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.