........

There was an interesting post on the BBQ Brethren Forum last week that asked the question, are you ready to retire from competition cooking? I read with interest the numerous posts and comments with regard to this very interesting topic.

While I am not ready to retire as of yet, I will say that I intend to cut back a bit next year. This is due to two main reasons, rising costs and not enough weekends. This is our second year of competition. The first year we did 4 events, this year 7, toss in a weekend cooking class and that’s 2 months of weekends blocked out of the calendar. While some may say that’s nothing, I think it’s a lot.

For me, a contest is a 5 day deal. Wednesday, check over the trailer make sure everything is in place. Thursday, go to the store, pick up meats, prep sauces etc. Friday, travel to the contest. Saturday, travel home, crash out. Sunday, clean out trailer, empty coolers, odds and ends, etc. It is a lot of work.

Don’t ask me on Sunday if I want to do another contest, you might not like the answer. But, after a day or two of rest and refueling, I am anxious for the next contest scheduled for our team and busy working on ways to improve our product. Certainly not ready to retire.

We are about to enter into a stretch of 3 contests in 6 weeks, Stevensville, Bel Air, then New Holland. In retrospect, I don’t think this was very good planning on my part. Of course, in March, when planning the upcoming season, our team has been idle since October, causing a bit of fog to enter into my vision. Seven contests, 3 in a six week period, no problem. Bel Air is our home event and we really like New Holland, so my guess is Stevensville will be a one time shot for us, unless they move the date.

We then will go from New Holland at the end of August, to Dover, the season ender, held in the middle of October, another month and a half of down time. Although I am sure that after our six week run, no one will complain about a few weeks off.

One problem I see from a competitor’s viewpoint is the scheduling of events within our region. While we were at Landover, there was another event held just north of here in Yardley PA on the same weekend. The Stevensville date is close to Bel Air. More than likely, this will cause us to skip that event next year. I would think that event planners would try to spread events around a bit to try and maximize the amount of team participation.

I know I am drifting off topic here and for that I apologize. My original point is this competition cooking takes a lot of effort, which is a fact. Planning, competing, cleaning up, all takes time. I enjoy the effort and don’t mind the work. My only concern is the block of time involved, and what gets neglected as a result. My kids are pretty much grown, so its not a matter of running them around. Summer weekends are a prime time to have friends over to eat outside on the deck, enjoying the nice weather and the garden. That would be if my garden wasn’t over run with weeds, another result of my time limitations.

Seven events, 5 days per, that’s almost a month, that’s a lot of time, particularly when you have to work for a living. And I, for one, HAVE to work for a living, not only to pay for this rather expensive hobby, but to keep a roof over our heads. When the wife and I look over a summer calendar, with BBQ, family vacation, a few weddings and other events we are committed to, we have not much time left for entertaining and or working around the house trying to keep things in some order. Although I will admit, the ladder has never been one of my strong points.

So, in conclusion, I guess my point is, time flies when you are having fun. It is almost July 4th and before you know it, Labor Day will be upon us, the significance or point of this rambling post, I have no idea. What I do know is, when you are busy, time moves quickly, when you are bored, time goes in reverse. Am I ready to retire from this crazy sport? no way. Will we cut back next year? Today’s answer is yes, we’ll see what my answer is next March.

One thing is for sure, life is too short to work all the time. You have to get out and enjoy yourself in order to make life worth living. Even if it takes some work to be able to have fun. All work and no play, blah blah blah. I have enjoyed the first half of our season and look forward to the rest of the contests. As for retiring, I leave that for the other guys, just don’t ask me the day after a competition.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Landover MD Beltway BBQ Showdown June 6-7

Do we really need red wine?

The plan was to take a half day off leaving the office around lunchtime on Friday. The trailer was loaded, the meats and the beer were on ice, everyone was ready to roll. I work from a home office and started work a little early to lessen the impact of taking a ½ day off, as we had a lot of work going on. I started work at 4:30 AM. It was close to 1:30 when I left to get on the road, which is not including a lunch hour. I might not be very good at what is now called the new math, but that sure sounds like 9 hours to me. No matter how you add it up, it sure is not a half a day off, oh well, gotta pay for this habit somehow.

Erich and I hit the road heading south to Landover. Of course, everyone one else had been waiting around for our departure which was only 90 minutes later than it should have been. Anyway, we arrived at the contest site around 3:30 and began to set our site. We were one of the last to arrive. Jonathan, the contest organizer greeted us with a big smile and a handshake. This is the second year for this contest and he does a great job, always stopping by to see if you need anything. His was our first contest a little over a year ago, my how time flies when you are having fun. It was very warm, with a little breeze, not too bad. Everyone was buzzing about the forecast for Saturday, record setting heat, along with a heat advisory, wow, I can’t wait.

As soon as we were set up, we began to trim our meat. It wasn’t long and we had everything ready in the cooler. Al had decided on spaghetti with meat sauce for Friday nights dinner. He made the sauce at home and brought along some great crusty bread, all the makings of a great evening meal. What about the wine, we were, after all, having pasta, even at a BBQ contest, I think red wine is required with pasta.

