Wednesday, December 27, 2006
- January 13-14: First Annual Winter Sizzler, Lincoln NH
- March 10th: Snoeshoe Grilling Challenge, Abington, MA
- March 31st: Grilling on the Bay, Brooklyn, NY
- May 19-20: Rhode Island State BBQ Championship, Warwick, RI
- May 26-28: Connecticut State Championship, Lime Rock, CT
- June 23-24: TBA
- July 6-8: Guitarbeque, Asbury Park, NJ
- July 28-29: Harpoon BBQ Championship of New England (hopefully)
- August 18-19: Hudson Valley Ribfest, New Paltz, NY
- September 8-9: Rib and Brews Festival, Lowell, MA
The TBA in June is because there are two New England events that are apparently scheduled for the same weekend. One is the New Hampshire Rock-n-Ribfest, where we won grand champions in 2006. The other is scheduled to be held in East Hartford, Connecticut, which is a half-hour from our house. If the contest schedule remains the same, we will have to make a difficult decision. I am leaning towards the CT event, just based on logistics.
I hope to add one or two more events during the summer, we'll have to see if we can make it work.
Monday, December 11, 2006
I'm starting to get excited. The month of December is flying by, the holidays will fly by, next thing we know it will be MLK weekend and time to get back to it. I really expected that after the Jack, there would be at least five months of relative inactivity before the grilling competitions in March and the New England season opener in Rhode Island in May. Now we have something much closer to look forward to.
Q Haven started off so well in our rookie season. Third place in Rhode Island, grand champions at New Hampshire, then we hit the wall. Three more competitions including the Jack, and only one call. That was for dessert at the Jack, and they gave us the wrong ribbon. They took it away and told us they would send us a new one, and now I can't get anyone to answer e-mails about it.
Adding insult to injury, we recently got amended scores from the Jack, and apparently they forgot to add the international teams when they tallied the scores, and now they're saying we were 12th in dessert, not 10th. We probably should have kept that 5th place sauce ribbon, as I highly doubt we will be getting the one we were called to the stage for. The whole scoring thing was a complete mess, they need to work that out.
I went off on a Jack tangent there, but the real point is that I am not really happy with the way things went in those last three events. The first two events, I relied on my research and practice and it paid off. After that, everyone wanted to be more involved, with the added pressure of additional family and friends coming to events and being interested in what was going on. While that is great when people are interested, it can be a distraction and cause me to lose focus.
Hopefully we will be able to get the ship going straight again in 2007. I've already done a few practice cooks over the last month, and will keep practicing until the busy season comes in the spring.
In the meantime, I'm going to get a little "spying" in this week. Sheila and I are going into New York City on Friday to do the whole Christmas thing, and are planning to stop by Adam Perry Lang's restaurant Daisy May's BBQ in Manhattan. I hear good things, and am looking forward to sampling his Q.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
I have traded in my beloved 2005 Ford Mustang for a Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer. It's a whole lot of truck, with a big V8 for hauling stuff and all the bells and whistles to keep my wife happy.
This is something I have been considering for some time as part of our competition plan for 2007. It just gets way too expensive to compete when in addition to meat, entry fees and all the other associated costs, you have to pay $200 to $250 for a cargo van and the fuel for a vehicle that gets 8 miles to the gallon.
Having our own truck will make a huge difference this year. With a Mustang and a VW Jetta, we certainly couldn't get it done with our own vehicles. It also removed the biggest financial constraint to competing for us, the van rentals. It will allow us to hit so many more events.
It was so difficult to get rid of the Mustang. I loved that car. It was two years ago today that I bought it. I was one of the first people to get it with the new body style, and it was so much fun to drive. I kept it in immaculate condition, and had a great Sirius install. While I will miss driving the Stang, I do not regret the decision. We are committed to BBQ competitions for the long haul, and now we have the wheels to guide us on our journey.
Now, I can turn my sights to what I want to pull with the truck. Right now I'm somewhat torn between a pop-up camper or a cargo trailer. I despise sleeping in tents, and am very intrigued by the pop up camper idea. We could fit it right in our site at most competitions, and be able to sleep comfortably. Also, if it is nice enough, maybe it will reduce the amount we spend on hotels!
Sunday, November 19, 2006
That's the question I am asking myself tonight.
An innocent comment from Steve Farrin of I Smell Smoke! on the New England BBQ Society message boards about wanting a winter competition quickly escalated, and now there is a full event scheduled for Martin Luther King Day weekend in January in the mountains of New Hampshire.
No, that's not a typo, it says New Hampshire.
The event is to be held at the Inn Season resort in Lincoln, New Hampshire. The hotel looks nice, and the event would take place in a plowed parking lot at the hotel. If the temperatures are not too cold and there is no snow, the event could be fine. However, too many things could go wrong.
For example, what happens if there is a blizzard the day of the event, or the day before, or if for some reason the weather makes the contest impossible. I would be out hundreds of dollars in costs for entry fees, hotel rooms meat, etc. Also, if it is below zero, will I be able to maintain temperatures warm enough to cook? Will I freeze to death? The AVERAGE low is 5 degrees for January in Lincoln, NH. The average high is 25 degrees.
I'm still on the fence on this one. It seems that most of the big New England teams are planning to cook at the event, and I do want to be involved. However, I'm not sure what to do. Hopefully a few people will read this blog and post their thoughts.
Monday, October 30, 2006
The planning for “The Jack” began in the minutes that followed learning that we had won the New Hampshire draw and were invited. The weeks of planning culminated Tuesday morning, October 24th, when I picked up the cargo van from Enterprise and we began packing the massive pile of equipment, coolers and other assorted items for the trip. At around 1PM, we were on our way to arguably the most prestigious BBQ competition in the world.
