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!!