Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas is coming................

and the goose is not the only thing gettin fat!

I realized early this year that Christmas is coming like a runaway train. I know this because here in the Northeast, the continuing barrage of annoying commercials being aired by politicians of various ilks has now been replaced with assorted offerings as to what you should purchase for your significant other or family member this upcoming season. Despite the frequency of spots for cars and expensive jewelry as gifts, here at the Hensler House, we are trying to cut back a bit with our holiday spending.

With that thought in mind, I have come up with a list of gift possibilities for that aspiring pit master that you both know and love. I have tried to include a range of prices to be able to offer a reasonable selection without breaking the bank. Although, a brand new diesel powered, heavy duty ¾ ton, 4 wheel drive pick up truck with a trailer towing package is sure to bring a smile to even the most discriminating Humbug on your list.

I realized long ago after watching TV commercials of large and lavish gifts being given out on Christmas morning that I was apparently born on the wrong side of the tracks. Where I come from, family, friends, and quality time are what are most important around the Holidays, and the rest of the year as well.

Anyway, here is my list; I hope it is of some help. I also would like to take this time to wish my readers a joyous, happy, smoke filled and safe Holiday season!

Dr BBQ’s Big Time Barbecue Cookbook, $16.95- Ray Lampe, St Martin’s Griffin- What I consider one of the most complete BBQ books for both the beginner and intermediate pit master. Great stories and good recipes are included along with some very helpful information. This book belongs on the shelf of any serious BBQ chef, backyard or on the competition circuit.

There was another book that I wanted to add here for folks thinking about getting involved in competition BBQ. At the time of this writing, the title and author has slipped from my failing memory. If my internet was up and running, I would try to Google “everything you need to know about starting a competition BBQ team”. I believe that would sufficiently jog my brain cells. It is amazing what you can find through a good old fashioned Google search. If I remember the title or author later, I will pass it on. I have it from a good source, the book does exist.

DigiQ DX- Made by BBQ Guru. A power draft air control system- $179.00 (base price) available from A very reliable system that allows you to control the air flow to your BBQ cooker resulting in more constant temperatures producing a better end product as well as a more steady, trouble free cook. This system is adaptable to a wide range of cookers. In my humble opinion, the support service offered by the folks at The BBQ Guru is first rate.

16 slot Cordura Book Style Knife Case made by Messermeister, $59.75, available from Safe transportation of sharp knifes is essential for any traveling cook or BBQ’er. Knifes left in a drawer or box along with other utensils is an accident waiting to happen. This case is very handy and includes a zippered mesh compartment in the rear for transportation of other small cooking essentials.

The Splash Proof Super-Fast Thermapen- $96.00- available from A good insta-read thermometer is a necessary tool in any kitchen or BBQ camp. The newest model gives you a digital temperature readout in only 3 seconds. Debate continues amongst many experienced Thermapen users as to what color works faster, for my money, I think yellow rules.

9-LED Strap-on Headlamp- $9.86, available at A great stocking stuffer. This is a great tool to have when moving around your cooking or grilling area during the night or early morning hours. The light also has many uses away from the cooking setting and just a good all around gift. I own several.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Life before Que

…am I obsessed?

I just finished up my 4th year on the competition BBQ circuit with my own team. If you add in a season or three where I cooked a few amateur events and helped an existing team, pretty soon I realize I been fooling around this game for about 7 years. Still what I would consider somewhat of a rookie compared to many guys on the circuit, what I’ve noticed is BBQ and outdoor cooking is taking more and more of my time.

This year my team cooked in 6 contests. If you add in a weekend cooking class, 3 additional contests attended as a spectator, a Que trade show weekend, 2 judging events, a couple of catering gigs, numerous practice cooks, and before you know it there is not much time for anything else, which is exactly my point here.

When I first toyed with the idea of starting my own competition team I was still busy, or so it seemed, but I did have some free time. My lawn, while not the neighborhood showplace was at least, fed, watered, cut and trimmed. I maintained a large perennial garden at home, spent a lot of time hunting and fishing, kept my truck washed, and occasionally had time to clean the garage. Alright, I am exaggerating about the garage part, but you get my point.

It seems today, if I am not cooking, grilling or smoking, then I am at home, surfing the net looking, reading and writing about some type of outdoor cooking. I lay in bed at night thinking and scheming of ways and methods to try and improve my product. While taking my afternoon walk, I think about my equipment list and what I need to replenish before our next event. Do I need another cooker? Should I practice this weekend? What will we do for the chefs’ choice in Salisbury next spring? And on and on and on.

This is not to mention the list I have put together for products I would like to design and develop to make things easier for folks involved in competition BBQ cooking. I have a list started; I just need a couple of weeks and a few thousand dollars to finish the designing and to build a few demos to test. I am sure I’ll find the time to get to this during the offseason this winter. Yea, right.

Last night, as I returned from my walk I glanced into what, just a few short years ago, was a very fine collection of the genus Hosta. Instead of a collection that any gardener would be proud to display, I see a collection of plants that need some attention, surrounded by weeds that have been neglected and are now thriving. The entire area is quickly becoming inundated with the latest seasonal tree dropping, leaves. I continue towards the house, past my dirty truck and into my garage. The 2 car garage, which up until about 4 years ago used to actually contain a car once in a while, is now cluttered with a collection of coolers, foil pans, large pots and lids, smokers, bags of charcoal, a pig roaster, folding tables and chairs, EZ-Ups, well you get the picture.

I was thinking the other day that I should seek professional help, but decided against the idea, fearing what the councilor might say. Maybe I just need to take a time management class. I saw in the catalog that several are offered at our local Community College as non-credit adult evening classes. Maybe I am not obsessed; I just need to prioritize a bit better. I am sure I can find some time to tend to a few of the duties and tasks that have fallen victim to my addiction to Que.

Besides, if I could find a few hours a weekend, I could work on developing that new brisket and pork procedure that I read about last weekend on the internet. As for all those leaves that I see falling onto my formally well maintained lawn and garden, maybe I can get one of the neighborhood kids to rake them for me, you know, free me up for something more pressing, more important, like practicing my chicken!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Keystone BBQ Contest -Harrisburg PA- Oct 1 & 2 2010

Oooooh that smell, can’t you smell that smell?

We cooked the Keystone Classic BBQ Contest at the farm complex located in Harrisburg PA this past weekend October 1 & 2, 2010. For those that do not know, this contest was the site of our first (and only), Grand Championship trophy last year. We were defending champs. It was our time to shine, to rise above the fray and really show what we were made of….either that or we could lay an egg, stink the joint up, the choice was ours, or more specifically, mine. As they say in radio, and now, the rest of the story.

The weekend before our last scheduled contest in Harrisburg I spent the day going over the trailer, checking and rechecking, making sure all necessary gear was on board and in place. The only thing I had forgotten to do was to look at the list we keep at each contest itemizing everything we need to get before our next outing. As I glanced at the list the Wednesday before leaving for Harrisburg, I noticed I had forgotten to order more rub for our brisket. No biggie I thought, I am sure I would have enough to do the job this weekend. If that is the only Gremlin involved issue that I am going to have, this weekend coming is going to be a cake walk.

Thursday afternoon and I am humming along at work wrapping up loose ends and finishing projects as I am preparing to take Friday off for the contest. Things are going very smoothly, no problems, no issues, until late afternoon when my phone rings. Bobby stopped on his way home from work to pick up our briskets and was told due to the storm, the delivery truck never arrived. They would be in sometime late Friday afternoon, the trouble was, we’d be in Harrisburg by then. Hmmmmmm…….

Oh, did I forget to mention the storm? A huge tropic weather system was streaming up out of the south and pounding the area with very heavy rain and strong winds, which in my area translates into power outages. Some areas received over 5 inches of rain, but the weather folks said it would clear the area by Friday morning, lets hope they would be right, for once. So Thursday afternoon, between power failures, I was on the horn trying to track down a source for a couple of briskets to cook at the contest.

We cook what is known as a full brisket or packer cut, a chunk of brisket meat containing both the flat and the point cut. The problem is, when you call around and ask for the cut, many folks don’t have a clue what you are talking about. They will tell you they do carry them, when you drive to their location, you find they only have the flat cut, which is typically sold in most stores. Some “meat” guys don’t even know the difference.

I finally got a guy on the phone from a nearby Wallmart that sounded like he knew what I was talking about. He told me they had “a few briskets left”, but couldn’t hold them until the morning, (when I would be driving right past that store). So, after work, I jumped in the truck and took the 45 minute drive one way to Shrewsberry PA to check out the Wallmart briskets. Several downed trees along the way made for a bit of a longer journey, but the trip wasn’t too bad. Sure enough, they had a few in the case; two looked like they would work, I snatched them up and paid the bill, then returned home to finish readying for the contest. Take that you smelly little bugger, (the Gremlin that is).

