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!
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!