Archive for September, 2012

4th Place at Smokin on the Track in Shenandoah Virginia

Cooking at dawn inside the Shenandoah Speedway

We did a better job this year at planning our competitions ahead of time than we have in the past, but there is always room to be impulsed!  After learning that Smoketoberfest had to be cancelled, we were kind of bummed that we only had one competition remaining this season.  We started shopping around for one more competition in September and before we knew it, we were pulling our gear through the Shenandoah Valley to compete in Smokin on the Track.  This was a first time event and Carey and his crew did a pretty impressive job overall.  There were a low number of teams competing, but there was still plenty of good competition!  Congrats to Kit of Deguello BBQ and Mike of Aporkalypse Now for their first and second place finishes respectively.

We were the first team to pull into the middle of the raceway Thursday afternoon and got our choice of spots.  Carey already had everything laid out.  Spots were marked off, electrical drops were in place and load tested, and water was available for each site.  After we got set up we enjoyed the cool evening as we sat around a fire and reviewed our notes for the weekend.  We have gotten to the point where little review is needed because we are cooking the same every weekend.  Because this was a small comp and there wasn’t a whole lot at stake for us, we decided to break the unwritten rule of competition BBQ and do many different experiments, some untested, all at once.  We used a different rub on our pork, we used a different rub on our ribs, we modified our injection for the pork, and we cooked a brisket from a new source which we had never used.  The good news is it all came out pretty darn good!

We were already busy cooking friday.  We offered to assist the Air Force Sergeant’s Association by cooking up about 30 lbs of pulled pork and 20 lbs of pulled chicken for an event they were having at Andrews Air Force Base.  We did the pork ahead of time and froze it and decided to do the chicken Friday night and put it in the RV freezer.  We also threw on some chops and baked potatoes for dinner, then retired early in preparation for the competition.

Cooking up some yard bird for the Air Force Sergeants Association

Our experimental brisket was smaller than those that we normally cook.  We did our best guess at the timing adjustment and were happy when it finished on time, or so we thought.  There was something mysterious about our overall cook this weekend.  We did four butts and one brisket and everything seemed like it needed to cook to a higher temperature than normal to give us the texture we were looking for.  Our brisket and butts reached our initial target temperature on time.  Normally we pull them within one or two degrees of this temp depending on the feel of the meat.  Our brisket had to go almost ten degrees higher than normal before we were happy with how it felt, and the butts had to do the same.  This was the first time this had happened all year, but we knew it was more important to go by feel than by some pre-conceived number on a thermometer, so that’s what we did.  Our brisket ended up getting us third and our pork came in fourth, so clearly we did the right thing by ignoring the fact that our thermometer said the meat was done!

Our chicken came in 8th but our ribs were not so good.  No call on ribs as we came in 12th in this category.  The ribs also were not quite as tender as we like them when we normally would take them off, so we continued cooking them until it time to slice them … we needed 15 more minutes!  We used the best rack we had, but knew they were going to hurt our overall score.  We ended up with a 4th place overall, which wasn’t too bad considering the strange cooking time/temps we encountered as well as all of the experiments we were trying.  We had a great time and the weather held out all weekend which was a nice change compared to the last few competitions we’ve done.  We cooked next to a new team, Life is Good but BBQ is Better.  They heard their named called right away at the awards ceremony and that was exciting.  Good work for your first comp!  We also got to know the crew of Late Empire BBQ at little more.  These guys pulled off a 9th place overall with probably the least amount of equipment of any team at the competition … Well done!  We’ve determined that if this team sticks with it, we are going to be watching them cross the stage a lot more in 2013.

