Monday, August 18, 2014

Wow, it's been a busy summer so far, can't believe it's been 5 months since I last posted.


A lot has happened in that time to be sure! We've struggled to get back into the "groove" we felt we were in before I got sick in 2012. Still no calls (to speak of) but we think we're getting things worked out.






Our first sanctioned contest was in early May, the Masters In May event held in Fremont, WI.
This was the second year of this comp, and our second year attending. We arrived on Thursday, as we did last year. It just makes getting set up easier, and we know we'll be onsite when the meat inspectors come out Friday morning.






As usual, we had some great neighbors, and all in all had a very nice weekend!


Saturday morning, the 9:22 was once again sponsored by the good folks at Jim Beam, who supplied their new maple flavored Kentucky bourbon. Honestly, the stuff tastes like maple syrup!




As far as scoring, we didn't have too much to brag about. We were 43rd of 62 overall, 53rd in chicken, 15th in ribs (I AM happy about that, we used to do well in ribs and I believe we may be getting back on track here). In pork, we got 57th...sheesh...that hurt! And finally in brisket we were 21st, which, while I'd like to have done better, I can live with. The positive we came away with was that we got everything done on time, had fun, and actually beat a fairly well known bbq restaurateur featured on Pitmasters television show, and a legendary pitmaster known in KC as "the baron" in the overall scores!




When it all was over, I rode into town and get some take-out from a great little bar on the river in town called The Bridge. I brought it back to our site, and we enjoyed our dinner, and then spent the evening by our fire pit with our friends and neighbors Moose's BBQ.




Next was Westmont, IL, just up the road a couple of miles. For the first of their many years, this years contest was a back to back. Two separate contests, one Friday-Saturday, and the next Saturday-Sunday. This was our first, and likely our last, back to back. It is absolutely just too much work, IMHO.




This was also only the second time we'd see the new KCBS score sheet format, which allows a cook to see which tables they landed at, and against which teams. It's an eye opener to say the least! Comp 1 of 2 had 43 teams. We ended up 36th of 43 the first contest, 33rd in chicken, 41st in ribs (so much for that back on track comment about Fremont, 34th in pork, and 36th in brisket. Just discouraging as all get out. But, we got right back on the horse, and did the second comp.


At that one, we did 56th of 72 overall, with 50th in chicken, 62nd in ribs, 46th in pork, and 56th in brisket.  Oh, we did get 6th of 13 in dessert. All in all an exhausting (and kind of depressing) weekend. Oh, and the thermistor on our fridge died, so everything ended up freezing up in our fridge. Good think we had the comp meats in the cooler!


So now, after 3 comps, while we feel our food was good, the judges didn't disagree. The odd thing is we judged a contest in St. Charles IL this past weekend, and I had some awful stuff, including some pork that I just couldn't swallow, I actually had to spit it out!  So I'm confused about our scores, to say the least.


We'd intended to go to UP Hog Wild, in Harris, MI this past weekend, but unfortunately, the sponsor backed out and the event was cancelled, which is why we judged at St. Charles.
But now we have 3 more to go...the Kenosha Grill Games in August, this weekend in fact, the Puckaway Pig Fest in Montello, WI in September, and Arthur, IL in October....sure hope the second half of our season is better than the first! We are considering a 7th in October, The Casino Queen in St. Louis, IL
I'll try to get some more photos up in future posts (and make them more frequent) for the rest of the season.




Thanks for reading! Until next time....





Monday, February 24, 2014

2014 BBQ season is underway!

Yep!

Not even out of February, and the season has unofficially begun!

We competed on 2/16 in the annual Des Plaines, IL Winter Burnoff, held as always in the parking lot of Rand/River bowl in Des Plaines, IL.

I had a very busy work week, so didn't have a chance to do any shopping or packing until the day before. That made for a fairly hectic Saturday, but I still managed to shop for and trim all the meats (chicken, ribs, sausage, and pork tenderloin, with an optional chili contest) pack the truck, and generally get things readied. Sunday morning, we arose at 04:30, and got ourselves headed north to Des Plaines about 6 AM.

I had been battling some kind of stomach bug Saturday, and still felt pretty lousy Sunday, but we managed to push through and get all the meats done and turned in on time. As to our scores, well, we've done better.