Not to worry, to the bat mobile, its time for a road trip. Al and Erich, armed with driving instructions from Bobby, were off to a nearby liquor store. ( It would later be discovered that Erich wished he was armed with more than directions when traveling in some areas of Landover)

The contest was held at the Prince Georges Sports and Learning Complex. A very nice facility complete with indoor pools, water parks, running tracks, exercise rooms, the works. The entire complex is located right next to Fed Ex Field, home of the Washington Redskins. While the complex and stadium are new and improved, the same cannot be said for the surrounding immediate neighborhood containing the aforementioned liquor store.

Team mate Erich does not travel out of the Harford County area very often, or so it seems. Upon arriving at the liquor store suggested by veteran Washington area traveler team mate Bobby, Arthur and Erich were first met by an off duty PG County police officer working as security on the parking lot in his marked patrol unit. Not a real big deal, Erich has seen plenty of squad cars sitting in parking lots. The best was yet to come.

Upon entering the store the two wine thirsty Q’ers found a store right out of Baltimore City. The store was complete with the waiting room or lobby, separated from the rest of the store with a wall of bullet proof glass, the whole thing centered with a turnstile that the money and goods passed through when a transaction is made. They had a large selection of red wine that would go well with pasta, Al said there were 4 bottles on the shelf. Most of the remaining wine selection was better served in a brown paper bag. Upon leaving the store, our two heroes’ were approached by a man selling some type of elixir from a shopping cart. I guess it was a modern day snake oil salesman. Welcome to Landover Erich.

Erich was amazed at what he had witnessed. A sad commentary on life near our Nations capital, but thoughts and musings along those lines are better left for a blog elsewhere on the net. The bottom line is we all enjoyed some decent red wine with our delicious pasta meal and a good time was had by all.

A few fine cigars, a stroll around the grounds to see a few of the teams that we knew, and before we knew it ,it was time to nest up for the night. Did I mention it was around 73 degrees, pretty warm for trying to sleep. I laid down after I was sure the cooker had leveled off and I began to sweat. Even as tired as I was after getting up at 4:30, I could only manage a few hours of restless sleep, a little warm.

As daybreak came, the sun stayed hidden and offered some welcomed relief during the mornings activities. By about 10:00, ole Mr. Sun broke out and you could just feel the temperature climb. By then things were pretty much moving along and again, as in Chesapeake, we were on schedule. Everything except one butt that must have been made of stone, seemed like it hung out at about 150 for most of the morning, eventually finishing and joining the rest inside the cooler to wait for turn in.

The Who Are Those Guys team members are really working well together. The guys are moving ahead and anticipating the next move, all to the benefit of time and pressure being lifted. Working well together and still having loads of fun. A pleasure to be around, even when the product the head cook produces is sub par. I was happy with the chicken and the pork, the ribs and brisket, well, that was another story. If I could only learn how to cook.

We got everything boxed up and delivered to the judges with plenty of time to spare, I ranked our turn ins from best to worse, pork, chicken, ribs and brisket. The judges agreed slightly. Our finish was 4th place pork, 8th brisket, 16th ribs, and 17th chicken. 11th overall in a 29 team field. Again we were pleased.

The awards were held in the middle of an open field which felt like a frying pan, man, was it hot. The drive home was not too bad, as we were only about 90 minutes away. I was able to cool down, get a shower, a shave and some sleep. I had to get up early Sunday morning to cook beef, ham, and turkey for 150 folks at a friend’s daughters graduation party. Team mates Erich and Al volunteered to lend a hand with the Sunday cook and it was much appreciated.

Our friends and neighbors Stoddard & Brown won their second Grand Championship at this contest, they are on a roll. I e-mailed Brett, the Brown of Stoddard & Brown, to ask them if they would consider skipping the contest in Bel Air. I am still waiting to get my reply.(just kidding)

We have almost a month and a half until our next contest which will be held in Stevensville MD in July. In the meantime, Al and I are taking a BBQ cooking class being put on by my friend Steve Farin and his team I Smell Smoke along with the BBQ Guru guys. The class will be held at the Guru shop in Warminster PA June 28-29. For info, here is the link I think its gonna be a good one! Perhaps after taking this class, I may finally be able to good some decent Que, or maybe not, we’ll see. Stay tuned!!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Chesapeake Jubilee, Chesapeake VA, May 16-17

Driving to Mediocrity, is 500 miles too far?

The trailer was loaded and ready to go when Erich arrived at my house Friday morning at 3:30 AM. We were meeting Bobby and Al down near the interstate for the 5-hour drive south. It had been raining steadily most of the night and the forecast for Chesapeake was for possible showers until around Friday midnight, we hoped they were wrong.

The trip went off with out a hitch and we arrived at the contest site pretty much when expected. Skip, the contest organizer greeted us and he quickly showed us to our site. The rain had stopped and we set up camp in short order, it almost gave the impression that we knew what we were doing. Quite an illusion.

It was not long and we met our neighbors Steve Farin and Dirty Dick who had flown down to compete under the name of Dirty Smoke. Next to Steve was the gang from the BBQ Guru. (Bob tells us that Shotgun Fred is doing well considering what he has been through and is continuing with his rehab) On our other side were the Virginia BBQ Pirates, Tom and Christy, fresh off a great finish down in Salisbury. A very nice neighborhood.

