Monday, December 12, 2011

…..boy, time flies when you are having fun

It is 2012 already.......

It is hard to believe the year is ending. It seems like I just wrote my resolution column for 2011 and now here it is a new year. I have hardly had time to disregard all of my last year’s promises and goals and it is time to do it all over again.

Of course as is always the case, I am exaggerating a bit when I speak of complete disregard of my 2011 resolution list. Upon looking back, I really didn’t do too badly when it comes to the results I desired, but as we all know, there is always room for improvement. More particularly, when you are talking about me, there is A LOT of room for improvement.

One of my sidebar goals I mentioned last year was to loose 10 lbs, I am happy to report, I lost a little over twice that amount. While some of my more comedic acquaintances would ask, where did it go? I assure you, the scale doesn’t lie, well most times it doesn’t. For me, a slightly past middle-aged, waistline challenged, wanna-be BBQ cook, this quest has been quite the struggle. So here we go with resolution #1 for the New Year of 2012;

1) Keep off the weight I already lost and try to drop another 10 pound’s. For you folks that don’t pack on the lb’s just by looking at a cheeseburger on a toasted bun this might seem like an easy endeavor, but I assure you it is not. One doesn’t have to look far around any BBQ contest to see there are many who are in the same struggle. This is particularly hard when the very center of our favorite pastime is slow cooking large chunks of meat, sometimes slathered in sauce and the occasional sipping of an ice cold beverage. Needless to say, for me, it’s a continual uphill battle.

2) Stay focused and work on contest preparation- Both of these items were a part of last years list in some form or another and I think I did a pretty good job, but again, I need work. I will continually strive to keep better notes on my cooks both contest as well as practice and to be more organized in my record keeping. I have been more diligent in doing some of my prep work while at home which has lessened the work after arriving at the contest site. I like the direction I am going here and will continue to work to improve.

3) Allow more time for socializing at a contest- Now, before you drag me before the firing squad for promoting drunk and disorderly behavior at a contest, please allow me to explain. How many times while reading the forum posts and contest wrap-ups do you hear some one say, “I wish I would have more time to get around and see everybody, but I was way too busy” or something to that effect? I feel the same way, and what is worse, many of the folks I have met along the BBQ trail are people I really enjoy spending a few minutes with. I hate it when I don’t get around to see everyone. This year will be different, if possible, I will try to arrive at the site earlier and make an attempt to stay later, not be so rushed. I also believe that by working on my ‘at home’ preparation (item #2 above), this too will free me up for a bit more ‘quality time’ while at a contest. By quality time, I am talking about SOCIALIZING TIME and who could argue with that?

Well, there you have it, my resolutions for the 2012 BBQ season, almost certain to be compromised in some fashion, but certainly made today with all good intentions. Time will tell, as it always does. One thing I know I will stick with, my wish that each and every one of you have a safe, healthy, prosperous, happy and competition successful 2012!

Christmas is coming and the goose is getting….

well you know……waistline challenged

I can hardly believe it; Christmas 2011 is just about upon us. As this much anticipated season approaches, one can almost say that we have had enough, even before the fat man slides down the chimney on December 25th. It seems the overly ambitious retailers in a continuing struggle to beat their competition to the punch have completely thrown the old fashioned notion that the holiday season begins after Thanksgiving to the wind. I think it was the middle of October when I saw my first Christmas commercial on TV and it has only gotten worse. I heard the other day that one of the big box stores plans to open for their Black Friday sale starting on Thanksgiving Day. My question is why bother closing at all, just give the employees 25 minutes sometime on Turkey Day to shovel down their family dinners and keep on selling, that’s what it is all about anyway right? Wrong. I feel bad for those that will have to work to accommodate this madness and hope someday soon that retailers will come to their senses, but this is a philosophical discussion better saved for the editorial pages or the funny papers, you decide.

The holidays to me are all about family, friends, good times and good food. What follows is what has become a holiday tradition of mine of sorts, my Christmas list for that severely addicted BBQ fanatic in your life, or for you, if the sauced stained tennis shoe fits!

1) As I am sure many of you already know, I have an affinity for searching for, collecting and playing songs about BBQ. In other words, I am a BBQ song nut. I came across this tune a year or so ago and thought I would drag it out again for this holiday season. The price is right; you can get the download the MP3 file on Amazon for .99 so it fits into anyone’s budget. The name of the song is Christmas by the Bar-B-Que by Lynn August. Be sure to spell the title as I have it written or search with the artists name. If you like a slightly different holiday tune, you’ll need this number on your holiday playlist.

2) Smokin- by Myron Mixon- Amazon $14.96. In addition to collecting BBQ tunes, I also collect BBQ books. I bought this book when it first came out and have enjoyed both reading it as well as trying the recipes. If you are a competition cook or just a weekend backyard warrior, you will find this book both informative as well as entertaining. Be sure to try the peachy baked beans.

3) The next book has not been released and is due out 3/1/2012. Wicked Good Barbecue is a book written by Andy Husbands, Chris Hart and Andrea Pyenson or as they are known on the competition BBQ circuit IQUE. Anyone that has been around the sport has heard of these guys who cooked this past year in their 10th straight Jack Daniels World Championship. I think I should also mention these guys won The Jack in 2009, need I say more. The book can be pre-ordered on Amazon for $12.91, I have had mine ordered for months.

4) Thermapen Splash Proof Insta-read Thermometer- available from Theroworks $89.00. If you cook inside or out, you need one of these units. Handy, reliable and accurate. The company offers great support and customer service as well.

5) Grand 14” Brisket Slicer- Made by Wusthof- $139.000 – The information on this knife from the site states, “This knife is designed for both the professional and hobbyist cook. A 2mm wide blade with a razor sharp 16.5 degree beveled blade effortlessly slices through the softest meats without tearing. The radial curve of the blade and incorporated scallops will cut blemish free slices with ease.” Mike Faye, MABBQA President worked with Wusthof in the design of this knife and it looks to be just what the Doctor ordered when it comes to slicing brisket. For now, the knife is available exclusively through the store on the MABBQA web site.

I hope this list is of some help to you as you navigate the throngs this holiday season. As you do, please keep in mind the real reason for the season, as well as having a little patience for the folks that will be working during this holiday time. I would also like to take just a brief minute to thank all of my readers for their support over the years. I would also like to wish a happy, healthy, safe and fun filled holiday season to all of you and your families. Merry Christmas!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Buy local this year and help support your nearby economy.

What follows is a short but powerful article written by a friend of mine, Linda Orrison. For those that don’t know Linda, she is involved with her family BBQ business based in Ocean Springs Mississippi. Together they have grown their operation, The Shed BBQ & Blues Joint into 5 locations with the home base covering over 9,500 square feet of space and seating over 500 people. Pretty amazing stuff as well as a real American success story. Anyway, give her article a read and if you have a minute, check out their web site They also have a complete line of award winning sauces and rubs available at, you guessed it,The Shed Store, check it out.

Just want to let you know we are all doing fine at The Shed. The ShedCrew just jumped on the tour bus and went to our Lafayette/Scott location last weekend to help with the Sertoma Air Show. If you are ever close to Lafayette when it is going on I would highly recommend going to it. It was spectacular! Made me proud to be an American! Speaking of that, I’d like to put a thought in your ShedHed heads.
The holidays are coming up and I’m sure there are a lot of people on your gift lists that you have NO CLUE as to what to buy them. Some of them have everything they need. Some you don’t really know what they need and some you don’t what they like. Makes it difficult doesn’t it.

