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Tuesday, July 31, 2007 

Howling Hog Barbecue ends their season with a bang!

Well folks, we’re back from our final barbecue event of the season, the Harpoon Championships of New England Barbecue. We’re pleased to say that it was our best Harpoon ever, and not just because it’s one hell of a good party!

The Harpoon Championships of New England Barbecue takes place at the Harpoon brewery in Windsor, VT. For those of us who are members of the New England Barbecue Society (NEBS), Harpoon is the regional championships and represents the end of the competition year, where the NEBS team of the year is determined. And to those of us who participate in the event, it also represents the biggest and best contest of the season!

The folks who organize and run the Harpoon competition treat the teams with a great deal of respect, and it seems as though many of them have as much fun at the competition as we do. We really appreciate all they do! They are a great part of what makes going to Harpoon so much fun.

Harpoon weekend features two separate competitions. On Saturday, 42 teams participated in the Championships of New England Barbecue. On Sunday, 36 teams opted to compete in the Summer Sizzler Grilling Competition. In addition to all of the barbecue and grilling, teams are vending, the brewery is selling their excellent beer on tap and live bands are cranking out the good tunes. On the whole, the weekend is a lot of fun for all who participate.

Looking down the midway toward the brewery

The weather forecast for this weekend had been quite sketchy, but as it turned out, we managed to get through with only a little rain. No doubt that the event organizers were pleased with the number of attendees. In our location right next to the entrance we saw pretty constant lines on both days as folks came in.

The weather broke and gave us a rainbow over the CT river

Howling Hog Barbecue arrived on Friday just before noon and claimed one of the less popular booths near the entrance. Although teams selling barbecue benefit from being further down the midway, we have found that our dessert products sell well because people see them on their way out. Making money at this event is important to many of us because it really can help defray the costs of the season. Old Bull and Bob the Amish Guy were first to arrive, and I was pleased to find our main tent up and the booth in a partial state of readiness. The layout at Harpoon enables us to back up to the snow fence they put up and unload without having to move our vehicles to another parking space. With the majority of our remaining supplies in my trailer, we were able to completely set up the booth with only the vending area left to be arranged by the ladies when they came later in the evening.

Once the meat was inspected in the afternoon, I focused on getting my larger cuts prepared for cooking over night. I trimmed my brisket and prepped up the pork shoulder. One of the perks of Harpoon (beside the beer), is that they provide the teams with dinner on Friday night. We enjoyed a Mexican-styled dinner put out by iQue, which hit the spot. The brisket and the pork shoulder went on the pit at about 8:00 pm to be cooked between 10-14 hours. Meanwhile, the Old Bull threw on several racks of ribs to be given to our most generous sponsors, “Doctors Without Boundaries”. He took them up to the Docs in the evening with a good sized sponsors’ package. The Docs got ribs, pulled pork, beans, cornbread and dessert. It was much appreciated! It’s our way of showing appreciation for their support of what we do – competition barbecue is an expensive hobby.

The ladies and the Boy arrived in the evening, having worked on vending materials and foods during the day. We finalized the booth setup for vending, and then settled in for an evening of socializing and pit monitoring. As always, my Backwoods Smoker hummed solidly along all night, with only one or two pauses to reload the firebox. Early Saturday, the ribs went on Old Bull’s pit, followed closely by the chicken. At 10:00 the brisket was wrapped and put in a hotbox. Not long after the pork shoulders went in the box too.

A well-cooked pork shoulder

As is the case with most Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) sanctioned events, turn in begins at noon. The timing is as follows: Chicken 12:00, Pork Ribs 12:30, Pork Shoulder or Butt 1:00 and Brisket at 1:30. It makes for a hectic hour and a half. The chicken came out ok, but I was quite concerned that I had left it on the pit a bit too long. One of the samples seemed pretty dry to me.

My chicken submission, a touch too dark for my taste.

The ribs, which we have been working very hard to improve, came out pretty well and looked good going into the box.

Our ribs, some of the best we've done yet.

I felt the most confident about the pork shoulder. It’s been very consistent for me and this time was no different.

Pulled pork. Yum.

I’ve been making some adjustments to my brisket lately, including more trimming and changes to both the rub and the sop. Although I thought it tasted great, I was pretty concerned with how dry it was when I cut it up. I had a very hard time getting it to cut smoothly. Personally, I thought this was my worst turn-in.

The brisket, a touch dry and falling apart a bit at the ends.

After the last turn-in, we pitmasters took a much deserved break, while the ladies and Bob the Amish Guy kept our vending operation running smoothly. At 4:00, we made our way over to the main tent for the awards ceremony. Awards in chicken, ribs and pork shoulder past us by, but we were excited to see so many different teams getting called. There are some very dominant teams in New England, so many of us get excited when other folks win awards. It reminds us that all of us have a shot at winning as long as we keep working at it. Team Howling Hog finally got called in the brisket category. Imagine my surprise when that brisket I was so unhappy with took 5th place out of the 42 teams who competed!

It turned out that we had several additionally solid scores, coming in 13th in chicken and 14th in pulled pork. With those scores our over all rank among the some of the best 42 teams in New England was 16th! At our first event (Harpoon 2005) we came in second to last. We are very pleased with how far we’ve come in only six barbecue competitions. As team captain, I couldn’t be happier with my fellow teammates. This is a great group of family and friends who love to cook and know how to work well as a team.

