Monday, June 23, 2008 

The Merrimack Rockin' Ribfest - Day Two

(Note: I posted three times today. Go down three posts and work your way up if you want to read this in order)

As much as the grilling competition was a happy surprise, the barbecue competition was a supreme disappointment on a number of levels. Now that I’ve had the time to think back on it, I’m not at all surprised it turned out the way it did. I was not there with my A game. In fact, I wasn’t there with much of a game at all.

The problems with the event really began the week before. I was unable to get pork shoulder and brisket in the size range I’m used to working with, each of them coming in less than five pounds the usual. Because of the distinct size difference in the meats I was working with, I found myself with little to do on Saturday evening. Usually, I have my meat on the pit by 8:00 so that it can come off the pit mid-morning and be put into a hot box for turn-in later that day. This night, it wasn’t on until much later. With all of that extra time, I did things that I don’t usually do when I cook for a contest. And that was the killer.

In addition to the bad performance of the chef, Mother Nature also decided to make the day a challenge. At about 12:55, right when our pulled pork turn-in was being boxed, the wind went from gusty to hurricane-like. I was standing on one side of our tent holding it down as Farmer Girl was putting the box together. It was exciting! Fortunately, our little tent stayed on the ground long enough for her to walk the box to the turn-in table and come back to strap it down with our ratchet straps (Thanks to Eric of Yabba Dabba Que for his method of tying down a tent! We used it, sans the spackle buckets to save our tent – the buckets will be purchased next week!).

Yabba Dabba Que's tent strap system is brilliant.
If my memory serves me right, Eric was (or is) an engineer.

Once the brisket went out, we quickly tried to break stuff down before the tent took off. Eventually, it got too out of control and, with the help of barbecuers and civilians (special thanks to Tim from Feeding Friendz for giving us a hand), we got it down and stuffed it into my trunk before it flew off. The rest of the afternoon was a whirlwind – literally. The rain that followed the stiff wind was incentive to load up quickly. By 3:15 we were loaded and headed over to the awards ceremony.

Ironically, it was my chicken that scored the highest (8th).
I smoked it in the weber instead of the BWS.

Ribs - I wasn't happy with these. I did a number of things to them
that I don't usually do. Where was my head?

Pulled Pork - Both shoulders were underdone. One was mushy, which,
if you cook shoulder only happens when it's overdone. Weird.

Brisket - Not done right. That's all I can say.

As I expected, there were no calls for us on Sunday, and the resulting score sheet was the worst showing we’ve had for a couple of years. Only the 8th place in chicken was a positive. Truth be told, I’m glad it happened the way it did. Falling on my face so majorly was a great reminder that I can’t give this hobby only a fraction of my attention. If we’re going to win, I need to know what I’m doing and execute that plan to the very best of my abilities. As captain of this team, that’s my job!

This coming weekend is my first full weekend at home without any major plans, and I intend to spend Friday night cooking barbecue and paying darned close attention to what I’m doing. Lake Placid hits in two weeks. I’ve got a lot of work to do before then!




The Merrimack Rockin' Rib Fest - Day One

This was our second year attending the Merrimack Rockin’ Ribfest. We do this event primarily because it’s relatively close to where we live (two hours drive) and very kid friendly. But, this weekend we were only two. Our son had the opportunity to spend a weekend with his Grandfather where he’d get to play with his excavator and tractor, and Hank and Mame opted out of the trip since they’ve had a VERY packed schedule of late.

As I told you all in my previous email, our focus of late has been on work and not on getting ready for the barbecue season. As you’ll find out in my day two report, the lack of focus showed. But, on day one, things were all good! We pulled into Merrimack far later than we had planned but found a good spot close to some of our favorite teams Feeding Friendz (that’s pronounced friend-Z) and Boneyard Smokers. These guys represent teams on the cusp, particularly Feeding Friendz. They all have the strong potential to win it all!

Check out Feeding Friendz's new digs!

One of the noted improvements over last season at Merrimack was the fact that we were allowed to keep our vehicles on site. Because this event takes place on the grounds of the Anheiser Busch brewery, security is tight, making our departure a slow process because they have to guide us out through the back with security (imagine the potential for damage if someone poisoned the beer! Seriously.). Having our rigs on site made it possible for us to load up without having to wait to get our cars like we did last season.