Last year, we were in the top 10 in all categories, this year, we had one call (6th place ribs) and the consolation, we won the chili contest (Judges choice)

To be fair, chicken was my fault, I was just a little behind getting it started, and apparently, though I'd checked each piece with my ThermaPen  (available at Thermoworks.com) and they all checked at 160 or above, 2 pieces in the box ended up being not fully cooked (and yes, I know it should be 165, I was counting on carryover cooking) and that KILLED our chicken scores, and launched us on our way to our second ever DAL finish. (the first was due to a chicken turn in also, but in that case it was because we missed the turn in time by a couple of seconds)

Alas, we had a great time anyway, that might have been even better had I felt ok. What we did feel great about though, was our friend Steve from the South Side Pitmen team, who earned some great calls (and nice trophies) in his first effort at doing this contest. He shadowed us 2 years ago at the event, and lent a hand with setup and tear down, and after completing one KCBS full contest, and a number of backyard events with some success, entered the burnoff for the first time!

So, with that disappointing start out of the way, we now begin our planning for the true 2014 BBQ season! Hopefully soon, the snow around our trailer will melt, and we can begin to prep for the season ahead!

There are rubs and injections to order, there is organizing to be done, and it can't get warm soon enough!

We'll be starting, this year like last, with Fremont, WI for the Masters in May cookoff . There is a 66 team limit at this one this year, and we were in early!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Another season winds down

Well, it's been quite a while since I added any updates, guess I should close down the year!

Since I last wrote, we attended the Chicago Gourmet event in Chicago's Millennium Park, sponsored by Bon Appetite magazine, in late September. We have done this almost every year since it started as kind of a mutual anniversary gift to one another. Always some great chefs, the best in Chicago and guests from around the world, great spirits, and just a great day to spend eating and drinking in a beautiful setting.

In October, we competed in our last 2 contests of the season. First was Central Illinois Bragging Rights, in Arthur, IL.

Always one of our favorites, this is a big contest in a small town. Arthur is a small town not too far from Champaign/Urbana, with a fairly high Amish population. The contest is held right in the heart of downtown Arthur, and is done in conjunction with a bluegrass jam. It's a great little town

This year in particular, the weather was just about perfect, the only exception being a brief rain shower at the start of chicken turn-in's. Once that cleared up, we enjoyed a beautiful day!

Our scores could certainly have been better, but our main goal this year is to get back into a rhythm of sorts. Our previous 2 seasons were marred by outside influences. In 2011, our old 20+ year old pop-up camper began to self destruct on us. We lost the power distribution box the first contest, the following weekend one of our roof support cables snapped, and at our 3rd or 4th, the AC died. (AC unit had a separate power input from the rest of the trailer) Then, on what was to be our last competition, my trucks fuel pump went south, and we never made it to the event. In 2012, we got ourselves a new trailer, and were looking forward to a new, easier season since we would no longer need to set up and tear down our trailer, making setup and tear downs much easier! Instead, our bad luck streak continued, with a season ending (and potentially life threatening) illness.

So, after two abbreviated seasons, our goals were pretty simple this year. Compete in 6-8 contests, hope to get a call or two, but most importantly, get the camper set up to the most efficient configuration, and get our timing back after such a long layoff. I also had to work through some lingering fatigue, the lasting after effect of last years illness.

So, in the end, although we only got one call all year,(4th place brisket at Windy City BBQ Classic) we still regard the season as a success, in that we were able to compete, we had no DQ's, and no disqualifications.

Anyway, getting back to Arthur, our numbers weren't great.  Overall, we were 40th out of 53 teams. Chicken was 33 of 53, ribs, also 33rd, pork was 39th, and brisket a godawful 48th! A lot of that was my own fault though. I had a little too much fun Friday night, woke up over an hour later than I'd planned, so just getting all the meats in the box and turned in on time was an accomplishment. On the other hand, we had a LOT of fun, and that's the whole point for us! Awards are great, there's no feeling like hearing your name called on the top 10 list, but we have no delusions of making a living doing this! Oh, our neighbors at Arthur this year were also outstanding, and we hope to see them again! One thing I must say is congratulations to Mike and Beth Wozniak of Quau. To say they dominated this contest would be a colossal understatement. With 1st place overall, 1st place chicken, 1st place ribs, 2nd in pork, and 3rd in brisket, I think they might have scored better than any contest I've seen yet! Also congrats to Rick and Jim of The Smoke Hunters for Reserve Grand

The following weekend was the season closer, at Lambs Farm in Libertyville.
One again, no stellar finishes. 37th of 54 overall. Chicken was improved! Right at the bottom of the top half with a 27 of 54 teams. Ribs were also a bit improved from Arthur, with a 20th of 54. I wasn't happy with my pork, and it showed, with a 48th. Our brisket was a bit confusing. We thought it looked and tasted outstanding. The judges disagreed, and we ended up 41st. So our 2 best meats (normally) fared the worst! Oh well, once again, we had a great time, made some new friends, and had some great neighbors. And it was nice seeing our friends Rick and Jim from the Smoke Hunters take Grand Champion with 3rd in chicken, 2nd in ribs, 6th in pork, and 3rd in brisket. They seem to have "dialed it in" lately!

