Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Beltway BBQ Showdown, June 13-14 2009
‘The Fire Marshal’ Fact or Fiction
The third annual Beltway BBQ Showdown was scheduled for Saturday Sunday June 13 2009 at the Prince Georges County Equestrian Center located in Upper Marlboro Maryland. Three years ago, this was the first ever KCBS contest that we ever cooked, there were 15 teams that year. This year, contest organizer Jonathan Jones has grown the event to include 47 teams. The contest was to be held on Sat/Sun, a first for our team. The good thing is no one had to take a day off of work for the contest. The bad news is, there would be no day of rest before heading back to work on Monday.
A contest week e mail from the organizer noted that all tents, tarps, and Ezy-ups had to be rated fire retardant, (you must present certification from the manufacturer), no alcoholic beverages could be brought into the contest grounds, and all glass bottles were strictly prohibited. Needless to say, this last minute declaration of these various rules, regulations and edicts was met with quite the backlash on the numerous BBQ forums that I occasionally visit. PDF files of flame retardant certifications were sent about along with scanned copies and web addresses for those that were searching for even more info. Dan from 3 Eyz even volunteered to dispose of anyone’s unwanted alcoholic beverages if they were accidentally brought to the contest grounds. I am sure he was only interested in keeping fellow BBQers out of trouble with the long arm of the law. Sort of like jumping on the grenade, so to speak, what a guy.
The equestrian center is used weekdays this time of year to host area high school graduations. The contest grounds had been pressed into service as an overflow parking area the week before the event was to be held. The weather leading up to the scheduled weekend consisted of thunder showers and storms almost every evening. As you well know, wet, grass fields, cars and large amounts of rain usually do not go well together. I spoke to Jonathon earlier in the week and was told the field had become a bit greasy. He assured me he was on it, time would tell.
The forecast for the weekend was for a slight chance of showers or thunder showers, I think like 30%. The up side was, that is 70% chance of no rain, and I like those odds. Besides, we had not had rain at a contest yet, why start now. Friday night I loaded the trailer with all of my uncertified flame attracting canopies along with 3 cases of long neck Corona bottles for the two day cook down in PG County. After all, who can cook BBQ without drinking a beer? I know I can’t, well, its not that I cant, its more like I wont. And I figured, if my canopies caught fire, I could dose the flames with cold Corona.
When we arrived on site around 10 AM on Saturday morning we were greeted by Jonathan himself. All around the contest grounds mixed in with the teams already set up were trucks, equipment, and workers busy spreading, raking, tamping and rolling. It looked like ants on an anthill, everyone moving about, getting it done. I wonder if one of those guys is the Fire Marshal?
We were assigned a spot, were given some instructions, and began to set up. Everyone was there this weekend and we had my neighbor Tony Melvin along for the ride. Tony is a Quer that has recently, along with his wife, become a KCBS certified BBQ judge. Tony was interested in seeing the contest from the perspective of the cooking teams. I hoped this experience wouldn’t scare him away.
We set up in record time and had just sat down to relax a minute when Big Jon, the organizer pulled up with some County official in his golf cart, (not the Fire Marshal), and asked if we would please adjust our setup to move the cooking area. The Fire Marshal himself would be by later and wanted all of the cookers in a certain spot. With reluctant enthusiasm and a few select comments mumbled, the gang pulled together and rearranged the entire site to accommodate the wishes of the yet to be seen Marshal. Who was this guy with all of this power, Matt Dillon?
After we set up for the second time, we began our prep work which came off like clockwork, in fact, we were finished early. Perhaps we finished so quickly because some very threatening clouds were bearing down on us and several nearby folks said the radars on their phones looked like we were going to get drenched. No matter, everything was prepped and in the cooler in record time. We sat around and even had time for a quick nap. We dined on fried crab cakes and enjoyed a beautiful evening listing to a great blues band brought in to play for the cooks. The grounds were not open to the public on Saturday, so the music was for our ears only, and it was good, what a night. The storm cloud had passed and it appeared we had dodged the bullet. Still, no sign of the Fire Marshal.
I have never met a Fire Marshal. In my mind, I am picturing a guy in a department issued turn-out coat, rubber boots, and a fire helmet with a huge star in the center. He even has a star pinned to his coat. The guy is cruising the contest grounds in a beefed up golf cart, painted red of course, complete with a full light bar and siren set up. On the front and back of the cart, are various extinguishers and assorted other fire fighting apparatus. I am thinking, this guy, who ever he is, is carrying a large 3 ring notebook containing all of the local ordinances and regulations. Attached to the front of the binder is a smaller citation booklet used to cite offenders and scofflaws. I think that this is a misconception, but am not sure, having never met one in person, at least, not yet.
