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!