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Monday, July 24, 2006 

The Harpoon Championships of New England Barbecue 2006

Well, it’s over. And all I have to say is “WHEW”! And not a little bit of “WHO-HOO!”

This year’s Harpoon Championships of New England Barbeque was an exceptional experience. For Howling Hog BBQ it was a weekend of great improvement, water, mud, beer and our first award!


Where to begin? Well, how about the beginning? The “first team” of Howling Hog BBQ (I and my young son) pulled into Harpoon on Friday at 11:15. I admit that I’m a bit confused about exactly when check in is supposed to start, the rules say 12:00 but the dang place was packed when we got there.

However, for us, this wasn’t a bad thing. Last year we were the first booth on the right as you enter the site and we got that spot again. The location of our booth probably isn’t the best for selling meat, as people want to come in and check stuff out before they buy. But we do more than just meat, and as a result, the location benefits us greatly.

This year, part of our success was marked by the fact that I had nearly a full team on hand by the afternoon. Farmer Girl followed her boys shortly after we arrived and we were able to get the tents up and our gear out of the truck by noon. A quick shout-out to Grampy for loaning us his F-250, couldn’t have done this without him! Old Bull and the Mamer arrived in the afternoon after getting a tire repaired on their truck.

Our kitchen was much improved over last season. We’ve invested in equipment and infrastructure (tables, camp kitchen, etc.). We were also MUCH more organized this time around. My competition checklist was circulated through the team members at the beginning of the week, so we had time enough to give it thought and pull anything I missed into the list.

One of the best improvements of our set up was the Cabella’s “camper kitchen” that Farmer Girl got me for Christmas. We liked it so much that we’ve decided we’re going to get another one!

Cooking began in earnest in the evening, of course.

One of the best things about this competition is the friendship and camaraderie. Our neighbors from last season, Feeding Freindz were at Harpoon again this year and it was just great to see them. Rick and D.J. from Seabrisket, who sold me my new baby (the Backwoods Smoker) were present and accounted for.

At about one in the morning on Saturday we were visited by one of the fine fellas from Lunchmeat (who did well in the competition as usual) who came bearing a massive jar of spiked cherries. He and I had a good talk about our mutual interest in Gov’t Mule and the Allman Brothers Band.


I’m betting I only got about four hours of sleep on Friday night, in two-hour bursts. This was probably my 5th time doing a full cook on the Backwoods and I’m still trying to get used to it.

The morning was a hustle and bustle, particularly for Farmer Girl and her aunt, Mamer. They were in charge of Vending and did a fantastic job getting our booth set up to look good and handling our customers. This was one of our biggest areas of improvement for the season. The Old Bull and I had worked through the night, particularly on the ribs. My Brisket was done by 10:00, wrapped and set in the hot cooler. The chicken went on at around 9:00, I think.

The weather was not our friend at Harpoon this year. When a tropical storm formed off the coast earlier in the week, I figured it didn’t bode well for our fine event. The forecast went to hell as we got closer to the start. On Saturday, it absolutely dumped. One of my friends from nearby Hartland said that he got more than two inches of rain on Saturday! We were all SOME wet. But not even the grinch could stop barbecue from coming! A dedicated group of folks STILL came out to enjoy the food and the excellent music. And the dedicated competitors kept on smokin’.

At 12:00, I submitted my chicken, and considering that I find it the least interesting meat to compete with, it came out darned well.

At 12:30 the ribs were submitted. No doubt, they were our worst submission, which was due to the classic mistake of doing everything differently than you usually do at home. I had given the ribs over to the old bull, whose ribs have always been better than mine. But, he was using a foreign grill, a rib rack, some odd ribs, and even some mixed woods. That won’t happen again, I’m sure. I bet you next time we compete he’s coming with his own grill, his own wood and his own method of doing them. Go Old Bull!

At 1:00 I pulled my pork. I felt that the product I sent in was quite good and I just loved the sweet and vinegar mustard sauce I put on it.

At 1:30, my most improved product went into the judges. I have worked on my brisket all year, to the point that everyone in my household has been going “brisket again?” But, as you’ll find out later, the improvement is marked.

Needless to say, as soon as the brisket was off to the judges, we hit the beer tent. Harpoon treats its barbecuer’s quite well. I’d be hard pressed to say that we “wanted for beer” at any point this weekend!

The contest results were announced at 4:00.

The usual suspects were dominant, if you’d like to see the results, then you should head on over to the New England BBQ Society’s web site and check them out.

Our Results

I’m pleased to say that we saw improvement in all categories! We placed 21st in Chicken, 40th in Ribs (yes, they were WORSE last year), 34th in Pork Shoulder and best of all for me – 13th in Brisket! My brisket was dead last last year.

The chicken was a surprise. I basically went for red rub and red sauce and tried to make it look pretty. Clearly that worked for me. The poor showing in ribs was no surprise. They’ll be better next year, no doubt. The Pork Shoulder showing was frustrating because I felt it was pretty darned good. Obviously, I need to go back and look at what I’ve been doing, read some books about it and start practicing heavily to improve on my scores. Without a doubt, my biggest personal success was the brisket. To jump from last to three places below 10th was huge for me. I worked doggedly on that gnarly cut of meat and I feel it really worked out.

Why we do this

This event isn’t just about the competition. It’s about a bunch of good folks getting together to do something they love. In my case, it’s also about family. Having my wife, son, aunt and uncle all there to participate and loving it as much as I do makes this such a special event. So, a thanks from this Howlin’ Hog to Farmer Girl, The Boy, Old Bull and Mamer for giving it there all and being ready for more!

Well folks, it’s getting late, I’m still pretty tired, and so I’ll provide you with the good news from Sunday’s Summer Sizzler contest tomorrow!

Keep Smokin’


One more thing: There's a great article in The Valley News, our local paper about the competition and Howling Hog BBQ gets a nod! Check it out here.