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!
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!