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!