Monday, October 18, 2010

2010 Season comes to a close at Lambs Farm in Libertyville, IL

Well, the season is over, and, all things considered, I think we had a good run. In three years we've competed in a total of 16 contests, many teams we compete against do more than that in a single season.
This year we did 6, and got a total of 7 calls
Westmont,IL 5/2010 - 2nd place pork, 5th brisket
Lowell, MI - 5th place pork
Kingsford, MI - 1st place pork, 6th brisket
Milwaukee 6th place pork
Arthur, IL - uh,,,nothing
Libertyville, IL 1st place dessert (photo above)

This was our second year competing in Libertyville, and we couldn't have asked for a more beautiful weekend to do it on. Temps on friday were in the low 60's, and the weather was just beautiful. Claudia, the contest organizer, and her whole crew did a fantastic job, and overall the venue was better than ever. We decided early to take our time, and not try and rush to get out of there on Saturday, and of course, we were the last team out saturday evening (about 6PM). By late afternoon most all the teams had arrived, one of the surprises to me was seeing Johnny Trigg (of TLC's Pitmasters series). I normally only see him this far north for the Shannon, IL contest. Not sure what brought him up this time, but I noticed he was not cooking on his normal Jambo cooker, but had a sweet looking Jambo that I think he had on loan from someone.

But the time between getting there and leaving is what it's all about! We were there just after noon on Friday, got our site set up, and our meat inspected by one or so. I had done 90% of all the trimming in advance this time, which made the whole process much more relaxing. All I needed to do was mix up my injections/marinades, do the fine trimming, and prep the smokers. Pork went in about 5:30 PM, and everything else was set in time for the 6PM cooks meeting.

After the cooks meeting, Jeff and crew, of Stockcar BBQ hosted a beautiful ham feast in honor of his teammate Angelos' birthday. He cooked up 2 gargantuan hams in his Lang cooker, along with a big batch of some kind of SPAM dish. We brought over a big pot of chili, and some of our Hog Jam, a sweet and savory conserve we hope to be marketing soon. Everyone seemed to like the chili, it all got eaten up, and the ham was delicious! (especially if you put some Hog Jam on it!) There were also a couple of cakes, and Jeff's team brought out the last of their Raki supply. (Raki being an unusual greek beverage, somewhat akin to Italian grappa) when knocking it back like a shot, as many folks did, I don't think you really get a chance to taste the subtleties that you do if you sip it. After chow, we headed back to the pop-up to grab our last bottle of apple pie shots (made onsite after arrival) and do the last "Shot-Fairy" run of the year.

We were running a bit late, since we stayed at the dinner a while, so some folks had already turned in by the time we got done making the rounds, so our apologies to anyone we missed.

We turned in about 1:30 or 2AM, and I was back up about 6:30, giving the chicken a quick brine, rubbing down the ribs, and putting the last of the rub on the brisket. Seems that, if I'm late to get chicken into the cooker, everything else runs hectic, but this time, brisket, chicken, ribs, and pork were all on schedule, and everything seemed to go pretty smoothly.

At about 9:15, we wandered over to Stockcar's site for the traditional 9:22 shot of Gentleman Jack. It's kind of a time honored tradition at BBQ contests, where we all get together to toast one anothers good fortune! The past couple of years, it was hosted by Walt of the Smokin' Scotsmen, but they were unable to make it over from Michigan this year, so Jeff filled in for the toast.

 I was really happy with just about everything, except the brisket. There is a fine line between done to perfection, and overdone. Although the internal temp of my brisket was about 195, and a probe stuck in it felt like it was sliding into a stick of room temp butter, it turned out to be just slightly underdone, and although it tasted good, I thought the texture was off.

After the brisket turn in, Diane worked feverishly on finishing her dessert (pictured above). Pam, from Sly Fox BBQ gave her a hand, and I tried to help as best I could. So, that out of the way, we started the long teardown process. Dessert turn in was at 2, and awards were to be at 3:30, so I had an hour and a half to wash up all the dishes, tear down the tables and EZ-Up, etc. while Diane was putting things away in the camper. It takes her a while, because Ember seems to whine a lot when it's close to time to go. She loves her "camping trips" because it's the only time we allow her to sleep with us. At home, she has her crate, but at comps, she makes herself at home in our bed.
By 3:20, we had the canopy down, tables almost cleared, and were ready to head to the awards ceremony.

