Sunday, September 6, 2009

New Holland Summer Fest 8/28-8/29 New Holland PA

From 1st to 67th in 12 short months
Excuses….I aint got.

In case you don’t remember, last year at this contest we took 1st place in pork ribs. Our score was a 174.857, not bad considering 180 is a perfect score. Our rib score was the highest score out of any of the four KCBS categories for the 2008 Summer Fest. As the old saying goes, that was then, this is now.

The weatherman spoke more and more about showers for the weekend as the days preceding the event rolled on. I am not even mentioning the tropical storm / hurricane that was also cruising around out in the Atlantic threatening to head further east and raise a little heck. The tropical disturbance stayed well out to sea, so much for using that as an excuse. Nevertheless, the team and I took off late Thursday afternoon for the short drive up to beautiful Lancaster County. This was a first for our squad, loading into a contest site on Thursday evening, and I have to tell you, it won’t be the last.

We arrived around 6 PM and got the entire site set up before dark. It was great, no crowds, plenty of room. Erich and I stopped and bought 2 dozen live large blue crabs, Al brought along some fresh sweet corn and tomatoes, we grilled some burgers and steamed the crabs, man, did we have a feast. It was nice hangin out without the inevitable pressure that a contest brings. There were a few other early arrivals, so we had a bit of a party. It was fun, not that a contest isn’t fun, it was just nice to be able to visit, hangout and kibitz without the worry that comes with cooking a highly competitive contest.

The evening weather threatened a few times, but over all it was very pleasant. We all hit the sack and had a great nights sleep. The morning found the entire park alive with newly arriving teams, working to get into place. Meanwhile the WATG? crew ambled off and took in a little breakfast at a nearby eatery, nice. I think I really like this early arrival stuff. So much for the excuse that I arrived at the contest late and had to rush my trimming and prep work, ahh, no big deal, I am sure I can still come up with a good one.

It began to rain around 7 AM Friday morning and continued on and off for most of the day. The intensity varied and some teams had to set up in a bit of a downpour. We had to make a few sidewall adjustments but overall stayed pretty dry throughout the entire weekend. Friday night found our team dining on homemade spaghetti, salad and fresh baked bread, wow, one thing is for sure, we sure eat well at these events. The precipitation did put a bit of a damper on the evening social activities. I find I really enjoy visiting with the other cooks and wondering around the contest grounds on Friday night. Folks had to make their site rainproof to avoid getting wet, they really didn’t lend themselves to being open for visitors. Everyone sort of just hunkered down, the Friday night visiting certainly suffered. Scratch the excuse that the head cook got too drunk wondering around the park yik yaking with the other cooks, I’m going to have to look a little deeper, this is not going to be easy.

The really heavy rain began sometime just before dark on Friday and continued on until after 1 AM. I would like to be able to use cooker performance related to the weather as an excuse, but the fact is, our cookers were lit, loaded and cooked without so much as a bump in the road. So much for that one. Several members of our team spent the night in their trucks due to the heavy rain. I took a short nap in my new zero gravity chair inside the trailer within eyesight of the cookers. Not a problem all night.

The meats went on and came off with relative ease. We had no real problems, just enough issues to keep the boogieman away. Last years Saturday morning grease fire did not repeat itself, no complainants about that. Overall the morning went well, this contest includes 2 additional categories which we were planning to enter, resulting in a very long morning of turn-ins 11:30-2:00, not quite a marathon, but longer than usual.

After everything thing was in, we talked amongst ourselves during the inevitable product review. I rated our boxes from best to worst, chicken, brisket, pork, then ribs. I liked the taste of the ribs; I just wasn’t satisfied with the way they went into the box. Out of all six boxes, we were running the closest on time with our rib submission. I felt it just didn’t look right. Our pork, well I don’t even want to get started on that one, never our strong suit, some thought it was the best looking pork box yet, For me, we had better taste in Bel Air. Oh well, it was in the hands of the judges. Time would tell bad they really were.

While my top flight team mates broke down and packed the site, I ran up to the upper end of the contest grounds to help a couple of local boys from our neighborhood who were cooking a whole hog in their first contest ever. They had done a great job cooking the entry and just needed a little guidance getting it into the turn-in box. Their meat looked and tasted really good and when they were finished with the box, it looked like it had a real good chance of scoring well, and they had done all the work themselves, who ever said contest cooking was difficult. Perhaps I could blame my rib score on my preoccupation with preparing the whole hog box. That might have worked if, IN FACT, I had done anything to help them boys get that pig into the box. Truth be told, they did most of it themselves, oh well, back to the drawing board. I am sure I can come up with something.

The rain stopped and the sun came out just in time for the awards ceremony in the center of the park. A cup of Lapps homemade ice cream was a welcome snack after a weekend spent in the BBQ smoke. We cheered our friends and even took a few walks ourselves. It wasn’t until after the score sheets were distributed before we knew how bad it really was. Right there in black and white, who are those guys? 67th place ribs. And this was in a in a 72 team field. My buddy Dan from 3 Eyz would say, look at the bright side, we beat 5 teams. Me, I couldn’t see a bright side on this one even if I wasn’t the huge pessimist that my wife claims I am. Addition low lights would be 51st place pork and 31st place overall.

We had traveled from 1st to 67th place in the rib category in one years time. A journey I wouldn’t recommend, even to my worst enemy. As for an excuse, being an avid deer and waterfowl hunter, I am usually never at a loss when it comes to this department. But here on an August day in New Holland, I am excuse-less, without excuse. I thought about some of the old standbys, ‘too windy’, ‘the sun was in my eyes’, or how about, ‘the judges don’t know what they are doing’. The truth of the matter is, I screwed up the ribs and am going to try damn hard not to let it happen again, I only have myself to blame. Maybe a little influence by the now famous BBQ gremlins who rumor has it were spotted in the area disguised as Amish and Mennonite farmers.

In all of the doom and gloom and attempted excuse fabrication I almost forgot to touch on the few highlights of this weekends contest. We had a great time hanging out together on Thursday night. The overall cook went fairly well. The team, again, worked flawlessly together. The hospitality shown by Melvin and his dedicated band of contest organizers makes it easy to see why this contest has become the favorite of many teams and judges on the KCBS circuit, including ours. Oh, and we took 3rd in sausage and 1st place in chicken with a score of 175.4288, again, the highest score for any of the 4 KCBS contest meats. Not too bad for a guy that has about 10,000 hours invested into his chicken cooking methods. I hope I don’t repeat the same slide in my chicken scores when it comes time for the next Summer Fest.

I think I’ll run down to the supermarket this morning, I saw where spareribs are on sale this week, maybe I’ll grab a case or two and do a couple of practice cooks. I wonder if anyone in the neighborhood likes ribs.........

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