I ran across an article that really impressed me as to a new approach in our gift giving. With all the overseas factories banging out monstrous piles of cheap goods and merchandise being produced at the expense of our local labor and local jobs we could change this by thinking outside the box.

This year Americans can give the gift of genuine concern for other Americans. There are millions of American made products and services to be found this Holiday season right in our own backyards.

Everyone gets their hair cut. How about gift certificates from their salon or barber? Who wouldn’t appreciate getting their car detailed? Small, locally owned detail shops and car washes would love to sell you a gift certificate.
From small gift giving such as, for your aquarium loving friends, going to the locally owned pet shop and purchasing a cool looking fish to the larger gifts like having your friend or family member’s lawn mowed for the summer, or driveway plowed all winter.

There are so very many locally owned and operated restaurants in our communities where gift certificates abound. What a great idea to give a family a night out on the town! Then there’s uncle Grumpy, think he might enjoy a few rounds of golf at the local course or a dozen breakfasts at the local cafĂ©? You just might get him to smile!

There are over 25 million small businesses in this great Country of ours mostly struggling in these economically turbulent days, that need our support like never before. This is about supporting home town small businesses….your neighbors with their financial lives on the line…and helping them to keep their doors open.
My conclusion is that if we purchase our gifts locally, we are actually giving them twice. Once to the business owner and then on to our loved ones. I plan on telling the owners when I get there to buy their gift certificates how much I appreciate them and will wish them a Very Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year!

Linda Orrison aka MamaShed

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Shotgun Fred Pirkle-

A True BBQ Visionary

If you look back over the many improvements and or innovations in the realm of outdoor BBQing and grilling in the past 20 years or so, few could argue that one of the most innovative is the development temperature control devices for use on BBQ cookers. When you mention temperature control devices the name BBQ Guru comes to the forefront almost immediately. Shotgun Fred Pirkle, the founder and developer of the BBQ Guru temperature control devices would be considered by many to be Thee BBQ Guru. Especially when you look at the definition of the word guru: an influential expert; somebody who has a reputation as an expert leader, teacher, or practitioner in a particular field.

I first met Fred back in 2007 when I was in the market for a BBQ smoker. I called him with some preliminary questions and Fred spent a long time explaining the advantages to his product and answering the questions of a complete BBQ novice. I didn’t make a decision right away and what further impressed me was two months later when Fred made a follow-up call to me asking if I had found a smoker yet. Eventually I decided to purchase a new unit from the BBQ Guru. When I picked the unit up at their Warminster Pennsylvania facility, Fred spent several hours with me going over the operation and care of the unit. I was impressed then and continue to be impressed by the level of service provided by his firm.

Over the years I have had the privilege of hanging with Fred and his crew at numerous BBQ contests all over the northeast, many times sharing a cold drink and swapping stories. It is easy to see how Fred comes up with many of his products and ideas; here is a guy that is always thinking of ways to make something better. His parent company, Thermomegatech is a leader in the field of manufacturing temperature control values and devices for use in numerous industries and applications all around the world.

Fred’s talent as an inventor is evident both by the number of patents he holds as well as some of the many ideas and prototypes he has developed, many of them outdoor cooking related. I enjoy nothing more than running into Shotgun Fred at a cook off and seeing what his latest project is. I think what I enjoy most is listening to Fred as he explains the reasoning and or particulars regarding his latest development, passionate would be an understatement.

Not long after they began to distribute BBQ Guru products, Fred and business associate BBQ Bob Trudnak became interested in the growing sport of competition BBQ cooking. They started their own team “The BBQ Guru” in 2005 and have become a force to be reckoned with when competing in BBQ contests all over the Country. During their short time on the circuit, the Guru Gang has collected numerous accolades as well as several grand and reserve championships. In 2010 they took home Reserve Grand Championship honors from the 22nd Jack Daniels Invitational BBQ contest held each October in Lynchburg Tennessee, an accomplishment Fred is quite proud of, and deservedly so.

In the spring of 2008 while at a BBQ contest in Salisbury Maryland Fred suffered a stroke. He has worked very hard at his therapy relating to his recovery in the years since the stroke and had begun to once again become more of a regular on the BBQ circuit. In June of this year, Fred received a setback when he was diagnosed with ALS or what is more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Fred stopped by the BBQ Guru site last month in New Holland, Pennsylvania and was inundated with visitors and well wishers. His spirits were high and I know he will continue with the struggle and challenge resulting from this latest development.

In the past, while watching Shotgun Fred take his walk to the stage at a BBQ contest it was very evident that this is a guy with great passion for BBQ as well as life itself. Few can dispute the fact that the BBQ world has benefited greatly as a direct result of the vision and numerous contributions made by Shotgun Fred Pirkle. He recognizes problems and finds solutions in a way that few others have done. I am proud to call him a friend and look forward to seeing what Shotgun Fred, Thee BBQ Guru, has up his sleeve to make outdoor cooking and BBQ easier and more efficient today as well as going forward into the future. Godspeed Shotgun Fred.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

New Holland Summer Fest 8/26-8/27

Who invited this floosy named Irene?

The elephant in the room for this weekend was a pushy, uninvited guest by the name of Irene. The news reports during the week preceding this much anticipated event were dominated with forecasters and prognosticators attempting to predict the future. Whether or not you are a believer in your local weatherperson, the possible tract and estimated effects of this storm where not to be taken lightly.

Contest organizers fielded numerous calls leading up to the contest and had 6 teams cancel, some at the last minute. Most of the cancellations were from teams with waterfront interests and were completely expected. Contest Chairman Chuck Sheffield said they were able to move 1 team from the waiting list to make a field of 67, still 5 teams short of their normal number of 72.

Early on Friday it appeared that Irene would be making her effects know to the southern Pennsylvania region late on Saturday night. As the weekend progressed, her predicted arrival time continued its march toward the contest turn-in window. To say that this pushy bimbo was dominating conversation, thoughts and contestant mind sets would be an understatement. She elbowed her way into the cooks meeting as well as any and all contest related chit chat held throughout. In a typical intruding Mother-in-law fashion, Irene did her very best to cast a pallor over both days of the contest. (Authors note: Any similarities between a Cat 3 hurricane and my or anyone else’s Mother-in-law is strictly coincidental and not by any means meant to be intentional. It is also not meant at all to be derogatory towards hurricanes and or tropical storms)

Fortunately for all involved, the early rain bands were the only effects felt during the contest. Awards were moved up and teams scrambled to get their sites broken down and stowed away before things got dicey. The wind was never really a factor with the exception of a few gusts during awards. One stronger gust got everyone’s attention just before the start of the awards ceremony when it brought down a large tree limb. Fortunately, no one was in the immediate area therefore no one was injured.

Most teams were loaded up and moved off the grassy contest surface before awards. Sheffield reported the entire area was cleaned up and vacated by around 6:30 PM on Saturday. He also notes the real heavy stuff from Irene did not begin to pound the park until nearly 8:00 pm Saturday night. I guess the weather people were right, although I’ll never admit that one.

The contest Grand Champion was 4:20 Q with Jack’s Down Home BBQ coming in as Reserve. First place chicken was won by Christmas City BBQ while Pigheaded BBQ captured the top spot in ribs. The BBQ Guru walked in the pork category and the contest GC, 4:20 Q was the winner in brisket.

The Summer Fest has three ancillary categories as well. First place for the chefs choice event was Red Lion Spicy Foods. Christmas City was the top finisher in the sausage category and the team of PA Midnite Smokers was called to the stage to claim the top spot in whole hog.