On the bright side, it wasn’t raining and the sun actually came out after lunch, it was a really nice day, so far. We had decided we were not going to enter the “anything Butt” category that was to be held on Friday night. But, after some prodding from Steve, Al and I drove over to the Food Lion to see what we could find. We were thinking seafood but after a look at the seafood section, we opted for bratwurst, yea that’s close.

Our contest meats were prepped and in the cooler by mid afternoon, we cooked and entered the “anything butt”, the weather threatened, but never rained, all in all it was a very enjoyable evening. Well, until we decided to try to get some sleep. As the threatening weather blew out, the winds increased, with gusts in my estimate, 20-30+ mph at times. Our canopies stayed put, but a few teams were not as lucky, nothing as bad as Dover, but windy for sure. I usually bunk in the trailer near the cookers. Due to the direction of the wind, when a big gust would come, the roof of the trailer would buckle sounding similar to someone hitting the aluminum roof with rocks, and that was on the outside, you should have heard it inside. Between the rocking and the banging due to the wind, I thought I was in the haunted hold of a ship all night, needless to say, I didn’t get a lot of sleep.

Some teams complained later of the noise made by a few partying teams, but to tell you the truth, I couldn’t hear them over the noise my trailer was making, The Pirates next door were treated to my trailer noise as well, sorry guys! The big gusts finally subsided around 3:30 and I was able to get 2 hours sleep until my alarm sounded at 5:30.

The sun rose and it was a beautiful day. The meats came off on time and at temperature, it was if the Gremlins from Salisbury didn’t even make the trip. My guess is it was the rising cost of fuel, but who knows.

The chicken was prepped and went into the cooker on time. When we were finished we had bite through, moist chicken for the third week in a row, wow, I could not believe it! It’s amazing what a little practice will do. Did I say a little?

Everything went well, we were not behind, not rushed, no panic, no problems. I was even happy with all of the entries for the first time ever. That had me scared. This was a first. I felt that this thought alone was enough to sink us to the deep. After brisket was in, we broke down the site in record time, packed up the trailer and even had time to sit around and talk with Steve and Dick before the awards.

We wondered over to the stage area and were not in our seats long when we heard our name called for 8th place chicken. We also took a 4th place call in brisket. The rest of our results, well, let’s just say, not too good. This was a 29-team field, our pork was 20th and our ribs were a resounding 28th place, one away from DAL. Woohoo! We finished 14 overall. Mediocre. We received our first score of 4 ever from a judge, for rib tenderness. Which is hard to understand when another judge gave us a 9 in tenderness, (the highest possible score), but, that’s the way it goes. I hope not to make it a habit of collecting scores of 4. I think that maybe one of those Salisbury Gremlins might have a cousin living in somewhere in tidewater Virginia, but who knows.

Overall, we had a ball, even with the long drive. Congratulations to everyone that walked, especially to our neighbors Tom & Christy, the Virginia BBQ Pirates who won the grand championship while cooking in their forth contest ever. Way to go matey’s!

We had traveled over 500 miles in 2 days, spent a ton of money, gone with little sleep, cooked some good and some mediocre meat, (per the judges). Some might question our sanity, well, we already know I am not all there. Are we nuts? I guess a little. Will we go back next year? Better ask me later after I catch up on my rest. Will we try to improve our product? I think that’s the only thing you can count on, I am already working on that one!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pork in the Park, Salisbury MD April 18-19

BBQ Gremlins; fact or fiction

BBQ Gremlins, do they exist? Many have pondered this age-old question ever since the Caveman first put fire to meat. The debate has raged for years, rivaling the argument about Big Foot or the Loch Ness Monster. While I can not say that I have ever personally observed these pesky creatures, I have observed the signs left behind when they decide to pay you a visit. I can not say for sure, but if you ever get a chance to capture or possibly photograph one of these little buggers, you would be set for life. I will caution you however, that there are several alleged Gremlin photos circulating around the internet and in the supermarket tabloids, but most have found to be fake. Use caution if you see one, my advice would be to observe from a distance, take a photograph, then grab him by the throat and throttle the life out of him. (I realize that this sounds a bit harsh, but if they ever pay you a visit, you will know what I mean) You can then stick the remains in a bottle of formaldehyde and go on the carnival/daytime talk show circuit; you’ll never have to work again, particularly after you appear on the Oprah Show.

The Salisbury Pork in the Park contest was scheduled for April 18 and 19th. The weatherman promised good weather and then he delivered. Two days of sunny mild weather was just great for mid April in the Del Mar Va area. Contest organizer Sandy Fulton told me early on that she had a weather connection and I believe her. The first two years of this contest had rain for both days. It seems after a rocky start; Sandy has managed wonderful weather for this year and last, I think she does have a weather guy! What Gremlins?

Our team was really looking forward to the season opener and a chance to get everyone together again. The contest at Salisbury has really grown, this year there were 83 teams. Some of the big names in BBQ were there which prompted many on the BBQ bulletin boards to say they would have to bring their A game, which I pretty much think they would have brought anyway.

Mike couldn’t make it to Salisbury, my wife Jo went along and had agreed to cook the chiefs choice on Friday night. Al was going to handle the Perdue chicken entry which was also set for Friday. Everyone else on the team was there, and we blasted off early Friday morning for what should have been a 3-hour tour. (remember Gilligans Island)

Note to self: when cooking in a contest of many teams, do not wait until arriving in the town where the contest is to be held before buying your garnish. We stopped at a Food Lion as soon as we hit Salisbury and the green leaf lettuce had already been picked over, what was left was not very attractive. Not to worry, we bought four crappy looking heads, (just in case), and Jo would run out later and grab a few better looking heads. She did run out, went to three stores and could not buy a head of green leaf, valuable lesson learned. The BBQ Gremlins were just warming up.