The trip up to Harrisburg on Friday was uneventful, the rain had quit and the sun was beginning to make an appearance. Arthur wasn’t coming to the contest this week, Jo was coming up on Saturday morning, Bobby had to work a half a day on Friday, so it was Erich and I to set the site and get things started. There were two ancillary categories Friday night, burger and Lebanon bologna; we were planning to do both. Erich would do the burger while I prepared the bologna.

For a bit of a different twist, at least for contests that we have cooked, they gave the ancillary awards out on Friday night. I thought this was a good idea. We heard our name called for 10th place bologna for my submission of a chicken cordon bleu with a back fin crabmeat cream sauce. Erich’s burger was 24th. Overall, we were pretty happy. The night was cool, a light breeze, smoke in the air, it was good, at least for now.

We wondered around, had some laughs, tipped a few beers, loaded our cookers, and then turned in for the night. Not a Gremlin in sight. I was actually sleeping really well when I heard a voice. I suppose you are expecting me to tell you how the voice was telling me how good we would do in the contest or some other words of wisdom. The voice, however was saying, “George, your cooker is on fire!” Was I dreaming? I sprang from my chair to see what was the matter. I wasn’t dreaming, as I glanced outside, I saw flames leaping from the open door on the WSM, which apparently had fallen off as I slept. I could see smoke rolling into the night sky as my buddy Red Todd replaced the door on the cooker which quickly extinguished the flames. A huge thanks to my observant neighbor and Red for waking me up and putting out the fire, thanks guys. The pork butt that had been in the cooker was at temperature and was transferred to the cambro to await turn-in time, a mere 9 hours later. Oh well, might as well get a little more sleep while I can…….. They’re back.

Bobby and I get up at 6:00 to get the ribs ready for the cooker. As part of our morning routine, we check all of the big meats to see where they are in the cooking process and when they will be ready to be wrapped. A check of our number 1 brisket found it ready, not ready to be wrapped, but ready as in done, finished, ready for the rest. Which at this time would only be about 7 hours, oh joy, it just keeps on getting better.

I can’t figure it out. We did everything the same as we had always done, what is going on? Gremlins at work for sure. The short cooks for chicken and ribs would be uneventful for sure, how much worse can it get? Note to self: Never ask “how much worse can it get?” again. I have been cooking my chicken the same at every contest for the past 2 years and have cooked a piece or two for practice. I haven’t overcooked my yardbird since Dover 2007, that is, until yesterday in Harrisburg. At 11:00, my chicken was at temperature; don’t ask me how or why, because I surely don’t know. What I can tell you is holding chicken for 1 hour until it is time to turn it in doesn’t have the same effect as holding a butt or a brisket. Result, 37th place in chicken, oh boy, repeat champs, I think not. Farkin Gremlins.

Our final results were 37th in chicken, 10th in ribs, 35th in pork, 20th in brisket, good enough for 25 overall out of 45 teams. Less than mediocare is what I would call it, and that would be being nice. In short we stunk up the joint, big time.

After I returned home from this contest and spent a few hours contemplating its outcome, I cobbled up a forum post regarding a possible aroma drifting through the air at the Farm Complex. Upon further reflection and soul searching I realized what it was that I smelled. It wasn’t the aftermath and droppings from nearby livestock, it was the distinct odor wafting from my trailer as a result of my less than dismal contest performance, which, in it of itself, smelled like gremlin S**T.

The only bright spot of the day was our ribs, we received a call to the stage for 10th place in this category. Bobby has taken this category and ran with it. He has trimmed, prepped and cooked the ribs for the last 2 years for the WATG? squad, and done a great job. Many times this year, the ribs have been our only call to the stage. Thanks Robert. While I am on the soapbox for this season ending post, I would like to take a minute to thank all of my teammates, Arthur, Erich, Bobby and Jo. They help me immensely at each event, prepping, setting up, cooking, tearing down and cleaning up. At times, they have to put up with my moods, grouchiness and occasional short fuse. They even have to tolerate me bickering with my teammate/wife, which most times is as a result of the aforementioned grouchiness on my part. I couldn’t do it without them and I know it wouldn’t be near as much fun, so for that I say thanks to my teammates/friends, you are the best. We might not have walked a lot this season, but we sure laughed a lot, good times and memories for sure.

This year we competed in six events and overall didn’t do too bad. I would like to do more contests, but with a few catering gigs, a family vacation, and an occasional “off” weekend the cooking season slides by pretty quickly these days. I have dubbed this season, “the year of the ribbon” as we have won only ribbons, medals and certificates, nary a trophy to be had. I will continue to work to improve my process and concentration and look forward to next year getting back into the smoke with my teammates and all of my BBQ friends, all in the quest for the all illusive plastic pig, gremlins be damned!!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tunes to Que by

BBQ Boogie

Go onto any of the current BBQ forums and ask the question what Pit Masters consider most important when it comes to cooking good que and see what happens. Of course, it goes without saying that you will get the standard boring run of the mill answers. You know, temperature control, knowing your cooker, good quality meat products, blah blah blah. Ask those same Pit Masters what they feel is essential to cooking good que and inevitably you’ll get the answers, good friends, cold adult beverages, and good quality tunes.

Depending upon who you ask and when, you might even be told the last 3 are more important than the first 3. The topic of what would be considered good quality tunes to que by can elicit a discussion as spirited as to which type of cooker is best. A stroll around a mid sized BBQ competition to take in the musical offerings will find an assortment of tastes ranging from head-banging to jazz to classical.

Sometimes, you can take a look at the make up of the team and pretty much predict with a reasonable degree of accuracy what type of tune will be emanating from their I-Pod speakers. A group of 50+ year old men, chances are you’ll be listening to a mixture of classic rock and the blues. Toss in a couple female teammates you can be sure a few country tunes will be heard. A couple of early 30’s cookers and your likely in for a few selections from Slipknot or Korn. At the risk of sounding too much like my parents back in the late 60’s, for the life of me, I don’t understand how they can call that stuff music, but I will leave that discussion for another day.

For us, a group consisting of a couple of guys on the back side of middle age and my wife, our Pod consists of a wide variety of selections that range between The Mills Brothers, Glen Miller, The Beatles, Muddy Waters and everything in between. Well, everything except opera. I say not opera but have forgotten about one of my favorite selections to play on turn in morning, Wagners Ride of the Valkyries, so much for my everything but opera claim.

In my recently released book Startin the Fire I have listed a collection of tunes to be included on your I Pod playlist used on turn-in morning. I have the selections broken down between prep time, the four meats and clean up. I had a ball as I collected songs to complete the lists. I used forum posts on the topic, internet searches as well as good old fashioned research sources to come up with what I consider a pretty complete listing. I always have my eyes and ears open for songs that would fit the bill and could be added to my list, which, by the way, has grown even since the book was published. I have listed what I would consider a few of the “essential” compilations that must be included on everyone’s BBQ playlist.

Chicken Shake Boogie- A tune from Amos Milburn first recorded in 1948. I enjoy the original version but prefer a newer recording by Willie And The Poor Boys, a group formed in the early 80’s by Stones bassman Bill Wyman and included an assortment of members from time to time that included Ron Wood, Charlie Watts, Jimmy Page and Ringo Starr.

Milk Cow Blues- This song has been covered by everyone from Elvis to the Kinks. My favorite cut is probably one of the earliest by Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys. If you can listen to this song without tapping your toe, I would have to question your reason to live.

I Love My Babys BBQ- Recorded by RJ’s Rhythm Rockers. A little hard to find but well worth the hunt, very snappy lyrics.

Barbeque- Robert Earl Keen. A slower selection, great for watching the smoke roll out the stack while sipping a cold drink.

Too Much Barbeque- Big Twist & the Mellow Fellows- How can you not have a tune by a band with this name on your I Pod?

Barbecue- Washboard Sam-This is an old recording that just cries out for someone to cover it again, Washboard asks, “baby, who’d you give my barbecue to?”

Mess around- Ray Charles- The first words of the song are, “talk about the pit, Barbeque”, how can you go wrong?

Good BBQ- The Riptones- “Shes a fine young thing that likes good BBQ”, nuff said.

As you can see from this small list, there is no shortage of songs about BBQ and related topics. Half the fun is hunting for them, the rest of the fun comes when you’re tapping your foot while loading your cooker or grill. Search for songs about smoke, fire, cooking, food, you can see what I am talking about. Have fun with it. I only ask that if you come up with any good ones, you drop me a line so I can add them to my playlist. I am always looking for new tunes to que by.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

New Holland Summer Fest 8/27-8/28 2010

Time sure flies when you’re having fun, and one thing is for sure, we like our fun.

The calendar says that it’s the end of August and time once again for one of our favorite contests of the season, the New Holland Summer Fest. Wow, where did summer go. It seems like just last week we headed south for the season opener in Salisbury MD, Pork in the Park. While this is not our last event for the year, it certainly is a reminder that the cool nights and shorter days of fall are just around the corner.

This year, as we have done in the past, the team traveled up to New Holland PA on Thursday evening slipped into our space and got set up before dark. We took along a few dozen live blue crabs, some fresh picked sweet corn and red ripe tomatoes. Talk about a meal, steamed crabs, buttered corn on the cob, sliced Maryland tomatoes and ice cold beer. It don’t git no better then this! It was a tremendous fest and a great way to mark the waning days of summer.