This contest has become a much sought after invite here on the east coast. Chuck and his committee of volunteers and organizers do a fine job and usually the weather cooperates. Spending a weekend in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country is a treat no matter what time of year it is. If you want to get on the waiting list my suggestion would be to apply early; this is one you just have to cook.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Holly Smoke BBQ, Easton MD

Those are my guys!

First, a little background for those that don’t know me. My competition BBQ team is named “who are those guys?”. The team consists of my wife, 3 lifelong friends and myself. We began cooking the KCBS series approximately 5 years ago and for the most part, the personnel roster has remained the same during the entire time.

I am the organizer and driving force behind our group. During this period, I have been the been dubbed the BBQ Nazi by my team members. For the life of me I can’t image why. When asked why the moniker, they’ll mumble something about stubbornness, inflexibility, close mindedness, dictator like. I have no idea who they are talking about. I have always run my team with a complete open door policy. Team mates with suggestions for change are always welcomed in my office, that would be the case, if in fact, I even HAD an office.

The truth of the matter is, I don’t have an office and I haven’t been very open to change or even suggestions from the very team I depend on to help me prepare, set up and cook each and every contest I cook. I have said it before, folks that cook contests solo are true ironmen and woman. For me, after a weekend contest, it takes me 3-4 days before my knees stop aching. Cooking solo? I think I would rather stay home, I couldn’t do it. To say I am stubborn and resistant to change would be an understatement, just ask my wife. I do not expect I am much different than any other on the back side of middle aged male in today’s society. You know what they say about old dogs don’t you?

This season I vowed to change, to be more open, to listen more, to even act on and possibly implement properly submitted suggestions from my esteemed teammates. As you can well imagine, this was a large step for me, albeit a difficult one. Notice I said properly submitted, I guess I couldn’t change too much now could I? What I meant was, I would try listening, if it sounded like a well thought out proposal, my response would be, let’s do it. For me, this was huge.

My wife wondered aloud if this same philosophy would be in effect around the house,” come on now”, I said, I was going to be a bit more congenial with the team, I haven’t completely lost my mind. I know just as anyone that has been married for 30 years plus, at home, the wife is never wrong with her comments and suggestions. When she tells me the sky is orange, I say your right and move on, period. How else can you expect to stay married for 30+ years? It’s a good thing my wife never reads my writings, please, if you see her at a contest, mums the word. Let’s keep this between you and I, she really doesn’t need to know anything I have said here, now does she? Besides, anyone that can put up with me for 30 years, well, enough said about the lucky man that am I.

Let me get back on topic, this year I even went as far as asking if team mates wanted to be more involved than in previous seasons. For the most part, I was rejected or ignored. Things have been proceeding along pretty much as usual even after the implementation of the open door policy. I was calling most of the shots, taking all the credit, then looking to assign blame when they did not, just like at work. You can imagine my surprise when the team began making rumblings about cooking a contest in July when I was scheduled to be on vacation.

At first I wrote it off as drunken campfire contest talk. Not that we ever have a campfire at a contest or are ever drunk at a contest. OK, Maybe I am stretching on the last one. Nevertheless, I thought it was all talk in May when I first heard the drum beats. Around the 4th of July, I overheard plans being made, it looked, like it was really going to happen. Then a clandestine meeting was held, I was not on the invitation list, and I believe final plans were made. This was going to happen.

As I write this, the guys are a week away from their debut. I am out of town on vacation and have left the trailer and gear for them to use. Asking several times if there was anything else they needed from me, to my surprise, they didn’t request a thing. As luck would have it, if I wanted to, I could slide by the contest site on my way home. It is right on the way although it would take me a completely different route, a surprising difference of only about 7 miles. Hardly a good enough reason for me not to slide by.

Part of me wants to go, part of me wants to stay away and let them alone, not to interfere. I am not sure what I will do. One thing I know for certain, I want them to succeed, to do well. Not just for me and the who are those guys? name, but for them, the guys. All of them are very good cooks on their own and I want them to succeed in this endeavor. They have always joked they were going to form their own team eventually anyway. Their name, they always said would be “we were those guys”. Next week in Easton Maryland, I wish them success, then I will say, those are my guys!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Toss the bums out!

Term limits for all!

Caution and apologies to my regular readers, this post is not BBQ related it is; however, a topic I feel strongly about. I promise the next post will be on topic, thanks for your patience.

When I was a young man I remember my father giving me a piece of sage advice, when in public, never discuss religion or politics. For the most part, I have adhered to these words of wisdom in my life’s journey. Today with deference to my father, I will make an exception with a short discussion of politics (not BBQ), and this will be done outside my inner circle of family and friends. Before you grab the tar and feather buckets, please, hear me out.

My discussion carries across party lines and in my humble opinion should be of interest to everyone, regardless of what side of the isle you find yourself on…………………two words…….. term limits. We need them now.

Most of the Founders were in favor of term limits, envisioning a “citizen legislature” where interested parties would serve the constituency then return to their regular professions. There were some that favored the thought of self imposed term limits. Back then, no one could even imagine a career politician.
The lack of definitive term limits when the Constitution was first ratified was a huge concern to many of the framers. Roger Sherman from Connecticut wrote” Representatives ought to return home and mix with the people. By remaining at the seat of government, they would acquire the habits of the place, which might differ from those of their constituents. “

Thomas Jefferson and George Mason were both strong advocates for term limits. Mason wrote, “nothing can be so essential to the preservation of a republican government as a periodic rotation of its members”.

One can only wonder what the nations founding fathers would think of Washington today with its career politicians whose sense of entitlement extends not only to themselves, but to their anointed family members.

We have created a ruling class, which is exactly what the founding fathers had feared. If you think about it, the culture of corruption and cronyism that existed in England at the time was the very same reason the founders chose to leave and start anew. Why weren’t term limits included when the constitution was drafted you ask? The framers felt they weren’t needed, why would anyone want to stay on at a part time job?

Another interesting reason term limits were not included was the life expectancy at the time. In the 18th century the average farmer lived to the ripe old age of 35. Our founding fathers never even imagined that a mere 200 years later we would have legislators SERVING for 40 to 50 years!

When the Country was formed, legislators were paid $6 a day, and that was only when Congress was in session They were expected to pay all of their own expenses from that $6 a day salary. Contrast that to today, former speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi received an annual salary of just north of $200K and to top it off, she has no expenses. When you add in their sweet self imposed pensions, free health care for life (their own plan), 40-50 staffers at your beck and call, tax deductible housing, millions of tax payer dollars to fund your office and travel expenses, free first class travel, free postage, exemption from social security payments, inside information to be able to invest much more lucratively than the rest of us uninformed citizens, the ability to place family and friends into high paying jobs, kickbacks and perks, the best seats at the best restaurants, it is easy why folks are attracted to these positions.

The old adage that they are there to serve the greater good is, in my opinion, a load of crap. They are there to line their pockets and their family and friends pockets with as much graft, money and favoritism that they can carry. Nothing more.

Most scholars would agree, a constitutional amendment would be needed in order to impose term limits on our esteemed members of congress. I think congressman Bob Inglis sums it up best when he says, “asking an incumbent member of congress to vote FOR congressional term limits is a bit like asking a chicken to vote for Colonel Sanders.” In other words, looking to our congressional leadership to solve the problem just aint gonna happen. This movement will have to come from the people themselves.

Thomas Jefferson said, “the two enemies of the people are the criminals and the government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the constitution so the second will not become the first”.

