Thursday, May 31, 2012

A new season, and a new beginning!

So, our first competition (besides the non-sanctioned burnoff) is in the books. We had few, if any issues with the new camper. (Sorry, still no pics, but I'll be sure to take them at the next one)

We arrived Friday to a fairly small number of other competitors already being set up. But by 4:30 PM, the organizers were getting ready to close down access to the street we were parked on. Our freinds from Moose's BBQ in WI were already onsite when we arrived. Once they had thier site set up, they set off for dinner, and an evening in a hotel, before returning for the comp.

I set about getting everything leveled, wheel chocks locked up, power run (no water was available yet, but I'd brought in about 40 gallons). Set up the tables, cookers, etc. Wandered around a bit after dinner to say hello to freinds and visit a while, and had a very nice visit with the brothers from
These two know a lot about marketing, AND about barbecue, barbeque, BBQ, Bar-B-Q, or however you want to spell it. And they are down to earth, salt of the earth types. I'd talked with John previously, and he has always treated us well. His brother Josh is a great guy as well.

We spent a while talking with them and then settled into the new QCasa for the evening. Unfortunately, the exitement of finally being out in the new trailer made sleep difficult, and we ended up talking until 3AM, only to be awakened at about 06:40 to the sound of something rattling outside the door. Turned out it was our banner, flopping fairly wildly in the wind, and trying to pull off the canopy of the trailer! Turned out the wind had kicked up pretty well, and was gusting up to 30 or so mph. I quickly cut down the banner and retracted the canopy, and then noticed my surroundings were a bit...dishevelled!

The first two photos were the shelters of a first time team, who set up their gear Friday, and left. Apparently, they weren't anchored will enough.
The last photo belongs to another first time competitor, who was nice enough to help us out back in February at the winter burn off, and we'd had located as close as possible to us so we could help him out as needed. His stuff is on the left. When I first saw it Saturday, the pole structure in back was a twisted mess. The tarps tie wrapped to it were just yanking it every which way. So we cut the tarps down, lowered the canopy in front, and tucked things away as securely as we could until he and his crew could get things back up and stabilized.

I believe that this was the 6th or 7th annual Westmont event. I know it was our 5th cooked, and we judged the year before that, so we have been involved in one way or another, almost since the beginning. I believe that it is now one of the largest, if not the largest, in the state of Illinois! And they did a phenomenal job this year, especially considering the 66 professional and 47 amateur teams they had to cram into one space!

One of Diane's childhood freinds came by and surprised us! They wanted to say hello, see the new trailer, and also had a relative competing that they wanted to say hello to. We were fortunate enough to have been asked to cook for their 25th anniversary party, and will be doing so again this weekend for their daughters college graduation! I would congratulate her by name, but not sure she wants that.

By Saturday afternoon, the bands were jamming, we had most of our meat prepped, and we were getting ready for some of the side competitions, which included sauce, sausage, wings, and dessert. Other than dessert, all 3 other sides were to be turned in Saturday evening, after the cooks meeting.

So we did them all. And in retrospect, I think it would have been better to do one or two, and keep a closer eye on the main 4 categories, but what's done is done.

Sauce, well, no photo there, red stuff in a foam cup, not real exciting.

For sausage, we thought we'd do something a bit different. Instead of stuffing our spicy jalapeno sausage into a casing, we packed it into corn husks, tamale style. garnished with a few sweet and spicy pickled jalapeno slices...
I know, not all that visually appealing. But the smell of the cilantro, and of the sausage was really amazing. I just doubt the judges knew what the heck to do with it! I'll tell you what, the leftover made some awesome breakfast sammies! And the pickled Jalapenos are killer (and homemade!)

Then came the wings, and although they tasted good, I won't even bother to show a photo! When the sides were done, I finished brining,  injection and leftover prep of the main meats for the next day, got the pork butts in the cooker (much later than I'd hoped) and wandered around to visit a bit.

There was a pretty good crowd Saturday night, which hopefully meant that all the vendors, the carnival, and the concessionaires had a better year than last, when the weather rudely interrupted the proceedings!

Normally the wife and I do something that has come to be known as the Shot Fairy Rounds Saturday evenings. It was started by my wife Diane 5 years ago, at the Westmont comp, our very first time competing, coincidentally! It was conceived as a way to break the ice and meet all the teams without being regarded as "shiggers" (Note: Shigging means that you are lurking around other folk' site trying to observe, and potentially steal methods and secrets from. We've always made it clear, or tried to, that we generally go against what is "standard practice" anyway, so we don't care about shigging. But it is fun to meet as many new folks as possible, and we try to see old freinds as well. The "shots" are flavored like apple pie, and we've been told, are a pretty good approximation. While they do contain a little alcohol, they are in no way meant to knock anyone off their game. They are merely a little something. Many teams these days actually will come by and ask "where were you" if she doesn't show up!

Well, this time, Di stopped a a few sites a little longer than normal, and before we knew it, it was after 1, and time to go home, especially after the late night Friday. So to those who the shot fairy missed, we're sorry, and will try to catch you next time!

On Sunday, time came for the "big 4" Chicken, ribs, pork butt, and brisket.

Unfortunately, I didn't get photos of all categories.
Chicken, I got, but won't be showing it as it is a new box for us, and we want to work on it a bit more.
We managed scores of 878 878 889 988 889 and 987 on it.

For those unfamiliar, the groupings of 3 each relate to 1 of 6 judges. The first digit is the score for appearance, the second, for taste, and the third for texture. The allowed scoring is from 1 to 9. One is a DQ, and is only given on the direction of the KCBS rep in charge of the event. A one is only rewarded in the event of a disqualification for breaking a rule. Beyond that, scoring is from 2 (bad) to 9 (excellent) It is a weighted system, meaning that taste is weighted more highly (at 2.2858) than is tenderness/texture (at 1.1428) or appearance (at .5714)

That doesn't mean appearance or tenderness/texture are any less important. Any of them that aren't decent can tank you.