Being set up at a contest site when you get out of bed on Friday morning sure is the way to go. Much less rushing around, able to relax, enjoy the day, visit a bit, it just makes for a much more enjoyable contest experience. It is easy to see why several teams make it their SOP to arrive on site on Thursday evening. Not to mention the fact that early bird teams get an additional night to play before the real business of contest cooking begins on Friday night. And play we did, nuff said.

Last year the weather gods did very little for the fine folks that run the Summer Fest but they made up for it this year as beautiful skies and very comfortable temperatures were the rule of the day. It was great weather for sleeping outside; even cool enough to zip up the sleeping bag as there was a bit of chill in the night air. The best part though, was that it was dry.

The prep work and trimming went off without a hitch, things were going along very smooth, almost too smooth. I should have found it a little suspicious as the appointed hour for the cooks meeting crept closer and closer. Usually, I can persuade a team member to volunteer to attend to represent the team but this evening, no one stepped forward, in fact, they were as a group being fairly elusive. Being all caught up with my prep work due to our early arrival, I reluctantly trudged off to attend as our team representative without giving a second thought as to the source of their reluctance. I had a slight feeling that something was afoot, but could not isolate it, and quickly dismissed the thought as my pea sized brain switched into contest mode and was thinking about the times and tasks that laid ahead.

Twenty seven years as a law enforcement officer you think I would have learned to always follow my gut instinct, especially when you have a gut the size of mine, that’s a lot of instinct! As I ambled back from the meeting with my goodie bag in hand I rounded the corner at our site and was met with a very humorous sight. There stood each and every member of my team all sporting straw skyzoo’s with tropical headbands identical to the one that I have taken to wearing at contests. Too funny.

Regular readers will know that I began wearing my current contest headpiece a little over a year ago. The hat has become the target of some minor ridicule and scoffing from many members of the team. The result of which has prompted me to make the hat required headgear for each and every contest that we cook. I even had a cook on another team tell me at Bel Air as I was wearing old faithful, “Man, you need a new look”. I attribute the comment to too much alcohol consumption on his part, (it was rather late Friday night), and the fact that the lighting wasn’t what it should have been. Or it could have been too much alcohol consumption on my part, either way.

While at various contests my hat has been stolen, filled with things, and clamped to the top center strut of our canopy. It has been hidden from my view, screwed to the interior wall of the trailer, held for ransom, and a few other things too gruesome or obscene to mention considering this is a family show. I have a good idea that a person or persons on my team have been responsible. That’s right; I have determined it is an inside job, possibly a group effort. I didn’t do 27 years in law enforcement for nothing, just call me Inspector Clouseau.

Upon closer inspection, the headbands for the guys had been inscribed with the words, “we were those guys” a reference to the team name they plan to take when they secede from out current arrangement. The headband on Jo’s hat, yes, she had on too, said, “I am stuck with that guy.” Poor Jo, what a riot.

From the best information I could piece together during the subsequent investigation that ensued, the scheme was hatched by Bobby who then enlisted his wife into the caper for assistance. I am sure it was a group effort to some degree, but either way, it sure was a good one. I just wish there had been someone on site to snap a picture of my expression when I rounded that corner, I am sure it would have been a winner.

We cooked a pretty good contest, 72 teams, and we finished 7th overall. We received 3calls to the stage, 10th place ribs, (good job Bobby), 10th place chicken, and 6th place chefs choice, (which was cooked again this year by Jo, well done) We have been fairly solid all year either in or just outside the top 10 at every event, not bad for a couple of part timers, especially part timers sporting matching straw hats. One thing is for certain, we sure have a lot of fun!

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Bel Air BBQ Bash 8/13-8/14 2010

Me a pokerface?..... You have got to be kidding.

The Bash in Bel Air is my hometown contest. Just a short 15 minute drive from my home I look forward to cooking this event for several reasons. The first is the short drive, especially for the return trip. I don’t usually notice the distance TO a contest probably because I am excited and anticipating the event. When it comes time to the drive home, it sure is nice to be pulling into the driveway just after getting on the road. It would be nice if they were all that close.

Another reason I like this contest is the huge crowds that attend. Event organizers estimated this year’s crowd at 25,000 for the 2 day event and I’ll bet they weren’t far off. It is great to see so many folks that have some interest in BBQ or outdoor cooking. It is also nice to have folks that I know drop by the site for a visit. While I don’t always have the time I would like to spend with each guest, it is very nice to spend even a few minutes with some of the fine people that make up our community of Harford County Maryland.

The third reason that this event is special to me is this is where I got my start, cut my BBQ teeth so to speak. It was back in 2004 when I first cooked the Tailgater Challenge, the amateur contest that is held on Friday night at the Bash. I walked away from that event with a ribbon for 6th place and was hooked on competition BBQ. I guess that was a good thing, although some would certainly be willing to debate the issue. I later found out that my friend Dan from 3 Eyz BBQ also started his BBQ career at the 2004 Tailgater Challenge. Small world for sure.

I think the Tailgater is a great way for folks that are thinking about getting involved with competition Que to test the waters and get a feel for the contest setting. The folks at Bel Air do a great job with this event and even try to use KCBS judges to sample the wares and give the competitors a score sheet, just like in a regular KCBS event. Each team is given 2 racks of baby back ribs to cook, they then have to follow KCBS rules for rib turn-in, at least 6 separate bones must be submitted.

As I have said in the past, competition que is increasing in popularity. It is plainly evident here in Bel Air with the numbers for the Tailgater. In years past the number of teams has fluctuated between 12 & 15. This year they had 33 teams signed up to cook the contest that begins at 1 PM on Friday afternoon.

I took a stroll around the Tailgater lot around 4:00 on Friday and it was great to see all of the folks with their set-ups having fun and talking BBQ. In my opinion, this is a good sign for competitive BBQ cooking, no matter how you slice it, thank you Pitmasters!

I was approached by the contest organizers one day last week and asked if I would be interested in announcing the winners for the Challenge Friday night. I had donated a few copies of my book to be included into some prize packs they were putting together for the top finishing teams. The organizers were very kind in promoting my book to the hometown audience and thought it would be a good fit if I would make the announcement. I agreed and arrived at the stage at the appointed hour.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that my Son Sam decided at the last minute to cook the Tailgater with his girlfriend Megan. They had cooked the event back in 2008 but skipped last year due to Sam’s work schedule at the time. They both have very busy schedules so it wasn’t until Thursday night before the cook that Sam was running around gathering his tools and materials needed for the contest. As it turned out, Sam would have to work a half of day Friday so Megan would set up and begin the process before Sam could arrive.

Their path to the judges tent brought them past my site so Sam showed me his box and dropped off a rib for me to sample. I’ll have to say, the box looked good and the rib was cooked perfectly, the bite came away cleanly, while the rest of the meat stayed on the bone. The kids done good.

You can imagine my surprise as I stood on the steps to the stage just minutes before the awards and saw Sam’s team as the 2nd place finisher. I wanted to jump up and down but though I’d better not. Instead, I leaned over to the organizers and explained the situation. I wanted to be sure they were aware before I got started in case they wanted to make a change of announcers. They did not, and I was glad, now, for the hard part.

I had to step to the microphone with the knowledge I had and try not to give it away on a silver platter. I knew that my family would be staring a hole through me in an attempt to get an early read on the results. You see, I am not a very good poker player or liar, and they know it. In my mind, all I had to do was avoid eye contact and everything would be alright. It didn’t hurt that the crowd was huge so I didn’t have to concentrate my looking to any one particular spot. It also didn’t hurt that my teammates and friends had also decided to attend the awards ceremony and were collectively tossing boo’s and catcall’s my way once I had been introduced, in an attempt to distract me. For once, having knuckleheads for friends and teammates was paying off. I knew that one day it would!

I worked my way through the calls until I finally got to second place. I called my Sons team and fought of the urge to yell, “that’s my boy!” I finished the announcements without embarrassing myself or my Son and all was right in the sleepy town of Bel Air, at least for the evening it was.

Turn-ins went extremely well on Saturday. We had a lot of folks stop by our site, but everyone stayed out of the way and was not a problem or a bother. They left everything thing to me to mess up. I thought that we turned in some really good stuff, including what I felt was some of the best brisket that we have ever cooked. Unfortunately, as has been the case for most of this year, the judges did not agree. We were 14th overall, not too shabby in a 59 team field but again no dingers. Chicken was 14th, ribs 18th, 24th in pork and 22nd in brisket. A solid performance, but as usual, we would have liked to have done better.

We will see if we can improve a bit in two weeks when we return to our favorite contest of the year the New Holland Summer Fest in New Holland Pa. There will be 72 teams cooking this event which includes many top flight operations. Congrats this week to Bash winners Cool Smoke and Reserve Champs Chix, Swine and Bovine for a job well done, And also a special congrats to the 2nd place winner of the Tailgate Challenge, Young Guns BBQ Team……..yep, that’s me boy!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

I am a BBQ slob

and damn proud of it!