First, here is some background for those of you who have not been following the Q Haven blog this year. I decided to try my hand at competition BBQ this past May. We came out of the box with a lot of success, taking 3rd place overall in our first event in Rhode Island in May, then a few weeks later we amazingly won grand champion of the New Hampshire Rock-n-Ribfest. We competed twice more over the summer, and “The Jack” was our fifth ever competition.
While I think my Q is pretty good, I feel we were extremely lucky to have this opportunity. There are many teams in New England, and certainly nationwide that were much more deserving than us to be attending this event. But we were in, and I wanted to make sure we didn’t embarrass ourselves too much and that we would represent New England well. I hope we did. Here is my story of the week, the good, the bad and the ugly.
I covered the trip down to Lynchburg in previous blog posts. I was hoping to make it down to Lynchburg Thursday morning, but instead we arrived at around 3PM because of heavy traffic in Knoxville and getting a slow start in the morning. When we arrived, the volunteers were very helpful and showed us to our site.
The site was huge, at least 50 feet by 50 feet, with a water and power hook-up in the back. The site was in a high traffic area, and was bordered in the rear by a creek. We also had a port-o-potty in the rear of the site, which I cannot recommend enough. It was so great to have our own facilities, we will definitely do this at future competitions whenever possible.
We were situated right across a gully from cancersuckschicago.com. Their RV had its back to us so we didn't see them much. Turns out their pit boss Scotty's father died Friday, but he was somehow able to carry on and he won the grand championship. I have never met Scotty, but all accounts are that he is a great man and has lived through a tremendous amount of adversity. My thoughts go out to him, and I give him tremendous credit for being able to do what he did.
It was dark and overcast throughout Thursday afternoon, but the rain held off until we got our basic site setup complete. Sheila and I stayed in a hotel Thursday night, but Cristiaan, Kim, Kathleen and John wanted to camp out. They certainly regretted it, as it poured most of the night.
Unfortunately, it poured most of Friday too. This dampened our spirits, and our well-organized site quickly became a mess because everything had to be brought inside. We had to put up the walls to our pop up tents and basically lock up inside to stay out of the rain and cold, stiff winds. Fortunately, we had a drainage ditch next to our site, so it did not flood at all. I used most of the day to trim, season, inject and marinate our competition meats.
We were entered in the “Happiest Home in the Hollow” competition, which was an event where teams decorated their sites to reflect their home state spirit. We decorated the best we could, despite the bad weather. We all wore Connecticut or UConn shirts and hats, hung a lot of Jack Daniel’s signs and banners. Also, the plan was to give away slices of Mystic Pizza and cups of New England clam chowder. The crowds were thin because of the weather, and we never did see any judges. Buttrub.com won the event. I guess the judges made it to their site.
Late Friday afternoon, the weather cleared for a while, and that was perfect timing for the parade. It was really cool; every team lined up and paraded into the town square. There were hundreds of people lining the streets, waving to the crowds. For a few minutes, we felt like rock stars.
After the parade, we went to the reception at the pavilion at the Jack Daniel’s distillery. I hope that nobody thinks that I am being negative about the event, but this was a disappointment. We ended up waiting forever for the school bus to bring us up there. We then ended up waiting forever on line for food, which only consisted of bowls of chili, cornbread, nacho chips and apples with Jack Daniel’s sauce. Once we had food, we couldn’t find seats and the team had to scatter to sit down and eat all over the place. The positive was the open bars serving Jack & Cokes and Lynchburg Lemonades. If we ever go back I will skip the banquet.
The rain returned Friday night, and after getting the butts and briskets on, Cristiaan tended to the fires and I got a few hours of sleep in the tent.
We were one of the few teams to be “roughing it” by sleeping in tents. It seemed that most of the teams had these massive RV’s with all the luxury of a Manhattan townhouse. I have to get me one of those…..
I got up around 5AM and basically worked non-stop until we finished loading the van and pulled out of town Saturday night.
This being our rookie season and obviously our first Jack, I wanted us to experience everything. We entered all seven categories, were selling rub and t-shirts, and agreed to give away samples to the public. We had a lot of help from family and others to work the various stations, but it still was crazy. There were so many people, and I tried to accommodate all of them when the asked questions about the cookers, the team, etc.
Too many people to mention came by and said “Connecticut? They have barbeque in Connecticut?” It was really funny, and all good-natured. Our site was mobbed all day long, between people buying rub, or seeing the chaffing dishes and looking for samples, or just stopping by to say hi.
Somebody who was a friend of Andy King of the Bastey Boys came by, I believe his name was Johnny. He was a really nice guy. We also had special guests, Chuck and Lisa Edman, a couple we met earlier this month in Jamaica. They happen to live in Shelbyville, and we were happy they were able to make it to see us.
The rub sales went well, we sold all 75 bottles I made by around 3PM. We probably could have sold another 25, wish I had made more. Unfortunately, we didn’t sell any t-shirts, probably because I overpriced them at $15.
Turn-in’s began at 12:00 with sauce. I made an apple “Jack” sauce, but I wasn’t blown away with the flavor. I had Cristiaan work on it and he spruced it up a bit, and the sauce finished 24th, not bad.
Next was cook’s choice, which I delegated the preparation to Cristiaan so I could focus on the BBQ that needed to be tended to in the smokers. We made flank steak. It was flash grilled, rolled with a crabmeat mixture and then smoked for a while. It was finished with béarnaise, which is my father’s specialty, and he pitched in on the preparation. The judges seemed to like it, as it came in 13th place out of the 35 U.S. teams that participated.
Next was chicken. For the first time in our short history, we were required to cook both white and dark meat. I cooked thighs for the dark meat, and then smoked two whole chickens for the white meat. I detached the breasts and sliced them, placing the best one in the bottom of the box with six thighs. I didn’t like the way the box looked overall, and it came in 35th place.
Looking at the picture, I can't believe that one of the judges actually gave us a 9 for chicken appearance.
