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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!


Did you submit corn steeped in beer again?

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