Wednesday, July 29, 2009 

Thank You

My final post related to Harpoon is a word of thanks. As you all know, this was a tough year for us financially and it was difficult for us to afford even one competition and all the practice it took to find success. So, I want to formally say thanks to the following folks who helped us out with donations of money and/or stuff that helped us do what we do.

  • Rob Hurley & Tara Race (Gold star supporters!)
  • Dylan Wolters (Gold star supporter)
  • Rhonda Barr & Tracy Wolters
  • Sandy Sargent & Mary Lou Hofmann
  • Jesse Sargent
  • Pete & Mellissa Fellows
  • Kevin & Sarah Brennan
  • Peter & Theresa Gregory
  • Greg Henry
  • Ken Colby
  • John & Ardith Ruvidich
  • Rebecca and Tim Haskell
  • Jim & Maggie Francoeur
  • Peter Merriman & Suzanne Santarcangelo

I fear I may have forgotten someone on this list and if so I apologize. Last season I kept better notes. But know that given the crappy economy and that most of us are feeling the pinch from it, we appreciate whatever you offered our team that much more. We couldn't have done this all without you!




Harpoon Day 3

On Saturday night, Mame treated us to a great dinner including steak, sea food and fresh tomatoes and mozzarella. We socialized with our neighbors and generally enjoyed ourselves. One advantage to having the Summer Sizzler Grilling Competition on Sunday is that there is no need to be up all night cooking. I woke up early on the third day of Harpoon having gotten a reasonable amount of sleep. In addition to the competition, Sunday is the day that we choose to vend barbecue, so we do have a bit more to do.

After another stellar breakfast a-la-Mame, we prepared for vending and determined how we were going to divide up the labor during turn-in for the competition. Unlike the barbecue competition, where my control freak genes keep me from letting others take charge of any of the meats, we all take a category. The categories on Sunday were lamb, fish, beef and chef’s choice.

My lamb was first up at 1:00. The dish I did was something I’ve started calling “Dad’s Karmic Kababs.” The recipe is based on a lamb dish handed down to me from my father that I’ve modified for a grilling competition. It’s an unusual dish with strong Indian flavors and a yogurt marinade. Having let the meat marinade overnight, I skewered it and popped it on the grill at about 12:15. In hindsight, it probably went on a little early, but in the end I thought it came out pretty well.

Dad's Karmic Kabobs.

The second category was beef. Old Bull bought a really nice tenderloin and rubbed it with a crust that I think has a lot of potential to be a high winner. It went out looking good and the scraps tasted fantastic. As with Mame, I hope the Old Bull keeps trying this one. In my experience with cooking the barbecue meats, doing the same thing over and over, keeping notes and making minor changes seems to be the best way to perfect what you’re doing.

Old Bull's Beef Tenderloin.

Mame was up at 2:00 with the fish category. Personally, I find fish a hard nut to crack because I just don’t have the access to it one would if they were on the coast, and I don’t tend to think about buying it in the stores where I live. Mame’s choice was to plank grill the salmon with a mild sauce. In the end, the sauce didn’t cut through like she felt it had in the past, which wound up hurting her score. Personally, I hope she keeps trying to do the plank grilled fish thing, because I think eventually she’ll lock it in and have some good success.

Our fish entry.

As always, Farmer Girl took on the Chef’s Choice category. This is a wide open category, meaning the cook can do whatever they want and they can garnish with whatever they want! Needless to say, Chef’s Choice really brings out the creativity of the cook. Those of you who follow us know that Farmer Girl won first place two years ago with an apple spice cake in this competition. She followed up next year with another cake that unfortunately was disqualified for not cutting it into six pieces as we had been told to do. The year between competitions she thinking about how the same cake could be improved and her plan was outstanding. Unfortunately, we didn’t successfully manage our work prior to turn-ins and because she was crunched for time, she had to skip one of the steps she had planned.

The Chef's Choice submission.

We vended our barbecue, baked goods and smoked eggs until 4:00 when the final awards ceremony came around. As it turns out, I took the first ribbon of the day with a 10th place award for Dad’s Karmic Kabobs! This would turn out to be our only bling for the grilling competition although three out of the four submissions placed well (11th in beef, 12th in Chef’s Choice) out of 35 teams. The cool thing for Sunday was that all of our friends took home awards in grilling. Pauline and Dave from Vermont Barbecue took 7th in lamb, Sandy and Dave of Boneyard got 5th in the same category. The folks from Feeding Friendz had a killer grilling day with 4th place ribbons in Beef and Chef’s Choice. Jenn said she tried their Chef’s Choice and it was excellent! Even better is that for the day they took 6th place overall! Way to go teams!

