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Wednesday, August 11, 2010 

Mainely Grillin’ & Chillin’ Barbecue Competition, Eliot, ME

Howling Hog Barbecue wrapped up our last competition for 2010 this past weekend, by participating in the “Mainely Grillin’ & Chillin’” competition in Eliot, ME. The MGC is a benefit event for the Raitt Farm museum, in Eliot, ME. It is in its infancy (this was year number two), but I have to say that Lisa Raitt and her family are doing a spectacular job! It speaks loudly to the way the teams are supported that the number of teams that participated doubled between last year and this year.

Lisa and her Dad, Husband and other family members really took the time to make sure that we (the teams) were comfortable and had all we needed to make the competition successful. My hat is off to those folks, and I guarantee that Howling Hog Barbecue will be back in Eliot next season if our schedule allows it.

The folks at the MGC got Paul Kirk aka "The Baron of Barbecue" to teach a class on Friday.

Howling Hog rolled onto the Raitt Farm *on time* at about 12:00pm on Friday! (yes, that's right folks, Howling Hog Barbecue was actually ON TIME to a competition!) Our best barbecue buddies Feeding Friendz and Boneyard Smokers had held an adjacent spot for us. With myself, Jenn, Connor and new team members Rob and Tara present, we made fast work of set up.

From left to right: Howling Hog, Feeding Friendz (with Wendy waving) and Boneyard Smokers

Flying our colors. Rob's head lurks above.

The evening on Friday was light, as the barbecue competition wasn’t until Sunday. Several weeks before we got together, I had been emailing with Wendy, Sandy and Rob about doing a potluck among the teams with a focus on celebrating Jenn’s birthday which was Friday the 6th. As is always the case when you get this group together, the food was unbelievable. Rob and I did our FPF (First Place Flank steak) from Merrimack. Wendy and Tim did their EPS (eight place shrimp) from Harpoon. Fellow Feeding Freindz teammates Becky and Andy did an unbelievably good fish chowder and Sandy and Dave from Boneyard made Jenn and I a birthday cake! The food was spectacular, to the point that even I (who doesn’t like seafood – particularly things in shells) was blown away by all of it. Despite the rockiness of our 2010 season, it has been our growing friendship with these two teams that has made it all worth it. These are good folks right here.

The evening meal and celebration was followed up by a late-night visit to Eric and Cindi from Yabba Dabba Que. During the week before the contest, Eric had announced on the New England Barbecue Society forum that he was bringing his heavy-duty gas fryer with him and everything you can think of would be fried. Jenn and I foolishly found ourselves stuffing MORE food into our mouths as Eric wowed us with deep-fried kit-kats, sausage balls, Cornish game hens, rolos and garlic. I have to say that the deep fried garlic was WAY cool.

The MGC offered Howling Hog Barbecue some unique competitive opportunities that we’ve never had before in the grilling competition on Saturday. For our pleasure there were three opportunities to compete: People’s Choice Wings, Iron Chef (sponsored by J.P’s Shellfish) and Dessert (sponsored by Wyman’s Blueberries). Originally, I had only signed up for the Wings and Dessert competition out of fear of shellfish – I never cook the stuff – like EVER. I live in rural area of a state that has no ocean, and good shellfish is awfully hard to find around here. But, Jenn took me to task for not being willing to do it, and I emailed the Raitts to have them add me to the list.

The wing competition was unusual in that the teams were broken into three groups, each with different turn-in times. Attendees of the event bought tickets to be judges (allowing them to sample the wings), and the winner of each group then participated in a head-to-head wing competition to determine who had the best wings. Sandy and Dave from Boneyard Smokers made it into the finals but didn’t get called as the winner.

Everyone meet Nathan. He met a fiery death, but was well cooked.

The Iron Chef category was number two for the day. Rob, Jenn, Tara and I had been brainstorming about how to handle the multitude of shellfish offered by J.P’s. Rob came up with a maple-chipotle glaze that he thought would work with a couple of different kinds of shellfish. Out of the potential types, we were hoping that neither would be oysters or lobster. When the reveal of the ingredient came (two hours before turn-in time), the result was indeed lobster! When Jenn and Rob returned with our lobster (dubbed “Nathan” by Tara), the team rallied around Rob’s recipe and offered additional ideas to make it work with lobster. In the end we served up grilled lobster on fresh pasta with a maple-chipotle cream sauce. Out of the 33 teams that participated in the grilling event, our on-the-fly recipe came in 8th!

This is what Nathan looked like when done. He was apparently tasty.

For the Dessert category, the sponsor was Wyman’s, so we knew the key ingredient was going to be blueberries. Jenn had been working on a blueberry-lime tiramisu recipe for about two months and her execution was just gorgeous. With the turn-in rules allowing any container (instead of a standard 9X9 box), she put the dessert in glasses on one of Tara’s pottery platters. The resulting dessert was both tasty and pretty and out of 33 it came in 6th!

Jenn prepares the blueberry dessert.

Ain't they pretty?

Ready for turn-in.

We got a visit from my Dad's barbershop quartet, The Four Baritones, who sang Jenn a song for her birthday!
(Dad is on the left)

Saturday evening I began my part as Pitmaster for Howling Hog Barbecue by prepping my meats for Sunday’s barbecue competition. I had tried a new butcher out of Rutland in an effort to get some better quality meat than I had been getting. Unfortunately, this decision did not prove to be wise as the guy from Simply Meats gave me a package of butts that was simply rancid. When I had trimmed them before coming over to the competition I was a little concerned by the smell (some funkiness isn’t unusual when you take meat out of cryovac, but it usually dissipates after you rinse it). When I pulled the trimmed butts out of the cooler, they had started turning GREEN. Green, in general, is not a color you want associated with meat. So, a mad dash to a nearby Hannaford’s was made. Fortunately for us, they had two butts that would work for what we were trying to do.

Lost in a haze of woodsmoke.

The cook overnight went well, although the small size of the butts and the briskets made things a bit of a struggle. After Harpoon we had decided to get our chicken from Misty Knoll, because they offer better quality than what we had been getting. The chicken and ribs went on in the AM on Sunday. Our turn-in were pretty good, in general. We were happy with the chicken, the ribs were only ok, the butt looked great and the brisket appeared solid. In the end, we had a mixed bag of results. Our two weakest categories (chicken and pork butt) were our leaders at 13th and 9th place respectively. Butt has been a thorn in my side for years, so I was quite thrilled with such a high placement out of the 44 teams competing in the barbecue competition. Our ribs and brisket, however, pretty much tanked. I learned some good stuff with both, though, so I can’t call it a total loss.

After turn-ins, we broke our gear down with lightning speed thanks to the help of our newest teammates. By the end of the day, our friends had come away with several calls including a second place ribs trophy for Boneyard Smokers! Feeding Freindz was consistent, coming in at 9th overall. Our results were pretty representative of our season on the whole – inconsistent. But, as always, we walked away with some new knowledge on how to approach what we do and we saw improvement in our weakest categories. On Sunday evening we packed the trailer up and headed north to my Dad’s house in Auburn, ME where a shower and a real bed awaited us.

Almost packed up. I think our neighbors were entertained by all of our work!

Special thanks to Rob and Tara who joined us as a couple for the first time at a competition. They were lots and lots of help, and Rob took a number of these pictures. Thanks, guys!

Awesome job, Howling Hog! Let us know when you need us to come up and 'help' you practice. Jenn, that tiramisu looks gorgeous!!!

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