After stops for breakfast, charcoal, ice and garnish our three hour trip turned into a 4 1/2 hour trek. We were just glad to get there. Bobby, who worked a ½ day wasn’t far behind us and we left at 7 AM. Did I hear a giggling Gremlin?

We arrived and got set up without a hitch, met our neighbors, had a few beers and got the two Friday night categories turned in without too much difficulty. Later on our big meats went into our preheated Tall Boy right on schedule. A couple of fine cigars and all was well in our little corner of the world. We even had time for a little visiting. A nearly full moon along with warm temps made for a very delightful night. Who is afraid of a few Gremlins?

Saturday morning at 5:30 AM, my alarm sounded. It was sometime around 6:00 when I drug my large behind out of the rack to get the ribs into the smoke. While I was at it, I would check temperature on the big meats which had been cooking all night. To sum it up, they were not where they should have been, they were behind, way behind. This set the tone for the entire day. I tried everything I could but the bigs were standing still, the only thing getting done was a flat and picnic I had in the WSM, if all else failed, we would have something to turn in. As meats were wrapped and finished, I would move others between cookers. It was a game of musical chairs and the clock was ticking toward chicken time. I think the Gremlins had stayed up working while we slept, or so it seemed.

Did I mention the grease fire? Sometime after breakfast, as I was steadily jacking the temp up in the Tall Boy the Guru alarm sounded for a heat spike. I opened the door and found a grease fire in the lower section of the unit. Nothing like the smell of burning grease emitting from a cooker filled with unwrapped meat that was to be used for a contest entry, man, that ought to give us a good flavor! We extinguished the fire, cooled the cooker and moved on, what else could we do, it was nearing 10:00 AM. The Gremlins were laughing their Gremlin butts off.

I was behind on starting my chicken prep and rushing was not fun. I got everything ready and into the cooker for the first leg of the cook which by all previous time studies would take about 1.5 hours. The chicken came to temp in 1 hour, how could that happen? Those dam Gremlins. There is nothing like holding chicken for 30-40 minutes while all of the juice slowly leaves the area right before your eyes, what a feeling!

All of the pork eventually came off at temp and feeing done. The ribs were pretty much on schedule, but a slight miscalculation in time caused them to be a tad over cooked, but not too bad.

The brisket was another story. We eventually got it to temperature, but it sure didn’t “feel” done. We pulled them and tossed everything into the cooler to await turn in time. The Gremlins had to be holding their sides by this time.

I think I can offer a brief summary of our entries. Chicken, rubbery skin, moist inside, tender meat. A beautiful testament to my winters trials and tribulations, can we say time well spent, I think not, Gremlins again. Ribs, a little over cooked, not very pleasing to the eye, flavorful and tender, a bit dry. Pork, the picnic and one butt felt very good, the other butt was like pot roast, overall, I thought it was our best pork submission yet. The brisket, we cooked two packers and a flat. The first flat from a packer I cut into for a taste test actually looked like it emitted a cloud of dust. Did somebody say dry, as dry as a popcorn fart. A repeat occurred on the next packer flat. That left the flat we cooked solo. At least the knife would cut it, but I don’t think I would go so far as to use the word tender. That had to be Gremlins I heard earlier, somebody get a net.

We got everything into the boxes, and by the way, Lettuceman Erich did a yeoman’s job making good looking boxes from crappy looking lettuce. We were behind in time during the entire turn-in procedure. The ribs, I wanted to take out and rebuild the entire box, but we were down to two minutes to go, we had to close the lid and send them in. Gremlins at work.

As Erich was slicing the remaining brisket into pieces for the team to take home, he had to stop several times as he was overheating the electric knife. Man, that’s what I call a tender brisket, who wants some? Needless to say, I brought home a ton of brisket meat this week, oh well, it does make good chili. Maybe I’ll feed it to the Gremlins!

We packed up the gear and shuffled over for the awards. This was our fifth contest and I honestly sat down and thought there is no way we are getting a call in the strong field that was there. I was almost right, we heard our named called for 4th place pork. Pork, which had been our anchor in Landover and New Holland. Our first call ever for pork, in a field of 83, not too bad. Just when we thought we ran the Gremlins out of town, we left the contest without ever taking a team picture; I guess they got the last laugh.

The score sheets would show we finished 16th overall, a decent effort in a very strong field. Our scores were 49th chicken, 22nd ribs, 4th pork, 36th brisket, 11th Perdue Chicken, and 46th in chefs choice. Not bad despite the efforts of the BBQ Gremlins.

While no official confirmed Gremlin sightings were recorded in Salisbury this past weekend we feel certain they were present. The signs they leave behind were everywhere at our site. I would swear to you that I could hear them laughing at me several times, especially right after I put out the grease fire, although, the laughter could have been coming from the teams around us but I really don’t think that was likely. So, the myth continues. I cannot offer any solid evidence as to their existence, it is all circumstantial, as is evident by this story. I can only hope that their visits are not frequent, and hope not to see or hear them again for the rest of the season, and if I do, I think I have a trap that will work.