Unlike the Harpoon competition, Merrimack holds their grilling contest on Saturday instead of Sunday. This means that when we load in on Friday evening, it’s a much more relaxed environment. Farmer Girl and I were able to prepare a nice dinner, socialize a bit with our neighbors and get things organized for the next day. She was even able to get some practice in for our entry in the grilled fruit category.

The Saturday grilling competition had four categories: Fish steak, beef steak, sausage and fruit. Farmer Girl and I worked well together (as we always do!) and were able to get our submissions cooked and out in a timely manner. I did the grilling and she did the boxing. It’s funny but that seems to be the norm for most of the husband and wife teams. For my part, I’m glad to be able to turn my thoughts to the next entry as soon as I give her the food – it’s a load off my mind to not have to set up the box.

Here are the final submissions. We don’t have a picture of the fruit entry because I put the camera down somewhere where Farmer Girl couldn’t find it. I was soundly reprimanded for that decision! LOL.

Beef Steak - It probably should have been a touch more rare,
but I was happy with it.

Fish Steak - I went with Tuna. It tasted fantastic, although I think I overcooked it a bit.
At $15-20 a pound, practice is hard to afford.

Sausage - No, I'm not telling you what kind it is (trade secret!).
But it's very, very tasty.

Farmer Girl working on the grilled bananas.
Yes, I should have put the camera back after the last picture.

At 4:00, the final results were in. We were thrilled to come up with a 2nd place trophy for our sausage and even more excited that we placed 4th overall among the 25 teams that competed in the grilling comp. It was an excellent day, and I was more than pleased that we did it using the new Weber grill that was donated to the team by some of our most ardent supporters.

We should also mention that the folks from Feeding Friendz had an excellent showing missing Grand Champion by a sausage, so to speak. They took second in beef steak and first in grilled fruit! Way to go guys!

That's the extent of our day one adventures. The report, like the weather, would take a turn for the cloudy, but it wouldn't be without some excitement!




And now for something completely different...

“How did you do on your test?”

“I passed! But I failed!”

“Then I am happy and sad for you.”

This quote from the 80’s classic “Real Genius” (starring a youthful Val Kilmer), sums up our first contest of the weekend. But, before I post about that, I need to back up a bit.

I’ve been awol from the blog-o-sphere. Since posting on February 28th, nobody has heard a peep from me about the world of barbecue or anything else. My apologies. I’ll make it up to you. Promise.

My absence from the blog is due, for the most part, to an excess of working. Since February, I’ve been neck deep in projects including a stint of excessive studying for a certification related to my career (the results of which won’t be known until August).

This is not to say that I’ve been kept from barbecue. Nothing can keep me from the pleasure of the grill and smoker. I’ve smoked briskets, pork shoulders, ribs, nuts and eggs. I’ve grilled fish, steaks, sausages and fruit. I’ve tried to keep at it, but all the while my focus has been elsewhere. And this weekend at Merrimack, it showed. But, that’s a story for later.

Before I tell ya’ll about our first contests of the season, I want to make mention of the incredible outpouring of support Howling Hog Barbecue has seen from our friends and family this season. As I’ve mentioned in the past, this hobby is expensive, and the members of this team are not exactly wealthy folks. So, to help make this hobby less costly to our respective household budgets, I begged and schmoozed with friends and family and others who simply dig the idea of lending a hand to a small barbecue team out of Vermont. The results have been wonderful. Through the help of these folks, we’ve raised nearly a third of what I feel our yearly budget for competing is. With their help, we’re fully registered for all of our events, and were able to buy a new tent and some other much needed equipment and are the proud owners of a new Weber One-Touch Gold.

I want to recognize all of our supporters, they are:

  • Rhonda Barr and Tracy Wolters
  • Rachel and Chris Gilker
  • Pete and Melissa Fellows
  • Sally and Kelly Hull
  • Rita Seto and Nate Miller
  • Jim and Maggie Francoeur
  • Jim and Kathy Driesch
  • Eric Kenyon and Gigi Fanning

With special mention for their extreme generosity to:

  • Sandy Sargent
  • Rob Hurley and Tara Race
  • Doctors without Boundaries

Thank you to all of our good friends and supporters. We really couldn’t do this without you.