Next were ribs. I probably should have cooked spares, and judges in the south are probably more used to them. However, I always cook loin backs, and I wasn’t going to try something new. I thought they had great flavor, probably not our best but still pretty good. Again, I was unhappy with the box, but because of time constraints I went ahead and turned them in. Ribs placed 36th out of 65.
Next was pork, and I really felt this was our best category of the day. The meat and bark had great flavor, and I thought the presentation was our best ever for pork. It scored 20th, which was our best Q score of the day.
Next was brisket. I really thought it came out great. I thought the tenderness was right on and it had nice flavor. The judges disagreed. Brisket finished 44th place, not last but towards the bottom.
Finally, the last category was dessert. I delegated this category to Sheila and gave her total control over what to make. She did tons of research, and decided to make a chocolate trifle. After several test cooks, I knew it was great. The judges agreed, and we got our only call and ribbon for 10th place dessert.
I am so proud of Sheila, and because of her we were able to bring home something for our trophy case.
Well, we were supposed to take it home.
Once the excitement subsided, I looked at the ribbon and it was not for dessert, it said “5th place sauce.” The envelope for the check also said “5th place sauce.” Sheila brought them up to the woman at the side of the stage and alerted her to the problem. They took away the ribbon and the check, and told her they couldn’t deal with it now. She had to walk away empty handed. Afterwards, they told us that they would mail the correct ribbon and check to us at a later date. At least we got the walk.
Meanwhile, as we completed our turn-ins, all of the leftover meat was given away to the public. I cooked extra meat so we would have a lot to give away. We made around 25 thighs, two whole chickens which were pulled and sauced, 10 racks of ribs, three butts, two 14 pound packer briskets and an additional brisket flat.
As soon as we opened our sampling buffet, our site was completely mobbed. One by one, each of our trays of meat was devoured by the public. This helped us sell rub, which was the marketing plan, although I know free food was the main motivation.
We had a great time serving the people who attended the event. All of us on the team either have worked or currently work in restaurants, and we embraced the chance to serve the Q fans. However, if we ever are lucky enough to go back to the Jack, we probably will not do it the same way, but it was awesome to get so much attention from people at the event, and they seemed to really enjoy our food and hospitality.
We met some great people, and I had the chance to meet some of the best Q’ers in the world. Being able to meet Ray Lampe AKA Dr. BBQ was a big thrill too. Also was able to spend a little bit of time with some of the other people I look up to on the competition circuit, including Steve Farrin and the Pinis of “I Smell Smoke,” Chris Hart and company from iQue, and the family from Dirty Dick’s Legless Wonders.
The “Dirty Dicks” were next to us at our very first competition back in May. That seems like a lifetime ago. They helped saved our tent and were so great to us that day in so many ways. I’m glad we were able to repay the favor a little bit by lending Richard a vegetable peeler for the “I Know Jack” event.
Sorry this has been such a long post. I have so much more to say, and so many other stories to tell. As a competition rookie to go to what I consider the Super Bowl of BBQ is a huge accomplishment, and we feel honored to have had this chance. Who knows when the next one will come, or if we will ever go again. I hope all of our fellow competitors get the same opportunity.
For a lot more pictures visit our web site at www.qhavenbbq.com
Sunday, October 29, 2006
What an exciting, exhilarating day today was. I will fill in the blanks in the coming days, as I am currently in a hotel around two hours away from Lynchburg and don't recall ever feeling quite so tired.
Here's the short of it. We had two goals coming to Lynchburg, not to finish last and to hopefully get a call in a category. Both things happened.
We finished 40th overall out of 65 teams (24th sauce, 17th cook's choice, 35th chicken, 36th ribs, 20th pork, 44th brisket. We got a call for 10th place dessert, which my wife Sheila gets 100 percent credit for. My only credit is that I tasted her dessert entry numerous times during the last few weeks as she prepared. But to hear our name called in that venue is something I will not soon forget.
The weather was perfect today, a far cry from yesterday, when it poured most of the day and was freezing at night.
We met many great Q'ers during our 3 days in Lynchburg. We also met so many great people who wandered over to our site to say hello or to watch us at work.
We gave away samples, and that attracted a few people.
We got to see some fellow New Englanders have huge success, including iQue winning both the "I know Jack about grilling" event and the cook's choice category. Also, Dirty Dick's Legless Wonders took first place chicken and 4th overall.
There is so much I want to say but I am completely exhausted. More to come....
Thursday, October 26, 2006
After a loooong drive from Elizabethton to Lynchburg (including getting lost twice) we finally rolled in to Lynchburg at around 3PM. Everyone was friendly and they led us right to our site. Fred at Jack Daniel's told me he would hook us up with a great site and he certainly did not disappoint.
Here is what our site looked like upon arrival. Will post what it looked like once decorating is complete.
Our site is around 50 feet by 50 feet, located in a high traffic area, right in front of the main entrance to the competition. Hopefully that will help us sell rub and t-shirts. We have water and power, so we will not need to use the generator we borrowed. A creek runs right behind our site. We spent around three hours setting up our site, and fortunately the rain didn't come until we were finished for the night.
We went to Crockett's in Tullahoma for dinner, and enjoyed several Lynchburg lemonades. I've decided that will be my libation of choice this weekend, with the exception of the occasional shot. I won't be drinking too much though, someone has to keep a slightly clear head.
Staying in the Hampton Inn in Tullahoma, nice place, not far from Lynchburg. I recommend the place to fellow Q'ers who are in the area. A little pricey at $140, but I'm sure everyone jacks up their prices this week.
Met Ray Lampe, aka Dr BBQ today. This was a big thrill for me, as I have read his books and have seen a lot of him on TV. He said that he knew of us and knew we were coming, with surprised me, this heavy hitter even knows that I exist.
Also saw the boys from iQue and the Dirty Dicks, was nice to reconnect with fellow New Englanders. Everyone seems to be the same as us, really just happy to be there and soaking it all in. I know this could be a once in a lifetime thing, so I'm making sure we take time to smell the roses (and the sour mash).