So the competition season is now over for us in 2013, our next scheduled event will be the Des Plaines, IL Winter Burn off, some time in February of next year! In the meantime, there's still Thanksgiving and Christmas for BBQ, and with the BGE just outside the back door, I'm sure we'll be eating plenty of smoke cooked eats all winter. OH! And with the advent of cold weather, it's almost time to start making sausage! Anybody got a good Texas style hot link recipe?!?

With November starting, we attended what likely will be our last bbq event of the year, but this time, as diners, instead of competitors. On 11/03, we went to Joe's bar, on west Weed street in West Town, that actually includes an OTB on the premises.

The event had Elizabeth Karmel (http://www.elizabethkarmel.com/) as it's MC, and there were a number of demos, given by Barry Sorkin, owner and chef at Smoque BBQ in the city, who did a brisket demo. Duce Raymond, of Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ, and the rest of the Duce's wild team did a competition ribs demo,  Phil Wingo, of tailgatecharters.com who did a pig roast demo , and finally a butchering demo by Rob Levitt, of Butcher & Larder in Chicago. http://thebutcherandlarder.com/ who broke down a half-pig.

All but the butchering demos included food that was put out all day as appetizers, and after all demos, and some words from Dave Raymond, co-founder of Sweet Baby Rays, and Barry Sorkin, an excellent bbq feast was served. (even though we were all pretty full by then!)

So now it's time to prep for the holidays, and by January we'll be starting up the bbq machine for the 2014 season!

Wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday season, and a joyful New Year!


Thanks to all that made it a great afternoon/evening out

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Windy City Bbq Classic - A little progress at last!


A few weeks have gone by and I haven't updated, so I guess it's time!

So we did the Windy City BBQ classic, in the South parking lot of Soldier Field along the Chicago lakefront last weekend. (when I started this entry it was just after Labor Day Weekend)

This was one of the best venues for a competition in terms of location! In the south parking lot of soldier field, just off lake Michigan with a great view of the Chicago skyline!

I believe there were 30 teams competing in the main event, and another 30 Vendor/Teams cooking for people's choice awards. In all, I believe the organizers had over 2000 folks in attendance, not including the teams. A good sized event to be sure!

The weather leading up to the event was awful, thundershowers 2 or 3 days straight made it a real pain to get packed and ready, fortunately these days since most of our gear is already in the trailer, all that needed packed was the pits, charcoal, table, and some other odds and ends. And as I hitched the trailer to leave, we had a sudden downpour that had me running for cover and held us up another 20 minutes or so. But we finally got ourselves there, only a little later than we'd planned.

We arrived about 20 minutes after the 3PM open time (really? why 3PM?) Quite a few folks were already in and set up, so not sure how they were given early access. Ah well. Once we did check in, I was pointed to a 20x20 site. Hmmm...we'd asked for and been guaranteed a 20x40? And the trailer alone is 26 feet from receiver to bumper.  After a little talking with the organizers though, we got it all worked out and eventually made it into our site.

We checked in, picked up our meat (most comps you buy all your own meats, this one kindly provided 5 nice slabs of spare ribs and 4 whole chickens! AND 2 pounds of some tasty spicy Texas sausage from Mikeska Brands in ) picked up our "goodie bags" and banners, and headed back to the trailer to start prep!




At 7 PM, they had the "cooks meeting" . We were getting concerned at this point as we still hadn't had the meat we brought inspected (pork and brisket). Anyway, once they did their introductions, and explanations, they adjourned to the dinner. The organizers had roasted a good sized pig, and a large quantity of chicken and sausage, and each cooking team brought a side, making for a decent buffet! I don't have any photos to share of the buffet, but here's the pig
That's Phil Wingo on the left, who I believe cooked the meats, along with Lee Ann Whippen of Chicago Q and on the right is Tim Mikeska of Mikeska sausage, in Taylor, TX
 
After dinner, we went on back to the trailer, where Ember the wonder dog (and our mascot) had figured out how to escape the collapsible crate we'd bought to keep her in that was supposed to be able to contain up to a 75 lb. dog. (She weighs about 16!) and was standing on the banquet chair, watching out the window for our return! I finished trimming meats and got the pork started on one of the cookers, while also enjoying some of the complimentary beer varieties provided by the good folks of the Lagunitas beer company, one of the many sponsors of the event. Also got to enjoy the fireworks show from Navy Pier!
 
