Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Montello, WI - 9/5-6 Puckaway Pig Fest

So, as we're getting ready for our last competition of the season, I need to catch up (a month later) and mention Montello.

Great venue, had never been there before, but we had a great time, and had awesome neighbors!

This one was held at family owned Lake Arrowhead Campground, just outside of Montello, WI.
It's primarily an RV park, but, as with a few other comps, they hosted a BBQ comp on what would otherwise have likely been a slow weekend for them.

Full power and sewer accommodations, and free wireless made it that much nicer. Only challenge was getting into the spots. We're mainly used to comps on the street, or in public parks. The one other RV park we've competed in was a little more modern, and laid out with mostly pull-through campsites, meaning, you don't need to worry about backing into a spot with mature trees on either side to scrape up your rig!

This location was a bit older, so the sites did require backing in to set up. We've had our camper since 2012, and used it twice that year, 5 times last year, and this one would be our 5th of 6 this year. I wasn't doing too well with backing in, and fortunately, one of the guys who lived and worked there full time was kind enough to streamline the process for me so it didn't take 90 minutes to set up!

The contest organizer, Jessica Malsak did a great job running the whole event, making sure there were lots of activities and fun stuff going on, but keeping things running smoothly at the same time.

Thursday, once we got things set up, I ran up the road to a little bar & grill not too far up the road to get a pizza to go, ( at Jessica's recommendation)and settled in to watch the Green Bay Packers play the Seattle Seahawks. Didn't go well for Green Bay, and in the midst of Wisconsin, you could imagine there were lots of unhappy packer fans that evening. Final was Seattle, 36 - Green Bay 16. Ouch!

So, next day, things went pretty much according to schedule, with no unforeseen surprises. Friday evening, we made our usual "shot fairy" rounds, and enjoyed a rare 9:22 PM shot with T-Mac Smokers, who invited one and all!

So, Saturday morning, got up at about 4 AM and got the brisket in, then checked on the butts, which were almost done by about 8. Also got the ribs going around 6, a little early, and it ended up costing me.

By 11:30, I had the ribs resting. I'd let them go a bit too long, and they were almost falling apart. Figured a rest in a vented cambro might tighten them up a bit. It did, but it would turn out not enough.

Our chicken went in right on time. I think I shot myself in the foot for trying to get more variety in the box. No photo of that one!

So next was ribs. Already said they were overdone. Going into putting the box together, I figured I'd be happy just to get 6-8 ribs in the box and not having any fall apart!. We managed it, but the texture wasn't good.

Next up was pork. Wasn't an awful looking box, but it was a bit sloppy. We still managed to get in some nice bark, moist, tasty pulled, and some slices. I just wasn't too happy with the appearance

Finally, the brisket. I had a good feeling about this one. The slices were moist, super flavorful, and looked gorgeous. The burnt ends were melt-in-your-mouth tender, and nicely caramelized! Although in retrospect, I might not have used the burnt end that's front center

All in all, although there were issues, we both felt happy with how the cook went, and once that last turn in was done, knowing we were going to stay until morning, went inside to cool off and get cleaned up before awards.

So....overall, we could have certainly done better. Chicken and Ribs killed us, being 31st in chicken out of 40, and 34th of 40 in ribs. But we knew we were going to have issues in those categories.

In the long run, we're finally feeling like we're starting to get back on track, after our old trailer had a new failure of some kind on each contest in 2011, and we were derailed in 2012 by a cancer diagnosis. 

Most of the 2013 season was spent getting used to the new RV, and recovery of my palate, which chemo pretty much destroyed! This year, we're once again getting more attuned with our timing and flavor profiles, and I can actually taste things again. And, thankfully, on 9/28 I marked my second year cancer free!

Now, just one more to go. Our last comp is coming up in Arthur, IL, just a little south of Champaign/Urabana, in Amish country! More to come!

Finally a little traction! We ended up 18th overall of 47 teams in the Kenosha Grill Games event. At least we're back in the top half!

6th place dessert, 10th place chicken (our first top ten in that category in a LONG time, and 13th place brisket. None of those was worth a check, but we did pick up a ribbon for the trophy rack on the chicken. The pork was just so-so, placing barely in the top 2/3 at 28th of 47.

We have been playing with chicken for a long time, and have lately been scoring better with our appearance scores, but hadn't started hitting in taste until this time a slight change was made, and it seemed to help a lot!  Our scores were 878   988   999   998   988   989 and we got about the nicest comment card I could ask for! There was one big change here, and that was the brine and injection we used. We'll try it again next time out and see if we do as well!
In case you can't read the comments, it got all 9's, and the judge said "I loved the presentation of the two bites. Perfectly cooked!

Our ribs and pork were about middle of the road, brisket was 13th. I know the ribs were not evenly done, so some bites were perfect, and some had a little too much tug. We'll try to fix that when we head out again!

That won't be too long, our next event will be in Montello,WI, September 5th and 6th

Monday, August 18, 2014

Wow, it's been a busy summer so far, can't believe it's been 5 months since I last posted.

A lot has happened in that time to be sure! We've struggled to get back into the "groove" we felt we were in before I got sick in 2012. Still no calls (to speak of) but we think we're getting things worked out.