To our friends at Lunchmeat: If there is a team out there that deserves to be here, it is you. Lunchmeat epitomizes what I feel competitive BBQ is all about, and I really hope you get the chance to come here and experience this.
I hope we're here again with you.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Great scenery along Interstate-81 in Virginia. I did that drive many times going back and forth to college, brought back some ince memories.
More importantly, the meat is staying cold on ice in the cooler, the rental van is running like a champ, and we haven't had any real problems. Tomorrow morning, we will drive around five hours to Lynchburg. The plan is to get our setup completely done, so we can focus on the tasks at hand Friday and Saturday.
Even though we live more than a thousand miles from Lynchburg, we are expecting some guests both days of the trip. In addition to my parents, we are expecting relatives from here in Elizabethton to come down Saturday. We are also excited that Chuck and Lisa Edman are coming to visit us both days. They're a couple we met on vacation in Jamaica earlier this month who live in Shelbyville, which is close to Lynchburg. Chuck played for the Tennessee Vols football team in the late 1970's. I went to Alabama, the natural enemies of the Vols, but since he is such a good guy I am able to overlook that.
Chuck and Lisa
Also, a fellow report from my company, Metro Networks is planning to come down Friday. Her name is Mary Perren, and she is our state correspondent from Tennessee. I met her when they flew both of us out to Arizona to help with election night coverage in 2004. She's cool, hope she makes it down.
Mary Perren interviewing one of the teams at the 2005 Jack.
We are staying in a hotel in Tullahoma Thursday night, so I'll update again then.
I plan to post updates whenever the Internet is available to alow people to get updates from The Jack from a rookie team experiencing it all for the first time. While we are really just happy tobe going, we plan to put our best foot forward and try and take our cooking to another level.
After breakfast, we will head to Elizabethton, Tennessee, where we will be reconnecting and staying with relatives. Thursday, we will head down to Lynchburg to set up our site, then Friday and Saturday it will be go time.
Keep checking back for updates, hopefully I will be able to post frequently.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
I haven't posted in a while because I have been extremely busy, combined with a weeklong trip to Jamaica. While in Jamaica, we stayed at an all inclusive resort in Ocho Rios. It was a tropical paradise, and we had a great time.
While at the resort, jerk chicken and pork were served regularly. Jerk is essentially to Jamacians what BBQ is to Americans, as the meat is cooked low and slow over charcoal or wood fires with intense spice flavor. While the jerk at the resort was good, it got me thinking that I wanted to try the jerk that real Jamacians eat.
On the way to the airport after our week of vacation, I asked our taxi driver to stop somewhere that he feels serves real jerk. Around halfway between Ocho Rios and Montego Bay (around a two hour drive) the driver pulled off into a little hole in the wall along the highway. There was nothing resort about this place. There was a circular bar, and off to the right was a little cage where the jerk is prepared.
Even though English is the language used in Jamacia, the natives speak a broken, fast version that is difficult for Americans to understand. After the communication problems were worked through, we ordered 1/2 of a jerk chicken.
The cook let me have a good look at their pit. There is a little room off to the side where the charcoal is started. The fuel appeared to be standard lump charcoal.
The lit fuel is brought into the main cooking area, where it is placed in the pit. The meat is placed on a metal grid, and is covered with what appeared to be siding used in the building of houses.
The cook took the half chicken and violently hacked it up and placed it in foil for us. The total was eight dollars. I added jerk sauce and we piled back into the van and continued towards the hotel.
The chicken was tasty, extremely spicy with a little wood flavor mixed in. While it was not much different than the jerk we had at the resort, I was glad to have a chance to get some true road food in an exotic place. It was a great way to end a fantastic week in a tropical paradise, where we made new friends and got some much needed relaxation.
Now, the Jack preparation begins in earnest.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
I never would have imagined that this would be possible so soon in the team's comoetition history, but it is real. We're going to the Jack Daniel's invitational BBQ competition.
We have only competed four times, but our surprise grand championship at the New Hampshire state championship has earned us an invitation to the Jack.
I'll write more about this in the coming days and weeks leading up to the event at the end of October. If you want to help us with this once in a lifetime opportunity, visit our web site at www.qhavenbbq.com to find out how.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Mohegan Sun Casino
The last place in the world one would think they could find some pretty good BBQ would be at an Indian casino in Connecticut. However, Big Bubba’s BBQ is able to pull it off with a reasonable degree of success. While it is a little pricey, Bubba’s is the best commercial Q I have been able to find in Southeastern Connecticut, which is the region where I live.
Big Bubba’s is located upstairs in the newer part of the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut. The space is large and open with plenty of tables; along with a large bar that features several flat screen TV’s. The walls are adorned with old advertisements, and the bar area is flooded with sports pennants and banners.
Once at the table, the roll up containing the silverware is a towel, which I thought was a cool touch. Also, there is a six-pack holder on each table containing several different sauces, a Memphis BBQ sauce, a hot BBQ sauce, a Carolina mustard sauce, a hickory smoke sauce and a habanero hot sauce. Most of their Q is served dry, leaving it to the diner to choose their sauce.
I've eaten at Bubba's more than ten times and overall, I feel the BBQ is very good. For ribs, they serve Kansas City Style spares, but occasionally offer baby backs as a special. They also feature BBQ beef, pulled pork and chicken, along with Kentucky lamb. The meat has a strong, smoky flavor and a nice touch of spice. The “Big Bubbaque” is a great sampling of all their best offerings, a platter of pork, brisket, ribs, and Louisiana links. However, it’s not cheap at $24.95.
My last visit to Bubba’s, I had the two-meat combo sandwich with beef and pork. The meat was piled high and was excellent, served with a side order of potato salad and slaw. In previous visits I have sampled the ribs, and was very impressed with their chicken, which was juicy and flavorful. Mid-weeks, they offer an all you can eat ribs and chicken special, perfect for those with big appetites.