I believe the second has already become the first. Our Imperial Congress of today is made up of lifelong career politicians who have consolidated such an awesome and frightening mass of power that is way beyond the scope of anything the founding fathers could have even imagined in their wildest dreams. Yet today, the hoards of cattle also known as the American electorate will spend more time watching and voting on the latest American Idol than concerning themselves with the backroom dealings and payolas going on as we speak in Washington DC.

Robert Byrd 57 years
Carl Hayden 56 years
John Dingell 55 years
Strom Thurmond 47 years
Ted Kennedy 46 years

The list unfortunately goes on and on and on. This phenomenon is not limited to the federal government. Right here in Maryland, the alleged Free State, we are all so fortunate to have Thomas V. Mike Miller as the president of the Senate. He has been in the Maryland Senate for a mere 36 years. He has had his son appointed to a judgeship; he even has had the newly constructed senate building already named after him. Come on Mike, enough already. He has murmured in the past of retiring, but after contemplating the thought of no longer wielding the influence stick he now swings wildly about, he continues to run.

You’ll hear him as well of the many other career politicians that continue to suck from the taxpayer teat say that their reason for filing again is “their work for the people is not yet finished, there is more to be done.” Let me ask you this, in the real world, if you were hired 40 years ago to do a job and you still weren’t done, I am guessing you’d hear only two words and they would be “you’re fired”. Term limits, we need them now.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Swinetastic BBQ Festival- June 17-18, 2011

Contest Recap.......

The Frederick County Fairgrounds was the site of the central Maryland Swinetastic BBQ Festival held to benefit the American Cancer Society. This was a first year contest organized by Chris Carter of Carterque Barbeque and Grilling Company located in nearby Mount Airy Maryland. Fifty-three teams signed up to cook this first time event including some of the areas finest pit masters.

Chris and his friendly group of volunteers worked tirelessly to assure the cooks and teams had everything they needed during the two day event. Frequent trash pickups, clean restrooms, and one the scene ice deliveries were just a few of the many items were this event excelled. The continental breakfast put out on Saturday morning complete with still warm gourmet donuts from a nearby Fractured Prune Donut shop were just like icing on the cake.

Live music along with plenty of assorted vendors gave festival attendees more than enough to do both Friday evening as well as most of the day on Saturday. Friday evening was not without its surprises as a cell of heavy rain moved into the fairgrounds area around 5:00 PM dumping enormous amounts of rain accompanied by high wind and a smattering of hail. Mother Nature wasn’t finished yet as she returned around 4:00 AM Saturday morning with a vivid lightning show that was sure to make even the most seasoned storm watcher sit up and take notice.

Saturday morning threatened a bit but the positive vibes of the assembled BBQ teams supplied more than enough mojo to keep the skies dry through turn-ins and for the rest of the day. The teams went on to submit their entries to the judges and then kicked back to await the results while listing to some fine tunes by several local bands.

Friday night’s ancillary seafood category was won by a team named Drilling and Grilling from nearby Glen Rock PA. BBQ Nuts cooking out of Fairfax, Virginia took top honors in the KCBS chicken category on Saturday. Another team from Virginia, Gooney Creek BBQ grabbed the top spot in the rib event. Just Smokin Around from nearby Woodsboro, Maryland took the first place walk in pork. Arlington, Virginias cook team of Patent Pending BBQ were called to the stage to collect first place in brisket.

Grand Champion for this event was PA Midnight Smokers, Paul and Brenda Hess from Willow Street Pennsylvania. Reserve Grand champs were Mike Richter and the Chix, Swine and Bovine team out of Jessup, Maryland. Rounding out the top three overall was Deguello BBQ a second year team calling Springfield, Virginia their home.

Chris says he would like to grow the contest next year. Judging from what appears to be a warm reception from the surrounding community as well as a group of very satisfied BBQ teams, next years event is going to be one you are not going to want to miss.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My thoughts on local health departments.....

.....and BBQ contests.

It seems like every time I look at the calendar it is the 15th of the month. The deadline for some of my monthly scribblings is the 15th and no matter when I have just sent in a submission, the next time I look at the calendar, it is the 14th or 15th. This month was no exception.

Sometimes I sit and stare at an empty screen just waiting for a random thought to pop into my head so I can begin my article or story for the month. Occasionally it is somewhat of a struggle, this month was a bit different. I needed a story, the deadline was fast approaching (of course it was) and I had nothing (of course I didn’t). The upcoming weekend had us cooking a contest, no problem; I would just knock it out my article on Sunday after the cook-off. Just what you feel like doing on the Sunday after a BBQ contest is sitting down at your work station and trying to be creative. Of course that wouldn’t have been so much of a problem if I had already selected my topic, this time, being completely honest, I had not.

While at the contest it hit me, the subject just dropped out of the sky like a huge rock, right onto my alcohol soaked brain. The contest rep was giving us their short informational pep talk during the meat inspection process.

Authors note: The upcoming bit of commentary and banter is by no means directed towards the contest reps or organizers, who by the way did a swell job of organizing and running this first time event.

“The County health department, wants to make sure that all teams are building their boxes underneath their canopies or easy-ups, you are required to wear gloves when handling any and all food products”, we were told by the contest rep. “Also, you shouldn’t be surprised if you receive a visit from a County Health Department representative to look over your site.” I had no problem with the overlying theme of the message, to use your head and practice safe food handling, which for the most part, is SOP at a BBQ contest.

The more I thought about his message, the more I realized I had my story right in front of me and didn’t know it. I had heard about more and more Health Departments poking their noses into the world of competition BBQ cooking, inspecting teams, wanting to see thermometers, requiring coolers to be placed on wood blocks up off the ground. I even heard of an instance a while back where some dolt from the HD thought it should be a requirement that all BBQ teams cover the ground of their assigned contest site with a plastic tarp while preparing their submissions for the judges.

In this instance, what if I didn’t have a canopy or an ezy-up? What then? Would the Health Department official ask me to prepare my boxes in the cab of my truck? (I’ll bet after some minion from the HD took one look at the inside of my vehicle they’d be rethinking that request.) But seriously, what if I didn’t bring a pop-up cover? Is this going to be a requirement for the future?

Of course, the supposed reasoning behind all of this madness is they are simply looking out for the general food consuming public right? WRONG!!!!!!!! JUDGES AT A BBQ CONTEST ARE NOT THE GENERAL PUBLIC, THEY ARE NOT PAYING FOR, OR PURCHASING FOOD FROM THE TEAMS. (Sorry for screaming, but this is a topic that really gets me going, so much in fact that my fingers hurt just from punching the keys while typing)

The fact of the matter is teams are actually paying an entry fee, driving long distances, getting very little sleep, spending large amounts of other monies on sauces, rubs, cooking equipment, and really working their butts off to get their products to the judges on time. We aren’t selling anything to anybody; we are spending money to pursue our passion. The judges are volunteers; they do not have to pay to sample our wares, they are there freely and are not being forced to eat our que.

How in the world can any reasonable thinking person in their right mind justify this process? Is this where we are headed? Do we need the Government to protect us from ourselves? What is next, will you have to draw a permit and subject yourself to a complete Health Department inspection just to have a few of your family and friends over for dinner? Don’t laugh, think about it. If I think about it too much it makes my head explode.

A BBQ contest is nothing more than a large scale family picnic. Some of the competitors and judges are friends, some are even family. The organizers have invited them in to eat a little BBQ. At some of the more prestigious and popular events, judges are asked to remain on waiting lists for years an years before being given a chance to judge.