Our first sanctioned contest was in early May, the Masters In May event held in Fremont, WI.
This was the second year of this comp, and our second year attending. We arrived on Thursday, as we did last year. It just makes getting set up easier, and we know we'll be onsite when the meat inspectors come out Friday morning.

As usual, we had some great neighbors, and all in all had a very nice weekend!

Saturday morning, the 9:22 was once again sponsored by the good folks at Jim Beam, who supplied their new maple flavored Kentucky bourbon. Honestly, the stuff tastes like maple syrup!

As far as scoring, we didn't have too much to brag about. We were 43rd of 62 overall, 53rd in chicken, 15th in ribs (I AM happy about that, we used to do well in ribs and I believe we may be getting back on track here). In pork, we got 57th...sheesh...that hurt! And finally in brisket we were 21st, which, while I'd like to have done better, I can live with. The positive we came away with was that we got everything done on time, had fun, and actually beat a fairly well known bbq restaurateur featured on Pitmasters television show, and a legendary pitmaster known in KC as "the baron" in the overall scores!

When it all was over, I rode into town and get some take-out from a great little bar on the river in town called The Bridge. I brought it back to our site, and we enjoyed our dinner, and then spent the evening by our fire pit with our friends and neighbors Moose's BBQ.

Next was Westmont, IL, just up the road a couple of miles. For the first of their many years, this years contest was a back to back. Two separate contests, one Friday-Saturday, and the next Saturday-Sunday. This was our first, and likely our last, back to back. It is absolutely just too much work, IMHO.

This was also only the second time we'd see the new KCBS score sheet format, which allows a cook to see which tables they landed at, and against which teams. It's an eye opener to say the least! Comp 1 of 2 had 43 teams. We ended up 36th of 43 the first contest, 33rd in chicken, 41st in ribs (so much for that back on track comment about Fremont, 34th in pork, and 36th in brisket. Just discouraging as all get out. But, we got right back on the horse, and did the second comp.

At that one, we did 56th of 72 overall, with 50th in chicken, 62nd in ribs, 46th in pork, and 56th in brisket.  Oh, we did get 6th of 13 in dessert. All in all an exhausting (and kind of depressing) weekend. Oh, and the thermistor on our fridge died, so everything ended up freezing up in our fridge. Good think we had the comp meats in the cooler!

So now, after 3 comps, while we feel our food was good, the judges didn't disagree. The odd thing is we judged a contest in St. Charles IL this past weekend, and I had some awful stuff, including some pork that I just couldn't swallow, I actually had to spit it out!  So I'm confused about our scores, to say the least.

We'd intended to go to UP Hog Wild, in Harris, MI this past weekend, but unfortunately, the sponsor backed out and the event was cancelled, which is why we judged at St. Charles.
But now we have 3 more to go...the Kenosha Grill Games in August, this weekend in fact, the Puckaway Pig Fest in Montello, WI in September, and Arthur, IL in October....sure hope the second half of our season is better than the first! We are considering a 7th in October, The Casino Queen in St. Louis, IL
I'll try to get some more photos up in future posts (and make them more frequent) for the rest of the season.

Thanks for reading! Until next time....

Monday, February 24, 2014

2014 BBQ season is underway!


Not even out of February, and the season has unofficially begun!

We competed on 2/16 in the annual Des Plaines, IL Winter Burnoff, held as always in the parking lot of Rand/River bowl in Des Plaines, IL.

I had a very busy work week, so didn't have a chance to do any shopping or packing until the day before. That made for a fairly hectic Saturday, but I still managed to shop for and trim all the meats (chicken, ribs, sausage, and pork tenderloin, with an optional chili contest) pack the truck, and generally get things readied. Sunday morning, we arose at 04:30, and got ourselves headed north to Des Plaines about 6 AM.

I had been battling some kind of stomach bug Saturday, and still felt pretty lousy Sunday, but we managed to push through and get all the meats done and turned in on time. As to our scores, well, we've done better.

Last year, we were in the top 10 in all categories, this year, we had one call (6th place ribs) and the consolation, we won the chili contest (Judges choice)

To be fair, chicken was my fault, I was just a little behind getting it started, and apparently, though I'd checked each piece with my ThermaPen  (available at Thermoworks.com) and they all checked at 160 or above, 2 pieces in the box ended up being not fully cooked (and yes, I know it should be 165, I was counting on carryover cooking) and that KILLED our chicken scores, and launched us on our way to our second ever DAL finish. (the first was due to a chicken turn in also, but in that case it was because we missed the turn in time by a couple of seconds)

Alas, we had a great time anyway, that might have been even better had I felt ok. What we did feel great about though, was our friend Steve from the South Side Pitmen team, who earned some great calls (and nice trophies) in his first effort at doing this contest. He shadowed us 2 years ago at the event, and lent a hand with setup and tear down, and after completing one KCBS full contest, and a number of backyard events with some success, entered the burnoff for the first time!

So, with that disappointing start out of the way, we now begin our planning for the true 2014 BBQ season! Hopefully soon, the snow around our trailer will melt, and we can begin to prep for the season ahead!

There are rubs and injections to order, there is organizing to be done, and it can't get warm soon enough!

We'll be starting, this year like last, with Fremont, WI for the Masters in May cookoff . There is a 66 team limit at this one this year, and we were in early!