Their large menu offers much more than BBQ, with a definite slant towards southern comfort food. Steaks, burgers, fish, Po-boys, fried chicken, and even salads are all on the menu. Appetizers feature such southern staples as biscuits and gravy, hush puppies with honey butter; onion rings with bleu cheese dressing and Texas chili. They also have trash ribs, which are the burnt ends from their entrée ribs, which are a good way to sample their ribs if you’re really in the mood for something else. Look out for the cartilage though!
Haven’t tried dessert yet, usually I’m feeling too full from all the Q to partake. Offerings include pecan pie, chocolate cake and sweet potato pie.
Service is decent at the tables, but watch out for the bar. On several visits I have found the bartenders to be gruff and unaccommodating. On two different occasions, I stood at the bar for more than ten minutes before I could get bar service. Stick to the tables.
In summary, I like Big Bubba’s BBQ. It is expensive for a BBQ restaurant, but that has a lot to do with the location. If you’re in the area or are visiting the casino and have Q on your mind, it is probably worth the trip. If you live in Eastern Connecticut and want good Q, you don’t have too many other choices.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
We had a lot of success early on in Q Haven’s competition barbeque career. We won grand champion in our second competition, and it seemed like the sky was the limit. This past weekend at the Hudson Valley Rib Festival in New Paltz, New York, it became abundantly clear that we are a rookie team with a great deal to learn.
In the barbeque competition, Q Haven finished 13th overall out of 42 teams. While that looks pretty good on the surface, a deeper look at the numbers shows that without a couple of major mistakes, we could have had a banner weekend. Instead, we sat and watched as nearly 40 trophies and envelopes of prize money were passed out Saturday and Sunday, and we received none of them.
Let’s start with the ribs. I made a few minor adjustments to the recipe, which worked out extremely well. I feel the flavor is excellent, and most of the judges agreed. However, I made a serious rookie mistake. The ribs were very tender, and were very close to “falling off the bone” tenderness. While this would be great for most of the general public, BBQ judges are trained that falling off the bone tenderness is an overcooked rib. This caused two judges to punish us with low tenderness scores (one was a 5) and that cost us a call. In ribs we finished 8th.
Chicken. I just can’t figure these little things out. We took a big step backwards in chicken, even though we all thought this was our best effort yet once the box was turned in. However, it’s clear to me that I cannot figure out how to get the skin either tender or crispy enough to satisfy the judges. Our chicken finished in 31st place.
Brisket, however, was by far the biggest disappointment for me, as we had taken two second places in our first three competitions in this category. The problem started before we even arrived at the contest site. When I arrived at my butcher to pick up the brisket, he had two Certified Angus Beef briskets for me, but both were much smaller that I had asked for. My best briskets have been between 13 and 15 pounds, but these were barely eleven pounds each. Naturally, I overcooked them too, and the meat was dry.
An experienced pit boss would have changed strategy at this point, and sauced the brisket before turn in to try and mask the dryness. I turned the brisket in dry, and two judges really hammered it. The KCBS scoring system throws out the lowest score, but you cannot afford to get low scores from two of them and expect to get a call. The brisket finished in 19th place.
The real positive from the event was our improvement in pork shoulder. We came in next to last in pork in Lake Placid, so it was clear that major changes were needed. These changes were effective, and pork finished 12th out of 41 entries. That’s a big improvement, something to build on in the future.
So overall, 13th out of 42 is pretty good. But it could have been so much better without the rookie mistakes.
Our turn-in boxes have looked better, too. Overall, it’s hard to point to the boxes as a reason for our mediocre showing. Most of the appearances scores were 7’s and 8’s, with a few 9’s and only one 6. Our average appearance score was 7.6. However, the lettuce looked shoddy in several of the boxes, and we clearly left some appearance points on the table that could have helped us overall.
Without getting into too much detail, several rookie mistakes were made in the grilling competition on Saturday as well. We made swordfish with a spice rub, and I thought it tasted great, but apparently it was not the type of fish the judges were looking for. Our pork chop entry ended up being a disaster. The sausage was delicious, and it took 8th, our best finish in the event.
The steak was 100 percent my fault. I decided we should do a strip steak, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. However, many teams turned in rib eyes and prime rib, and our entry must have seemed very tough against those much more tender cuts of meat. Live and learn. We finished 13th overall out of 24 in the grilling event.
So now what?
I’m definitely bummed about our showing, and so is Sheila. I’m sure Cristiaan and Kim are not happy about it either. As pit boss, I made most of the calls that led to the low scores, and I take full responsibility for our scores. I have done a lot of soul searching in the last day and have a newfound motivation to get better.
Every competition, I learn a thing or two. This one shows me that I need to avoid the distractions that can pop up and react better to adversity on the fly.
I got really frustrated by the torrential rain Saturday night, more because we had planned to have a big feast, and it completely disrupted the evening. But now that I look back, we are there to compete, not to cook up big feasts or drink to excess. There is plenty of time for fun, but I have to keep my focus.
Now, the next competition for us might be the Jack Daniel’s World Championships at the end of October, if we are lucky enough to get our name drawn. If we do go, we will have to be a lot better than we are right now. I will not go down to Tennessee and embarrass myself at the Super Bowl of competition barbeque. While I’m sure it will be fun, it will really be a business trip and I will make sure we bring our A-game.
If we are not invited to the Jack, then our next competition will be in 2007. That will give me a lot of time to practice.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
There is meat that needs to be picked up. Along with beer, last minute supplies and groceries, our new aprons and t-shirts with Q Haven logos will be ready Thursday. Naturally, in normal Ted fashion I have compounded things and have decided to work a bar shift Thursday night (competition BBQ ain't cheap!) and additionally have to help Sheila's sister move a couch into her new condo. Thursday is already shaping up to be what I like to call a "three ring circus" day.
