Friday, June 26, 2009

Merrimack, The Rock-n-Ribfest

Had a great time at the New Hampshire Rock-n-Ribfest last week in Merrimack, New Hampshire. The contest went off exactly as I thought it would, very large crowds, tough competition from great teams, and a lot of fun, and my good friends Mike and Kris Boisvert won their first grand championship. But for me, there was no shortage of chaos.

The drive up and set up were largely uneventful, although as usual it took me forever to get out of the house and I left two hours later than planned. But I got to the site well before the four p.m. cutoff, as they would not let any teams drive in or out once the gates open to the public. Mike from Lakeside Smokers was able to save a spot for us next to them, which was great.

Friday night brought what I hope will become a regular thing, "Friday Night Movie Night." Brendan of Transformer BBQ brought his projector, and the night's screening on the side of Mike's RV was "Best in Show," which was extremely funny.

We also had a great potluck dinner Friday, which was highlighted by Mighty Swine Dining BBQ's paella.

Saturday was the grilling contest, which was supposed to be very easy for me. The plan was for four of my family members to each cook one category, and I was going to hang out with Max. However, my Mom forgot a key ingredient to her dish, so I had to run off to the supermarket, which entailed a mile walk to the car and a mile walk back. Usually it is me sending someone to the store to get something that I forgot, so I guess this was a taste of my own medicine.

Then when I got back, I ended up starting charcoal, doing dishes and other stuff for the event. It's what I love doing, but was not according to the plan.

The first category was shrimp, handled by my sister Jenny. Not sure of the exact recipe, but it was an Asian style grilled shrimp. I thought it was really good and the box looked great, but the shrimp was a little overcooked, 24th place.

Next was the ribeye steak. My brother Cristiaan handled this category, grilling the ribeyes with some kind of alcohol reduction. It was good, but missed by a little bit and came in 12th.

Next was the sausage category. With this being an open garnish contest, my Mom cooked her sausage bread, which is loved at family functions. It was really good, but we just kind of ran out of time. It would have been much better if we were able to cook it for around 5 minutes longer, then rest for 10 minutes before slicing. My hopes for this to do well rose when the contest reps said they were bummed that they didn't get to try it when it came through the tent. However, it finished somewhere in the 20's (score sheets are in the camper).

The last category was Sheila's, chicken wings. The good part of her having this category is that she cooked wings numerous times in the weeks leading up to the contest. That made me happy.

She settled on a grilled Buffalo wing in the end. They came out really good, and got a nearly perfect appearance score (all 9's and one 8), but just missed a call by coming in 6th.

Saturday afternoon and evening was prepping for the BBQ contest Sunday, and more hanging out. Between our site and Lakeside Smokers next door, there were a lot of people around. Things turned messy when my barefooted brother stepped on a BBQ tool that I use to mess with hot charcoal was stuck in the ground next to one of the cookers. He badly cut his toe, but decided that it was not bad enough to warrant a trip to the hospital, against the advice of a paramedic at the scene.

The prep and overnight cooking progressed fine. Even though I hadn't cooked a KCBS contest in nine months, I felt the timing of everything went great.

But clearly something was wrong.

Throughout Sunday morning, I just felt like something wasn't right. My optimism came back a little while cooking the chicken. The process I have been developing is really starting to work, and the cook went really well. It just missed the mark, taking 6th place, our best finish of the day.

The ribs were just uneven. I cooked four racks, and only two of them were any good. The box didn't look that great, and I just was not blown away by the way the ribs turned out. Neither were the judges, the ribs were 25th.
The pork, well this was my disaster. I am not going into detail, but I ruined the pork and could not save it. 32nd place, right where it belonged.

The brisket was probably the only place I am a little bit disappointed. I cooked two briskets, one was a little overdone, but the other was better. Tenderness was right on, but it was a little dry. Came in 14th, not awful but it confirmed that we would be shut out of the awards completely for the weekend.

So in the end, we were 16th overall. Having Lakeside Smokers win their first grand championship and what appears to be an auto qualifier for the Jack, really made up for it. I could not be more proud of Mike. He has worked so hard, practiced, learned, practiced some more and now has achieved a grand championship, winning a contest that was cooked by pretty much all of the best teams in the region. Hey Mike, congrats again!
Also, Max was on hand all weekend. He really was great, but came down with an ear infection. Not sure whether being at the contest had anything to do with it, as he has had them before, but it couldn't have helped.

The weather held out for most of the weekend, but Sunday afternoon it got messy. There was some moderate rain, our breakdown took forever, and the awning on the camper broke. Then, when I finally got everything ready to go, I discovered that one of the doors to the truck was ajar, and the battery was dead. Two jump starts later, I was finally on my way home.

I'm just going to chalk it up as a bad weekend, cooking wise. But it was great in so many other ways. Now, a week from today, Max, Sheila and I will be heading up to Lake Placid for the I Love BBQ Festival. It's a great event, and I hope to improve on the weak finish in New Hampshire for sure. Can't really do a whole lot worse.

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