Do we really need to have the Government involved in this process? My answer is a resounding no. With all of the recent talk about local and State governments being strapped for operating capital, does it really make sense to encourage more and expanded inspection processes? I have got news for you out there in BBQ land, this stuff is not going away, it is here to stay and will get nothing but worse. More and more of these local jurisdictions are going to be sticking their long and pointed noses into more and more places where they don’t belong, and of more concern to me, where they "think" they belong.

I am by no means encouraging civil unrest or asking people to cause a scene when the person with the pocket protector meat thermometer shows up at your contest site. I am, however, just suggesting that when presented with this situation you not just roll over and comply. Voice your displeasure with their interference and meddling all in the name of public safety. Ask THEM a million questions, play dumb, make them work for their money while costing them time. If just one team in 50 does this, they will think he is a nut job and probably ask him to leave. But if all 50, I say ALL 50 pit masters do it they will think it is a movement. And you know what? They’ll be absolutely right. (thanks to Arlo Guthrie)

Maybe, if it takes these inspectors 6-8 hours to work their way through a 50 team competition which then causes them to show up late at their favorite Friday night martini bar, they might think twice about picking on a few guys and gals that are doing nothing more than making a little something for their friends and family to nibble on. The next time a Heath Department employee shows up at your site to poke around before a contest, just tell em to THINK SMOKE!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Middletown BBQ Cook-off

Middletown, DE
5/20-5/21 2011

The Dutch Country Farmers market located smack dab in the center of Middletown Delaware was the site of the second annual Middletown BBQ Cook-off held May 20-21, 2011. If you were a team cooking this event for the first time, as were we, you would have a hard time believing that Mose Zook and his very enthusiastic group of volunteers hadn’t been running cook-offs for the past 10 years.

To say this was a very organized contest would be an understatement. Frequent and reasonably priced ice delivered right to you cooler, clean rest rooms, adequate power, good music, timely trash removal and a down right friendly bunch of folks putting on the event made for a very enjoyable weekend.

The weather looked a bit questionable at times Friday afternoon and evening with a few spotty showers threatening and occasionally moving through, but never enough to dampen anyone’s spirits or even their fires. Later in the evening on Friday the clouds left and made for a beautiful moonlit night watching the smoke from the 47 teams present rise and dissipate above the contest grounds.

Saturday morning began what was to be one of those Chamber of Commerce type days which is exactly what Mose and the gang had probably ordered up. Seasonal temperatures, sunshine and a light breeze made everything alright in this little corner of the First State.

A recent and unexpected cancellation of the August contest slated for Dover Downs, the only other State Championship contest in Delaware, gave this contest a bit more excitement knowing the winner of this event was almost sure to be a qualifier in some of the late season Championship events.

Pigheaded BBQ, a team based right in Middletown DE was the winner in the chicken category. The first place rib trophy was awarded to Black Cat BBQ. Gypsy & the Biker took top honors in pork, while Wilbur’s revenge walked for first place brisket. Black Cat BBQ from Severna Park MD was called to the stage for the Grand Championship walk, making them consecutive winners of this event which they also GC’ed in last year. Contest reserve Grand Champ was Washington DC based Pork Barrel BBQ.

If you are looking for a well run contest held on the scenic Delmarva peninsula you need to put this one on your list for next year. The Farmers Market is open the entire weekend and you haven’t lived until you have had a moon pie and a homemade vanilla ice-cream milkshake just after turn-ins, talk about a sugar rush!

Monday, June 6, 2011

A good question.......................

What happens when it rains at a contest?

The very short answer here is, you get wet. What I mean is, as B. T. Barnum was alleged to have said, “the show must go on!”. If you have been around competition BBQ cooking for any time at all, you will quickly become aware that weather, and its changing nature, WILL come into play at some time in your contests cooking life.

The first and most important way to deal with the weather is to be prepared. Watch the weather forecast prior to the event, not that weatherpersons are all that accurate, (sorry to offend weather-type personnel, but it is the only job I know where you can be wrong most of the time and never have to offer an explanation and still get to keep your job). I suggest investing in one of those portable weather band radios with the alarm feature, especially when you have humid summer skies and the chance of thunderstorms. Many times severe weather is preceded by warnings broadcast on weather frequencies, this is good information to have.

If the man calls for high winds, make sure you have everything tied down and secure. If the rain is expected to arrive overnight, be sure you have everything away and under cover before you decide to bunk down for the night. Nothing is worse than being awakened by a fast moving down pour and remembering your truck windows are open and you have left your $100 instant read thermometer out on a table to get wet. Use your head and prepare.

Weather consideration should also come into play when setting up your cook site. Be sure you don’t have extension cords lying in areas that may collect water. Also, depending on the amount of rain in the forecast, you might want to avoid low lying areas when selecting your site, if you are given a choice, think ahead and choose wisely.

Set your canopies and cookers in an area that offers protection from the elements if you can. Knowing which way the wind will blow is very valuable information when it comes to site selection and set up. This is particularly true if you have a cooker that is affected by weather. High winds and cool temperatures can play havoc with your cooking temps so it is best to set up as efficiently as possible. You might consider a blanket or cover for your cooker, just be sure to use a product that is made for such use and not a blanket off your bed that has a chance to burst into flames after 3 hours on top of your unit.

Be sure you have proper clothing, including footwear. If heavy rains are predicted, be sure to pack raingear, boots, and dry socks. It is also a good idea to bring along a few extra changes of clothes in the unlikely event the cloths you are wearing get wet. Of course anyone that knows me and my well know relationship with the ever-present Mr. Murphy of Murphy’s Law fame, if things can get wet, they will get wet, and this INCLUDES socks.

Rain, wind, sun, hail, even snow, the contest will go on. The guy that is the best prepared to handle what ever Mom Nature tosses out, is the team that will do the best. Be prepared, use your head and plan ahead. It goes without saying you will never be able to control the weather, but you can make a few adjustments and preliminary moves to try and reduce the control the weather has on your and your contest cooking experience. The most important tip, is to always be safe.

The Sounds of Que

What is that I hear?

The sounds of a BBQ contest can range from quiet to very noisy. Much of the sound is dependent upon which part of the day it is. I almost think at times, if I were blindfolded or were listening to the recorded sounds from a contest, I could tell you what time it was just by listening to the sound being created.

Friday morning the begins somewhat quietly, a few teams may have arrived on site the day before but for the most part, the contest grounds are empty with the exception of the contest staff. Teams begin arriving just after daybreak and are directed to their areas by volunteers many times using golf carts and verbal direction. You’ll hear sounds of teams setting up camp, metal poles clanking together, stakes being driven, cookers being unloaded, set into place, some even lit.

The astute observer will begin to notice a few pleasant smells being generated as early arrivals toss on assorted items to be served for lunch or perhaps involved in the ancillary contests set for Friday night. Conversations overheard will be greetings and other pleasantries as folks see their old friends and meet new acquaintances, introductions are made to neighbors, much laughter will be heard. Contest reps move about inspecting meats and providing information as to ice deliveries, cooks meeting times and any other pertinent information that will be needed by the arriving pit masters.

As the day progresses spectators arrive and begin to walk about asking questions and making observations. Maybe the event is in conjunction with a carnival, rides are tested and begin to operate, and perhaps a band begins to play offering attendees some evening entertainment. The evening wears on and things build to a pitch around 8:00 or 9:00 PM when things begin to settle and the cooking part of the contest begins in earnest.