I am sure you know someone like me, perhaps even you yourself has been afflicted. You know the type, the kind of guy that always has a stain on his shirt and or tie, even if he has just gotten dressed. If you toss in a pair of wrinkled pants and a shirt….you’ve got me nailed.

I spend 26 years working in law enforcement wearing a uniform, so I never had to purchase clothes to make a good appearance at work. Suffice it to say, I would never have been considered a poster boy for the fine men and woman in uniform. No matter how hard I tried, and believe it or not, I did try in my younger years; I just couldn’t maintain the look of a sharp dressed man like some of my counterparts. Eating and drinking while in a squad car always had disastrous results. I would swear that on more than one occasion, mayonnaise from my partner’s lunch would drip from their sandwich onto my tie rendering me as the stereotypical slob flatfoot, while my partner continued to look like they were destined for a walk-on spot for the next episode of Adam-12.

No one would ever confuse me with a clothes horse or a slave to fashion. I have always more or less gone my own way when it comes to wardrobe. Casual dress would be an overstatement when one would attempt to label my nonexistent fashion sense. The problem develops on those occasional instances when a pair of shorts and a tee shirt just don’t fit the bill, you know, weddings, funerals and the like.

My wife has always been saddled with attempting to dress a complete fashion slob/bum. Before jumping into the shower, I would take from the closet the clothes I planned to wear to the afternoon wedding we were invited to attend. Upon returning to our room after my shower, I find that a completely different set of clothes has been laid out, this time they actually match is what I am told.

While at a BBQ contest, I try and wear an apron at all times. I also carry along a couple of changes of shorts and shirts in case they are needed. Usually by late Friday night, my original apron is ready for the wash machine and it is time to change into apron #2. It never fails that several globs of sauce or meat drippings find their way around my apron and onto my clothing. Most times, I am too busy to change and end up walking to the awards looking like I just crawled out from under a cooker.

This brings me to the point of this pointless blather passing for my July post. As you may or may not know, I have recently had my first book published. The ride as a newly published author has been pretty exciting for me. A guy whose only other brush with publicity came when my name was mentioned in the local paper interviewing patrons of the 4th of July parade along its route. I had two friends call to say they saw my name in the article. I assumed that was my 30 minutes of fame that everyone talks about.

So you can imagine my excitement when the local cable TV station called and invited me into the studio on a show where they speak to local artists and authors. “What should I wear?” I inquired to the nice lady that called with the last minute instructions. “Light blue will be fine” I was told when I asked her about wearing the shirt my wife had made for me to wear to the appearances I was making for my new book. The shirt was a 3 button, pull over, golf type shirt complete with the logo from my book over the left pocket, you know, the kind that real authors wear.

The interview was scheduled for early afternoon, so I thought I would get ready, leave a little early and run a few errands while I was out. I got out my duds, which included my fancy pants book shirt,and dashed into the bathroom for a quick shower and a shave in a feeble attempt to at least look like someone important. As I stood before the mirror shaving and contemplating the questions that I might be asked I must have lost concentration for a brief moment which resulted in me lopping off a small portion of one of my chins.

I couldn’t believe it, here I was scheduled for my ever first television interview in 4 short hours and I had decided to carve a gash into my flesh so deep that I was wondering out loud if I was going to need a stitch. As I stood watching the gobs of toilet paper turn bright red as I applied direct pressure to my wound in an attempt to stop the bleeding, I heard my wife calling out to me. “George, what do you have all over the front of your shirt?”

This must be a dream or better yet a nightmare. I had worn the shirt just 3 days earlier to a book signing, it was fine then. On the way home that day, I stopped at Taco bell for lunch, but I was sure I was careful. I did move a few things around in my BBQ trailer that afternoon, but I could have sworn I had changed shirts first.

After getting the transfusion under control and with a large hunk of blood stained TP dangling from my chin, I staggered into my room to survey the stain. My thinking was if it is small enough the camera would never notice. Of course it was not small, it would have been noticeable from 40 feet away, time for plan B.

Quick, into my extensive collection of decent, unstained, presentable shirts that still fit my portly frame. Needless to say, the collection is not very large but I was able to find a shirt that fit the bill, and surprisingly, it also still fit me. I still to this day don’t understand how shirts that fit me perfectly just 2 years ago become smaller and shrink just from hanging in the closet. I am sure it has something to do with the laws of physics and fabric, but I assure you, it is way over my head.

Thank God that my wife is a registered nurse and was able to stop the bleeding by applying a tourniquet around my neck. She did live up to her promise that she would relieve the pressure occasionally so that I could breathe. I turned my interview shirt inside out for the ride to the studio just in case any overhead birds might have a case of diarrhea and want a laugh. I arrived on time, unstained and not bleeding, for me it was a victory. I still can’t forget the expression on that poor woman’s face that was parked in the car next to me on the studio parking lot as I struggled out of and then back into my shirt while standing next to my truck, “It’s OK”, I told her, “I’m an author”. I am not sure, but I think she called security.

The interview came off OK. As I watch it, I think to myself I look a little stiff. Perhaps it is because I am dressed up, you know, out of my element. In retrospect, I think I would have felt more comfortable and at ease if I had on my sauce stained apron, a dirty tee shirt and a pair of crusty shorts, more in my comfort zone. I am, after all, a BBQ slob and damn proud of it!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Upper Marlboro MD 6/4-6/5 Beltway BBQ Showdown

Mired in Mediocrity

Watkins Regional Park, just outside of Washington DC, was the third location for this 4th year contest and in our opinion was the best so far. The teams were situated in a parking lot that offered some nice shady spots for the teams that began arriving as early as Thursday evening. Jonathan Jones, the contest organizer has grown this event from 16 teams in 2007 to its present size of 39 entries.

Four years ago this was the first contest that we ever cooked. We were nervous in the service back in 2007, and have cooked a ton or two of BBQ since then, both good and bad. Either way, we were glad to be returning to the scene of the crime, back where it all began so to speak.

Jonathan is not sure where next years event will be held, but he promises that things will continue to grow and improve. A strong and dedicated group of Parks & Recreation employees along with a great bunch of volunteers will assist Jonathan in his quest to make the contest better each year.

The field included some new teams as well as some of the most seasoned in the Mid Atlantic region. The weather threatened at times, but the BBQ karma kept the rain away and the most the teams had to deal with was the heat, which wasn’t all that bad, reaching 95 degrees under our canopy during turn-ins. At least there was a bit of a breeze at times to make things somewhat bearable.

You’ve heard the old adage, “You’d better quit while you’re ahead.” Well, as is the case with most old sayings, there’s a whole lot of truth in them there words! As some of you know, we won our first Grand Championship last October in Harrisburg PA. Before that, we had been on a bit of a roll, at least as far as we were concerned.

Then came Dover and the rain and the wind. We were 16th out of 81 teams without a call to the stage. Oh well, we were still flying high from Harrisburg, and it was the last event for the year for us, we’ll get em in Salisbury.

Spring time came along with renewed hope and a lot of that other crap and before we knew it, it was time to fire up the cookers and head to the Eastern Shore. We heard our name called for 7th in ribs and left with a 21st place finish out of a strong 132 team field. Not bad, but certainly not impressive.

Green Lane PA was next for us, we had taken RGC there the year before so our hopes were high. A rib and brisket call did little to soften the sting of an 8th place overall finish in a 49 team event.

This week we returned to Upper Marlboro where we finished 4th last year. I thought our stuff was pretty good, (I know, that’s the kiss of death), and again, we struggled, finishing 9th against 39 teams. No calls to the stage. Believe me, I am not complaining, I just ain’t happy. It appears that the watg? squad is mired in mediocrity or stuck in a funk as it were. We are halfway through our season; we have cooked 3 and have 3 more to go, with the possibility of maybe adding one more. Anyway you look at it, our season is almost over. Somebody better step to the plate, and that somebody is me.

It looks to me like the Big Cheese, sometimes known as the Big Head, better ante up. Whatever I have been doing, I better do it better. I need a couple of dingers, and I mean homeruns. Bel Air, next on a schedule is not until August. I have plenty of time to get ready, I better not spend it frittering away in some resort in the south of France wearing nothing but a Speedo. AAARRRGGGGGG! I just got a mental image that I’d rather not repeat!

Instead of working on my tan, I need to get busy improving the taste and tenderness of my products. I need to reverse the trend and begin to get better with each outing, to struggle from the chains of averageness and to strive to soar like an eagle. You can pick any cliché that you want but the fact remains, times a wastin, and I better git to it. Hey, I wonder if that has already been said? Perhaps a new old adage will be born from our run-of the mill or middle of the road struggle, which ever you care to call it. I know for me, it’s been a fair to middling season so far, and I don’t much like it. Stay tuned, hopefully I can turn us around.