The people’s choice for this competition is worth mentioning here.  We can honestly say, although it was truly an experience, this was the first competition where we have decided that if they don’t make some changes, we will not be doing people’s choice next year!  We went through the health inspection and had the proper forms on file with no problems.  We planned on having three extra pork butts to pull and serve for people’s choice; usually that is more than enough.  Unfortunately the schedule had people’s choice starting at 1:30, which is exactly the middle of the brisket turn in window.  Trust us, the public does not understand when you tell them you are busy and they have to wait for three more minutes.  After turning in our brisket, we scrambled to make our camp presentable and within 5 minutes, we had a line of people waiting for samples that was so long, we couldn’t even see where it ended.  We handed out 1 oz cups stuffed with pork at record pace and went through about 25 lbs of pork in less than half an hour.  We had four racks of ribs in the warmer, so we started handing out ribs … gone within minutes … chicken thighs …. gone within minutes.  We gave out every ounce of meat we had cooked all day in less than an hour and the line was still long when we had to close up shop … sorry Shenandoah, but we had no idea there would be so many people lining up for samples!  All that work and we only got 4th place in people’s choice!  We couldn’t help but notice that the top teams in the competition got the least people’s choice votes; and the lower scoring teams in the competition rocked people’s choice … interesting.

The people’s choice line started like this … and never went away!

Erin happened to check Craig’s List postings for used Big Green Eggs while we were traveling home and discovered a used Egg living less than an hour from our house.  Our normal conversation on the way home from a competition revolves around our desire to have a little more cooking space, so we were excited about the idea of having another Egg.  After contacting the owner, we decided to take advantage of the good deal.  We unloaded the truck and headed out to pick up our ‘new’ Egg.  It turned out that there were mistakes in the ad and the Egg was not quit what was advertised.  After some negotiating, we still came home with our 5th Big Green Egg and after a few evenings of TLC and many new parts, it has now worthy of being our new chicken cooker for our next and final competition!

The newest member of our family!

We only have one more competition left this year.  On Oct 4th we will be on our way up to Harrisburg, PA, for the Keystone Classic.  We really like this competition and this year they have already maxed out their alloted number of teams (over 50) with a waiting list of others hoping to still get in.  We’re hoping to end the season on a high note, so we’re hoping to hear our name in Harrisburg!

 

September 30, 2012  |  Brisket, Chicken, Events, KCBS Competition, Pork, Ribs, Uncategorized  |  1 Comment  |  Share

Only one call and a 15th Overall in West Virginia

The beautiful sky after the storms cleared out.

Pickin in the Panhandle 2012 brought 43 skilled competition teams into Hedgesville, WV, all hoping for a shot at the Jack Daniel’s invitational. The invite automatically comes with the grand champion trophy at this competition because it is the only KCBS sanctioned competition in WV.  We knew, like always, that because of the chance to get to ‘The Jack” that there would be a good mix of skilled teams competing.  Looking to the left of our camp we saw three teams: Pellet Envy, Cool Smoke, and Hambones by the Fire; maybe “skilled teams” was an understatement.

 

The BBQ was smelling so good Cosmo couldn't stop drooling.

The weekend started off very hot and humid.  We were very happy to have our air-conditioned (and waterproof) RV.  We arrived with our meat already trimmed, but we had two ancillary categories (anything meat and dessert) that we had not even practiced, so we spent Friday doing food prep and finalizing the recipes for the extra categories.  Erin was prepared with some good ideas that were quickly revised into plans B and C.   Saturday rolled around and everything was right on schedule.  We knew that there was rain on the horizon and possibly even severe storms.  As turn in time approached the rain closed in.  We were able to walk chicken while it was still dry, but once the ribs came off, Erin checked the radar one more time and all I remember hearing was, “There is a red cell coming!”  We looked at six beautiful racks of ribs that had just come off the smoker and knew outside was not the place to be.  Within minutes we moved our operation inside.  The rain started just after noon and I stepped outside to make sure everything was waterproof.  I barely made it out the door and everything started shaking from the wind.  I saw our 10’x10′ canopy raising off the ground and was able to grab hold of it, but the 50 mph force was enough to pull me off the ground with it.  By the time I landed, two of the legs had folded and I wasn’t far from becoming a human kite.  Erin came out to assist and during the downpour we were able to pull the walls down and lay the 10’x10′ on the ground.  Ribs had to be cut in four minutes, so we headed back inside soaked to the bone.  High winds and rain seem to be a common scenario that has played itself out at almost every competition this year, except this time we lost some equipment AND it happened right in the middle of turn in time.