The good news is that after a test cook last night with Cristiaan and Kim, we are confident that we should do well in the Saturday grilling competition. We had already agreed on the pork chop recipe that will be used, but were still very much up in the air about the fish, sausage and steak entries. After trying several combinations, we are confident that we will be able to make some great stuff Saturday.
We have also been practicing for the main event, the KCBS BBQ competition Sunday. We've made some slight changes to our rib and chicken recipes that we hope will score well.
The contest is going to be a great time. There are 39 teams signed up, which will make this our largest event since we began competing in May. There are some "heavy hitters" at the event, including I Smell Smoke, who seems to win every competition they enter these days.
I Smell Smoke!
Also on hand will be Daisy Mae's BBQ, whose pit boss is a French trained, Culinary Institute of America graduate named Adam Perry Lang.
Adam Perry Lang
Between the four of us on Q Haven, we have a grand total of zero days of cooking schooling. Fortunately, foie gras and yellow-fin tuna are not categories in this weekend's events.
We are planning to camp next to Mike Lee and the Yankee BBQ Boys, and hopefully near Ward Mann and Waldo the dog from Hog Heaven BBQ. We are planning a huge feast for Saturday night, and are going to make enough food that basicly anyone who stops by will be able to feast with us. Hopefully we will have good news to report Sunday. Even if we don't win or even place in an individual category, I'm certain we will have a great time this weekend.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Even though Q Haven hasn't been competing in recent weeks, we have been active, BBQ wise. We have done several practice cooks, and have attended two events. The first was Harpoon, which was documented in an earlier post, and last weekend we went to the Brookline Backyard BBQ, where Sheila and I were judges. This was an interesting experience.
The backyard competition was run by Andy King of the Bastey Boys, who is President of the New England Barbeque Society. It is designed to get new teams involved in competitive BBQ, and I feel it was a huge success in that department. There were 19 teams, and all but two of them were competing for the first time. There were definately some creative names, including the Green Goobers, Squealing for Vengance and Smokedelic. There were only two categories, ribs and chicken wings.
The judging was a learning experience. Not to criticize the process used, but it was difficult as a judge. Each table of judges got six turn in boxes, and we had to rank them first through sixth place on appearance. That part was easy enough, but we then had to score the samples the same way for taste and tenderness. I found it difficult to score the six different samples in this way, but I did the best I could.
I was particularly interested in trying the rib turn-ins. Out of the six samples I tried, I really liked two of them. However, two of them were so bad, I could barely get a bite down. The other two were decent, one would have scored better if they removed the membrane. I tried to score as fairly and accurately as possible.
Interestingly, neither of the established teams won the contest, or the individual categories. We did hang around with the Lakeside Smokers for a while after the judging was complete. What a real nice group of people. Mike is their pit boss, and he is a real good guy. He has a great group of supporters around him too, and as a metal fabricater he built his own backwoods style smoker. I had hoped we would get to compete with them soon, but it won't be this year. They're not going to New Paltz, and we're not going to Lowell where they compete next.
Anyway, we are really looking forward to getting down to it next weekend. I miss the competition scene, and this event looks like it will be a lot of fun.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
We just had so much fun. We spent most of the day with the Yankee BBQ Boys, who are a Connecticut team like us. Their pit boss Mike Lee hosted a competition BBQ class this past April, and I attended knowing that I was going to start competing and figured I would pick up a thing or two. His class gave me the confidence to go ahead and start competing, and it was informative and helpful.
Mike’s team had not scored very well in the BBQ competition Saturday. When we got to their cooking area, they were working on the grilling competition entries. They let us get our hands a little dirty and Sheila loved helping on their turn-ins. However, we take no credit for their final products, and they scored really well. Maybe we just brought them some good karma.
They got three calls and finished third overall. I was very happy for them, and I was glad to be able to share in their day. Mike has been the most supportive person on the circuit for us, and has been very happy our team’s early success. I know they will enjoy more success in the future.
Also got to spend some time with Rich Decker and the Lost Nation Smoke Company. Rich is just a flat out great guy. He’s a big dude with a long goatee, and he always invites us into their camp for a beer and to shoot the breeze. People like Rich Decker and his team are what is good about the BBQ circuit. They score well, but don’t take it too hard when they don’t win and they always seem to have a good time.
Also got to spend a little time with Dave from Qkwannabees, Andy King from the Bastey Boys, Lunchmeat, Purple Turtle and some of the other teams there that we look up to. We also met the Porkaholics, a team that hails from Haddam, a few miles from our home in Norwich.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention that we were honored as Rookie Team of the Year by the New England Barbeque Society. It’s a great honor, and we beat out a few really good teams, including BS BBQ and Sean McCabe and Bourbon and Beale. Hopefully we will prove worthy of the title as we compete more in the future.
Also, it was nice to see I Smell Smoke celebrate their Team of the Year victory. Sheila had the observation that it was a great moment for them, to watch them all celebrate the victory with their families. They are clearly an awesome team, as proven by their massive table of trophies in front of their site.
Overall, Harpoon was a lot of fun for us, and is clearly a well run, well attended event. It is absolutely the crown jewel of New England competitions. Next year, we want to be a part of it. Hopefully, we will be able to get in.
Monday, July 17, 2006
We decided not to go to the Grill Kings competition in Long Island, NY this past weekend, and apparently that was a good decision. Very hot temperatures, and other apparent problems (including no water from Saturday afternoon until 10 Sunday morning) made it seem like this was a difficult event for the teams. Some New England teams did really well, including iQue taking grand champion and Purple Turtle taking third overall. Great job!
Our next competition isn’t for more than a month. I really want to get back to it. We didn’t do particularly well at Lake Placid, our last event, but looking back I made too much of that showing. Sure I want us to score well and win every time out, but that’s not going to happen and I realize that. I guess we had so much success so early that we figured we wouldn’t have any adversity. Wrong…..