Weed burners can be heard lighting off fires around the grounds, the band has packed up for the night and the only music that can be heard are the assorted tunes drifting out from the individual cook sites. Even this entertainment begins to wane as the appointed quiet hour draws near team member drift about, most of the public has departed for the evening, laughter a good times sounds waft form several sites that seem to have become gathering spots for some of the cooks as they swap lies and attempt to steal a few secrets.

Listen closely and you can hear the contest drifting off to sleep, muted conversation and the occasional crackling fire rule the sound waves for most of the overnight, that is if you are lucky and aren’t next to a bunch of loud and obnoxious drunks, in which case, I recommend a set of earplugs.

Morning comes very early at a BBQ contest. The day begins for power cookers around 3:00 to 4:00 AM, occasionally, the sound of a weed burner will be heard bringing cold and silent cookers to life. As day breaks, smoke rolls in earnest as the giant awakens. Banging doors from nearby spot-a-pots and tearing sheets of aluminum foil signal that morning has broken.

As morning progresses, some familiar sounds and smells of breakfast being cooked in some sites rules the airwaves. Teams huddle together for strategy sessions and make preparations for impending turn-ins. More foil is torn, cooker doors can be heard being slammed, orders are shouted, the occasional cuss word can even be heard. The cacophony builds to a crescendo around 1:30 PM when the last box is submitted. If you listen closely, you’ll hear the definite sound of a sigh of relieve coming from are the cooks and team members. The noise softens for a bit as folks busy themselves with beginning clean up, wetting their whistles, and running to the can.

It is now when the fun begins, cooks, in anticipation of the results begin laying down the excuses. “My chicken was dry, the pork was over cooked, my brisket OK, but my ribs, the best we have ever cooked.” You will here this over and over around the site as pit masters are asked, “how was your food?” This conversation is soon drowned out by the sounds of teardown. Trucks being loaded, trailers hitched, the shuffling to awards.

The awards ceremony brings more announcements, maybe even a band, eventually the sounds that everyone has come to hear yet only a few will get to experience, the contest calls accompanied by applause. If you are lucky, you’ll hear your team called and take the walk. If nothing else, you will hear it called when they hand out the score sheets, although, that doesn’t really count now does it?

Congratulations, back slaps and high fives are mixed with folks saying goodbye, trucks starting and the grounds beginning to empty. All except that one guy over in the corner, sitting on an empty 5 gallon bucket turned upside down. He is staring blankly at a few pieces of stapled white paper, a score sheet perhaps. As you drift past the fellow you can almost feel his pain, maybe you have walked a mile or so in his shoes at some time in the past. You avoid eye contact, much like a beggar on the street as you hustle by, anxious to get into your vehicle and away from the man on the bucket. As you passed, you heard him muttering to no one in particular, “ ……….what happened? can it be?.....”. As you sit in your truck, you take a quick glace at the overall score sheet and there is the man on the bucket, securely in DAL, you almost want to get out and pat him on the back, tell him everything will be alright. But you do not, some things are better left unsaid.

As you depart the contest grounds, your home for the past 36 hours, you realize that it is only a mere stroke of a pencil that separates you and the man on the bucket. It could be you or anyone else that his signed up. In fact, it has to be someone, someone must be last, it is inevitable. It is the way of the world. If only……………….HONKKKKK!!!!!!!!.... Suddenly, you are jarred back to reality, as the last sound you’ll hear at this contest is the loud horn blaring from the vehicle behind you as the driver pleads with you to get the heck out of the way and quit daydreaming! Travel safe.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tailgater Challenge- Bel Air BBQ Bash 2011

George Hensler of who are those guys? and Dan Hixon of 3 Eyz BBQ, are working along with Scott Walker and the team over at the Maryland BBQ Bash to offer a class for beginning competition cooks. The class will cover how to prepare, cook and present your rack of ribs for the Friday night tailgater challenge. The class will June 25th from 9 AM-2 PM.For details click on this link

Monday, April 25, 2011

NBBQA National Conference and Trade Show

…..hmmm these BBQ folks ARE good people!

I recently traveled to Greenville, South Carolina to attend the nation BBQ Associations’ National Conference and Trade Show. The event was held March 23-26 at the Embassy Suites located just outside the downtown district of Greenville. The theme of this years gathering was “Roots of Shared Success: Inspiration and education from our BBQ family tree.”

After arriving on Wednesday afternoon, I was checked in and immediately began to run into folks that I knew. Around 12:00 we were all loaded onto 2 large coach style busses for what was billed as a BBQ Tour of Greenville. Both busses were packed as we were driven to four local restaurants. At each stop we were greeted by the owners and staff, given some brief history of their establishment and then we had an opportunity to sample their wares.

For me, this was one of the highlights of the trip seeing the different smoking and cooking operations and hearing the stories of how they came to get involved in the restaurant business. Not to mention some really good eats. I was amazed at the size and quantity of the spreads put out by each establishment. If anyone returned to the hotel hungry, it was their own fault.

Thursday morning was the opening session where we heard from two very motivated individuals, Patrick Murdy of Company 7 BBQ from Englewood, Ohio and Roy Slicker from Slicks Que Company located in Sisters, Oregon. Both of the speakers told how much assistance and guidance they received from folks involved in the NBBQA and how they were very helpful in the early days of planning and working to help get their doors open.

After the opening remarks the attendees broke out to attend some of the numerous learning sessions planned for the convention. There were classes on branding, starting your own BBQ business, how to get sponsors for your competition team, using the internet to help promote, brand and expand your business and much more. The only problem I had was trying to decide from the list which session to attend. The sessions were scheduled for three at a time which meant you would miss something each time. I still haven’t figured out how to be in three places at once, when I do, I’ll let you know.

The keynote speaker for Thursday’s luncheon was Dave Anderson, better known as Famous Dave from Famous Daves BBQ Restaurant fame. Dave spoke from the heart and told his story how he built his business from a start-up operation in a town of 1,800 to its current size of over 200 locations in over 37 states. Dave’s tail of how he turned a backyard hobby into a $500 million restaurant empire is truly astounding. It was a real “rags to riches” story that was very moving, inspiring and motivational. Dave stayed around for the entire weekend answering questions and just hanging out with the rest of the conventioneers, an all around great guy.

Friday there were more sessions along with the opening of the BBQ trade show. Along the way there was plenty of time for BBQ networking. In attendance you had sauce and rub makers, caterers, marketers, restaurant owners, equipment makers, competition team members, BBQ media outlets, suppliers, just about everything to do with the business of BBQ was represented.

My observations were folks were very willing to give advice when asked. One on one and small group discussions were every where during the “down” times. These were some of the most successful people in the BBQ community all gathered together under one roof, all with a similar mission, to encourage and advise others to explore and succeed in what ever BBQ path they had chosen. It was all about the promotion of the BBQ community in general.

For me, what I observed during my four days in Greenville was exactly what I had thought all along, BBQ folks are good people, there is no doubt about it. The theme of the gathering, “Roots of Shared Success” was played out over and over that weekend. I saw folks that have traveled the road of success not only offering guidance, but offering encouragement and advice to others just beginning their journey.

My advice, for what ever it is worth, if you are in the business of Que or even thinking of getting involved, you need to join the National BBQ Association and get to next years conference. Just hanging out with a large group of highly motivated and driven people is bound to do you some good. I know it did me. When I arrived home I was so pumped up I told my wife that we were going to open a BBQ restaurant by this time next year. If you only could have seen the look on her face as she asked the inevitable question upon hearing my pronouncement, “how much did you have to drink on the plane trip home?”