We had a ball, the weather was great. We saw some old friends and made some new, overall, the trip was a success. There was one bit of sad news announced at the cooks meeting Friday night. Shotgun Fred Pirkle, the inventor and manufacturer of the BBQ Guru and the Caldera Tall Boy that we use suffered a stroke at the contest site on Friday morning. For those that don’t know Fred, he is a real ambassador for the sport of BBQ cooking and an all round nice guy. Very few cooks take their walk to the stage to accept an award with as much enthusiasm as Fred. Thanks to the quick reaction of bystanders and local paramedics, they were able to get him quickly to the hospital in Salisbury. The BBQ Guru team went on to take a 1st place call in pork and finish a very respectable 12th over all. We wish Fred a speedy recovery and will keep him, his family, and the entire Guru gang in our thoughts and prayers and ask that you do as well. Thanks.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Seven days and counting

Checking my list and checking it twice

Today is April 11 our season opener is in Salisbury on April 18th , seven days from today. I have had all winter to get ready and guess what, I am behind. This past weekend I pulled everything out of the trailer, cleaned and organized all the drawers and boxes. Scrubbed the cooker and went over my checklist.

I still have a bunch of supplies to gather and of course, the last minute items. Why is it I feel like time is running away. I have 7 days left which includes a weekend, plenty of time, yea right. I think part of the feeling is anxiety and part is excitement. Both related to the new season beginning.

I think I need to listen to my own advice. Relax and have fun. That is what we will do. I have cooked a ton of various meats over the winter and have learned a very valuable lesson. I have learned that I do not know one dam thing about cooking BBQ, period. A very valuable lesson indeed.

One thing you can count on, we WILL have fun. I just received a new shipment of some mighty fine premium cigars, we have a jug of agave juice already on board. We are ready to go. If we get to Salisbury and don’t have it, we will buy it or we didn’t need it anyway!

I am looking forward to the new season, looking forward to seeing old friends and making new ones. I will enjoy hanging out with my teammates, drinking a few beers and maybe eating some good grub. If we get in the mood, we might even try our hand at some Que.

So, if you are out and about on the BBQ circuit this year and see our setup, please stop in, say hello, introduce yourself, sign our guest book and maybe have a cold drink. We would like to meet you. We would also like to take this time to wish all of the other competitor’s good luck and safe travels for the upcoming BBQ season. We look forward to seeing everyone again. Happy trails.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Spring 2008

Get ready!

It’s hard to believe that it is already early March. Time sure flies when your having fun. Winter around here was not too bad so far. A little snow, a little ice, some cold days, overall I would consider it fairly mild. Although, you would not know it looking at the checkbook when paying the heating bill.

We are planning to compete in seven contests this coming season. I have checked with the team members and we have agreed on a schedule. Most of the entry forms have been submitted and the excitement is building.

I have been busy writing this winter. Of course, I have been writing in the blog. I am not too sure that anyone is reading, however, I will continue to write for both of my loyal readers out there! I hope to keep updates coming when the season begins. I may even attempt to submit some contest recaps to KCBS for possible submission in the Bull Sheet. We will see and I will keep you posted.

Practice cooking has been on my list for this off season. I have been cooking alot of BBQ. My wife thinks I should be committed. I have been spending a lot of quality time with chicken thighs. The neighbors don’t care, as long as I keep feeding them Que. As for the kids, they are about filled up on BBQ and I can’t say as I blame them. Its to the point now when I light up the smoker on Sunday morning, the kids ask if we can order a pizza.

This past weekend I worked on chicken and ribs again. I was hoping I would be finished with chicken after this weekend, but it looks like I will be at it again next week, I am close, but still have some work to do. I have been doing some experimentation with some interesting results. I have also been working hard on my pork and brisket. Did I call this work?;) Needless to say, it will be a while before I crave chicken thighs again.

I have been squirreling away supplies all winter so I do not have to buy then all at once and have just about everything we need. The trailer soon will be moved from its winter parking spot. I plan to pull everything out and reorganize, removing any items that we haven’t used and trying to make more efficient use of the space that we have.

Our first contest for the year will be April 18-19 in Salisbury MD. Last year I cooked with Steve at this one and had a lot of fun. This year he is cooking with his regular team, “I Smell Smoke”. This is a great spot for a contest and the folks that run it do a great job. The event website shows 52 teams already registered and it is only early March. Every time I speak to one of the guys on the team, the conversation quickly turns to BBQ. Everyone is anxious for the season to begin.

At Salisbury, they have two additional categories on Friday night. My wife, Jo, is going to cook the Anything But event. She has been working hard with her planning and possible presentation. There is also a Perdue chicken contest. I think we will also enter this one as well.

On the many forums that I visit, folks are also looking forward to the new season. Contests are becoming a little more frequent down south and I am sure they will be moving north with the approach of springtime and warmer temperatures. Threads on the forums have discussed everything associated with contest cooking from garnish to judges and gas prices. Folks all around are looking forward to the 2008 competition season. Cabin fever would be a good term here.