This years contest Grand Champion was 3 Eyz BBQ from Owings Mills MD, who also captured top honors in last years event. Dan Hixon, Dan McGrath and Chris Hall made up the 3 Eyz squad and took first place in both the rib and brisket category. They also won a 4th place trophy in the pork division. The contest Reserve Grand Champ was Texas Ribs and BBQ. The top spot in chicken went to Chix, Swine, and Bovine from Columbia MD with Smokey Bottom Boys from Abingdon MD bringing home the bacon and the first place iron in pork. Congrats to all that were called!!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Future of Que….

Come, lets have a might not like what you see!

In Rod Serlings voice:
You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's the signpost up ahead - your next stop, the Twilight Zone!"

The year is 2020, the location is Anytown, USA, it is late June and the BBQ community is anxiously awaiting a contest scheduled to be held in the town park. Contrary to how it was way back in 2010, the number of events has begun to shrink dramatically. Many venues that once hosted contests that fielded 75-100 teams have gone away. Organizers and planners that for years had run top notch events have found it much easier to host basket weaving and kite flying contests than to deal with the myriad of issues associated with a BBQ cook-off.

This event, one of the few remaining in this mid sized northeastern State, has decided to attempt to comply with the new Government regulations and hold the contest. Despite the ever growing chance to loose money and open itself to years of frivolous litigation from everyone from the contest cooks to the townsfolk that will file suit complaining about having the sweet blue BBQ smoke permeate their airspace for the weekend. Surely they could get a jury to agree that this is harmful to someone, somewhere, can’t they?

The event is still held on Friday and Saturday of the contest weekend, however, teams must report to the contest site no later than noon on Thursday. Upon arrival and registration, the teams must open their vehicles and trailers to a barrage of inspections from various departments representing the local and federal government agencies.

First, there are the folks from the local emission control division. Teams are made to pull their cookers into a portable flameproof structure and then light them up. Here a committee of environmental pointy heads in oversized lab coats and thick glasses will determine the carbon footprint likely to be left by the contest entrant. If it is determined that the expected footprint will be too large, (and I wear a size 13 wide), teams could be asked to forgo using a particular cooker or to limit the amount of meat that will be prepared. Teams may also be given the opportunity to plant trees or purchase carbon credits to help offset the alleged damage that their mere presence at this contest will likely produce. All in the name of global warming you understand.

Next to come are the good people from permits, fees and licensing. Due to the fall of the real estate market back in 2007-2010 local coffers have been a bit depleted, what with losing all of those settlement and transfer fees that are charged each time you finance or refinance a mortgage transaction. So, the quick thinking, ever resourceful bureaucrats have developed some very creative ways to raise funds on the backs of the working class taxpayers. Raising taxes and fees instead of the politicians actually reducing their staff expenses, salaries, and or expenditures, yea, that is the ticket. They have decided to assess each competing team with an environmental impact fee, (Dependent upon the size of the ole carbonic shoe), as well as a gathering permit fee, a waste creation fee, a waste disposal fee, a 2 day liquor license, a water usage fee, and a food service fee. After all, the team members are serving the judges with food, aren’t they?

Teams have been serving food to the judges since the entire concept began back in the early 80’s. I was surprised that it took local tax collectors this long to catch on. If you have food service happening, you are now clearing the way for the jackbooted Nazis in the health department to make their way into your site. Seeing as how each team is acting as its own little food service platform for each and every contest weekend, these folks have decided that it is up to them to police the great unwashed formally known as contest cooks at each and every venue. These storm troopers enter your site armed with their test strips, insta-read thermometers, water flow gauges and local regulation book and are prepared to exclude, exploit, berate, belittle, admonish, suspend, cite or arrest any violators or potential violators before the public ever arrives, all in the interest of public safety you understand.

The fire marshal has scheduled his inspection for late on Thursday afternoon. If you are lucky enough for him to be on time, you will have to provide notarized documentation of the fire retardant rating for all of your contest equipment. Cookers, tents, e-zy ups, cots, chairs, tables all must be rated to withstand a class IV fire, lest you be asked to leave the premises immediately. Oh yea, and they also want to see your fire suppression equipment, which must include a federally approved turn-out coat, fire retardant leggings and a official Fireman Bob helmet that includes a full frontal face shield. At least one member of your team MUST be qualified as a nationally rated citizen firefighter, and must present a current membership card as proof upon demand. The safety of the tax paying public is paramount you understand.

The local solicitor’s office representative is the last step in Thursday’s fun. Here the County attorney or his available lackey will have you read, initial and sign 150 pages of legal mumbo jumbo that attempts to release them and implicate you in everything from world famine to the latest skirmish in the Middle East. Oh, and did I mention the $50 per night per team camping fee that they will have to collect, in advance? Never mind that you will be sleeping in your truck, you must cough it up any-who, someone has to help pay for the local law library to keep the ever growing number of attorneys educated. Some one must be responsible for coming up with the thousands of frivolous suits that are filed on a daily basis.

Along with the sunrise on Friday morning the first visitor to your site will be probably the most important, second only possibly to the contest judges, and that is the cat from the sanitation division. Technology has really poked its head into all corners of our existence in the year 2020, we are so past hand held computers and in car navigational devices. This fellow has a small laptop with him and had no trouble getting a wireless internet connection. He asks a few semi pertinent questions, how many team members you have on site? How much beer and additional food have you brought along? He plugs it all into some high brow computer program which can calculate the estimated waste that will be produced by each human being in the site. He then translates this information into some type of an environmental impact statement. Which he then transforms into an additional fee which some folks have taken to calling the “flush tax”, why? I don’t know. I will leave that contemplation for greater minds than mine.

The nice lady from the solid waste and recycling division is the last person that you will be visited by on Friday morning prior to having your meats inspected by the contest reps, sort of like the ghost of Christmas yet to come. She presents you with a small spiral notebook containing no less that 75 pages of printed material regarding the rules, regulations, expectations and impact fees that you need to know about before moving forward. Some of it is pretty standard stuff, you know, you must wet down, sift and prepare for reuse any unburned chunks of fuel lumps.

It should be noted that in the year 2020, charcoal, as we know it today, can no longer be manufactured and or sold in the US. Environmentalists concerned about the plight of the North American Beaver had the import and manufacturing of charcoal and charcoal related products stopped in the year 2015. Fuel lumps are a man made fuel source product that is produced by a newly formed government agency that was formally known as the waste water treatment division…..I don’t want to know any more.

The rest of her spiel has to do with what you are expected to do with the waste your team will produce during the contest weekend. ALL contest waste MUST be separated for recycling and proper disposal. Aluminum cans, glass bottles, and paper are dealt with in the old fashioned way of collection and submission for recycling. The only difference in the future will be instead of being paid for your waste, you will have to PAY to have it accepted, budget shortfalls you know.

Meat scraps will be collected, bagged, and refrigerated before being collected late on Saturday afternoon; fees will be assessed based on the weight of the waste submitted for disposal. Gray water/grease collection and separation is the responsibility of each team. Teams are encouraged to filter, boil and reuse waste water once the grease has been removed. Remember- each team will only be allowed 35 gallons of fresh water based on the entry fee. Any amount over the allowable amount will be billed on a per gallon basis. Grease collection fees will be also based on amount submitted upon departure, however, teams are encouraged to take solidified grease waste back to their homes to be used as bird food or axel lubricant.

Any and all vegetable leftovers or trimmings must be composted on site by the attending team. All teams must have on their site a portable composting drum as well as a compost collection bagging system and sealer. Of course, the above described composting system must be displaying all up to date permits and proof of fee payment stickers. Teams are responsible for their own compost removal from the contest site.

The last and certainly not least inspector to stagger, I mean stroll into your site on Friday is the Liquor Board representative. This guy is supposed to check your documentation needed for transporting beer or alcoholic beverages across County lines. The only good thing here is we see that beer is STILL allowed at most BBQ contests in the year 2020. This guy asked to see our beer, could barely count, took one out and said something about a test sample before wandering away with our bottle in hand. Someone thought they heard him say, “heres mud in your eye” as he strolled away.

The awards ceremony on Saturday afternoon has also changed from what it once was. In the early years of BBQ contests, you had winners in each category as well as a reserve and a grand champ for each event. After several very high profile lawsuits filed by teams that felt they had been wronged by the judging process, contest organizers have decided to do away with any category or overall recognition.

Also contributing to this “progressive” way of thinking is the proliferation of the thought process that has grown from our little leagues, school systems and recreation programs where in there are no winners and losers. In consideration of the former non-winners “feelings” the sanctioning bodies have decided that there will be nothing but winners at the contest awards ceremonies. Therefore, each participating team, regardless of their finish, will be called to the stage, in random order of course, to collect the exact same trophy as everyone else. After all, we have to be fair don’t we?

I guess now would be a good time to remind you that this story is purely fictional and for your entertainment purposes only. I do not want BBQ pit masters and enthusiasts to run screaming into the night much the way many of the public did back in 1938 when the “War of the Worlds” was broadcast on radio.

