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!

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