This winter I became a member of the Mid Atlantic BBQ Association. The organization has been around for a while and sponsors, among other things, a BBQ Expo in April. Recently, as a result of the hard work of some of the members, they have improved their website. The web site now contains past event photos and a newly added MABBQA discussion forum. It is a very good place to exchange ideas and thoughts on BBQ competition and cooking in general.

A few hardy souls competed this past weekend in two winter contests up north. I am not sure we are ready with our, “cots under the easy-up” set up to tackle a mid winter event yet, but kudos to those that did. Some mighty brave souls.

For many here in the mid Atlantic area, Salisbury is the season opener. I am sure I speak for many of the teams in this region; April 18th can’t come soon enough!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

2007 KCBS Team of the Year Awards

During the annual KCBS banquet held January 18-20th, in Kansas City, the Team of the Year (TOY) Awards were announced. The 2007 winner is Tuffy Stone and Cool Smoke out of Richmond Virginia. Congrats to Tuffy and the gang who have been competing on the circuit since 2004 and have already racked up 10 State Championships. Who are those guys? received mention on 3 lists. 50th overall, 36th in chicken, and 23rd in brisket. Not bad considering there are over 4000 teams around the Country. We understand this will be the last year the list is prepared in this format, as the criteria for making the list will change due to new KCBS regulations. In the future, to be considered for a TOY award, a team must cook in at least 10 contests. With 7 contests on our schedule for 2008, it looks like we are out of the running before the first fire is lit. Oh well, we will enjoy the 2007 list for as long as we can.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Part 13- The off-season, Winter 2007-08

Competitive cooking, is it a sport?

When I look back over our first year of competition, I am still amazed. I read and reread the results from the contests. I look at my notes, and then I reread this blog, it still causes me to shake my head. The guys on the team came together and worked as a unit. Way to go fellows, thanks for your efforts. We cooked in four contests, in which, we walked nine times to the stage, wow, I still can’t believe it.

A great big thank you goes out to my friend and BBQ mentor Steve Farin. You may have read earlier in this blog, when I chronicled how I met Steve and he shared with me his interest and passion for competitive BBQ cooking. Without his friendship, guidance and instruction, our results for this season would not have been possible. Now, having cooked in contests on my own, and experienced the pressure and stress involved, makes me really appreciate the time and patience that Steve showed during those times that I assisted him. I am sure that I asked more than my share of dumb and untimely questions. For that, I say thank you Steve, thanks for everything.

As a sign of our gratitude for Steve, our team has vowed to always have a bottle of his favorite elixir, agave nectar, on hand in our trailer for when he stops by. If you are at a contest, and see our set up, please stop in for a shot. Introduce yourself and trade some stories, we would love to meet you.

I finally found a competitive sport that I like. I tried my hand at golf, never had much interest. Besides, takes too long to play a round these days, what with all of the slow playing woman on the course. (just kidding girls) My vertical leap is not quite good enough for the NBA, close, not off by much, and I got that age thing working against me. Bull riding is out, what with my tender crotchel area and all. (see part 11) World Series of Poker, cost too much just to buy in and I have trouble seeing the cards with sunglasses on, besides, my head is so large, its hard to find a pair of shades that fit. Nope, BBQ looks like a winner. Good friends, cold beer, beef, chicken, pork, ( all the major food groups covered), and sauce, now there is a sport you can really get into. Any sport that one of the first steps is to rub your meat is OK in my book. Vegetarians need not apply.

I know, I know, there are some that will say, competitive cooking, that’s not a sport. I used to get into these arguments with guys at work all the time. These same guys would say NASCAR, that’s just driving in a circle, no sport there. Then they would go home and watch golf, poker, billiards or competitive hot dog eating on ESPN. Correct me if I am wrong, but if competitive eating is shown on the Nations premier sports channel, then it must be a sport. And if the eating is a sport, why can’t the cooking of those hot dogs, or in this case BBQ be a sport. My dog-eared copy of Merriam-Webster’s says, sport- noun- /’sport/ a source of diversion: recreation, physical activity engaged in for pleasure. Nuff said, I think we have those requirements covered here.

It’s probably a good thing too, that BBQ is my sport. You have heard how “they” say he has the frame of a halfback, or, he has the hands of a quarterback, or, he has a body built for wrestling. I never quite heard anything of this sort when I was coming up. I will spare the gory details of the comments that were, and continue to be, hurled my way. One thing for certain, I have a body built for BBQ, there is not much dispute to this statement. A hot greasy smoker, surrounded by friends and family, some good tunes, a couple of stains on my shirt, cold beer in my hand, all shrouded in a sweet smelling blue smoke, that’s what I am talking about! That’s what I call livin. It really don’t get no better than this.

As we fill our days during the off season with family, working, blogging, test cooks and plans for next season we can’t help but stop every once and a while and look back at the season past. We had a lot of fun and met many new and interesting folks that we now call friends. Most of all we experienced first hand how many good and caring people are involved in this sport. From the competitors, contest organizers, judges and reps, almost everyone displays the same, “what can I do to help you?” attitude. Even though they compete against each other on a regular basis, they are always quick to help one another anytime the need arises. When you are at a contest, it’s like a huge family cookout. The only difference is, there is more than the usual amount of drunken Uncles attending. To me, it doesn’t matter if you win or loose, I am just glad to be there, and proud to be a part of the BBQ community.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Part 12 –Diamond State BBQ Championship, Dover DL Oct 19-20, 2007

Dover Blows and they aren’t kidding!