We finally got to bed around 2 or 2:30 AM, and I was back up at 6:30-7 to start on the rest of the meats. At some point, we saw a fairly spectacular grease fire in the pit of one of the people's choice competitors! By the time I was able to snap a photo though, it had been extinguished, so you cant see the 6-8 foot flames that just moments before had been belching out of it! That is definitely not sweet blue!
 
 
Anyway, first turn in was chicken, at noon, then ribs at one. Already not the KCBS turn in times we're used to as they are usually 1200, 1230, 1300, and 1330 for chicken, ribs, pork, and brisket. So the hour between the first two was kind of odd, nice actually, but not the normal timing. Then pork turn in wasn't until 3PM, and brisket at 4!
 
We were happy enough with all our entries, although the brisket kind of scared me. First, it was taking WAY longer than normal to reach the tenderness I was looking for. And by the time it did, it had shrunken to almost half it's original size, which normally doesn't happen. It shrank in all directions, so when I sliced the flat (the lean muscle of the two on the brisket) it was only about half as think as our briskets normally would be. But it was plenty juicy, and tasted pretty darn good, so I was happy! In the end, everything was turned in on time, and now it was time to start packing up until awards at 6PM and see how we did.
 
Now until now, I forgot to say that the organizers had booked some pretty great entertainment for the weekend, and we were treated to some pretty good blues all weekend long! But at around 6:15, the band finally took a break and it was time for awards.
 
Now here was where some confusion occurred. They only announced top 3 in each category. Most contests would do at least top 5, and usually top 10. Not really a big deal, except that, if you'd won a prize/trophy anywhere below 3rd place, there was no real way to know. So we kept going back and checking with people until finally, when the place had almost cleared out, someone told us we had a trophy waiting. Turned out we'd won 4th place brisket, a trophy, a check for 100.00, and 10th overall!
 
Trying to work the whole prize thing out delayed me getting everything packed and hitched, so by the time we left, we were about the last ones out of the parking lot, although quite a few teams were all sequestered at the north end of the exit, talking and visiting.
 
All in all, they'd expanded the event exponentially from the first years, so hopefully they will continue to improve as they go!
 
Here are a few more shots of the event, courtesy of Derek Johnson, of Custom Image Photos in Chicago!

















Over $5,000.00 was raised at the event to assist the great folks from Operation BBQ Relief continue to do the great things they do for disaster stricken areas! http://www.operationbbqrelief.org/
 
They are in Longmont Colorado now providing food to the volunteers and victims of the horrendous flooding of the past few days there!









 
 
 
We got a week or so rest, and then last week Wednesday drove up to Sturgeon Bay Wisconsin to set up and cook for our friends and former neighbors whose middle son was getting married.
 
Last Saturday, we served about 50 pounds each (pre-cooked weight) pork of pork shoulder and brisket, along with apple baked beans with bacon and chopped bbq, spicy Cajun boiled new potatoes, cucumber salad, Cole slaw, beet and mandarin orange salad to around 140 hungry guests! I guess they liked the food as many went back for third and fourth helpings!
 
Now we get to rest a little! Cooking a brisket and shoulder or two for a friend for his wifes birthday Saturday, then next weekend we'll be sampling others cooking at the Bon Appetite Chicago Gourmet event at Millennium Park! And our next and final two competitions this year will be in October. Until then....may the smoke be with you!
 
 
 
 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Firin' Up the Fox - St. Charles, IL. Ouch!

It's been almost 2 weeks since our last contest, and I still haven't published a blog entry! Time to fix that!

Well, third contest since, well, since we came back from "hell year" and looks like maybe we're stuck in the mud! Or maybe judges are changing, not really sure!

Our 4th of July weekend started off pretty well. Our village (Woodridge, IL) puts on a picnic each 4th of July, including inexpensive hot dogs, brats, chips, beer, ice cream, etc. There is also a band that has been there every year we've gone that plays a mix of polkas, classic rock, and a little dance music.

We try to volunteer to assist in the pavilion where the brats and dogs are prepared each year. I had to miss last year as it was my first day of in-patient chemo, but Diane did it.

