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?....us….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…..