One of the high points of the awards ceremony, was finding out who took home the title of Grand Champion. This year, one of our favorite teams, Lunchmeat took home the great big trophy! Congrats to Gary, Sully and all of their crew. Lunchmeat is the type of team that makes those of us who don’t cook or cater professionally believe that we have a chance among all of the teams to win and win big. They’ve been working hard for years and even had to endure an extended period of Grand Reserves (2nd place)! Congrats to Congratulations Gary, Michelle, Terry and Sully and good luck at the Jack Daniels Invitational and the American Royal competitions!

The extra tall Harpoon Grand Champion's trophy and a free Big Green Egg to go with it. Pitmaster Gary is in the background.

Needless to say, after such a strong showing, Saturday night was full of celebration. We socialized with family and friends who dropped by to see us and enjoy the event. At dinner time we ate grilled flatbread, visited with our neighbors and enjoyed hanging out at our front table. Meanwhile, the ladies practiced for the grilling competition on Sunday, working on their Chef’s Choice submission.

Many family members dropped by to see us. Lots of babies.

Morning came too soon for those of us who had been up late partying. The Old Bull and I stumbled around for a bit trying to figure out what we were doing, and getting things organized for the Sizzler contest and our meat vending day. The event organizers set the submission times back about an hour, they went like this: Chef’s Choice 1:00, Chicken Wings 1:30, Sausage 2:00, Pork Chops 2:30.

The Chef’s Choice category is an opportunity for teams to go hog wild (so to speak). It’s an open category, which means that you can submit absolutely anything. It’s also “open garnish” which means the KCBS garnish limitations of green leaf lettuce and parsley don’t apply. Last season we saw the winning teams putting out high-end restaurant type entrees (lobster tails stuffed with filet minion, for example). Knowing that we’d have a hard time competing with such foods, we decided to use the ladies strong skills at dessert. The only requirement of the Harpoon Chef’s choice category is that you us some sort of Harpoon beer in a sauce. So, the ladies grilled up apple cake with a Harpoon Munich Dark caramel sauce. When the submission left our booth, I had little doubt it would win us an award.

Grilled apple spice cake with a Harpoon Munich Dark caramel sauce.

We realized as we were working on them, that the chicken wings were simply not going to win us any awards. We had gotten a bag of fairly runty wings. When you submit wings for a competition, you want them to be fat, juicy and good looking. Unfortunately, even without Old Bull’s powerfully good sauce, the wings just weren’t big enough to get us a prize.

The wingage. They taste great, but aren't big enough.

The sausage, although wonderfully tasty, really wasn’t enough to compete with the crazy stuff others submit. We’ve realized that we need to get more creative with the type of sausage we use. I’ve seen teams submit stuff as gourmet as lobster sausage!

The sausage.

The pork chops were rubbed with cumin and sugar and then brushed with a bourbon caramel glaze. In hindsight, we should have made the glaze thicker, but it definitely gave the chops some great color.

Maple cumin pork chops with a bourbon caramel glaze.

The afternoon awards ceremony went very much as we expected. We failed to draw awards in either pork chops, wings or sausage. However, when the calls came in for Chef’s Choice, we were hoping to see some sort of ribbon. The success of the day for Howling Hog Barbecue was a first place trophy! Needless to say, the Mamer and Farmer Girl were ecstatic!

The ladies sporting their trophies and the winning smiles!

When all the scores were in, I was thrilled to see us standing in 10th place amongst the 36 competitors. The most astounding thing about our success was the scores we received for the Chef’s Choice – out of the six cumulative scores, three of them were statistically perfect! I have no doubt that we have never scored so highly in any category ever.

The rest of our day at Harpoon was dedicated to vending and packing. In the end all that was left of our booth was our private porta-potty.

Trust me. This was worth $135.

This was by far our best season yet. After being so successful at Harpoon, it’s hard to not want to sign up for one or two more events for the rest of the season (other teams will be competing well into the fall), but we’ve spent a lot of money and we’ve got other events including two family parties to fill our time. Needless to say we’ll be barbecuing a lot between now and next year. Will we do more events next summer? It’s hard to say, but I would be surprised if we didn’t try to squeeze in at least one more.

As team captain I just have to say thank you to all of my teammates. Old Bull, Farmer Girl, Mame, the Boy and Bob the Amish Guy are a bunch of wonderful people. Without them there is no way we’d be able to do as well as we’ve done in such a short period of time. Here’s to continued success and lots of barbecue!

The best group of friends and family a team captain could ever want.

And lastly, I want to thank those of you who helped us by donating money to our cause. We appreciate the support. You helped make this happen. Thanks very much to Pete and Melissa Fellows, Chuck and Lora Wise, Rhonda Barr, Ken Colby and Suzanne Nothnagle, Rob Hurley and Tara Race and, of course, Doctors Without Boundaries. We look forward to having your support again next season. You can be sure we’ll come up with something new to make it worth your while!

The Howling Hog pit crew with our largest sponsors, Doctors Without boundaries



Not getting your email updates but stumbled onto the Harpoon update.

The cake looks Outstanding, the presentation is incredible.

Congrats to all Howlers
We'll see you this weekend


damn, I thought you were there and I looked for you, but I guess I must have had a little too much Harpoon.

I would have loved to finally meet you.

Congrats on the scores.

Ha! Hope to see you there.. i am a food blogger and your presentation is fantastic, thanks for representing NH in such a "tasty" way!

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