The 2012 NBBQA National Conference and Trade Show is scheduled to be held in San Diego, California, you need to try and make it, you’ll be glad you did.

Pork in the Park

Salisbury MD
April 15-16 2011

The much anticipated Pork in the Park BBQ Festival was held April 15-17 in Winterplace Park located in Salisbury Maryland. The park is located in the heart of Maryland’s Eastern Shore and is always a great place to visit. Sandy Fulton and her enthusiastic group of volunteers once again rolled out the red carpet this year welcoming 116 teams from all around the Country as well as Canada.

Thursday evening found many teams already in place inside the park as the pit masters were anxious to get their fires started for the 2011 BBQ season. This event has become sort of a season opener for many of the teams in the northeastern part of the Country.

Friday morning the rest of the arriving teams were greeted with fabulous weather as it was what some would call one of those Chamber of Commerce kind of days. Teams keep their third eye on the sky as the weatherman wasn’t making any promises for what was in store for late Friday night and Saturday.

Turn-in morning broke with gray skies and very gusty winds, as the day wore on, things never improved. The heavy rain that was predicted stayed away until after awards, I still believe Sandy when she says she has an “in” with the Chief Meteorologist. After the brisket boxes went in, teams were scrambling to break camp before getting soaked. I am not sure if I have ever seen a contest of that size broken down and packed away in such short order.

In true fashion the organizers were in front of the weather issue and moved the awards ceremony into the large tent that had be erected for the judges. It was a bit tight, but everyone was dry and that was a good thing.

PA Midnite Smokers, Paul and Brenda Hess walked with an impressive win as the contest Grand Champions. They took first place in both the chicken and pork categories, second in brisket and fourteenth in ribs. They also scored well in Friday night’s ancillary contests with a second in anything butt and third in dessert.

Contest Reserve Champs were Jacked Up BBQ with Cool Smoke taking the number three spot. Aporkalypse Now won top honors in ribs and Hambones by the Fire scored number one in brisket. The Black Pig BBQ was the winner in anything butt and Heavy Hitters BBQ won the Friday night dessert division. Big Dawg’s Smokin BBQ was awarded the first place trophy for whole hog.

This contest has grown to one of the biggest on the east coast, it is well run and the hospitality shown by the organizers is second to none. It is a great way to start the contest season. If you haven’t done so already, you need to add this event on your “to do” list for 2012, you’ll be glad that you did.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

While at a contest...

......what do YOU eat?

We all know the stories and tales of revulsion associated with eating BBQ at a BBQ contest, especially AFTER turn in. Much has been written about the assorted foods that folks crave after a contest, one thing that is fairly consistent, it won’t be que, I have even opined in the past on this very topic and believe it or not, that story was one of the most commented on articles I have ever written, with most folks agreeing with me, unusual for sure.

Instead, this month’s article will touch on the foods that you do eat while at a contest, sometimes known as ‘camp food’. One only needs to poke around the contest grounds on Friday night to see what I am talking about. Some teams will go all out with their menus that will include appetizers and a full course sit-down spread. While other take a little easier route, opting for dips, wraps, and assorted other finger type foods. Still others, like it easier still, and will dine on carryout foods or something prepared by a nearby event vendor.

As for the WATG? gang, we have served the entire gamut at times, I guess, depending upon the situation or our mood. If the contest includes a chefs choice or anything butt on Friday night, many times we will just make a little extra for the team members to enjoy after the last turn in. If the mood strikes us, we might prepare something completely different. We have served everything from grilled New York strip steaks and twice baked potatoes to pasta or home made chili on for Friday’s dinner. All served with the appropriate bottle of vino of course.

I have prepared steamed shrimp and many other assorted appetizers for the team members and guests around the camp to nosh on while sipping cool drinks under the lighted canopy on Friday eve. I have even went the super easy route and ordered delivery subs or pizza be brought to the site, when we just didn’t feel like cooking, just like at home.

Many times, as other cooks and pit masters stop in for a visit, we invite them to join us or at least have a taste. We usually always invite our neighbors or at least make them a plate to enjoy. We have even been known to wrap a carry out package up and deliver it to a team located on the other side of the grounds, just because we know they like what we were having. What goes around comes around, I believe in that one for sure.

Our team has even been known to arrive at a certain favorite contest area on Thursday night, with the event promoters’ prior permission of course. With contest preparation not beginning until the next day, the past two years we have whipped up an old fashioned Maryland style crab feast on Thursday. The table is complete with steamed on site #1 Chesapeake Bay blue crabs, fresh picked sweet corn swimming in butter, ice cold sliced garden tomatoes and chunked cantaloupe for dessert. Just writing about that meal here in mid February is making me mouth watering hungry. It don’t git no better than that!

Another method that our team has been known to employ from time to time is known as the walk about dining method. The trick here is to mosey around the contest grounds on Friday evening around about 8-9:00. You need to wear a look of extreme hunger, which usually isn’t very hard for me, while wandering around site to site. As you can imagine, many of the other teams will be busy whipping up or serving their own camp food to their members and guests. BBQ folks being some of the nicest and most hospitable folks on the planet inevitably are going to ask, would you like something to eat or try one of these. You are in luck.

I have had some of the tastiest samples of many assorted foods while panhandling at a BBQ contest. One well known New England team is known far and wide for their offering of what is known as Damn Dip. A word of warning here though, you’d better get to their camp when the dip is served, cause it doesn’t stay around very long, trust me.

Many times, folks are even nice enough to share their recipe or methods of preparation with you. I have picked up a ton of tips and great recipes from my fellow competitors while at a contest. I guess what I am saying here is you don’t need to sweat the details as to what you are going to serve the gang for Friday nights dinner, just load your pockets up with cold drinks and take a walk. You are bound to scare up something good to eat; after all, you are at a BBQ contest. Hopefully, it will be something besides BBQ!

Monday, January 24, 2011

The cream rises to the top......

……the question is why?

Let me start out by saying, please don’t panic. I have not switched gears and am not going to write a column on baking or even the latest craze to sweep the Country, the cupcake. Unlike the Food Channel, which at times should call itself the baking channel, you will not hear me go on and on about how hard it is to move a giant cake that can’t be eaten from place to place. Speaking of the cupcake, since when did this little morsel become the latest hot lick? My guess is they needed something else to help support the sale of $5 coffees so they gussied up the cupcake and now charge you $4.50 for something we used to sell at Cub Scout bake sales for ten cents. I am guessing that raspberry scones just weren’t cutting it anymore, result, designer cupcakes.

But, I digress, what I am speaking of here is the cream at a BBQ contest, que cream so to speak. Now, what I am about to say is speaking in generalities at best. This is by no means scientific, accurate or proven. I have nothing to base it on and absolutely no evidence in support of what I about to say. In fact, it is pure conjecture, a fabrication on my part.

It is my contention if you take a walk around any of the numerous BBQ contests held each weekend around the Country and you know your BBQ teams from the region, you can pretty much, with a relative degree of certainty, pick out what eventually will be the top ten overall finishers. Keep in mind, these observations are not always dead on, but most times are pretty close. The nagging question is why? What follows are my theories as to the explanation for this particular phenomenon.

1)In general, the top flight teams are not hard partiers. I know I will get a good deal of argument here, so I will clarify. What I am saying is these guys are focused. They are at a contest to cook good competition quality que, not to drink and carry on. This does not mean that the good cooks are not social or like to have fun, on the contrary, most are very social and love a good time. They just know when to party and when to be serious. When they are in the “show time” window of a contest, most are working hard to reach their goals and are not drunk or hung over. Again, this is not an absolut. Pun intended.