The aftermath. If you look close there are broken canopy legs, a torn tarp, and everything is soaked.

Back inside we were able to towel off and focus on the ribs with only a few minutes until turn-in.  Our ribs looked and tasted really good this week.  I told Erin on Thursday, after I trimmed the ribs, that it was going to be a good rib week.  After we built the turn in box, my feelings had not changed.  Pork and brisket were both decent, but we weren’t sure if there was enough wow factor to win over a table of judges.  After turning in our brisket we weren’t done yet.  We still had to turn in our ancillary categories.  Finally at 2:30 we were done with turn ins.  Still soaking wet, we sat down in our wet chairs and had a beer.  It had been a long day and dealing with cleaning up from the aftermath of the storm was not a motivating thought.

Our chili cups came in 3rd, but that didn't even earn us a ribbon!

After all that work we only heard our name once at the awards ceremony, it was for the ribs which we knew were top ten ribs.  We ended up with 16th in chicken, 8th in ribs, 23rd in pork, and 22nd in brisket for a 15th place overall.  We had mentioned to a newer team just the day before that with the level of competition that comes to Pickin in the Panhandle, anything in the top 15 is a good accomplishment.  I think deep down we were hoping for a little better, mostly because we had such a strong finish the week prior at Tracy’s Landing.  We certainly won’t hang our heads for finishing 15th overall; however, we will be putting pressure on ourselves to do better at our last two competitions this year.  Congrats to Tuffy of Cool Smoke for a very strong Grand Champion finish.  Tuffy is having the type of year that we all dream of in the competition world.

We learned this week that Smoketoberfest had been cancelled due to circumstances beyond the organizer’s control.  We decided we would still like to compete a couple more times this season, so we have added Smokin’ on the Track in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to our schedule.  This is the first year for this competition, so we are excited to see how things will be set up at the speedway.  After that we will finish the season at the Keystone Classic in Harrisburg, PA.  Hard to believe the 2012 season is almost behind us.

September 11, 2012  |  Brisket, Chicken, Dessert, Events, KCBS Competition, Pork, Ribs, Uncategorized  |  No Comments  |  Share

Reserve Grand Champion at Tracy’s Landing!

Our first ever reserve grand champion – and an awesome hand carved trophy to show for it!

This was a week of redemption for us.  Just three weeks ago we were driving back from Pittsburgh trying to figure out what went wrong after completing our worst competition of the year.  It is hard to look at your scores for your dead ass last pork and not want to make drastic changes, but we knew deep down we had to stick with the logical advice we’ve received from other successful teams all season long (Thank you Deguello, Dizzy Pig and 3Eyz).  We knew our pork at Pittsburgh was not consistent with what we had cooked all year, and our very minor changes to our chicken seemed to have brough our chicken closer to the top than it had been in the last few competitions.  So what did we do different at Tracy’s Landing?  Answer: Nothing.  We pushed our last competition out of our minds and focused on the task at hand.  We had the added pressure of making sure we didn’t embarrass ourselves in our home town and in front of family because Erin’s dad and stepmother (Tom and Renee) flew into town from Florida just to see us compete.  This was our first time cooking in front of family.

The Mullins’ and crew did a great job of organizing the event and getting everyone in position as early as Thursday night.  They hosted a competition that really went smoothly from our perspective.  Kudos to everyone that volunteered to support this Elks Lodge sponsored competition, we think it’ll be even bigger and better in 2013.  We ended up setting up camp next to Big Bully BBQ, a team we had never met, but hope to cross paths with again.  A great group of guys (and gals) who shared a few tastes of some delicious home made sauce in exchange for a few box building tips.  Friday night the weather was warm and clear and after the eggs were set up we cooked a great salmon dinner for Tom and Renee and welcomed them to the neighborhood.

Erin saucing our chicken as her dad looks on hoping for a sample.

