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Thursday, July 10, 2008 

Smoke in the Mountains: The 2008 Lake Placid I Love Barbecue Festival

The Lake Placid I Love Barbecue Festival (ILBBQF) is the second stop on our three-state competitive barbecue tour. In our opinion, the ILBBF is second only to Harpoon in its quality and the attention paid to its teams. As far as I understand it, competition organizers only have to provide teams with water, electricity and a place to go to the bathroom (in addition to the judging). There is a real value to making the participants of a competition feel appreciated. In the case of a benefit such as the ILBBQ festival, the teams are the draw that’s bringing folks to the event.

The view from the hill adjacent to the oval.

In its third year, the ILBBF is a fund-raiser to benefit the Shipman Youth Center of Lake Placid, NY. The legacy of the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics is clear throughout the town, but is no clearer to the teams as we have the privilege of camping out on the outdoor speed skating oval where Eric Heiden won five gold medals for the good ole’ USA.

The legends of the oval

The event is superbly run and its organizers go out of their way to provide services to the teams that no other events that we’ve competed at offer. Our lead contact is Shipman Youth Center boardmember Dmitry Feld.

The D-man strikes a gansta pose!

Under his guidance (with lots of help from Frank and many other volunteers), the event provides a number of special services to its teams. At the ILBBQF they provide teams with daily coffee and bagels in the morning and free ice. They’ve also arranged for us to have access to showers in the high school, which is an amazing perk!

Not a cloud in the sky!

This year the weather was absolutely superb with crisp, cool nights and bright, sunny days. The drive to Lake Placid is our farthest, clocking in at about three and a half hours of drive time. It’s longer than we’re generally willing to drive for a competition (which is why we only do three a year), but the scenery makes the trip worthwhile. We arrived late (common for us), but were set up very quickly. Unlike the Merrimack competition, we’re not just competitors, but vendors as well. By 5:00pm, we were open for business. Farmer Girl and Mamer lead our vending operation. At Lake Placid, we don’t sell any barbecue (except for smoked eggs and nuts). Instead, we’re all about the baked goods. We’re lucky that both Mame and Farmer Girl are talented bakers, because it gives us something special to offer folks. In fact, one of our greatest pleasures this season was the number of return customers who stopped at our booth.

The Midnight Grilling Bash took place on Friday evening. It’s a two category, open garnish competition. The categories are Strip Steak and Chicken. We took a chance during this event and grilled a whole chicken for the first time. Although it didn’t score exceptionally well, we’re of the opinion that there is potential in doing a whole bird. The Old Bull took charge of the bird while I was Mr. Steak. Unfortunately, Mr. Steak dropped the ball and left his favorite steak seasoning at home! Oy. This is the same stuff I used on my 8th place steak two weeks ago. I also failed to follow through on my captain duties by not paying attention to the rules of this Grilling competition – it allowed for open edible garnish. The net result of the event wasn’t spectacular, but not horrible, either. We came in 17th out of 26 teams. Placement in the bottom third of the pack would seem to rule our weekend, as you’ll find out.

Our steak entry.

Our grilled chicken entry.

Saturday was functionally a day off from competition cooking because this year we opted out of the “buck-a-rib” competition. This competition runs for three hours and is a people’s choice contest. Teams cook up a massive amount of ribs, sell them in singles for $1, and the attendees get to vote on who’s ribs are the best. I had planned to participate in the “buck-a-rib” competition, but a last minute brake job on my car left me without the cash to buy a couple of cases of ribs. So, our day was dedicated exclusively to vending. As I said before, one of the greatest things about our return to Lake Placid was the recognition from last year’s attendees. Many times folks stopped by and said “you guys were here last year! We loved your (insert baked good here)”.

Although I don’t produce any baked goods for vending, I was able to offer one of the most intriguing items – smoked eggs. It’s amazing what a conversation piece a bowl full of smoked eggs is! With hot sauces donated to us by Steve, the ownwer of Richard’s Vermont Made (who were vending as well), folks peeled their eggs and gobbled them up with glee. They sold so well on Saturday that we cooked up a second batch the next day. If you have the opportunity to sample any of the Richard’s Vermont Made sauces, I would highly recommend them. In particular, you should give their Hot Sauce a sample. It’s spicy and flavorful without overpowering you with the heat.

Because the barbecue competition at Lake Placid takes place on Sunday, everyone begins cooking their larger cuts of meat (briskets & shoulders/butts) on Saturday. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there’s nothing like walking the competition grounds in the wee hours of the morning. It’s quiet and only a few folks are out and about. The smoke from all of our pits floats gently in the air and, of course, everything smells fantastic!

Me and The Boy prepping up our pork shoulders.
A future competitor in the making? I sure hope so!.

Unlike our last competition, I did my job the way I was supposed to. No weird changes to my routine, no off-the-wall mistakes. In the end though, our products didn’t meet the judges muster and we again found ourselves in the bottom third of the pack at 27 out of 37. Although it’s a bit depressing to again see us place poorly, the resulting scores helped point me in a few directions which should lead to an improvement in our scores at our next competition.

12:00 Chicken entry.
Next time we use my rub.

12:30 Rib entry.
My sauce was not at its best.

1:00 Pulled pork entry.
Again, the sauce was not at its best.
And I need to go back to the way I was doing it before.

1:30 Brisket entry.
I thought it was pretty good, but I should have sauced it.

Regardless of our paltry scores, I have to give the weekend a great grade! We had a wonderful time visiting with friends and enjoying the company of our family members. We were even graced with a visit from two of our generous supporters!

Having taken several days to give our results some thought, I found that I needed to look back at what I did last season and how it was different than this year. I’ve changed a lot of what I do! At Harpoon in 2008, I scored well with brisket using a commercially available spice rub. I was too cheap to buy more of it, thinking that my own rub was nearly the same. Obviously, that’s not the case. So, in the past few days, I’ve ordered rubs from my supplier and have even picked up some other new products for testing. This weekend, in fact, I’m planning a full barbecue practice session. I’ll be cooking up brisket, pork shoulder and ribs. I’m going to do it right, too! If I can sneak out of work early on Friday, I plan to run my practice just like a competition, cooking through the evening and making sure everything is ready prior to the traditional 12:00 noon beginning of the turn in time. I’m looking forward to it!

This was a fun afternoon. I thought the ribs were pretty decently cooked - don't mess with that too much - sauces/rubs maybe but the cook was on the one I tried.

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