The early evening was not completely uneventful. As Big Jon ventured past out site yet again, this time with some other County Official riding shotgun, he again stopped at our site. “George” he began,” “you are really letting me down”, my pea brain, thinking this was a set up line from Jonathan, as he usually has a great sense of humor on display at all times, replied, “hows that?” “Remember that e mail I sent about the glass bottles and the alcoholic beverages?” Jon inquired. Now it began to make sense, this must be the Glass or the Beer Marshal. Me being the quick speaking without thinking, slow witted fat man that I am, replied like any beer drinking BBQ cook worth his weight in brisket would, “there is not a drop of beer in our site!”
Now it was all making sense, Jonathan was putting on a show for the Beer Marshal, showing how he was enforcing the rules on this unruly gang of BBQ cooks, and he wanted my help. I knew I was safe, cause back at the site the gang was all using can/bottle coolers or cups, there wasn’t a visable open container to be found. The Marshal glared at me with disgust,. “there is a bottle right over there on your table”. She might as well finished her statement with the thought that she had, “you jackass you”. Busted cold. This wasn’t a good sign; could the elusive Fire Marshal be far behind?
After dinner, a fine cigar, a few beers in glass bottles, (the Beer Marshal let me off with a warning and the promise that we would not open another can or bottle of beer until after dark), no rain, no Fire Marshal, this was going to be alright after all. Along about midnight, just as we were preparing to nest up for the night, the air got that feel, and we started to see a good bit of lightning. The cookers were over the required 10’ away from my non flame retardant canopies. We use a Guru, which is an electric fan and controller on our Caldera Tallboy. I am no electrician, but I do know that water and electric parts do not go well together. What if we were to move the 8X8 canopy over the cookers to keep them dry? What if the Fire Marshal came by? Did they work second and third shifts? Most fireman I know do.
What the hell, we had already violated 2 out of 3 of the last minute rules. I no longer had any credibility with Jonathan or the Beer /Glass Marshal. Why not go for the tri-facta? Boys, grab a corner. As we carried the canopy to the cooking area, I felt like I was being watched. Was the FM out there watching, waiting, for his chance to pounce, citation book at the ready. I felt that if he were to appear, we wouldn’t walk away with a stern warning this time, we were going down.
It wasn’t long before it was pouring cats, dogs, chickens and pigs. No long after it started, the large amounts of rain, which had no where to go on the large very flat, freshly graded and packed dirt and gravel field, began to puddle and pool up. We had a class 3 stream moving through our site at the height of the storm and about a 3 acre pond when it was all over. Not to worry, we dug a trench with our charcoal shovel and drained all our water onto our neighbors the 3 Eyz BBQ team. What are neighbors for? Besides, I figured the heavy rain and swift moving water would keep the Marshal away.
We planned to move the cover back away from the cookers as soon as the rain stopped, but forgot. The next morning came and went, still no visit, the canopy remaining in clear violation, as if I was actually baiting him, and in a way I was. I wanted him, the big time Fire Marshal, the one that made all the fuss, to come out, to show his face. Come out in your hopped up golf cart with your siren blazing, just like on the TV show COPS, and move in for the capture. Maybe, they could even have a film crew following on foot, or better yet, filming from a circling chopper as the FM moved in and took us out for violating the fire code. For a moment, I thought I could here a muted chorus of ‘Bad Boys” drifting in the wind.
But alas, it was not to be. There was no visit from the Fire Marshal; he would not take the bait. Does he exist? I really don’t know. Perhaps, he is just a legendary figure, like Paul Bunyon, or Davey Jones, used to scare folks into submission. What I do know for sure is, Jonathan and his crew of hard working County employees worked long and hard for the entire time that we cooks were on site to make sure everyone had what they needed and to try to improve the condition of everyone’s site. Overall, I think they did a fine job, and I look for this contest to continue to grow and improve.
Congrats to our friends 3 Eyz BBQ for taking the Grand Championship trophy home, along with top prize in both chicken and ribs. Kenny, Bob, Fred and the BBQ Guru were reserve Grand Champs and took 1st place honors in pork. Chris Capel and the Dizzy Pig boys won brisket and were 3rd over all. The ‘who are those guys?’ team were called to the stage twice, for chicken and ribs and were 4th overall. It has been since May of last year since we have received a chicken call, I hope the trend continues.
The best part of the weekend was standing next to Dan Hixon from 3 Eyz BBQ during the awards ceremony. After collecting two firsts along with a 4th place brisket, it was more or less assumed by the crowd on hand that Dan and the 3 Eyz crew would walk for GC. The announcer called the BBQ Guru for reserve as the suspense built. Then, they decided while they had everyone’s undivided attention, to make a public service announcement, thank a few folks for doing a fine job, and draw the events winning raffle ticket. The raffle winner, who was not immediately available, was called to the stage several times as Big Dan Hixon quietly took the gas pipe while waiting for the naming of the eventual winner. It seemed like forever, but I know it was only a few minutes, I am sure it seemed like hours to my friend Dan. Finally, he got the call and took the walk, congratulations on a well deserved win.