While the majority of this story is manufactured way back in the recesses of my not so large mind, it does emit a shred of truth. A few of the points I have made have or are preparing to happen. Last fall while cooking a contest in Dover DE we encountered a bit of foul weather. Moderate to heavy rain along with gusty winds and temperatures in the mid 40’s made for an unpleasant and chilly afternoon. Our team had erected a 10x20 foot canopy that included 4 walls. Inside, we had a small propane heater running in a feeble attempt to take the chill off while we prepped our meat on Friday afternoon.

The temporary structure that we had constructed served to keep most of the rain and wind away; it was hardly what one would consider as “air tight” or “waterproof”. At some point that afternoon we were visited by a young fellow that said he was with the local Fire Department. We invited him into our humble abode as we assumed he was there to inspect our fire extinguisher. He glanced around and then told us we would have to either turn off the space heater or open both ends of our non air tight structure to allow for more air to flow through. (Oh, and did I mention we had all of the roof vents open on the structure?) After 10 minutes of discussion as to the properties and movement of air, gasses and wind speeds, I realized I would have had better luck arguing with the piece of pork I was trimming. We opted to turn off the space heater as opposed to opening both ends of our cover and creating a wind tunnel similar to the ones used to test high speed race cars. All in the interest of preventing carbon monoxide collection, for our own good, you understand.

While speaking with several other cooks at a contest several weeks ago, I heard of a recent battle a hopeful contest organizer in Virginia was having with their local Heath Department. It seems the HD wanted to make each competing team apply as food service vendors. They would be required to operate under the same standards as folks that were vending the event to the public which included meat refrigeration; (coolers were not allowable), sanitary inspections, vender licensing fees, the whole nine yards. After several months of back and forth negotiations, the organizer felt as though he was fighting a loosing battle and has tossed in the towel. Who is the winner here? You decide.

In case you have been living in a cave for the past 5 years, today’s buzz word is “Green”. I have news for you; it won’t be long before someone sets their sites on the hundreds of BBQ teams and contests held through this great Country of ours from February to December each year.

As for the future of Que, I feel we are here for the long haul. I do, however think that at times, folks in decision making positions have gone a little over the top when it comes to protecting us from ourselves. I encourage everyone to keep their eyes and ears open. Pay attention; let your voices be heard, keep stoking the fires and making the smoke rise. We are the future of Que, and I for one don’t want to see it end, it is a great American tradition, think about it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

May 14-15 2010 Smoke in the Valley

Green Lane, PA

This was to be the second year for this event and the field was almost double in size from the inaugural contest the year before. The weatherman waffled all the preceding week on the possibility of rain or storms for Friday night. Despite a tornado warning during the cooks meeting, as well as word that a funnel cloud had been spotted nearby, all we had was a little rain and some distant lightning and thunder, not too bad at all. Apparently the BBQ gods were watching out for us this time.

The local VFD once again did a bang up job going out of their way taking care of the cooks and promised to try and improve for next years event. I have not cooked as many contests as some folks out on the circuit. I will have to say that the continental breakfast put out by the contest committee here is one of the best I’ve seen. Hot coffee, juice, fresh fruit, (including local strawberries), and a ton of HOMEMADE baked goods are just a sampling of your choices. The shoofly pie, in my humble opinion, is worth the trip by itself.

Level sites, easy in and out, helpful staff, good food, friendly people, beautiful countryside, and great springtime weather on Saturday made this weekend very enjoyable. Oh, and did I mention on-site coffee delivery. That’s right, after the initial breakfast rush, contest volunteers came around on a golf cart with fresh hot coffee and stopped at each and every site to see if you needed a cup. It is easy to see why this contest is quickly becoming a favorite for many east coast teams.

The contest was won by PA Midnight Smokers, Reserve Champion was 3 Eyz BBQ, with Dizzy Pig BBQ finishing in third. Top honors in chicken went to Max Cue. ZBQ was 1st place in ribs and PA Midnight Smokers, the contest Grand Champ, swept the pork and brisket categories. Congrats to all that walked.

The who are those guys? crew improved from their last outing finishing 8th place over all. They received 2 calls, 9th place ribs and 5th place brisket. Chicken was 18th and pork 15th. There were a total of 49 teams cooking the event. At least we are moving in the right direction.

Shawn Tucker, the contest organizer told me that he is just about to the max with 50 teams, so if you want in on this contest, you’d better get your entry fee in early next year. I know we’ll be back, and judging some of the comments from the other cooks, many of them will return as well.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Pork in the Park 4/16-4/17

A BBQ contest is casual.....or is it?

Casual Encounters
Wanted: Male or female for occasional weekend companionship. Prefer beer and tequila drinker, cigar smoker a plus. Person must be willing to work long hours for little or no pay and go two days without a shower. The activity requires the participant to be on their feet for many hours and get very little sleep. Svelte physical condition not required. Good dishwashing skills move you to the front of the line. Strong back, tough skin and sharp tongue are required. Occasionally, one may be required to intervene and or participate in verbal squabbling and or altercations. If you enjoy hanging out in a smoke filled room until your cloths reek and your legs and back ache, this is the relationship for you. Also, it would be preferred if you disliked sunsets, sunrises, puppies, salads, light beer, sleeping in, lazy weekend mornings, pillow talk and long walks on the beach. Attach resume (including references) and apply as soon as possible. Time is of the essence.

It was late Tuesday evening before our season opener at Salisbury, the Pork in the Park BBQ Festival. Teamate Erich had something come up and would be unable to attend. I had recently had some success with a trailer purchase on Craig’s List, the on-line classified site and thought, “what the hell, why not?” I cobbled up the above want add and posted in the personals section on Maryland’s Craig’s List. The categories were a little confusing, men seeking woman, woman seeking men, men seeking men, strictly platonic, etc. I couldn’t find one that advertised BBQ team seeking weekend help. So after looking them all over I decided on “casual encounters”. After all, how much more casual could you get than a BBQ contest?

Surely there would be a huge bunch of folks out there that would want to casually participate and or hang out with an established BBQ team for the weekend, even it meant doing so was at the expense of loosing a nights sleep. I posted the add and waited. I checked my email box every hour on the hour for the first day or so and heard not a peep. Imagine my excitement when Thursday morning came and I saw a response to my add, finally, I thought.

My excitement was short lived however when I read over the response and saw the photograph that the person had sent along with the question, “did I mind if he wore a mask and brought a friend or two?” I didn’t know you were allowed to send images like that on the internet. It was only after reading this note that I ventured into the ‘casual encounters’ section of Craig’s List and saw for myself what the words ‘casual encounters’ meant to other folks. If this is what folks around town are doing for casual entertainment, I must be from the wrong planet! What ever happened to sitting around drinking a beer and watching the ball game on the tube. BBQ enthusiasts these were not. I think this must be what is referred to as ‘the too much information age’. Perhaps I should have posted on one of the BBQ forums that I frequent instead of chancing this increasingly poplar web based classified site. It was too late to repost anywhere else, we’d have to wing it a man down, again.

For those that don’t remember, the last two contests for the 2009 season we were a man down. While it is certainly a doable deal, it is much easier on everyone when we are operating on all cylinders. Oh well, I much rather operate a man down than invite Percival Sweetwater and his roving band of who knows whats along for the weekend, even if he DID wear a mask!

We arrived on site, got set up and began the prep work. With two ancillary categories on Friday night, we were very busy getting everything ready for the two day event. I was also selling my new book at a contest for the first time. It was very nice having folks stop by that had read the book saying how much they enjoyed the contents. I also enjoyed chatting with some of the folks that approached about buying a book.

One such fellow I spoke with on Friday night introduced his self and explained how he had driven up from Virginia Beach to visit the contest and see what all the fuss was about. Considering starting his own team, he said he really enjoyed wandering around and talking with some of the many cooks that were present. He added that he was staying in a nearby hotel and was planning on attending the event the next day as well. Eddy Cloud was his name and I invited Eddy to stop by the next day to watch the final prep and the building of the turn-in boxes. For my money, this is the most exciting part of the BBQ contest and the best part for someone to see if they have never had the pleasure. That is, of course, if the person is interested in BBQ.

The next day, Eddy showed up, hung up his hat and after a few introductions jumped in like he had been on the team all along. He stayed and helped with the turn-in boxes, clean-up and packing, even pitching in with a ton of dishwashing duties. We learned a lot about Eddy in our short time together. But there was one thing that I already knew; there is something about the slow rolling sweet blue smoke that brings out some of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. Here was a guy that I had just met, from out of town, on a weekend, working his butt off to help us try and do well in a contest. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again, BBQ folks are good people I tell you. Thanks Eddy.

Oh yea, the contest. Well, we finished 21st out of a 132 team field. We received one call to the stage for 7th place in ribs. Our chicken was 47th, pork 45th, and brisket 29th. We certainly wished we had done better, maybe next time out. For now, I gotta figure out how to REMOVE a want add from the now famous Craig’s List, you oughta see some of the responses that have come in, whew, and they call this stuff casual???? Never again!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Contest Memories

Grab em while you can!

