Wednesday, August 01, 2007


We finally got a chance to find out first hand why everyone says the Harpoon New England BBQ Championships is the best contest in the Northeast.

Harpoon certainly lived up to its billing.

We arrived at the Harpoon Brewery at around noon Friday. I had wanted to drive up Thursday night in order to get a good vending spot, but was informed by the organizers that we could not get on site until Friday at 11AM. Apparently we were the only team who got that directive, as when we arrived, around 30 teams were already in place and set up. No big deal though, as we got a good spot just off the main drag and near the beer tents.

Harpoon is basicly backwards compared to the other New England BBQ Society events. Usually, NEBS has the grilling event on Saturday and BBQ Sunday. Harpoon has BBQ Saturday and grilling Sunday.

With the BBQ Saturday, we had to immediately begin prepping once we got our site set up. As usual, we brought way to much gear, something I have been trying to avoid. I'm getting better though.

Friday night was fun. Chris Hart and iQue cooked up a taco dinner for the cooks, which was great. It was nice to not have to worry about dinner and focus on the more important task at hand: drinking as much of the free beer as possible. Soon after we arrived, some Harpoon folks delivered three cases of their fine products, and we ended up getting two more the next day. Also, with our welcome packet, we received a big stack of drink tickets. Needless to say, there was no shortage of drinking going on.

There was no shortage of Brethren on hand. Visited with Vinny of Bad Bones BBQ, and finally got to meet the Poobah, Phil, who runs the BBQ Brethren web site. We talked for a while in his competition trailer, which is really cool. Also got to hang around with Willie B, the Champlain Pit Crew and many others.

Willy B

Friday night was a lot of fun. We set the WSM's on Minion method autopilot and cruised around the venue. Didn't party too hard, visited with a lot of teams and Cristiaan and I focused on making sure we didn't lose the temperature on the WSM's. At Lake Placid we all went to sleep and woke up to a 180 degree pit.

After a few hours of sleep, Saturday was all about the BBQ competition and vending.

Harpoon is the one event in the region where the teams are allowed to vend BBQ to the public. I decided that since we have the manpower available with my sister Kathleen and her boyfriend Jon, that we would try our hands at vending. I didn't want to go too crazy cooking and end up not selling all our food, so I didn't bring a whole lot to vend. However, our efforts were very successful, and we sold every bit of our Q, which was awesome.

I wish we could sell food at all our competitions, it would be a great way to offset costs.

However, the vending may have been a little bit of a distraction from the real task at hand, trying to make a strong showing in the BBQ contest. We did pretty well, finishing 7th overall in a very strong field of teams. But I really wanted to do better, and get one of those really nice beer tap trophies.

For chicken, I have completely blown up my old recipe and am developing a new one. However, with any recipe change, there are growing pains. We are now sponsored by Plowboys BBQ and their Yardbird Rub, and this was our first competition using it. The chicken really tasted great, but the appearance was way too dark. Even though it was just smoked, it looked burned, and it didn't score well. Chicken took 22nd place, our worst score of the day.

Next were ribs. I missed the mark a little bit with the flavor here, having made a subtle rub change. However, they were still damn good in my biased opinion. They took 12th place, even though one jerk judge gave them a 7-5-5. I get annoyed when five of the judges give mostly 7's, 8's and 9's then one gives a 5-5. I know the low scores get dropped but it is still annoying. Ribs were 12th place.

Pork was next. I'm very happy with the pork right now. The rub-injection-smoke-sauce combination is working well for us. I started using this recipe at the Jack last year and it was 20th there. Since then, we've had pork calls in almost every event, 2nd at the Winter Sizzler, 2nd in New Hampshire, and at Harpoon a call for 7th place. Was our only call of the weekend.

The final category was brisket. We cooked two briskets, and neither came out particularly well. Both were a little dry, so I ended up saucing it for turn ins. The flavor was pretty good, and brisket took 13th place.

Overall, 7th place is not that bad, especially with the impressive list of teams that was on hand.

My plan was simple, focus on the BBQ competition, then party hard Saturday night. Cristiaan was going to completely handle the grilling on Sunday, so I was really relaxed for a change. After all the stress of planning for the event, working my full time job as a news bureau chief for Westwood One/Metro Networks in Hartford, and putting in long hours at my part time job as a bartender at the New Haven Country Club, I was ready to get ripped.

We hung around with several teams Saturday night. Also, Mike Boisvert and Kris Eastman of Lakeside Smokers were up to judge, and we got to party with them. It was great to see them for a while, and we're looking forward to spending time with them in Maine this weekend.

We also got to have some drinks and Jello shots with the event grand champions, Lunchmeat. Michelle, Gary, Sully and the rest of their team have always been so nice to us since we started competing last year. After numerous reserve grand championships, they now are officially going to the Jack. I'm really happy for them, I know they will have a great time and represent New England well. Barrrh-bahhh-quueee!

Also got to spend some time with Robert Fernandez of the White Trash BBQ blog, who was up for the weekend to judge. Nice guy, and I enjoy his blog. He updates almost every day, unlike me....

Things took a turn for the strange late at night. I went in for a tour of the brewery sometime after midnight, but grew bored pretty quickly in my intoxicated state and left. By then, most of the teams had packed it in and wrapped up their parties. I found Cristiaan back at our camp, and we decided to go check out the camping area down by the Connecticut River to see if anyone was still partying.

Down by the river, there were a bunch of people hanging out by a bonfire in the center of this strange circle made up of these really tall, wooden stick figures playing instruments. I know that makes very little sense, so here is a picture of it.

They were mostly people who work at the brewery and members of bands performing at the festival. They had a guitar and were just sitting around the fire, playing music, laughing and drinking. They took us in and it was a great way to finish up the evening.

Sunday was the grilling contest. Cristiaan came up with the recipes for all four categories, allowing me to focus on the BBQ and vending for the weekend. The first category was chef's choice, for which he decided to cook skirt steak with a green peppercorn sauce. I thought it was good, and the presentation was really nice. The judges agreed on the presentation, but panned it overall. 29th Place

Next was wings. Cristiaan grilled the wings with a honey bourbon glaze. I didn't get to taste one, and they scored 19th.

Sausage was next. I believe it was maple glazed sausage patties, and I believe it took 22nd.

The final category was pork chops. This was our best showing in the grilling competition, taking 12th place.

Overall, we were 24th in the grilling. Certainly not what we expected, but what can you do? I felt bad for Cristiaan, because he put a lot of work into the planning and cooking. But I'm sure it will just motivate him to improve.

After the breakdown, we went down to the river and cooled off before hitting the road. It was the perfect finish to a great weekend.


The BBQ Guy said...

I keep seeing folks talk about Yardbird Rub. Where can I get some?

Ted Lorson said...

You can buy Yardbird Rub online at Hawgeyes BBQ

Or, you can purchase it from us at any BBQ competition we are attending.