Saturday was the prep day because Tracy’s Landing is unique in having the actual competition on a Sunday (If you are taking votes Dave, we’d still like to see it happen on a Saturday)! We were happy with all our meats so prep was a non event.  With all the dirty work done, we again cooked for the family and then settled in for a relaxing evening of storm watching and chatting over a few drinks with Dan from Drilling and Grilling.  We always enjoy our conversations with Dan and appreciate his laid back attitude.  Just before we called it a night we checked the weather radar just in time to throw on a t-shirt and get outside to hold down our 10 x 10 and our awning as a powerful storm cell passed directly over us.  We, along with everything else, were completely soaked; luckily the rain doesn’t really affect the eggs, so all was well.

The big day arrived and it was business as usual.  Chicken went as planned right down to the minute and within one degree of where we like to see it.  Ribs came off on time and we had more than enough to choose from.  Pork made us nervous only because we had dead ass last in the back of our minds, but it wasn’t talked about and we did the best we could.  Brisket gave me a short moment of panic.  As I started slicing, the flat turned out to be about 1/2″ thick from top to bottom.  No worries at first, but after the fifth slice I still was staring at 1/2″ thick slices due to a rather large fat pocket in the middle of the flat.  I stopped, we brain stormed an alternate plan just in case the slices never improved, then I started hacking away hoping I’d find a few good slices.  It turned out that we were able to get just enough ‘normal’ slices out of the end of the flat.  The mysterious fat pocket vanished and all looked good.  In the end our box looked identical to every brisket box we’ve turned in all year.

Erin and her Dad walking the first box to turn in … Erin is hard on herself when it comes to boxing, so seeing a smile is a good sign!

The work wasn’t done after brisket turn in because it was time for peoples choice pork which was served up right at our cook site.  Tom and Renee went out to pimp PepperMonkeyBBQ to the locals, and our friends Peter and Jane even stopped by to offer extra hands and serve up pork to the crowd.  Our allotted cups sold out very quickly and we were feeling good about the samples we gave out.  We truly could not have pulled that off without everyone’s help.  It really turned out to be a group effort and we no know we could not have done that with just two of us.  Thanks everyone!

Thanks to Tom and Renee as well as Peter and Jane for stepping in and helping us serve our pulled pork to the crowd.

So on to the results … We fell a few votes short of  the peoples choice award, but we certainly gave them a run for their money.  Congrats to Baby got Butt for winning over the crowd with their pork!  Out of 47 very good teams, we managed to get 9th place in chicken, 8th place ribs, and 3rd place pork.  We have never had 4 top ten calls in a competition so a brisket call didn’t seem likely; however, we walked for the fourth category in a row to pick up our 5th place brisket trophy.  We now knew this was our best competition so far and when we didn’t hear our name called in the top ten rundown, I knew we either got 11th, or 2nd … thankfully we were called for the reserve grand champion, beat out by none other than the best team in the country, 3Eyz BBQ.  Congrats 3Eyz, you have pulled off the impossible and then some, keep it going!  Congrats to every other team who got to walk as well.

We were grateful for the opportunity to get this call.  The organizers had two large, hand carved trophies for the RGC and GC and the GC got the choice of which one they wanted.  Dan Hixon didn’t hesitate to offer us the first choice of trophies even though his team earned it.  We have always considered 3Eyz a class act since we met them three years ago and they have been cheering us on at every competition.  It’s likely that this was Dan’s way of congratulating us for finally getting close to the top.  The truth is, which trophy we carried away was the least of our concerns, so hopefully 3Eyz is happy with the one we left for them!

Thanks to everyone who has encouraged us all year.  Our hard work finally paid off and now we will see just how consistent we can remain.  There are three competitions left and we will be putting pressure on ourselves to be successful.  Our next challenge is fast approaching as we are packing up to compete in West Virginia this coming weekend.

 

September 5, 2012  |  Brisket, Chicken, Events, KCBS Competition, Pork, Ribs, Uncategorized  |  6 Comments  |  Share