As a fairly new team to the contest circuit just entering our forth year of competition I took a look back to see what, if anything we were doing to preserve contest memories. As anyone that has cooked in more than a few BBQ contests will tell you, the time spend at the actual contest is very minimal when compared to the time spent preparing, packing, traveling, and cleaning up. In my opinion, much more time is spent getting ready for an event than cooking the event. At the contest, I find myself rushing around trying to spend a little time with the other folks that I have come to know on the BBQ trail. Sometimes at a larger event, there are folks I won’t even get to see. I find, that much of my enjoyment of the contest experience comes from the memories that I can clutch onto after the smoke from the event begins to drift away.

Probably the most popular memory collector amongst most teams at a contest is picture taking. I really enjoy looking at the photos we take at a contest. This include shots of our turn-in boxes which when compared with the score sheets help to give us ideas and areas in which we can improve. I always try to include a group shot of the entire team and any guests that we might have in camp for the weekend. I also enjoy looking at the photographs taken by other teams and contest organizers that are posted on the internet from the event we just cooked. I particularly enjoy when teams post pictures on their websites and include a sentence or two talking about their photos. This makes for some great reading, at least in my opinion.

I have always said just as soon as our team makes the big time, the first thing that I will do is hire a staff photographer. Wouldn’t it be great to have someone in camp that was responsible for nothing else but recording the entire event with video and still images. The biggest problem that we have is remembering to break the camera out and snap some pictures. We usually remember to shoot the boxes, but after that, all bets are off. I have returned from some contests with pictures of the turn-in boxes and a team group shot and nothing else. Somebody has got to remind me to take more pictures.

You may or may not know that I am a blogger. (A shot of shameless self promotion there). I try to create and post a blog entry about each contest that we cook. I like to get my thoughts down as soon as possible after the event in an attempt to provide at least a little accuracy. Most times I can write most of the entry in my head as I am travelling home form the contest. I also enjoy reading other bloggers accounts of contests cooked. I find this makes for great reading, especially during the off season.

I usually try and focus on one or two events that occurred during the weekend to highlight in my ranting. Sometimes people ask me, “How do you figure out what you are going to write about?” To which I reply, “I never know”, but something always pops up to make good fodder for a blog post. Most times it is something that went wrong or as a result of our inevitable brush with the BBQ gremlins, sometimes disguised as Mr. Murphy of Murphy’s Law fame, most times, a regular unwanted visitor in our camp.

A contest journal detailing the entire contest cook is a great idea and a good way to tweak your procedures and methods. This is best done if the entries are made by one person on the team as they happen. In an ideal world, I would have a record keeper also on staff whose only responsibility would be to record each and every step of our preparation procedure, including times and amounts.

The members of my team certainly realize that we operate about as far from the ideal world as you can get. As much as I would like to adhere to this bit of advice and suggestion, the sad truth of the matter is that I don’t. Oh, sometimes if I am particularly happy with an entry or procedure, I will try and reconstruct it on paper to preserve for eternity in the annals of BBQ cookery. But alas, six months after the fact, I pick up the yellow legal pad that I once scribed with great intentions and can make no sense whatsoever of the scratchings and clawings shown before me, oh well, at least I tried.

Some teams will have an event tee shirt or other memento autographed by the competing teams. I think this is a great idea. This could be a great collectable in the future as well as a wonderful reminder of who you cooked with at a particular event. At some point, early in our second year, I came up with the brainstorm to carry a guest book with us to our contests. I got it out the first time I brought it along and had a few folks sign. Since that day, I have lugged it along to each and every contest; I have just forgotten to get it out. This makes it extremely hard for folks to sign. The guest book remains with two signatures, gathering dust in my carry-all box, longing to see the light of day. Perhaps this year it will make an appearance, it sure sounded like a good idea two years ago.

For me, my entire collection of contest memories consists of a few photographs and the occasional blog post. Both of which I enjoy immensely. The pictures I have on a random rotation for my computer screen saver. Many times during the winter I find myself staring as the pictures click by, reminding me of the fun I have had and the friends that I have made. Pleasant memories for sure.

Let’s face it, with my slowing fading memory cells being helped out the door with each and every passing day, sometimes it doesn’t hurt to use a little assistance when recalling what happened at a contest. Especially as time marches forward and your first year on the circuit all of the sudden becomes your 5th , before you can say ‘pass me that brisket’.

So, if you are new to the game, or even if you have been around for a while, don’t just carry your camera and other memory maker around, get them out and use them. Take plenty of pictures, or get that item signed. Life is too short and the contest experience is just like life, it gets by you like the blink of an eye. Hang on to the good times for as long as you can, you’ll be glad you did!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Contest patrons-

Rude or uninformed?

If you cook enough BBQ competitions you will eventually come in contact with a rude or obnoxious patron, this I can guarantee. It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when and how often. Let me explain. First of all, I am not talking here of the contest drunk. Some events have more than their share of inebriated attendees, and let’s don’t forget the overly indulging contest participants. Either one of these groups are always a possibility when you have cookers, charcoal, meat and beer all in the same location at the same time. Even at the so called dry contests, where there is a will, there is a way.

I am talking here of some of the supposedly sober patrons that are at the contest during and after the turn-in window on Saturday. Now, before I go any further, I think I need to say that the rude patron is the exception rather than the rule. Most are very friendly, polite, sober and fun loving. There are however, a few exceptions:

The Nosey Nate- You are busy with your last minute saucing and box preparation, everyone on the team is busy with the task at hand. If your team has been at it for a while, at times, there is very little conversation, everyone knows what needs to be done and when. It is like a finely tuned engine. Wait a minute, who is that over there with their nose stuck inside our spice box? Which is sitting inside our enclosed trailer. I don’t recognize him. Did you invite him? “Can I help you?” the interloper is asked, “no thanks, I am just looking”. What are we in a grocery store here? This is a good example why you need to lock up and guard your valuables at a contest.

The Trespassers- Not quite as bad as The Nosey Nate these folks will walk right through your site in order to save a few steps in getting where they want to go. At times, we have had groups of trespassers, (sometimes known as herds), walk right through a circle of teammates sitting inside our site while we are eating or discussing strategy. I feel sorry for the teams at heavily attended events when they are cited in the path to an area where the public wants to be, the words trespasser super highway comes to mind. Many times even crowd control devices such as caution tape or hay bales are not sufficient to deter these folks from taking a shortcut to the rest rooms.

The Scout- This person could be sometimes confused with a two face. Very polite, non obtrusive, asking a few timely questions, not interrupting, you almost feel that you are dealing with a regular person. In a weak moment, you offer a sample, after all, they have been standing quietly talking and it does appear to be a bit of drool on the side of their mouth as they stare quietly at your pile of extra ribs. They thank you over and over, reach into the pan and begin to sample. “Wow, this is the best I have ever eaten…..hey Uncle Bill, grab the kids and come here.” Uncle Bill, who has been stationed just around the corner and out of eyesight, has been waiting to hear the dinner bell ring. He storms the site with 5 or 6 kids of assorted ages in tow, let the feeding frenzy begin. “Do you have any napkins? Where are the drinks?”

The Intruder- This is the person that will walk right into your site and stand right amongst the team as they are preparing their boxes. Sometimes even developing a bit of an attitude when asked to move and or leave. We have had these folks exclaim, “I can’t see anything from out there!” referring to the area where the general public is supposed to be.

The Buffet Patron- Here is the guy that bellies up to your turn in table and begins to help his self to what ever is being offered as the special of the day in his pea brain. Dipping his ungloved, who knows where they’ve been hands into your freshly pulled pan of pork butt, this guy is sure to give you a tude when asked to leave….”I thought this was a BBQ contest” I heard him mumble as he left the site in a huff, surely looking to find a manger for which to file a complaint.

The Take Out Patron- Sometimes working in conjunction with The Intruder and or The Buffet Patron this person is not only looking to feed their uninvited faces, they also operate without regard to any health and safety regulations or even basic common courtesy. “Where’s the plastic bags?” I was asked two years ago at Dover by a woman as she finished wrapping a self served order of my brisket in some of my aluminum foil that she had already helped herself to.

The Hit and Run Specialist- You have just finished with ribs, the box has been sent to the judges, you have a few minutes to catch your breath. You single bone the remaining ribs and toss them into a pan for later sampling and possible discussion with the team. The pan is moved from the prep table to another table as you ready the area for the pork entry. The pan is situated within arms reach of the front of your site and without thinking you forget to post an armed guard. You turn your back to sauce your butt and ‘bam’ he’s got you. He has been circling unnoticed in front of your site just waiting for this moment. If it were just him, maybe no big deal, but now you’ve got The BBQ Seagulls to deal with.

The BBQ Sea Gulls- What in the world do seagulls have to do with a BBQ contest you ask? Have you ever been to the beach or on a large parking lot in an area where there are a large population of seagulls? Renowned scavengers, seagulls have the uncanny ability to spot a corn chip or a french fry in the sand at 1000 yards. BBQ Seagulls have the same ability to spot a handout at a contest, as soon as they observe the score made by the Hit and Run Specialist, they dive in and help themselves. The commotion caused by the initial incident, followed by the ever increasing size of the flock helps attract even more of the ferocious and raucous feeders. Left unchecked, they will continue to feed until the pan is empty. I have even observed some of this ilk even go as far as moving the pan closer to the public area to facilitate even easier access for their comrades.

