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.
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.
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!
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!