This year mostly went well, but shortly into service (picnic goes 11AM to 3PM) Diane was a bit overcome by the heat, and had to spend the rest of the picnic just resting. My job this year was different, to say the least. Normally the brats come individually packed in cases of around 50 each. This year, inside each case was 2-5 lb. bags of brats still linked together! So my job was to separate individual links, about 50 to a box to make them easier to grill! Good thing I brought a sharp knife with me!

Anyway, we went home at around 4 after helping clean up a little, cleaned up a bit ourselves, hitched up the trailer, and headed out to St. Charles. There were only a few teams there when we arrived, taking advantage of the early check in window. Most, I'm sure, because there was limited 30A and 20x40' spaces available, and it was first come, first served. By the end of check in though, we had Designated Smoking Area, Stock Car BBQ, Cancer Sucks Chicago, QUAU, and our neighbors on either side, Clark Kent Super Smokers and Smokey Lincs. (If I missed anyone, my apologies!)

 We got a few things set up, and got the smokers unloaded and set up. But mostly, we just visited a little with our new neighbors,  got things set up inside the camper, and got a good nights sleep before the comp really started on Friday. Good thing we got that sleep! We wouldn't get much more that weekend!

Friday morning, Di continued to straighten up inside as I unloaded and set up the cookers, our prep table, and, once our meat was inspected, began prepping. Oh, I also put up our new, 20' flagpole! As a veteran, and senior vice commander of my VFW post, I wanted to be able to properly display the colors. So I got a collapsible 20' flag pole, with a mount that goes under the wheel of either your vehicle or trailer. Wasn't much of a breeze Friday morning, but here it is...The blue flag under the stars and stripes is my submarine force dolphin flag. To wear or fly the dolphins means you were submarine qualified. Not an easy task, I assure you!


Late morning the KCBS reps, Phil and Rosemary Morrow, gave us our boxes, and a sign to hang saying we were participating in the Ranchers Reserve Beef Cup contest. (I have thoughts on that but I'll hold them for now). I'd had a pretty busy work week leading up to this, so had to prep all meats on site, something I'd rather not do if I don't absolutely have to. Easier to do in the comfort of ones own home! But despite the buzzing of some persistent sweat bees, Got it all done, meats prepped, and started our pork on the smoker at around 4PM. Once back from the 5 PM cooks meeting, I seared off our Ranchers Reserve top sirloin roast, which I'd cut into aprx. 3 inch diameter logs and tied to make Beef Wellingtons, on inverted GrillGrates on the small Weber kettle. ( http://www.grillgrate.com )


These things ROCK! If you grill even once a month, you owe it to yourself to try them. They're great as advertised, but if you turn them upside down, you can get a great full sear, instead of just the usual "attractive grill marks" And they almost totally eliminate the potential for flare ups, and food lost between your conventional grill grates, or as my wife says, sacrifices to the fire gods!

The evening went well, a few folks stopped by to chat, and then we did an abbreviated "shot fairy" round fairly late in the evening. I think we went to bed around 1AM or so, but our next door neighbors had other ideas. Their party went on until around 3:30 or 4AM I think. Kind of surprised nobody complained. For us, it was a bit of deja vu, as 6 years ago, at our very first competition in Westmont, IL, we had the same next door neighbor. Kept us up all night that time too, and blamed it on his "evil twin" ARGH! He knows who he is!

Woke up Saturday morning around 5:30. Well, I never really fell asleep, but that's when I got up! Started the big smoker, and got the brisket loaded in. Also started getting the seasoning on the ribs, and re-stoked the coals on the smaller smoker. Pork at that point was just breaking the "stall" and was about 170 or so internal temp.

Cranked up the temp a bit so I could get the ribs going in the smaller cooker with the butts, then organized the mise  en place for the wellington, while I was waiting for the other stuff to cook, I went ahead and prepped a bit more. So I laid out some pancetta slices on a sheet of plastic wrap, and spread them with a mushroom duxelles...
 
 then put the beef on one end, and rolled into a nice, tight package. I wrapped it up in rolled out puff pastry after that, but forgot to take a photo, as by that time, it was about time to wrap the brisket, and start the chicken.
 
Had a few hiccups, power was a little spotty at times, started chicken a bit later than I'd have liked, and although it was safe to eat, I'd have liked a little more color in it. Turn in went ok on that one (a log walk though) and we were on to ribs. I'll be honest, my ribs were not quite as done as I'd have liked either. Good flavor, and they looked ok, but there was just a wee bit too much bite for my liking. Also, looking at the box now, I think they could have been a little better centered, and could have used a wee bit more green in the upper right corner
 
So now, on to pork. And this ended up being another one I just wasn't quite happy with. I think my timing is just off after being away so long, but this pork was just a little too overdone to get any decent slices, of money muscle, or any other piece. So we settled for pulled and chunk, in a box I was less than happy with. Thing is, turning in anything is better than turning in nothing!
 