Normally, they do sides, if any, first, and usually announce the top 3 or 5, from the bottom up. This one was different. We'd barely sat down when they announced the winner of the dessert category was 2 Skinny Cooks! Di was ecstatic as she walked up and collected her trophy, and 100 bucks cash!

Well, as it turned out, that would be the last call we were to hear.

Overall, we finished 29 of 46 teams. To be fair, about 5 of those teams only cooked ribs, so really we were more like 29 of 40.

Chicken was 29 of 40, no idea why, we scored 13th the week before in Arthur with the same box practically. Ribs were worse, at 43rd of 45.

Our pork, which had been doing well for us at 4 of our previous 5 comps went MIA in the last two of the year, placing 31 of 53 in Arthur, and 20 of 40 at Libertyville. (at least it went up?!?)
Brisket went 23 of 41. So, except for ribs, pretty solidly in the middle.

All in all, I would call our season a success. For us anyway.

Westmont IL --       2nd place pork, 5th place brisket
Lowell, MI --         5th place pork
Iron Mountain, MI  1st place pork, 5th place brisket
Milwaukee, WI -    6th place pork
Arthur, IL                5th place dessert, 6th place side dish, 8th place sausage
Libertyville             1st place dessert, with a 179.4286 score. Almost a perfect 180!

So, now it's time to winterize the camper, pull all the freezable stuff out and back into the house, and dream and plan for next season.

In the mean time, we'll work on getting our "Hog Jam" to market, tweak some recipes, and look forward to seeing our bbq pals at an occaisional off season get-together!

Yours in the sweet blue
Dann and Di

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Arthur, IL - Central Illinois Bragging Rights - Well, no calls - But still a great time!

Well, our fifth comp of the year has come and gone, with mixed results. But regardless of the results, we had a great time!

We hit the road to Arthur at around 1PM on Thursday. It's normally around a three hour drive for us if we go straight through, but we stopped for a late lunch so arrived around 5:30 or so in Arthur. I really like, when I'm able, to arrive the evening before the actual first day of the contest. This allows us to set up at a much less frantic pace, and to relax and enjoy ourselves a bit more. Thursday afternoon I set up the pop-up, and Di set about taking care of the inside while I set up our outdoor setup. (cookers, tables, canopy, etc. Our nearest nighbor Thursday were the good folks from team Yankee Gator. It was an unseasonably warm evening for October, and didn't get much below 45 or so all night!

We slept pretty well, despite the regular freight trains that roll through Arthur on a somewhat regular basis all night long, and I got up around 7:30 and begen to get the smokers prepped for later in the day.

By this time, most of the rest of the teams were rolling in and setting up, ultimately there would be 53 teams in attendance, I believe the most ever for Arthur so far!

In retrospect, I feel like we spent a lot more time on the side categories, sauce, dessert, sausage, and side dish, than we should have, and I think it may have taken my eye off the ball somewhat when it came to the main 4 categories. Lesson learned? Stick to the main BBQ and forget about all the ancillary stuff!

When all was said and done, this was our worst showing this year, in that we had 0 calls, none, nada, zip, for the first time all year.

The upsides, the few there were, were that, in chicken, where we have always struggled, we were 13th of 53, so not a bad effort!  The other 3 categories were largely forgettable, and I'll be doing my best to do that, and just dust ourselves off and have at it another day! Pork, where we've been top ten 4 of 4 times before, was 31st. And, having just tasted a bit the Tuesday after, I have to say I can't say why!

But there were high points just the same! Our freind Dan, from the Barbecue Brethren site took the Grand Champion of the backyard category in his first contest effort! We were very happy for him!
And, at the end of the day, it was a beautiful weekend, with great weather, great freinds, and great barbecue! Can't ask for much better!

So new there is one more comp left on our schedule, at Lamb's Farm in Libertyville this weekend. This is one of our favorite comps, in that it supports a really great cause. They help a large number of children and adults with a variety of developmental disabilities to become productive members of society in just so many ways, and they're very successful at it! You can learn much more at their site

The truck and trailer are still mostly packed from last weekend, so this should be an easy one to prep for. We're going to try and go out on an up note!

More next week!