We were the last team to arrive at the contest site, which was located in a parking lot of the Warwick Mall. The only site left was one in the back of the parking lot, but overall it was fine. We were located in between “Dirty Dick and the Legless Wonders” and “Big Boned BBQ,” two more experienced teams. They were kind not to laugh at Sheila and I as we pulled up and began putting our setup together. It must have been mildly amusing.
Our tent was a problem from the beginning. We had trouble getting it up in the first place, and within the hour the Rhode Island winds that were whipping snapped part of the tent. The people from Dirty Dick and Big Boned BBQ all jumped in and helped us save the tent, which was greatly appreciated. The rigging we were able to do saved the tent, and it barely survived the weekend. This is what I get for buying anything important from Wal-Mart.
Once we got things set up and stable, life was better and we got down to the part I know, the cooking. I had all of the recipes and timetables ready to go, so once the fire was going and the pork and brisket were on, we could relax.
It was certainly intimidating looking around at some of the other teams. Some of them had these massive, expensive smokers, trailers complete with kitchens, and nice tents. We came complete with two Weber Smokey Mountains (around $200 each), a Weber kettle, a $79 pop up tent from Wal-Mart, a few tables and our Sirius radio (a necessity). Needless to say we felt a little inadequate.
The overnight hours did not go well. I brought an air mattress to sleep underneath our pop-up tent. My wife Sheila has been very supportive of my efforts to start competing, but she has her limits and drove home to sleep there. The rest of our team (my brother Cristiaan and my sister Kathleen) both had to work Saturday night and would not be arriving until Sunday. So, I was alone to suffer through a windy night with temperatures in the 40’s. Miserable.
Once the serious cooking started Sunday, it was challenging but a whole lot of fun. As a new team, the last thing we wanted was to be late with any of our turn-ins. So, we were early with every one. Two times, Kathleen said that she had to wait until the turn in time started to hand over the container.
The first category was chicken, which we did pretty well and scored 6th out of 21 teams.
Next came ribs, which usually is one of my strengths, but I knew that this would not go well. Long story short, I bought bad ribs and overcooked them, and we finished 15th out of 21.
Pulled pork was next. The bark was great, but some of the meat we felt was a little flavorless. Finished middle of the pack, 12th out of 21 here.
Then, came the brisket.
As soon as I cut into the brisket, I knew it was special. The meat was juicy and tender, and the smoke ring was perfect. It was so good, that I completely abandoned plans to put a little sauce on it. The judges agreed with my assessment, and we took second in brisket, which is a big accomplishment for a rookie team. Even bigger, we finished in third place overall for the entire contest, which really stunned me. I never expected to score so well our first time out of the box.
While I handled most of the real cooking and all the planning, several people made key contributions that helped make the weekend such a success. Obviously my wife Sheila, who has been my biggest supporter and taster, and who was able to keep her temper in check as the expenses mounted over the last few weeks.
My brother Cristiaan was only there for the last few hours, but he is a restaurant lifer and really helped with the presentation of our turn in containers. No doubt this helped our appearance scores. He also knows food inside out, and from the second we finished our turn in he was convinced the judges would score the brisket well. He was surprised it didn’t win.
My sister Kathleen had one simple but very important job, to deliver our turn in containers to the judge’s table. She did a great job, and the high scores for appearance on all categories proved that she got the boxes there just as we intended them to be.
More big thanks go to my parents, who have been extremely supportive of us throughout. Everyone, including Sheila’s friend Sabrina and her boyfriend Rob, pitched in and helped us get the place cleaned up and packed the cars. Thanks all!
We will be cooking at another contest in June in New Hampshire, which should be more competitive with a lot more teams. That should be a lot of fun, and we’ll see whether our strong showing in Rhode Island was a fluke or if we are the “real deal.”