 
Finally, brisket time! And for the first time all day, I thought we had a chance with this one! Beautiful, juicy, perfect tenderness, only thing wrong was the point could have cooked longer, but usually, if your burnt ends/point aren't good, you don't put them in the box, and we didn't!
After seeing the photo, I saw the garnish was a bit sloppy and straightened it out before Diane took the box, but it was 15th, we would find out. Our closest to a call all day, well, at least of the main 4 categories.

There was still the Ranchers Reserve side competition. And I had my Wellington almost ready. Now, brisket turn-in was at 1:30 PM, and I thought I had to hustle with my Wellington to get it in at 2, Di thought it was 2:30, let it just suffice to say, we screwed up....which kind of was indicative of our whole weekend

I sliced the Wellingtons (we made 2, I picked the best of the two) and sauced them (my sauce was thinner than I'd hoped, but still tasted awesome) and here's the box...








They turned out about as perfect as I could have hoped. A nice mid-rare, pretty tender (for top sirloin) and tasty. I trotted them in to the turn in area, and....was told I was a half hour late! If I could, I'd include a sound byte here of the wind going out of my sails!
 
Well, as it turned out, it wasn't one of the main 4, so as the rep saw it, it was up to the organizer to decide if they would let the judges taste it or not. He took one look, and said yes, so, despite the late turn in, it went off to the judges. I went back to the trailer, and told her the good/bad news, and we waited.
 
Turn in's for all categories were done at around 2:30 or 3 I think. About 3:30, the rep and organizer came to our trailer to tell me they were sorry, but we'd been disqualified, because, although it wasn't one of the KCBS main 4, the Ranchers Reserve series was part of a partnership between KCBS and the RR folks. So a call went to KCBS, and Carolyn Wells said (and I believe rightly so, in case anyone thinks I harbor bad feelings) that it needed to be dq'd.....Rules, after all, are rules.
 
They DID tell us, that, prior to the DQ, we'd scored 2nd place, which would have been good for about 700 bucks I think! Alas, we went home with no award money!
 
We went ahead and decided, rather than pack up in the Saturday afternoon heat, we'd let the sun go down, take our time packing, and hang around and judge the kids and amateur comps on Sunday. That gave us a chance to get a good nights rest, and we had everything hitched up and ready to go Sunday AM, so we could leave when we were ready.
 
Di stayed with Ember, and visited with some of the teams, while I went in and table captained for the 2 contests, kids and amateur.
 
The kids were divided into 2 age groups, and each were given one of those little disposable one use tailgate grills, and a pork steak.
 
The results were excellent, beyond any of our expectations!! Really good, really tender, I don't think we had a bad piece of meat!
 
The amateur category cooked ribs, and chicken. I was table captain for a group of non-certified (except for 1) "celebrity judges, that included 4 local community folks, and Ina Pinkney, of Ina's restaurant in Chicago. I haven't eaten at her establishment, but hope to do so soon, she's a very nice lady!
 
Overall, had a great time (I haven't judged or table captained in over 5 years) and hope to do it again soon!
 
We had a great weekend, and, despite our poor scores, I think the organizer did a great job for a second year comp, and we look forward to doing it again next year!
 
For now, we're taking a little bbq break, our next event will be Labor Day weekend!
 
Hope to see you all somewhere along the bbq trail!
 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Westmont, IL Red, White, and BBQ contest results

Well, the "year of still here" continues. Again, another pretty good cook, but not quite yet up to where we needed to get our scores.

This is now, I believe, officially the largest contest in Illinois. This year there were a total of 70 pro teams, and 54 amateur teams, in addition to the Destination America show BBQ Pitmasters being there as well!

I'm not quite sure how the organizers pulled off getting that many teams in and out of there, but they did a great job!

We headed over on Friday, about noon, before it got too crowded, got parked and situated, and began unpacking and setting up. At that time, not too many other teams were in our area yet, but by 5 or 6 PM the place was busy! The Pitmasters set wasn't too far away, in fact I suppose if I'd wanted, I could have got more photos than I did just setting a camera on the roof of the trailer. Aaron Franklin, one of the three judges in the past, did not make it, Melissa Cookston of Yazoo's Delta Que filled in in judging duties. The show was a semi-final, and featured 3 teams. I'll withhold the names until the show airs. And I can honestly say I don't know who won, because we were busy on Saturday getting ready for the crunch Sunday!