The end of the day was marked with big smiles and exhausted bodies. We loaded all of our stuff in, waving goodbye to all the teams as they left. The one contest we did this season turned out to be the best one we’ve ever had. It makes the sting of last season’s mediocrity much less strong and it takes made sacrificing other events to save money a positive decision. We did well, we saw some of our greatest friends, we cooked some good food and, as always we had the best time. Thanks to my family/team for all of their efforts, all of the pitching in and for being such great people. Thanks to our friends in barbecue Feeding Freindz, Boneyard Smokers and Vermont Barbecue for making a great event that much better – having good friends around you is priceless! And lastly, thanks to the fantastic staff at Harpoon who put an amazing amount of time and effort into making this contest a spectacular event for the teams and the fans.



Monday, July 27, 2009 

Harpoon Day 2

Our whole cook for the barbecue competition was much more organized and planned out that it has been in the past. I learned so much from the IQue demo our supporters Rob and Tara sent me to in April and I’ve incorporated much of it into what I do. The level of detail the best teams (like IQue) are putting into their competition products is astounding and I am blessed that our friends paid for my way to take that class because, as you’ll see later, it paid off!

Farmer Girl’s role in our competition program is to set up the chicken the night before and to be the person who boxes our turn-ins. It makes me gleefully happy that she’s embraced the job enough to be looking for ways to improve what she does on the net! She did a wonderful job this season.

Turn in comes fast and furious starting at 12:00 noon on Saturday with the chicken entry. We’ve made a number of changes to how we do our chicken since last year and this was our first opportunity to be tested in a competition. We were pleased with the way it looked, but I felt it came out over-smoked, which can be a problem when the judges are scoring you in the taste category.

Our chicken turn-in. It still needs work, but we're on the right track.

The Old Bull took charge of running the turn-in from our distant location down to the judges tent, a feat that becomes quite a challenge when you’re navigating through a sea of some 7000 people on the Harpoon midway. Now that I’ve added more steps to my competition program, I didn’t realize how much of a benefit it would be for me to not handle turn in. As always, the Old Bull is there when I need him to help!

At 12:30, the time came for our ribs to go out. I’ve been working on our rib recipe and method doggedly for the past couple of years and I feel that I’ve finally hit my stride with them. The addition of the Old Bull's homemade rib sauce to our ribs left me feeling very positive about the meat when it went out to the judges.

A tasty rack of ribs ready to go to the judges.

At 1:00, the pulled pork left the tent. I made a mistake and missed the opportunity to serve any sliced butt with our turn in because it crossed over the temperature threshold you need in order to get good slices without being under or over cooked. So, instead we pulled all of it, but the butts were over-cooked in some places and under-cooked in others making it difficult to find prime spots to pull from. I felt like this was my weakest category, mainly because of the weird way in which each butt cooked.

Our pulled pork entry.

The brisket, one of the toughest pieces of meat to cook (and one of my favorites) was last to go at 1:30. Although they seemed to finish earlier than I thought they would, I was pretty darned happy with the brisket. My experience tells me that when I’m happy with what we’re putting out, we do lousy, so my hopes were not high. As we tasted the two briskets (you always cook more than one of everything) Farmer Girl gave me some great feedback as I wrestled with which one to cut our turn-in from. They were both done well, but one seemed a touch underdone and one a touch overdone. With her suggestion, I took the one that seemed a little underdone. It looked great and tasted awesome when I brought it down to the judges booth. I always make the last run of the day because I like to hit the beer tent on my way back for a well deserved draft. The Harpoon Munich Dark was pretty tasty!

Our brisket turn in (it's a little out of focus)

I spent the rest of the afternoon prior to the awards ceremony in a bleary-eyed haze of sleep deprivation. Saturday was the busiest day at Harpoon and Mame and Farmer Girl did a brisk business selling our baked goods. We also had visits from friends and family including my Dad who came all the way from the great state of Maine with my step-mother to visit. It was a pleasure to see cousins and their little ones milling out in front of our booth, my Dad bumped into a band of roving barbershop singers and sang a song with them (much to his delight). All and all it was a delightful day!

My Dad (in the black cap) singing an impromptu barbershop tune.

Farmer Girl's friend and karate com padre Gael, and the Boy practice a little karate.

When we followed the bag pipers and the grand champion trophy to the awards tent at 4:30, we had no idea where we’d fall this year. The feeling was that we had put out the best we had to offer and we’d just wait and see. The results were worth waiting for! Our first call came for our ribs, 10th out of 42. Our second, and the best one of the day came in the brisket category – 2nd place! Considering that last year we came in 41st out of 43 teams, I couldn’t have been more thrilled!

