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Monday, August 28, 2006 

Hogstock 2006 Results

This weekend Team Howling Hog attended the 2nd annual Hogstock barbecue competition in Warren, NH. It was a very successful event!

On Friday morning, I was joined by my son, Old Bull and Farmer Girl where we packed up a Toyota pickup and a Honda Civic and took off to Warren. Warren is a pretty little town about 30 minutes East of Fairlee, VT over the Connecticut River. We were set up on their town green which very pretty. Graced with a traditional town gazebo, the green was surrounded by classic old buildings and even a decommissioned missile!

This contest is still in its infancy when compared to an event like Harpoon, but the number of teams that participate has increased. Word has it that there were only six teams competing last year, compared to the fifteen in attendance this year. Compliments should go out to Vito’s son who held the competition together while his dad is in the hospital. I felt the event was VERY well managed, with the noted exception of the late meat inspection – no fault of the organizers.

The nice thing about Hogstock when compared to the Harpoon event is that it’s a one-day event, and competitors can’t vend. All vending is done by locals to benefit various organizations. The lack of vending meant that we didn’t need a full compliment of team members to handle things. Mamer had been struggling with a bad cold and the Brewer with his family because his father is ill (best wishes from your teammates, Beer Man).

One of the cool things about competition barbecue is the wide variety of people who compete. People who compete come from all walks of life and do everything from professional catering to writing. But we all come together for the same reason, love of barbecue! In attendance at Hogstock were some pretty heavy hitters; IQue (the Harpoon team), Dr. Frankenswine, Purple Turtle, Barebones Barbecue, Flaming Hog Barbecue and our friends Feeding Friendz were there, so we knew the competition would be good. Compared to some of the teams, we’re pretty low-rent. Check out our transport vehicle, loaded to capacity.

We competed in the four KCBS categories (chicken, ribs, pork butt and brisket) and a fifth, wide open category – venison. The night went well, with little sleep, but much fun and lots of good smells. The night before the competition is one of my favorite times during the competition. Old Bull and I always take a walk around to see who’s up and about. It’s a really neat thing. It’s dark and there’s the sweet smell of smoke in the air. Things are quiet because people are either asleep or working on their meats. It’s a good time to stop by a booth for a chat with some of the competitors. We spent quite a bit of time with one of the folks from Fairlee, VT’s Barebones Barbecue, I think his name was Justin but I tend to lose people’s names pretty easily. As always, sleep was minimal. The Old Bull and I were up for a few hours around 3:00Am, caught another hour or so of sleep and began the day officially at 6:00am.

As KCBS rules stipulate, the food goes off in half hour increments. We begin the turn-ins with chicken. At harpoon, my chicken had showed some pretty solid improvement. But, I made a mistake during the prep process at Hogstock – I over rubbed it. The end product was too dark and the spice flavor was overpowering. In the end, the scores supported my opinion.

Ribs were next, and they looked great. But, another mistake was made on them as well. With all of the foods, I try to make sure that the whole team weighs in on picking out the best of the products we’ve cooked. It was only discovered after the fact that we sent out some ribs that weren’t as well done. I also worked too hard to send the judges two ribs each. If I hadn’t, we wouldn’t have sent the underdone ribs out.

The pork came up to bat next, and in the end, it was one of the best looking meats that got submitted. Like my brisket, the pork shoulder is essentially finished well before I need to deliver it to the judges. This gives me more time to fuss over presentation.

This is my "dang this is hot!" face.

I spent about twenty minutes with Farmer Girl making sure things looked and tasted good before it went out, and the results looked excellent. But, my biggest gains were made in the method of cooking, not the presentation. At Harpoon, pork shoulder was my biggest disappointment. I only went up a couple of points from the previous year and have felt befuddled as to why I was scoring so low. So, for the past month I’ve been working on pork shoulder and giving a lot of thought to how I would approach it at Hogstock. As I’ll reveal later, the changes I made were apparently the right ones.

Brisket has become my most solid and reliable competitive product. I have a method that I feel is solid and good flavorings as well. I was not as confident in the brisket at Hogstock as I was with the brisket at Harpoon. Although completely done, it was a bit dry and I felt that would get me knocked down a few points in the consistency category. I also (again) worked to put too much meat in the box. I should’ve done six slices by went for a dozen which made them too compressed. But, it still looked pretty good.

When we registered for this competition, Farmer Girl was excited to see that there was an additional “open” category for venison. She was gung ho to do it, so I told her to run with it. And boy, did she run. Venison isn’t sanctioned by the KCBS rules, so they allowed us a “chef’s choice” of how to cook it. They also released us from the traditional 9X9 turn in box! Farmer Girl found a fantastic recipe for a venison stew and used her skills as a baker to create bread bowls to serve it in. As you can see from the picture below, it looked fantastic. The stuff on the bread chips is a jam that was made to accompany the stew!

We were mighty efficient with our time after the 2:00 venison turn in, and started breaking things down for the load out. The awards ceremony, which took place in front of the gazebo, started at 3:30. We went through the awards for chicken and ribs without a taste of a trophy. And then came the call for winners in the Pulled Pork category. Once they got into the top three teams, I assumed that I had again tanked in Pulled Pork. Imagine my surprise when I found I had turned in the #1 pulled pork winner! The result was a first place trophy and a check that would cover my meat expense for the weekend. What a rush!

When the awards for Brisket were handed out, Howling Hog Barbecue again got a call – the fourth place trophy found its way to us. No doubt, my feelings about the dryness of the brisket might have cost me a higher placing.

The final award went for the venison. My confidence was high as they read the team names off. I had tasted the dish, it was excellent. I had seen it go out – I didn’t believe anyone could touch the bread bowl presentation. Farmer Girl seemed to have her doubts, but the first place call again went to Howling Hog Barbecue!

So, as you can see, Hogstock was a hell of a good time for Howling Hog Barbecue. We played the game with some very good teams and showed we could keep up. It’s nice to know that folks will take us seriously when they see the name Howling Hog Barbecue. It’s also good to know that this type of competition is wide open. Sure, there are a few teams who are light years ahead of most of us, but we can compete, we can eat and we can have a lot of fun. As always it was great to see the fine folks from Feeding Friendz (they took 3rd in Brisket, by the way – Yay Feeding Friendz!) and it was excellent to get to know our fellow Vermonters at Barebones Barbecue (Go VERMONT!) who also made a fine showing. Here’s to all the competitors, the organizers and the people who showed up for the fun! And most of all, thanks to the Boy, Farmer Girl and the Old Bull for making team Howling Hog a contender.

Congratulations TeamHog!

(couldn't help notice that spiffy new hat Muledawg)

Congrats. Everything looked really yummy.

Congrats. Everyone looked really funny.

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