2)Repetition, that’s the ticket. Many of the more successful pit masters are cooking more than a handful of events a season. These guys are cooking a lot, they know their equipment, how it performs and what to expect regardless of the weather conditions. They are very comfortable in their smoky surroundings is what I am trying to say here.

3)Timing is everything. Pick a first rate team, go by their site at 12:30 AM on Friday night, go by their site the following week at the same time and I guarantee you’ll see the same thing. These guys are on automatic pilot, they’re in the zone, again, focused, they know what they are doing and when they will do it before the fire is even lit. I even know of one very successful pit master that can be seen crawling into his truck at the exact same time on Friday night for his required siesta. To say these guys are on a fixed schedule is an understatement.

4)If something is not working, you need to fix it. One thing I learned from the guys I have met that are winning is they are constantly looking for an edge. They are never idle, if a category is not getting the job done, they are not afraid to make changes in the quest for improvement. Some times the change is subtle other times drastic but these fellows are not afraid of change. I have even known of guys that have changed what would be considered successful processes in the never ending quest for improvement.

5)Consistency is not only a good thing, it is a requirement. Again, not a hard fast rule, but most of the top scoring teams are doing well in all four categories. They may not be walking in every meat, although that surely wouldn’t hurt. The key is the team is not tanking in even one category and that is what is important. You need to be consistent across the board to hear your name called with any regularity.

6)Teams that are consistently in the top ten would be considered dedicated, in my humble opinion. Most would admit to having que on their mind for most of their waking hours. Where else could you find someone that is willing to engage in a 1.5 hour conversation as to the interactions of rub and or marinade to the eventual crunchiness of chicken skin. Find yourself one of these top ten pit masters and see if you can get them to talk a little que. The only problem is, trying to get them to stop.

7)Attention to detail. Most of the guys that are successful week in and week out are very detail oriented. As I stated above, they operate on a set schedule, their equipment is all in the right place, and their cook areas are neat and organized. They pay attention to even the smallest detail, always searching for a way to do it better or more efficiently.

Again, this is not meant to be a scientific study or report, it is merely the dimwitted observations of a slightly past middle-aged, half crazed, BBQ wannabe. I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked, “how can you continually cook a good product when at each contest you have different judges….it is so subjective, how can you be consistent?” My answer is always the same, “you’ve got teams out there that can win in California, Texas, New England, Florida, Kansas City and everywhere in between, they must be doing something right”. In our sport, as is the case in any competition ever held, the cream always rises to the top. Only in our case, the cream smells a bit like smoke, and that is a good thing!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Starting the New Year right…

....what are your Que resolutions?

As the smoke dissipates on the year 2010, the question that many of us ask is where did it go? It seems like just yesterday we anxiously awaited the start of the season watching the events move north from the southern locations that dominate the early season. When the season finally kicked off here in the northeast in April it seems I blinked my eyes and it was October.

We cooked 6 contests in 2010 and are planning about that number for the year 2011. As I look ahead and make my plans the thought came to me about New Year resolutions. Each year in January we hear news stories and talking heads from every sort of media outlet pontificating on what resolutions are made and who makes them. I myself would like to see a follow up story somewhere to report how many of those stated resolutions actually made it past January 2nd.

It dawned on me there is no collection of resolutions made by the cooks, pit masters, and personalities in the BBQ world, at least that I was aware of. What a great idea, interview the top 10 or so BBQ folks and get their resolutions for the upcoming season, that would make great reading. Of course, I was one day away from my deadline when I came up with this brilliant idea. The time needed to reach out to the people to be interviewed, wait for their response, collect their thoughts, and then write the article might take a little longer than a day. It appears that this idea will have to wait until next year when I have a bit more time. For now, you will have to suffer through a compilation of my own Que resolutions for 2011. If it would make it any easier reading, you can pretend that I am in fact, a noted BBQ personality, at least for purposes of this particular article.

1)Be more focused- It seems like in the year 2010 I only thought about BBQ for 364 days. There were a few days that I did not check the forums or read an article or story relating to BBQ. I know there was a weekend or two when I cooked only seafood or pasta. I need to get back on track, get more focused, practice with the big 4 and work additionally on my whole hog and other ancillary submissions. I have two certified BBQ judges residing within walking distance of my home base. If I could just convince four more of my neighbors to take the judges class, (I would even pay their way), I could have a full table to submit my offerings to each weekend as a practiced my methods and flavor profiles. Now that sounds like a good idea.

2)Be More Prepared- As part of my routine at a contests or catering gigs I keep lists, notes and records. This year I vow to actually read those lists, notes and records more than one day ahead of my next event. My particular focus here would be the supply list. We keep a detailed list of items that need to be restocked in our trailer before the next event. If I were more prepared, I would actually read over that list a week or so ahead of the next event so that items that have to be ordered, can be handled BEFORE I am short on time and have to pay four times the shipping costs to have the items sent overnight.

3)Work neater- As I cleaned my equipment for the final time before stowing most of it away for the winter I was continually amazed at the places I found BBQ sauce and various other overspray and debris. I won’t even discuss my aprons, shirts, shorts and shoes after an event. Let’s just all agree, I certainly have room for improvement when it comes to ‘working neater’. In 2011, I will look like Mr. Clean, or at the very least, Mr. Not So Filthy.

4)Stay more sober- I am talking about while at a contest, not at home, why in the world would I want to remain more sober at home? This would fall under the ‘more focused’ section as well. While there is nothing wrong with having a cool drink or two in the contest setting, in my opinion there is a fine line between ‘enough’ and ‘too much’. I will admit, there has been the occasional time when I crossed that line, or at the very least, staggered over it. My plan in the upcoming year is to limit my alcohol consumption while at a contest which I believe will assist me with resolution number one. Besides, everyone needs to make at least one resolution that they KNOW they aren’t going to keep, this way, maybe the others will be more successful.

5)Take more pictures- I carry my camera to each and every event. Sometimes when I get home, I have less than a dozen pictures from the entire weekend, and four of them are of my turn-in boxes. I vow to take more and better quality pictures this year. I am even thinking of hiring a photographer to hang with us for the weekend to get some really great and candid shots. I wonder if I can find a cameraman that will work for Que? This entire premise is based on the assumption that everyone one on the team is in compliance with resolution number 4, if they are not, I surely don’t want any incriminating photographic evidence being collected.

6)Have more fun- I am not quite sure that this is a possibility. Not that we don’t like to have fun. But I believe, based on our past contest behavior, that we are having the maximum amount of fun allowable by law at each and every contest we attend. I also believe that there may be a certain amount of fun participated in by our squad that could very well be prohibited by law in some States in the Union. If we are not having funis maxiumis, I think we would hang it up. However, that being said, there is always room for improvement. We will work hard to maximize the reading on the fun-O-meter, even if it involves completely scraping item number four before the season opens.

So there you have it folks, six BBQ resolutions for the upcoming year 2011, five of which I might even try to comply with, I’ll keep you posted in next years column how successful I was, or wasn’t. I’ll toss number four in with my yearly personal New Years resolution that I am going to drop 10 pounds. That one usually flies out the window on New Years Day!

Anyway you look at it resolutions are a good thing, they cause you to pause, reflect, prioritize, and have a few laughs. If there is one thing that we all could use these days it would be a good laugh or two or three. In addition, I would like to wish everyone a fun-filled, safe and successful 2011 BBQ season. Hope to see you out on the trail.