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!