Anyway, on to ribs. In my opinion, our ribs this time weren't the best. And this isn't to reflect on the meat, but on my own failings.  I found them a bit underdone, and with 958 689 888 877 789 and 876 scores, the judges agreed. No big surprise.

Pork wasn't much better. I had 2 beautiful Duroc butts from Standard Market, one of the sponsors, and there wasn't a thing wrong with either of them. The problem was I let myself be distracted by sides, and didn't get them on until after 9 PM. Something I try to not ever do. The result being that I had to push them to get done Sunday, and wasn't happy with the end product.

But I still had brisket left. And that gorgeous, 30 day aged, 14lb Choice Angus brisket from Standard was looking every bit as good as I hoped it would!

It was done right on time, and had I not been distracted a bit, I think I'd have remembered to put the burnt ends back in the cooker a while, add a few ingredients to punch up the flavor, and maybe taken it a notch higher. But when all was said and done, we took 3rd place brisket! I guess since I explained the scoring system, I should post our scores for brisket as well. 999 988 887 879 999 899

And what made it better, was that the person who took 2nd, hadn't bought his meat from Standard Market. So in Standards alternate contest (they donated 1,000.00 per category, 500 for 1st, 300 for 2nd, and 200 for 3rd) we won 2nd place! (and 300 bucks!) And a nice trophy from the comp, and a nice ribbon from the market! After doing only 3 comps last year, and only one call, this feels like a good start!

We have a busy few weeks coming up. We have 2 events to cook for this weekend, the following weekend, we will be competing in the Firin' up the Fox challenge in St. Charles IL on Friday and Saturday, then heading to my brothers place in Bensenville to cook for my neice Autumns' high school graduation party on Sunday

Then there's Jimmy Buffett show 6/30 in Tinley Park, where we'll be tailgating (but not with the trailer) Our BBQ schedule through the summer is fairly light. We will be catering a wedding in the Traverse City MI area for the son and soon to be daughter-in-law of some of my oldest high school freinds, an event we're really looking forward to!

Our comp season won't pick up again this year until late summer, early fall. We'd intended to do the Kenosha, WI event on 8/24-25, but a conflict came up, and the Debuque, IA comp was cancelled. So our next scheduled comp after St. Charles will likely either be Murphysboro, IL (if we can swing it) 9/22, and/or Arthur, IL in October, followed by Libertyville, IL. We missed Arthur last year for lack of a decent power system/heater, and then we had the fuel pump issue that killed our season Libertyville weekend.

5 or 6 will be plenty this year, and we'll see what comes at us. We are still waiting to hear from the Chili Pepper folks about thier rib contest faceoff in Houston, I suspect that will be in the fall as well

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Well, it's the first of May, and our competition season is coming up fast! Still have a lot of work to do on the trailer, getting equipment stored, organizing, etc. I will try and post some photos prior to our first competition Memorial Day weekend at Ty Warner Park, in Westmont, IL.

The Westmont contest has a few interesting wrinkles this year. In addition to the 8,000.00 prize pool, there are some additional awards available. A local new market in the area, Standard Market, is a sponsor for the event, and is offering an additional $1,000.00 per category, to be divided into 500.00 for first place, 300 for 2nd, and 200 for third, in addition to the regular contest money. The only condition is that for each category, the winning meat has to be from their store (receipt required) I visited their store last week, and can say they have a great meat selection, with specialties of Berkshire and Duroc pork, at fairly reasonable prices. The meat manager, Joe Parajecki, is friendly, helpful, and great to talk to! My first trip I brought home some of their Berkshire spares to try, along with a pork steak from both Duroc and Berkshire varieties, to evaluate the differences. Also picked up some Fleur de sel, a little foie gras, and a small tub of D'artagnan duck fat to play with!

They have phenomenal seafood, sushi, produce , you name it, as well as a restaurant in house, with a new one going up just across the street! and Can't wait to try the restaurant too!

Anyway, I digress. There is also going to be a raffle amongst the teams, with the winner being awarded a 4,000.00 Tremore Breeze smoker

Never have seen one, but based on the web site, I'm thinking one would look nice in my back yard!

Interesting note is it says it's worth 4K on the Westmont website, but this years model is 4,999 + shipping and handling. I don't have the right equipment to use it to compete, (more to the point, to haul it) but wouldn't mind a nice shiny new cooker!

So we have 24 days to get it together and prepare. Lots to do between now and then! But having the trailer should make competing easier. I used to cram most of the smoker stuff into the pop-up, but not wanting to get the inside of the new trailer too cruddy, I'll be mostly carrying cookers in the truck, except the bases, which will fit in one of the trailer storage areas.  We should have less dependence on the carlisle insulated carriers, as we can now keep our meats in the fridge/freezer, and will try just going with a single Carlisle for this one, to keep meats warm once they're ready.

I'm going to be trying to keep my knives, boards, rubs, injections, tools, thermometers etc. all in a Stanley tools FatMax toolbox this year. That should hopefully reduce the clutter caused by dragging all our stuff around in bus tubs that fit in the pop up, then having to empty everything out to use the bus tubs for dishes! My goal this year is to be much more organized than years past.  We will be bringing a portable 10x10 EZ-up as in the past, but hope to be able to do without it, and use the canopy that came with the trailer.

So 3 weeks, and 3 days until our 2012 season officially kicks off!

I will try to add photos of the trailer once I have them