But I have put this all in perspective. We had a great time, continued to make friends with our fellow competitors and learned some things. We had a huge feast Monday night with Ward Mann from Hog Heaven and a friend of his, along with my parents who made the trip to Lake Placid to see us in action. The organizers went out of their way to make it a great experience for us.
This weekend, Sheila and I are planning to head up to the Harpoon BBQ Competition as civilians. We have volunteered to judge in the grilling competition Sunday, but will probably just end up hanging around and taking it all in. I am looking forward to spending a little time with Mike Lee of the Yankee BBQ Boys, who was one of the people who helped me make the decision to compete in the first place. I have a feeling they will have a strong showing at Harpoon.
Interestingly, even though we have competed in three events, Sheila and I have never been to a competition as a paying visitor. Also, some of the teams will be vending, so it will be a good chance to sample some of the stuff other teams are making. However, I’m sure they are not going to put their competition level food out there for "spies" like me.
Maybe, we will take "Rookie Team of the Year" honors, which will be awarded after Harpoon. According to my calculations, if the Qkwannabes do not score a 625 overall in either the grilling or the BBQ competition, we will win RTOY. Not sure what (if anything) we would get for that honor, but just the recognition would be just fine with me. However, a trophy would be better!
Thursday, July 06, 2006
After taking third place in Rhode Island and Grand Champions in New Hampshire in our first two competitions, Q Haven finished a disappointing 9th place out of 16 teams in the first annual I Love BBQ Festival in Lake Placid, NY July 3rd and 4th.
We got no calls, which means we didn’t finish in the top 5 of any of the four categories, which are chicken, pork ribs, pork shoulder and beef brisket. I know that “you can’t win ‘em all,” and that we certainly aren’t going to have success every time out, but this one hurt.
All along, I have been telling the team that we shouldn’t really worry about the results, and that we just need to put our best foot forward and do our best every time out and let the chips fall where they may. We all worked really hard at this contest, and really felt that we gave the judges some great food. Maybe that’s why I still have a knot in my stomach, more than 24 hours after the award ceremony.
However, we had a really great time at this event. The people who organized the contest really wanted to make it about us, the competitors. They made sure we had everything we needed, and just seemed excited about the whole thing. Lake Placid is a neat little town, and we competed right in the Olympic skating oval where history was made in 1980 and Eric Heiden won five gold medals.
We met some really great people, including Rick Pruitt from North Carolina and his wife. They traveled a long way to be at this event, and I hope they enjoyed the northern hospitality!
We also got to spend some time with freinds we met at the New Hampshire competition, including Ward Mann from Hog Heaven. We also finally got to meet the famous Waldo, Ward's loyal teammate.
I promise that if they hold another competition next year, I will definitely come back. It’s a long drive for sure, but Lake Placid is a place I want to visit again.
Back to the cooking.
Everyone who tried our ribs raved about them. Everyone, that is, except the judges. We finished seventh in ribs. Here’s the turn in.
I think the ribs were a little overcooked, and the presentation could have been better, either of those things or both probably cost us a call.
Chicken, the skin remained a problem for us. The taste was really good, but we need to solve this rubbery skin issue. Took 9th in chicken.
The pulled pork, we decided to just use shredded, sauced meat. Mistake. Looking back, we didn’t include enough bark in the turn in, and we completely tanked pork. Finished 15th out of 16. We had tons of leftovers afterwards from cooking two eight pound butts, and everyone who sampled the pork afterwards told us that it was great. I guess a lot of people were just being nice. Here’s the pork.
It was the brisket that really bothered me. It was a little on the dry side, but it had such a good flavor and smoke ring, I didn’t think there was any way in the world it wouldn’t get a call. We just missed the call, taking 6th, but when they called I Smell Smoke (again) as the winner for brisket it was like someone stuck a knife in my back. I still don’t believe it that we didn’t get a call. One judge gave it a perfect score of 9-9-9, another gave it an 8-9-9. Two others didn’t like it as much and gave it 6’s and 7’s, and that did us in. Here’s the brisket.
Even though we didn’t do very well, I’m not planning to make huge changes for our next competition, which will be the Hudson Valley Ribfest in New Paltz, NY August 19th and 20th. Hopefully we will get back on track at that event.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
Our next competition is coming up quickly. We will be heading to Lake Placid, New York and competing in the I love BBQ festival that is being held in the olympic skating oval July 3rd and 4th. This will be a smaller event than the New Hampshire competition where we won Grand Champions. There will probably be around 20 teams, as opposed to the 35 in New Hampshire. I'm really looking forward to spending a few days in Lake Placid, as I have never been there and have heard it is really nice.
I also am viewing this trip as a mini-vacation, which I desperately need. The last two weeks, I have been covering the court martial of a U.S. Coast Guard Academy cadet, who was accused of rape by his former girlfriend. The case was fascinating, but it was long hours and court started early each day, which doesn't agree with me. Also, the last two weeks, I have worked 5 nights each week at my part time gig bartending at the New Haven Country Club. While I like the job and the $$, working over 90 hours a week is a real mental and physical drain.
"OK, enough whining Ted."
It's all out of my system now. But I really am looking forward to the trip. Hopefully we can bring home a little more hardware for the trophy case.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Grand Champions, New Hampshire State BBQ Championship. It sure has a nice ring to it. But who would have possibly believed it would happen in our second competition? Not me, that’s for sure. Especially with the competition that was at this event, seasoned and well-respected teams like iQue, Lunchmeat and Lost Nation, among others. But somehow, we did it. But not without a little bit of adversity and a whole lot of mud.
Big trophies make it all worthwhile.