I could not believe it was October already. It seemed like just yesterday we were doing the test cook in my driveway. The summer had flown by, I guess because I was so busy. Oh well, it was time to get ready for what would be our last contest of the season. Bobby was out of town on vacation and would not make the trip to Dover, we would miss him.

The contest would be held in the infield at Dover Downs Racetrack. This is a track that hosts the NASCAR teams twice a year for a race. The BBQ teams set up on the pads where the NASCAR drivers park their campers when they are in town. Each site has its own hookup for water, electric and sewage. A very nice setup.

We had everything in the trailer that we needed and those items pretty much stayed put. I did like to look things over and make sure we had everything before we took off. We kept a list in the trailer during contests, when we found we needed something, we would note it on the list. I would check the list and get the needed items, if possible, before the next event. One exception was after Bel Air, Bobby noted that we needed an RV, I think we will hold off on that purchase for a little while.

Responsibilities at my new job would prevent me from taking the entire day off on Friday. Erich and Mike came by around 9:00 AM and hooked up the trailer to head for Dover Downs. They would meet up with Al out on Route 95 and make the trip together. I would take off as soon as I could. We did not have time to trim the meat beforehand, so the trimming would have to be done on site.

I worked in the office until around 11:30 before I was able to sneak away for the weekend. Around 2:30, when I arrived, the boys had the site set up and everything was in great shape. Mike and I began to prep the meat, we had decided on one extra butt and brisket along with two additional slabs of spares in addition to the amount we had been cooking. The prep work would take a little longer than usual, but we had time.

Mistakenly, I had packed only one boning knife in the case that I carry to each contest. I do not think I will make that mistake again. I had other knifes in the case, but it’s hard to make time trimming with a slicing knife, lest you would like to add a little fillet-O-finga into the mix. Believe me, I have a hard enough time working with the proper sharp knife without requiring a transfusion, as the nicks and scars on my ageing digits will bear witness to. So needless to say, having only one boning knife, and now with additional meat, we were a little behind on our prep work.

Chris, from IQUE, was flying solo this weekend and was next door to us. Believe me when I tell you, doing a contest is a lot of work when you have four others helping, I can’t imagine doing one alone. I had corresponded with Chris several times on various BBQ forums but had never met him in person. After introducing myself, I asked him to join us for dinner.

Steve was also cooking this contest. He was working with Jack McDavid of Jacks Down Home and was set up not far away. I told him to be sure and stop by for some chili and a shot of agave juice, which, in the tradition of my mentor, we now kept on hand in the trailer for just such occasions.

Erich and Al attended the cooks meeting and collected the boxes. We finished with the trim work by early evening and then enjoyed a fine dinner of chili, cornbread and sweet corn on the cob, the last of the summer, prepared by Al. A nice dinner, a couple of beers, a fine cigar, a few laughs, it was starting out to be a very enjoyable night.

The weather around these parts can be very unsettled in the month of October. It can be cool, you might even see a heavy frost in the later days or a possible snow flurry. You may have to switch the air conditioning back on, as some October days can be down right hot. Of course, the transitional days between these differing weather systems can always be a little exciting.

So far this year had been fairly mild, we really had not seen any sign of fall and or winter as of yet. On Friday we were wearing short pants and tee shirts, the nights were cool, but the daytime temps were very enjoyable. On Friday afternoon, the weatherman was calling for a front to move through the Delaware area, with a possibility of severe storms accompanied by strong and gusty winds. We took the normal precautions when setting our site and anchored our canopies down with five gallon buckets filled with water. During the afternoon and evening, I tried to keep things in the storage boxes in case we had to move into the trailer due to rain.

Folks that cooked this contest the year before talked about the wind and how strong it blew on Friday that year. I had seen pictures of some of the damage, it did not look like fun. One competitor even coined the expression, Dover Blows, in reference to the winds, of course. Around 10:00, I spoke to Jo on the phone. She was watching the Weather Channel and said that it looked like we were about to be clobbered. I will never tell her, but I wish for once I had listened to her, please, keep this between us, and do not tell her. I looked up at the sky, no lightning, no thunder, a few stars, just a slight breeze out of the south, nah, we would be all right, lets go visiting.

We were about 200 yards from our site at the first stop on our meet and greet tour. We found the Pequea boys visiting at another site and we stopped in hopes of scoring a few cherries. While we stood talking, a slight breeze came and lifted the canopy we were next to and dropped it on the road. We all grabbed a post and tried to remove the nylon to prevent the thing from sailing off again, the breeze was still increasing. We had more or less stabilized this canopy, when we noticed the wind was still getting stronger.

Hadn’t we better get back to check on our site? As soon as we started walking in that direction, the wind really started to blow. I looked across the infield and could see multiple canopies taking flight, along with dirt, dust, cooler lids, coolers, paper towels, and anything else that was not anchored down, along with a few things that were. I am not sure, but I think I saw Mrs. Gulch and Dorothy sail by, Auntie Em, Auntie Em! We all began to run in hopes of preventing damage to our site. I was a little concerned that someone was going to be hit by the flying debris. For a while, it was down right scary. The wind was ripping through the aluminum bleachers making a tremendous rumbling sound. It sounded like the benches were about to break off and join the aerial bombardment. I hoped they stayed put.

