A few weeks have gone by and I haven't updated, so I guess it's time!
So we did the Windy City BBQ classic, in the South parking lot of Soldier Field along the Chicago lakefront last weekend. (when I started this entry it was just after Labor Day Weekend)
This was one of the best venues for a competition in terms of location! In the south parking lot of soldier field, just off lake Michigan with a great view of the Chicago skyline!
I believe there were 30 teams competing in the main event, and another 30 Vendor/Teams cooking for people's choice awards. In all, I believe the organizers had over 2000 folks in attendance, not including the teams. A good sized event to be sure!
The weather leading up to the event was awful, thundershowers 2 or 3 days straight made it a real pain to get packed and ready, fortunately these days since most of our gear is already in the trailer, all that needed packed was the pits, charcoal, table, and some other odds and ends. And as I hitched the trailer to leave, we had a sudden downpour that had me running for cover and held us up another 20 minutes or so. But we finally got ourselves there, only a little later than we'd planned.
We arrived about 20 minutes after the 3PM open time (really? why 3PM?) Quite a few folks were already in and set up, so not sure how they were given early access. Ah well. Once we did check in, I was pointed to a 20x20 site. Hmmm...we'd asked for and been guaranteed a 20x40? And the trailer alone is 26 feet from receiver to bumper. After a little talking with the organizers though, we got it all worked out and eventually made it into our site.
We checked in, picked up our meat (most comps you buy all your own meats, this one kindly provided 5 nice slabs of spare ribs and 4 whole chickens! AND 2 pounds of some tasty spicy Texas sausage from Mikeska Brands in ) picked up our "goodie bags" and banners, and headed back to the trailer to start prep!
At 7 PM, they had the "cooks meeting" . We were getting concerned at this point as we still hadn't had the meat we brought inspected (pork and brisket). Anyway, once they did their introductions, and explanations, they adjourned to the dinner. The organizers had roasted a good sized pig, and a large quantity of chicken and sausage, and each cooking team brought a side, making for a decent buffet! I don't have any photos to share of the buffet, but here's the pig
That's Phil Wingo on the left, who I believe cooked the meats, along with Lee Ann Whippen of Chicago Q and on the right is Tim Mikeska of Mikeska sausage, in Taylor, TX
After dinner, we went on back to the trailer, where Ember the wonder dog (and our mascot) had figured out how to escape the collapsible crate we'd bought to keep her in that was supposed to be able to contain up to a 75 lb. dog. (She weighs about 16!) and was standing on the banquet chair, watching out the window for our return! I finished trimming meats and got the pork started on one of the cookers, while also enjoying some of the complimentary beer varieties provided by the good folks of the Lagunitas beer company, one of the many sponsors of the event. Also got to enjoy the fireworks show from Navy Pier!
We finally got to bed around 2 or 2:30 AM, and I was back up at 6:30-7 to start on the rest of the meats. At some point, we saw a fairly spectacular grease fire in the pit of one of the people's choice competitors! By the time I was able to snap a photo though, it had been extinguished, so you cant see the 6-8 foot flames that just moments before had been belching out of it! That is definitely not sweet blue!
Anyway, first turn in was chicken, at noon, then ribs at one. Already not the KCBS turn in times we're used to as they are usually 1200, 1230, 1300, and 1330 for chicken, ribs, pork, and brisket. So the hour between the first two was kind of odd, nice actually, but not the normal timing. Then pork turn in wasn't until 3PM, and brisket at 4!
We were happy enough with all our entries, although the brisket kind of scared me. First, it was taking WAY longer than normal to reach the tenderness I was looking for. And by the time it did, it had shrunken to almost half it's original size, which normally doesn't happen. It shrank in all directions, so when I sliced the flat (the lean muscle of the two on the brisket) it was only about half as think as our briskets normally would be. But it was plenty juicy, and tasted pretty darn good, so I was happy! In the end, everything was turned in on time, and now it was time to start packing up until awards at 6PM and see how we did.
Now until now, I forgot to say that the organizers had booked some pretty great entertainment for the weekend, and we were treated to some pretty good blues all weekend long! But at around 6:15, the band finally took a break and it was time for awards.
Now here was where some confusion occurred. They only announced top 3 in each category. Most contests would do at least top 5, and usually top 10. Not really a big deal, except that, if you'd won a prize/trophy anywhere below 3rd place, there was no real way to know. So we kept going back and checking with people until finally, when the place had almost cleared out, someone told us we had a trophy waiting. Turned out we'd won 4th place brisket, a trophy, a check for 100.00, and 10th overall!
Trying to work the whole prize thing out delayed me getting everything packed and hitched, so by the time we left, we were about the last ones out of the parking lot, although quite a few teams were all sequestered at the north end of the exit, talking and visiting.
All in all, they'd expanded the event exponentially from the first years, so hopefully they will continue to improve as they go!
Here are a few more shots of the event, courtesy of Derek Johnson, of Custom Image Photos in Chicago!
Over $5,000.00 was raised at the event to assist the great folks from Operation BBQ Relief continue to do the great things they do for disaster stricken areas! http://www.operationbbqrelief.org/
They are in Longmont Colorado now providing food to the volunteers and victims of the horrendous flooding of the past few days there!
We got a week or so rest, and then last week Wednesday drove up to Sturgeon Bay Wisconsin to set up and cook for our friends and former neighbors whose middle son was getting married.
Last Saturday, we served about 50 pounds each (pre-cooked weight) pork of pork shoulder and brisket, along with apple baked beans with bacon and chopped bbq, spicy Cajun boiled new potatoes, cucumber salad, Cole slaw, beet and mandarin orange salad to around 140 hungry guests! I guess they liked the food as many went back for third and fourth helpings!
Now we get to rest a little! Cooking a brisket and shoulder or two for a friend for his wifes birthday Saturday, then next weekend we'll be sampling others cooking at the Bon Appetite Chicago Gourmet event at Millennium Park! And our next and final two competitions this year will be in October. Until then....may the smoke be with you!