Thursday, July 28, 2005 

Interesting notes about KCBS Judging

In response to my comments about "judge #5" below, I received a great email from Mark Delashaw, a KCBS Master and Certified Barbeque Judge. Mark provided me with some details I was unaware of regarding the judging process. With his permission, here's what he wrote to me:

"Do you realize that each category was judged by a different table of six judges? The same judge never judged more than one of your entries. Was there one judge in one category who's scores seemed low or was there a low score in every category? One thing I have learned this summer while judging two New England contests is that there is a shortage of certified judges and those judges that are available are not necessarily very experienced; they may only judge one or two contests in a year. The current KCBS rule is to start at 6 and go up or down depending on the product being judged. This may be exactly what your low scoring judge did while other judges may still be in the "start at 9" mind set which used to be the rule."

So, my low scores listed under "Judge #5" appear to have merely been coincidence. In emailing to Mark about this, I did ask him if it would be worthwhile for me to become a judge myself, and he's urged me to do so. There is a training in NH on August 25th and I've emailed the organizers for details. I think it would be a great thing for me to understand better what the judges are looking for in relation to my own competition 'cue.

My thanks to Mark for taking the time to email me this information!


Tuesday, July 26, 2005 

The Great Harpoon Adventure!

Well, it’s a bleary-eyed Monday for the leader of Team Howling Hog BBQ. I have to tell you folks, that I just had one of the finest experiences getting my ass kicked that I’ve ever had! The Harpoon Championships of New England BBQ were absolutely AMAZING!

I got soundly beaten, placing 38 out of 39. My only consolation in the “how high did I score” department was that I didn’t get the D.F.L. (dead Fu*&ing last). But, let me tell you – I learned soooo much! I met some absolutely great people! I ate some excellent BBQ! Our team had some brilliantly creative moments! I drank a lot of really tasty beer!

Since this was my first competitive attempt, I could really care less about the score. Sure, I would love to have been crowned all mighty overlord of the BBQ and to have had young BBQ virgins throw themselves at my feet, but as you can imagine – that sort of thing is meant for dreams, not reality!

We learned so much valuable information! Let me give you a rough list:

Meat – I learned that I absolutely have to gain a better understanding of meat. I don’t know the difference between cuts of meat beyond what part of the cow they come from. The briskets I got from my butcher were WAY too lean for this type of BBQ. There needs to be more fat on the meat to keep it moist. Additionally, the ribs I’m getting are not meaty enough! When compared to the fantastic ribs put out by the “lunch meat” crew, I just had no chance. People like their ribs like I like my women – with some meat on their bones! I’m now on the lookout for some sort of butchers guide to meats.

Equipment – First, the new pit I got, the “char griller” from Lowes, handled like a champ…but…. If I’m going to compete at this level, I need to buy a better pit. My immediate neighbors at the event, the great folks at “Feeding FriendZ”, were using a pair of Backwoods Smoker “Party” models. They run about $800. They look like a small refrigerator and are capable of handling a HUGE amount of meat. But here’s why I think this would be the best choice – they’re insulated. The biggest problem I had with my pits, was heat loss. On the morning of the competition, a rather serious wind came up and because I had no windbreak near my grills, I lost A LOT of heat and had a hard time retrieving it. Second, when preparing to use an injector (I inject my brisket with a sop), you need to lubricate the plunger, otherwise the rubber o –ring that creates suction will fall off. When things are dimly lit, as they were in the middle of the night, this can be a bit of a problem.

Flavor – It will take a while to understand what the judges are looking for. I took a chance on my chicken and did one of my favorites – Caribbean spiced chicken and added a banana molasses glaze to it. We thought it tasted great – it scored awful. It was too dark, too spicy and not pretty enough! I had suspected that I might have to “play to the judges” a bit more. I was right. So, I clearly need to balance a bit more between the taste of the meat and the spices. This is not a surprise to me.

Competing – The people at these events are just great! Other teams were friendly, offered to loan me anything I needed, etc. This is definitely worth doing again. Also, the Harpoon event is the largest in New England! When I compete here, I am going up against the largest field of any event around here.

Judges – I learned that sometime there are just harsh judges. I was speaking to two of the teams across from our booth and they were both veteran winning teams who were very frustrated by the results of the judging. I noticed in my scores that there was one specific judge who gave consistently low marks.

Vending – Farmer Girl brought a bunch of baked goods to vend on both Saturday and Sunday. We only vended meat on Sunday in order to avoid having to get a state caterer’s license. The baked goods were a stroke of genius! There was nobody there serving dessert and given our location, we sold quite a number of items. My spice rubs sold pretty well also. The Chef suggested that we might want to add salad to our list of products as well, and I think he’s right. If we can make some good money vending, it makes the scoring less of a concern.

Location – I picked the first booth on the fairway, right next to the entrance. It was definitely the best slot available, but if you’re going to vend meat, it isn’t the best. Customers aren’t likely to stop at the first place they see when they walk in. However, when you’re vending desserts, being the last place they see is FANTASTIC!

Friends and Family – I have a wonderful group of friends and family. We had a number of people visit us during the weekend, and the help we had from all was just wonderful.

On that note, I want to put a few thank you’s out:

Mame – Thanks for covering for Farmer Girl at the farm stand – I couldn’t have done this without her help!

Brewer – Thanks for being the ultimate pitch-in guy.

Chef – Thanks for hangin’ with me on Saturday night and particularly for the brainstorm about the brisket! Hopefully next year Heather will stay out of the car!

