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