We arrived at the Anheuser Busch Brewery in Merrimack, NH Friday feeling like we were ready to have a good weekend. We had a competition under our belts, finishing third in a smaller field in Rhode Island. I bought two new EZ Up tents, which we figured would provide all the needed shelter from the rain we were expecting from the forecasts. Boy, were we wrong.
We got set up and had a leisurely Friday night, sampling some BBQ from one of the vendors and listening to the live bands play. However, at around 9:30 PM, the skies opened up, and the rain would come down in heavy doses for close to the next 24 hours. Instead of camping, we made an executive decision to spend Friday night at a nearby hotel. Good move.
The ground was already wet when we arrived, but once the heavy rains started falling, our entire camp turned into a quagmire.
The worst part is that we were all very unprepared, footwear-wise. Most of us were wearing sneakers, and before long Saturday all of our feet were completely soaked. In the afternoon, Sheila, Kim and Kathleen headed off to Wal-Mart in search of proper footwear. They returned with big ol’ rubber boots for everyone. This rejuvenated us and got us in much better spirits for the rest of the weekend.
Meanwhile, we entered the NEBS grilling competition for the first time. We had a practice cook the week before, and were pretty confident that we could do well. Overall, it wasn’t bad for a first time. However, we tanked our fish entry, scallops with a pineapple glaze, which the judges scored 22nd out of 26 entries.
We almost got a call for skirt steak, taking 6th. The other entries, grilled fruit and pork chops, finished in the middle of the pack. The fruit was bananas that we cooked in the skin with a brown sugar/cinnamon topping that took 12th. The pork chops had a great marinade Cristiaan came up with, but the pork was a little dry and that probably hurt us and we took 11th. We finished 12th overall out of 24 for the event. Not bad, we learned a few lessons and will hopefully improve next time.
Finally the rain stopped Saturday night, but camp was a mess. But everyone remained in good spirits, the prep for Sunday went well, and we all soldiered on.
To back up a little, our team is named Q Haven and consists of myself (the large one with the apron), my wife Sheila (Doors shirt), my brother Cristiaan (Jack Daniel's shirt), his girlfriend Kim (between me and Cris) and my sister Kathleen (Blonde on far left). Unlike Rhode Island, everyone took the weekend off and came up for the whole time, so I wasn’t alone for the overnights Friday and Saturday.
Sunday started very well. The smokers had held their temperature throughout the night so I didn’t have to get up and I actually got some sleep. More on the smoker issue. I use Weber Smokey Mountain cookers for all four BBQ entries. I also use a product called the Maverick ET-73, which is a remote smoker thermometer. The Maverick has a feature where you can set it to sound an alarm if the smoker gets too hot or too cold. The remote goes right next to me in the tent, so I can sleep knowing that if a problem arises the alarm will go off. Pretty cool product.
The WSM’s are cool too, because you can set them up to cook for long periods of time with very little maintenance needed. It really simplifies things, which is a plus if you’re a dummy like me. Many larger smokers need wood and/or charcoal added every hour. Large smokers are helpful if you are catering or cooking a whole pig, but I feel you don’t need all that cooking space (and expense) cooking for six judges.
More adversity. Around an hour before the turn ins were set to begin, I realized that I forgot the blades to my electric knife at home. Cristiaan and Kim went to buy a new one, and between having trouble finding one and finding a place to park upon their return, they didn’t get back until around 12:30. Cristiaan is the artist behind our turn in boxes, along with being the brains behind the grilling competitions and a tireless worker. We managed to complete the boxes for chicken and ribs without him, and they came out pretty well.
Chicken we scored 17th out of 34. However, I felt our scores were pretty good. They were mostly 7’s and 8’s with a few 9’s. Nine is the highest possible score, and six is considered the starting point for the judges. This being the first category, the judges must have been giving really high scores. Maybe they were hungry. Here is our chicken turn in.
I flat out tanked the ribs in Rhode Island. Made mistakes, got away from what I knew, and scored poorly. I decided to return to my old recipe for ribs, with one big exception. I didn’t use any downloaded rub recipes, I made my own on the fly. I also cooked 6 racks of ribs instead of four for more selection, and we took first place. Unbelievable! I was floored, did not expect to even place, let alone take first in ribs. Here’s the finished product.
Next was pulled pork. We decided to have a little fun with this entry. Everyone contributed to the creating of the turn in box. We had slices, chunks, and shredded pork in there. It scored ok, 13th place.
Brisket was where we excelled in Rhode Island, taking second. I used the exact same procedure this time, with a nearly identical piece of meat. However, when I cut into it, the meat seemed a little dry to me. The meat was really tender though, and it had an awesome smoke ring. Looking at the picture, the turn in box seems a little messy to me, but the judges liked the overall product and it took second.
The big scores in ribs and brisket carried us, and we took grand champion by two-ten-thousandths of a percentage point. What a great experience. This earns us an invitation to the American Royal in Kansas City and (possibly) to the Jack Daniel’s in Tennessee. Apparently there are two state championships in New Hampshire, which I think is ridiculous, but it’s out of our hands. If that second contest goes on and gets 15 entries, then whoever wins that event will be in a drawing with us to see who goes to the Jack. That event is not a big name event like this one so I guess that improves our chances a little.
Even if we don’t get to go to the Jack, it will not take away from this win. I knew I could cook a little, but never in my wildest dreams did I think we would have this much success so soon. It never could have happened without the great people around me, probably four of the people I know better than anyone else and was so glad to share this with them. They’re family, but also great friends and I hope they know how much I appreciate their efforts.
We also made some new friends this weekend. Ward from Hog Heaven was great to us, and his delivery of sausage/Vermont cheddar English muffins was a great way to start our Sunday morning. Also, Dave and his partner from Burnt Offerings and the Q Wannabe’s team were really nice to us, giving us beer and shrimp too!
Next up, Lake Placid. We’ll be BBQ’ing in the Olympic skating oval over the July 4th holiday. I can’t wait!