Friday was a nice, quiet evening. We wandered around seeing who all was there. Our neighbors on the west were Moose's BBQ, from WI, and on the east, Duce's Wild BBQ (Duce is the nephew of Dave Raymond, also known as Sweet Baby Ray, and one of two brothers who originally created Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce) On the other side (east of them), was team Tim's Full Belly Deli. Tim was instrumental in planning our last contest, in Fremont, but we really didn't get to talk much there. Here, we got to meet his wife Diane and their whole crew. They had a very nice pot luck on Saturday evening!

I got a little behind on Sunday morning with chicken, partially because we had a visit from the area sales rep for 2 Brothers Brewing, in Aurora and Warrenville, IL. She was kind enough to leave us a banner from them, and some of their delicious new (fairly) beer, Side Kick. A really good summer brew! Very citrus and grassy, but totally in a good way! I was told it was all the specific variety of hops they use, and that there isn't any citrus added

But ultimately we got everything turned in on time, and I'm mostly satisfied with the results, although it would have been nice to have placed a bit higher.

Our chicken was almost a hail Mary! I'd gotten it on a little late, and struggled to get it done in time for turn in. Wasn't quite the box we wanted, but looked ok. Appearance scores were 8 7 9 8 9 5! What the heck the 5 was thinking, I have no idea! Taste scores were 8 8 9 8 7 6 (thanks again judge #6) and texture scores were 9 7 9 8 8 7. Overall, given that we don't do chicken as any other team we know of does (hence no photo), we were happy with where we were on this one.

Got ribs were almost done too early also, so we pulled them off a while and put them back about 15 min before turn in to sauce them and get them set.

I liked them.   Judges, not so much! This wasn't quite the final box, we cleaned a little, and added some more parsley on the left side to even it up a bit

 
Once ribs had been delivered, I had a few moments to sit and catch my breath, before it was time to pull the pork and put together the box. Unfortunately, pork was a little too overdone to slice, but we pulled and arranged what we thought were the best pieces, included some chunks, bark, and pulled. I thought it looked like a hot mess, and have chosen not to post a photo, but it scored all 9's and 8's with the judges. Taste and texture scores were 8's and 7's, so still have some work to do there.
 
Finally our brisket. I'm still getting back into the groove of doing these comps, and find myself forgetting steps that might take a good product and drive it up to something phenomenal. And sadly, I missed some of those steps on this one too! But I was happy with the taste and texture, and the burnt ends were very tasty!
 
Judges gave it 988 987 987 998 877 899. Lots of variation for just a few pieces of meat! Good enough for 18th place. Like I said at the top, TOUGH field in this contest!
 
Well, once the turn ins were done, it was time to start tearing down, and getting ready for awards. I had most of the trailer packed up, but left the stuff going in the truck (cookers and dirty stuff) for after awards. We both had time for a quick shower, a welcome change from the old days of the tent or pop-up camper, and headed off to awards. And then the rain started.....
 
 
 
Not so bad really, a steady drizzle through awards, didn't turn into a downpour until after, so I got to pack up the truck in the rain! When it was all ready, I went in to relax a bit and enjoy a beverage, before hitching up and heading home. Something trickier than normal as our neighbor to the front had left their trailer planning to pick it up later, so I had to back in to hitch ours up at an angle. Something not terribly hard, if you've done it before (I hadn't). But I managed to get it hitched in about 5 minutes, and we headed for home.
 
All in all, a good weekend. Turn In's were all on time, no DQ's, another good year of still here run through!
 
Went and did our villages Memorial Day parade the next morning. It was drizzling again, which made the turnout smaller than normal, but still a nice crowd!
 
So now we repack, re plan, and get ready for the next one! St. Charles, IL Firin' up the Fox BBQ. Hopefully we can dial things in a bit. The field will be somewhat narrowed for this one, because a lot of teams will be competing in the Sams Club event in Madison, WI. Hopefully that will help us out a bit!
 
 


Monday, May 6, 2013

First contest 2013 - Masters in May - Fremont, WI

Well, our first comp of the year is in the books. Nothing special, no calls, but no major fails either. Everything was done on time, I was mostly pleased with the results, but still dialing in as this was only the 3rd time we used the new trailer, and the first time we actually took it on a trip farther than a few miles away.

Fremont is a little town about 10 or 15 minutes from Appleton, WI. Not a lot there, but the Jellystone Park the contest was held in was a nice setup. Very nice to have permanent (and 30Amp) power, and water hookups! All comps should have that!

