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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.



MuleBoyBlue -
Y'all did alright for a stonecold rookie and I've got some pic's for you too - desserts good and the salad thing would work well too

love you guys

Sounds like you had a great time at the contest. They first is always the best. And Harpoon is easily the best contest in the North East.

I see you're looking for a guide to meat. Here's a link to my blog where I review "A Field Guide to Meat"


I just ordered that book. It came up on an Amazon.com search and was well reviewed. Plus, when I found it, it looked EXTREMELY familiar - like I had, say, read about it on someone's blog! LOL!

Thanks for the comments!


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