The biggest surprise came when I finally had the chance to look at our score sheet. When you added the 10th in ribs, 2nd in brisket, 16th in pork shoulder and 25th in chicken (which obviously still needs work) it put us at 6th overall out of 42 teams! 6th! Out of the whole group! WOW! Considering that 5 years and 9 contests ago we were 38th out of 39 teams, we’ve made a heck of a lot of progress!

The support of my teammates has been essential to bringing this all together, everyone has their role. In his second year at Harpoon, Uncle Peet has joined us and his jack-of-all trades Mr. Fixit skill set and willingness to do anything we need has been priceless. Between Peet, Farmer Girl, Old Bull, Mame and the Boy, I am so blessed by being surrounded by good friends and family as we play this brilliantly absurd game. Six years ago I found out that people get together and “compete” to see who has the best barbecue. Five years ago I said, I like this idea, I think I’ll try it. Since then it’s been a wild and crazy ride. In 2007 we felt like we were on our way up, in 2008 we fell to earth hard. But that fall motivated us to do it better than we’ve ever done it, and my team rose to the challenge! Kudos to you guys for making this team such a wonderful experience!

Tomorrow I'll report back on day three, the Harpoon Summer Sizzler Grilling Competition, which was good to us, but even better to some of our best friends!


Harpoon 2009 - Day 1

This is my first update to the blog in ages and ages, and I’ve been exhorted to update more often by my fellow barbecuers and friends. To be honest, I’ve been much more active on Facebook, where Howling Hog Barbecue has a page (search for Howling Hog Barbecue and you’ll find us). But, I’ll make an effort to be a bit more active up here! And now, my missives from Harpoon 2009...

As you all know we made it into the Harpoon Championships of New England Barbecue this year, and this past weekend was when the big event took place. It was, without a doubt the best competition we’ve ever had in barbecue!

Farmer Girl, the Boy and I arrived early on Friday to find that most of the teams had already arrived and were fully set up. Fortunately, our favorite spot (booth 43) isn’t one that teams vending barbecue are looking for because it’s too close to the entrance. For us though, it works well to be there because folks are looking for dessert as they leave. For the past couple of years our friends Tim, Wendy, Becky and Andy of Feeding Friendz (pronounced fren-zy) have been our neighbor, which makes the location even more delightful. This season, Sandy and Dave of Boneyard Smokers finally got into Harpoon and they camped out in the spot across from Feeding Friendz, so for us it was like we had our own little block of close friends nearby.

Having these great folks close by is such a great perk! We visit like neighbors, sample eachther’s turn-ins and mooch the foods we’re selling. Being able to walk over to another booth and just park your chair for an hour of chatting is just great. Feeding Friendz and Bonyard Smokers have been just great to us! I’m grateful that five years ago at Harpoon we found ourselves next to Feeding Freindz. Being able to talk with Tim in the wee hours of the morning as I suffered through being alone in the booth that night was certainly the way to begin a valuable friendship.

In addition to Feeding Friendz and Boneyard Smokers, Vermont Barbecue (aka Smokin’ Fools BBQ) from Randolph, VT were set up in their usual spot at the end of the midway in what’s jokingly referred to as the ghetto of Harpoon. Pauline and Dave are pros who work the fair and festival circuit in our area as their primary way of making money. We were pleased to hear that they’ll be setting up next to our interstate exit next month and will be selling their awesome barbecue less than 10 miles from our home.

The Boy has really come into his own at age eleven and was solidly into helping us get the booth pulled together after we arrived. He volunteered to get our tent and sleeping gear out and was all out helpful throughout the entire weekend. I couldn't be more proud!

The Old Bull, Mamer and Peet arrived in the early afternoon to find the tents up and our gear somewhat organized. Kudos to Mame this year for having a plan for how to organize our kitchen, the setup we had was by far the best we’ve had yet! By late afternoon we had prepped up the briskets, butts and ribs. After the cooks dinner, served by IQue, we had the chance to catch up with our friends and socialize before we had to settle down to the business of cooking the main meats for the barbecue contest. The barbecuing didn’t stop us from hanging out with our buddies and having a late night nacho platter before bed.

The overnight went smoothly, although as always I got about an hour of sleep despite trying to get some shuteye between midnight and three in the morning. I think I’m always a bit paranoid that I’ll sleep through my alarm and screw up the cook! Once the rest of the crew was up, we enjoyed a massive breakfast cooked by Mame, the team chef. In the past couple of years, Mame has willingly taken responsibility for keeping us all fed, a job I am so grateful that she does. As our team’s pitmaster I’m way too occupied with keeping to my cooking schedule and program to be held responsible for feeding people. The morning keeps us busy as we get ready to start vending our baked goods (all cooked by Farmer Girl) and putting on the chicken and ribs.

By noon, everything was done and turn in finally started to roll.