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!!