Here was our little site

 
Getting there was a bit scary, as we ran through some pretty bad thunderstorms between Milwaukee and Fremont. At one point, the brake control for the trailer went a little snaky, and starting flashing numbers. I think maybe some water got inside the connection. But we were able to get through it. The rain continued through most of Friday, but was mostly just a slow steady drizzle.
 
Friday night we also had a visit from some friends, my 2 buds from high school Gary and Mary Rogers, along with their son and daughter in law. Gary and Mary had come down from Escanaba, where they love, and were staying with their son and his wife in Appleton, on their way to a hog hunting trip in Oklahoma. We had a great visit, drank a few beers, and it seemed we chased the rain away! 
 
We got everything going early on Saturday (only the pork started Friday evening, all the other meats don't start until turn-in day)
 
So, with pork, brisket and ribs in the cookers, and chicken in the brine, we walked to the site of the 9:22. The 9:22 is an interesting ritual at bbq contests. It's history is a little unclear, but the explanation offered here is as good as any I've heard! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5LTs-2eP5I.
 
Anyway, this ritual is not ordinarily sponsored, and who will do the toast/prayer/dedication isn't usually etched in stone. But at this one, for the first time in my recollection at least, there was an actual sponsor! Also, there were actually two toasts, and 2 shots!











Anyway, from there, it was back to our site to prep for the busiest 2 hours in any competition, 11:30-13:30!
 
What makes it so hectic is that you have four distinct types of meats, some small, some large, all that cook at completely different temps and times, and all are required to be turned in at 30 minute intervals, with a window of 5 minutes on either side of the turn in time.
 
At noon, chicken was due
 
We were happy that we were able to turn in the presentation we wanted, but the chicken should have been a little browner, and had a bit more flavor. One the box was prepped and Diane took off to present it. Step 1 of 4 done
 
Then it all gets put aside in a hot box , and ribs are pulled, cut, and selected for turn in at 12:30.
 
Ribs are weird this year. For some reason, I'm seeing a lot of slabs with crooked bones, which makes them MUCH more difficult to cut evenly.We only brought 3 slabs and I'm thinking next time we may do 6. Our box didn't look that good to me, but it was what we had, so off Di went with it.
 
 Next was pork, set for a 1PM turn in. It was actually done earlier, and held in a hot box (a type of insulated container that keeps hot food hot or cold food cold). Now it was time to see what we could pull, slice, or chunk. The appearance ended up being one of the sloppiest pork boxes we've ever had (my fault) but it tasted pretty good!
Finally, brisket. Brisket is an odd cut. You don't really cook it so much for a time, as for a feel. I apparently need to recalibrate my feel. The brisket felt tender , but turned out it was slightly underdone. Not undercooked, it was over 200 F, but underdone, meaning the collagen in it didn't entirely convert to gelatin, leaving it a little chewy and less unctuous than desired. I will say it looked pretty good and the burnt ends were awesome!The photo is odd though, as the box wasn't as asymmetric as it appears here.
 
Once brisket is done, it's time for a collective sigh of relief! You've done all you can, there is nothing more to do now but wait to see what the judges thought of the meats they got that day.
 
There is of course cleanup. A messy job at best. Grease from slow cooked meats (or even fast cooked ones) can be tough to clean up when there's a lot of it. And then things have to be put away and readied for the trip home. But we'd already decided to stay the night. Easier to drive home well rested, and safer too! Greg, our friends' son who'd visited the night before came out again to see what the awards ceremony was like.
 
For us, not so great. No calls. Our chicken was 42 of 48, our ribs 13 of 48, pork was right in the middle, at 24 of 48, and our brisket was our worst, at 45 of 48. But really, we weren't too upset.
in 2011, we only did 3 contests, because of the rapid demise of our trailer, and in one instance, the failure of my trucks' fuel pump. In 2012, after only completing 2 comps, I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. So just being there, getting everything turned in on time, with no major issues, was a win.
 
Greg stuck around after awards to visit some more, and actually washed most of our dirty dishes for us! Might have been the 20 or so lbs of BBQ we sent him home with!
 
Anyhow, he stayed and visited a few hours, we had a few beers and ate lots of leftovers, and then he went home, and we turned in around midnight.
 
When all was said and done, this was a great comp, run by some really nice folks. I think we'll pencil it in for next years season!
 
Now on to Westmont, IL, Memorial Day weekend! Can't wait! Hopefully the cobwebs are gone and we can get a call or two!
 
It's great to be back at it instead of fighting some disease! Cancer Sucks!