Well the week after Westmont flew by, and before we knew it, it was time for Willowbrook, IL. Another Saturday/Sunday event.. Hadn't really had a chance to look over the trailer since the weekend before, so we knew we'd be going in with no proper power, but figured it'd be ok. What made it a bit more interesting was the fact that we had some freinds who asked us to provide some eats for thier anniversary party, which was also Saturday. 75-80 people, Pulled pork, brisket, beans, cole slaw, cucumber salad, tomato/mozzerella salad, and triple chocolate cherry brownies for dessert!
Plan was we'd drop the food off at about 2 PM, come home, hitch up the trailer and go. But nature loves to screw up a good plan! Shortly after I left to drop off the food, the sky opened up and the lightning that accompanied the rain was impressive, to say the least! I was on the phone with Diane most of the drive to the drop walking through closing the trailer as much as possible to avoid any flooding. She did a great job, and I came home to find the pop up raised, but she had dropped the pull outs and pulled in the canvas so we weren't in bad shape. But getting things ready took longer than we'd planned, and we ended up rolling in to the comp site about 6:30 in the evening.
Di went to the cooks meeting with our freind from Mooses BBQ Beth, while Beth's husband Nick and a group of other helpful folks helped me get our trailer into position and unhitched. A bit of help was needed as the ground was quite spongy from all the recent rain. So next was time to set about opening the trailer, and setting up our site...time for fate to strike again!
As I was cranking up the tent, I heard, and felt, a loud pop. Wasn't sure what it was at first, until I noticed that the back drivers side corner of the tent was not going up. Well...guess this happens with 20 year old campers! One of the support cables that connects to the winch that raises the unit had snapped. Fortunately, Nick and Beth once again came to our rescue with a length of PVC pipe the right size to hold up the roof. We duct taped it into place and viola! Temporary solution!
So now it's like 8:30, and I wanted to have my pork butts on at like 6...so I'm panicking a bit...but I was able to quickly set up the pork cooker and get it going, then set about organizing the rest of the site. By about 10:30 or so, we'd finished setup, and it was time for the "shot-fairy"rounds. We met a lot of the usual folks, and quite a few new ones this time. There were quite a few first time teams, which would sadly result in some DQ's for things like no meat inspection, pre-seasoned meats, etc...but I'm sure those who made those mistakes won't make them twice! Anyway, back to the rounds...normally, we share a small shot of an apple pie flavored beverage we make, the past two comps we've changed it up a bit, so it's about 50% the apple pie, and 50% bacon infused vodka...I'll tell you what...it's some tasty stuff! Anyway, I digress...
Of the 32 teams at the comp, I'd venture to say we talked with over 20, and by about 2 AM, we were ready to take a 4 hour or so nap before crunch time.
Sunday, I woke up somewhat alarmed that my watch said 7AM!. Yikes...forgot to set the alarm! Ah well, nothing too serious, just put me a little behind on getting brisket and ribs in. Pork butts were still cruising along nicely. Brisket had been injected the night before, so I put a little refresher coat of rub on, and into the cooker it went. Ribs right after that. Tossed the chicken in the brine, and started the timer...so now there was a bit of time to get a cup of coffee and a donut, kindly provided by the venue. Also enjoyed a wonderful bloody mary from our neighboring team "You Bacon Me Crazy" - Delicious! I assembled our turn in boxes, and except for one breif little rainshower, the weather proved to be much improved from the previous week in Westmont! So now it was about 9AM, and I had a few minutes before the (usually 9:22) 9:11 shot, provided this time by the fine folks of 4 Smokin' Butts, from Milstadt, IL...almost in MO. Very nice folks, who'd just taken Reserve Grand Champion at the Sams Club, Evergreen Pk. IL event the day before! Talk about a busy weekend!
So now it's getting towards crunch time. Double check all 5 boxes (4 categories + sausage) all good. Chicken out of brine, rinsed, and resting/drying. Pork and ribs seem to be going ok, brisket coming along nicely, ready for foiling. All things considered, including all the trailer issues, we're doing ok it seems. At about 10:30, the chicken went in, so now all 4 meats are looking good. By 11, when I checked the pork, it was just a little more done than I'd hoped, but quickly took it out of the cooker, let it cool/rest about 10-15 minutes, wrapped in foil, and popped it into the Carlisle cooler till turn in time. Time gets fuzzy between 9:30 and noon, when chicken is turned in, so I may be off a bit in the retelling.
Sausage was an alternate entry, and I got ours into the cooker too late to make the 11:30 turn in. Ah well, it was great in pasta sauce last week!
Chicken was ready in time, looked good, but in retrospect the box could have looked better. Perfect bite through skin, done perfectly, but lacking just a bit in flavor. Dang...ah well...move on to ribs...
I'd done something a bit different, as we did fairly well 2 years ago with ribs, but since haven't seemed to be hitting. Well...this was another bad result...and I guess I'll have to do more practice cooks to get it down.
Texture was perfect, they looked nice, but there was a hammyness about them that I didn't care for, and as it turned out, neither did the judges!
After a short rest, it was time for pork. Well, this time it wasn't a total loss. I was correct in thinking it had gone just a tad longer than it should have...the money muscles were past being able to slice. But the overall flavor wasn't too bad, and we turned in a not so bad box.
Finally, we're down to brisket. This bad boy, which had started at 20 pounds, was about as spot on perfect as I could have hoped for! Beautiful bark, gorgeous smoke ring, even if judges aren't supposed to take that into account, and passed the "pull test" with flying colors. Only issue was some of the point wasn't rendered quite enough, so had to be a bit picky about picking burnt ends for the box.
So, big sigh....all the cooking was done. Time now to start cleaning up and getting ready for awards. We take a lot of flack from some folks about being over-prepared, taking too long to pack, etc. But we're there to have fun, and rushing around like a not is not fun in my book. What a lot of our fellow cookers also fail to realize is we are, on average, a bit longer in the tooth than most of them, and we like our creature comforts. So it was no surprise that, when it came time for awards, we weren't done packing up. But we'd made a good bit of progress!
In the end, we placed 21 of 32 overall. The chicken was, while not DAL, 24 of 30 (2 teams dq's)
Ribs, 23 of 32
Pork, 14th of 31 (another Dq or no turn in)
And Brisket....THIRD!!! So no going home empty handed from this one!!!
Given the lack of proper power, struggle with the pop-up tent, etc. We were pretty happy!
Congrats to all who walked! And we're looking forward to the next event, heading back up to the north woods to Iron Mountain MI in July! Hopefully, I can get a few of the issues with the trailer fixed before then!
Hopefully, our next post will include some photos!!!
One final note...it took a while to get this post up. A few days ago, I learned that one of our fellow competitors, Joe McManus, of Joey Mac's Smoke Stack, was taken ill with meningitis. The good news is that he was discharged Monday from the hospital, after over a week. Joe, our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family, and we look forward to seeing you back on the bbq trail.