The Questioner- I sometimes think this person is not so much rude as they are oblivious to what is actually going on. They amble up to your site, right in the middle of crunch time, can see that you are extremely busy, yet continue to ask question after question. All while you are watching time slowly tick away out of the corner of your eye, and you thought you would have time to run to the spot a pot before the next turn-in. Forget that.

The Brown Noser- This is the person that thinks if they heap enough praise on you and or attempt to inflate your ego with high flying compliments that you might even throw the keys to your truck in along with the extremely large carry-out order that you are sure to box up for them to take home. “This is the best stuff that I have tasted all day and I have even eaten some of THE BIG GUYS stuff.” I’ll bet he says that to all the teams.

While I have had some fun here with some of the experiences I have had, I do believe that I have touched on an important issue, better informing the public. I am sure there are a certain percentage of patrons at a contest that know exactly what is going on and how the entire contest schedule proceeds. But I do believe that there is a large majority of folks wandering through the venue without a clue. They are at a BBQ contest and all they see are folks standing around looking at their cookers or playing with white Styrofoam boxes. Where are the samples? What the heck is going on here? Can I buy a sandwich from you? Where are the men’s rooms?

A simple one page handout along with some strategically posted signage would go a long way in letting the public know exactly what they are seeing and what will be occurring. The contest organizer could also assist with the message when advertising the event, particularly in an area where the contest is a first timer. Information could be contained such as a brief explanation of a contest, what can be seen and when, what is and is not permitted as far as food sampling and sales, a time schedule as to when the teams will be busy as well as when the awards will be given out. I don’t think a three page pamphlet is needed here, just some brief and basic information.

A better informed public would have a positive effect on the entire competition circuit in a multitude of ways. First, more informed contest attendees are least likely to become rude or obnoxious patrons, although in some cases, nothing can be done to correct a person’s ignorance. Second, it would help to improve the public’s contest perception as well as their enjoyment as a spectator. I have witnessed on several occasions persons grumbling and storming out after they learned that there would be no free foods offered for their consumption. Lastly, I think that we would be more likely to attract folks into the competition arena if they were better informed. My thinking is the more people informed and involved, the better the entire experience for everybody.

The other option I have would be to carry a couple of rolls of barbed wire and fence posts along with my regular contest gear. This way I could erect a barrier that would be sure to keep even the most hell-bent intruder away. I could also bring along some off-duty Police or a couple of out of work bouncers to act as a sort of quasi security force. Somehow I feel this would be frowned upon by the contest organizer, for my money, it would be easier and less hassle to inform the public, what do you think?

Friday, March 12, 2010

A New Sponsor

FAB makes it better

Who are those guys? BBQ team is proud to announce a new sponsor for the 2010 competition season, The Ames Company, Inc. makers of FAB and AmesPhos Products. For those that don’t know, FAB is a product that is injected into meat to help enhance flavor and retain moisture. We have used FAB injections on both our pork and brisket submissions at each contest that we have cooked.

I first met the Ames family in 2006 at the New Holland Summer Fest while I was cooking with my friend, Steve Farrin from I Smell Smoke. They are a family business that specializes in producing quality products and good old fashion friendly service. Their entire selection of available products as well as specifics with regard to FAB meat injections can be found on their web site

I encourage you to check them out and give their products a try. If you are attending a contest we are cooking, stop by, (after turn-ins of course), and taste our FAB enhanced products, we know you will like them. Just don’t tell the guys on the other teams how good they are!!!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Two years of blogging

Time flies when you are having fun!

I was doing a little research last week and realized I have been blogging here for over 2 years this past December 11th. Two years, it doesn’t seem like it has been that long. A lot of water has passed under the bridge in that short period of time. Our team has come a long way; we got a few calls and even won our first Grand this past October.

We are about to enter into our 4th year on the competition circuit. As I look over the contest possibilities for the up coming season, I notice there are an increasing number of events to pick from. For a team in our section of the mid atlantic region, you have 20+ contests to pick from with-in a reasonable driving distance. That is not counting events that are a little further away.

The WATG? gang again figures on cooking 6-7 contests for the 2010 season. This is about all that we can handle considering work, family and other obligations that seem to pop up every weekend during the summer months. We like the fact that there are more contests in which to choose from and wish that we could find the time to cook a few more. We also appreciate the fact that there are more events that require less driving, a sorter drive home, in my opinion, is a good thing.

We have posted our tentative schedule on the website, and will post here as soon as a few more dates are confirmed. If you are out and about and decide to visit a contest in which we are cooking, please drop by and say hello. We would like to meet you. This brings me to my next and most important point, saying thank you to my readers.

Throughout the two years this blog has been posted, I have received numerous e mails, comments, personal visits, phone calls and other communications from folks that have been reading my written words. I even had one reader tell me, “You ought to write a book!” Well, this past year, as many of you know, I did just that. As I journey through this process of being a fledging author, I take all of your comments and words of encouragement with me. I am not sure where this road will lead, (if anywhere), but I am sure that it will be an experience I won’t soon forget.

I hope that my book is a help to those that would like to become involved in the sport/lifestyle called competition BBQ cooking. In a way, I am passing along some of what I have learned from so many others on the BBQ trail, to folks just starting their journey. As I have said many times in the past, it is a trip that you won’t regret.

I know that I kid around that I have only two readers, and one is my mother, but you and I know there are at least 8 of you out there in cyberspace, and for that I say thanks. Thank you for reading this blog and thanks for your encouraging words over the years.

I would also ask that if you like the blog, that you click below and become a follower, it doesn’t cost anything, and is very helpful in showing sponsors and others how many people are stopping by to take a look. Likewise, I ask if you are on Facebook, that you add me, who are those guys? BBQ team, and Startin the Fire to your friends and fans list. I am hoping to use the Startin the Fire page as a forum to answer questions and help folks interested in starting their own BBQ team.

It is mid February already; the contest season is just around the corner. I have begun ordering supplies and I continue to practice and refine my technique. Our first event will be Salisbury, MD in mid April. It will be here before I know it.

I have a couple of events associated with the book scheduled in the month of March, which will make things go by even quicker. As you probably know, I will keep you informed as to my trials, tribulations and experiences as a beginning book author. I am sure, as is anyone that knows me, that there will be a funny story or two to come out of all of this……stay tuned!

Monday, February 8, 2010

The BBQ Guru

Our newest sponsor!

We are pleased to welcome The BBQ Guru as an additional sponsor for the who are those guys? BBQ team. The BBQ Guru is a company based in Warminster Pennsylvania. They design and manufacture high quality smokers and power draft controls. We use one of their Caldera Tall Boy smokers with a Guru fan and control set up. We are able to load our cooker with fuel, light it off, then relax and get some shut-eye as the Guru system stays on duty all night long and maintains the cooker chamber at whatever temperature we ask it to.

Their system is great, and the power draft systems are very reliable and adaptable to most cookers on the market today. In addition to high quality equipment and a complete line of accessories, Fred, Bob, Kenny and the rest of the Guru gang offer customer support that is second to none. Whether it is by phone, e mail or in person, these fellows will work hard to make sure you are getting the full potential out of your equipment and will stand behind everything that they sell.

If you watched the Pitmaster TV show you saw BBQ Bob respond to a customer’s site to assist with a problem at a contest they were both cooking. I have had personal experience in the contest setting where the Guru guys will help to answer a question or solve a problem if the need arises. In short they are a great company and we are very fortunate and proud to have them as one of our sponsors.

If you see us at a contest, stop in anytime and check out the Caldera Tall Boy in action. We’d be happy to answer any question that you might have on our experience with our unit and its performance.

Check out their website for a complete list of products offered.

800-288-GURU (4878)

The BBQ Guru
357 Ivyland Road
Warminster, PA 18974-2205

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

At Last!

The new web site is here!

After months of painstaking work on someone else’s part, (thanks Brian) we are pleased to announce the release of the newly remodeled “who are those guys?” web-site.

The site contains numerous upgrades and new features which include contest photos and recipes, as well as past news and contest results from the team. My book, Startin the Fire will also be available on the site, just click on book or buy the book.

Brian Milito, team webmaster, has taken the last three years worth of info and made into a very user friendly environment that we hope you will bookmark and visit from time to time. You will also find many useful links to other BBQ sites as well as links to articles and reviews I have written for other publications. (in case you haven’t gotten enough of my drivel on the site)

Brian has also created a Facebook page for both the WATG? team and the Startin the Fire book. If you are currently a Facebook user, we ask that you become a fan of both. If you’re not already on FB, you might give it some thought, it is a great way to stay connected with folks and reconnect with old friends. Its also a great place to waste an hour a day!

Anyway, stop by the new site and give it a looksee when you have a minute, we’ll be glad you did!