We arrived at our site just in time and were able to remove the nylon coverings from our two larger canopies before they lifted off. The smaller canopy over our cookers was not as lucky and already went for a ride, laying in a twisted pile against the chain link fence to the rear of our site. Other than a brief shower, it never really rained at all. Almost a quick as it had started, the wind began to subside, the damage already done.

I made a quick assessment of our situation, which really was not that bad. Power restored to the Guru, the cooker was working. We set off to see if we could lend a hand to the others around us that did not fair as well. Property damage seemed to be abundant, the EZ-UP folks would be happy, as numerous canopies were headed for the dumpster. Thank God no one was hurt.

I had heard that a few teams packed up after the storm and left, but I do not know for sure. What I do know is the people that were not hit hard went around and helped those that were. Even people that had minimal damage were out helping those with more extensive damage. “What do you need?” was a question that I most heard that evening, as teams helped each other, lending equipment, supplies, cookers, what ever it took. I, for one, was very impressed by the way that folks came together after the storm, it made me very proud to be a part of this community called BBQ.

The wind subsided, the stars came out and by 2:00 AM, it was an enjoyable night. The rest of the team bunked down for the night while I sat up and had a few more beers. From my spot, with the huge lights over the infield, I could see the smoke from all of the cookers wafting by, what a sight. Life is good.

Morning arrived, unfortunately, a free breakfast was not on the schedule. I understood the contest organizers had put out a nice spread for the cooks meeting that I did not attend. Al and Erich must have forgotten to tell us about that, they surely did not return with any carryout bags. We enjoyed a continental breakfast of coffee and Danish, in house, it was not too bad.

Erich, the fill-in runner, timed the walk to the turn in area to be about two minutes. We would have to be careful with the time. The turn ins went very smoothly as the guys worked very well as a team, many times anticipating the next step and moving forward to get things ready. When we would finish with an item for the day, it was washed and put away. A well oiled machine might be a bit over the top to describe our team at this point, but we were definitely getting with the program, the guys had really come together to move as one. I was sad that this would be the last contest of the season.

After the site was pretty much broken down, I thought I would walk over and see how Steve and Jack were doing. While on the way to their site, I found them behind the RV that belonged to Tuffy Stone from Cool Smoke. Tuffy was last years Grand Champion in this event and has scored numerous wins during his time on the BBQ circuit. Steve waved me over and I found myself in a conversation with three BBQ greats. The talk was about how the turn-ins went and about past contests, I didn’t have much to offer to the conversation when I noticed another fellow headed our way. “Who’s buying the ice cream?” asked Johnny Trigg, a legend in the BBQ world, as he joined the group for a little pre awards banter.

Let me set the scene for you, four guys with who knows how many contests and Grand Championships between them and one fat guy with his jaw hanging open, a large cranium, and BBQ sauce on his shirt, standing in a circle discussing their turn-ins. The fat guy, by the way, has not won a single Championship, is cooking in his forth contest and can barely win an argument with his wife. What was I doing here? At least I was not slobbering that I knew of, babbling yes, but I do not think I slobbered. I had nothing to offer that made any sense, when I could get my mouth to work, nothing would come out, an extreme rarity for me, as anyone that knows me would tell you. Steve tried to involve me in the discussion, but to no avail, it was not his fault, I was mortified. I couldn’t string two words together to make a sentence, I even had trouble trying to produce a coherent thought. The only thought in my mind was, how do I get myself out of here? Finally, the pause I had been waiting for, I spun on my heel and hobbled away, tail between my legs, a broken man. I did not hear it, but I am sure someone had to say as I walked away, “what’s up with that guy?” At least that’s what I would have said. For once in a very long time, I didn’t have anything to say, a rarity, that’s for sure. Somebody notify the press and call me a doctor.

I stumbled back to our site only to find everyone had left to go to the awards, good, that would give me a chance to gather my thoughts and make up a story about where I had been. Surely I could not be honest and tell the whole story about how the cat had gotten my tongue, could I? Speechless, that’s not me.

I located the gang at the awards and it was not long before the fun began. Eighty-three teams were present and they would be calling from tenth place up. Chicken, ribs, and pork came without a mention of our name. I knew it would happen, it was bound to, I just wished that it wouldn’t. A contest without a call, no big deal, look around at who was here, some pretty stiff competition.

Brisket category, tenth through second, no call. First place goes to…….a pause…..”who are those guys?”…. Wow, a first place in brisket, can you believe that one, I know I couldn’t. I had barely settled back into my seat when they started on the overall winners. Seventh place would be ours. I tried to get the others up, but they wouldn’t budge, I was happy to walk again and had completely forgotten about my earlier brush with awkwardness at the BBQ roundtable.

We had worked to improve our pork and must have done something right, as we took 11th place pork, just one position from getting a call. Chicken was 48th and ribs finished 31st, a solid showing overall in a large, deep and talented field.

Dover was our forth and final contest of the season, we would all agree, we had a heck of a run during our rookie year. We learned a lot and met many very nice people, all the while having a good time ourselves. We still have a lot to learn and many mistakes yet to make, some I am sure we will make over and over again. However, as long as you have good friends, cold beer, a little grub, and a warm fire, who could ask for anything more?