Conman – My little guy, in there for the long haul and willing to help whenever a seven year old could! You’re the best.

Farmer Girl – Wow. Without you, your ideas, your hard work, your immense talent as a baker and vendor, I wouldn’t feel like this weekend was an absolute success! You are the best teammate.

So, to wrap up – I gotta say again that this was a wonderful time. The sights, sounds and experiences were some of the best I’ve had. I can assure you that next year, team Howling Hog will be back at the Harpoon Championships of New England BBQ next year, and we’ll be better than before!

I’ll be posting some pictures from the event later in the week.



Monday, July 25, 2005 

...and boy are my arms tired!


The Harpoon Championships of New England BBQ are over and boy am I cooked! Once I get a moment to put up some pictures and write up a full report, I'll tell ya'll all about it!

What a great time!


Thursday, July 14, 2005 

And so it begins...

The Harpoon Championships of NE BBQ are nearly a week away and I'm finally getting into the "serious" preparation phase. I've finalized my team, which had a few hiccups along the way. The Old Bull has to have rotator cuff surgery on the 21st, which is clearly going to keep him away from the event. Fortunately, my father is a willing understudy. As I learned the value of food from his exceptional cooking talents, he's a good fill in for the Old Bull.

I'm now trying to pull all the logistics and supplies together, and they are many...

I'm rustling up a pickup truck for our gear (I doubt I could fit my smokers in our Honda Civic!).

I've ordered the meat and have at least a partial sponsorship from my local butcher. He's giving me all my brisket for free and giving me a price break on the pork. I'm going to have his flyers available for the public in return for the deal he's given me.

I've got to head into the village during my lunch break to deposit some cash into my personal account so I can order my charcoal supplies from Wicked Good Charcoal.

Farmer Girl is planning the vending portion of the event, while dealing with her own major events in the coming weeks.

I realized that in addition to preparing the mops, sauces and spice rubs, I also have to write out a schedule for each piece of meat. Since these events are timed down to the wire, I need to plan for my products to be done no earlier than 20 minutes before they need to be submitted. As such, I need to factor in time to prep the meat, start the grills and do any mopping.

Needless to say, things are hectic, but I'm really looking forward to this. Last night I couldn't sleep because my mind was busy working through the event planning. I'm hoping to have one last round of practice this weekend. I've got a new idea for ribs I want to try, and I feel like I should give the chicken thighs at least one try.

I'll post again as we get closer to the event!



Friday, July 01, 2005 

Rib Practice

Ribs are my weakest link in the preparation I'm making for the Harpoon Championships of BBQ later this month.

Teamate Old Bull and I have been debating the merits of spice rubbed ribs vs. naked or at least "less" spice-rubbed ribs.

The Old Bull has always had me beat in the rib department, but I know for sure that traditional BBQ says you put a rub on your ribs and serve them either dry or wet depending on where in the US you're located.

So, last weekend I put a rack of ribs to a test. I split a whole rack into 5 sections and did some experiementing. Here's what was on each test rack:

    1) Rubbed with my Triple Chili rub and basted with a dark sauce during the last hour.

    2) Rubbed with my Pastrami-style rub (a suggestion made by the Old Bull)

    3)Rubbed with my Pastrami-Style rub and basted with a horseradish mustard during the last hour.

    4)Rubbed with my East Valley Steak Seasoning

    5)Left Naked and then Sauced at the end

I had my boy help me taste-test them, because he and I are the only two in our household who really savvy ribs. The results? We both thought the ribs cooked naked with sauce won the day. So, I think we're going to do our ribs naked, cooked with cherry, and then we'll have to make a killer mild BBQ sauce to go with them. The Old Bull's method is definately the best.



A successful Father's Day BBQ

Work and a course at UVM have had me balls to the wall lately, so I have been remiss in my postings. That said, it's time to get caught up!

Fathers day BBQ

As part of my training for the Harpoon competition, I planned some events that would allow me to practice while having a good time! This Sunday, I hosted a fathers day barbeque for my many father figures, family and friends.

As a son, I am blessed by having more than one father figure. I have, of course, my biological father, but also a step-father and a helluva good father-in-law. Not to mention a few really dandy uncles on my wife's side of the family.

The gathering, which was originally supposed to be about 12 people, grew in only a few hours to about 20 people including small children! It was a fantastic success! We had our guests bringing in the salads. My wife made hush puppies and a number of desserts. I whipped up a batch of grilled vegetable gazpacho (from the Thrill of The Grill) and then there was the meat…..

I got up at 5:00am and smoked up two pork shoulders and a beef brisket. In hindsight, I should have pulled the meat out to thaw the night before. It turned out that the core of the pork shoulders were a mere 36 degrees (yikes!). In the end, this forced me to "push" the meat by popping it in the oven in foil for the last hour of cooking. Otherwise, I think I would have had another two hours of cooking to get it all up to temp. But, as you can see from the picture, it all came out great.

I had some good comments about my brisket, including one from a guest who was from Louisiana. He said that his Grandfather had worked on his brisket recipe for years and perfected it when he was pretty old. He told me that I was well on my way to one heck of a brisket. I rarely get someone from the south - where REAL BBQ can be found - to taste my stuff, so it was good feedback for me. I also got a compliment from Farmer Girl's uncle, the Junkman. After years of razzing me about my crappy brisket (in the beginning it WAS pretty lousy), he finally paid me a compliment! Success!

Lots of fun was had, and I had another round of practice for the competition!