Monday, July 27, 2009


Cooked one of my favorite contests, last weekend, the Harpoon New England BBQ Championships in Windsor, Vermont. It's a weekend of cooking, friends and beer, beer beer. It was our third Harpoon, and as it had in previous years, the event did not disappoint.

The plan was for me to leave Thursday in order to get to the site in the afternoon and save some good spots for us and other teams.

The trip started off poorly Thursday, as I didn't get more than 10 minutes away from home before I had trouble with the trailer tires, again. I was adding air to the 4 trailer tires when the valve stem just blew off and whizzed past me like a rocket. Further inspection revealed that all four tires had dry rot on the valve stems, so I went over to an auto shop in Colchester and they replaced all four in around 15 minutes, and I was back on the road.

Unfortunately, that whole deal set me back a few hours. By the time I made it up to the contest site, it was after nine PM. One of my main motivations in getting up there so early was to have a choice of sites. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived, most of the sites I had my eye on were either taken by teams that were already there or were roped off.

My choices were: towards the front gate on the main road, a single spot in the high volume vending area, or way back in what is known as "the ghetto," back by the port-o-johns. I didn't want to be near the gate or in the ghetto, so I ended up taking the spot on the main drag. While I had planned to do a decent amount of vending, I did not think we would have enough food to justify being in that spot. But I felt it was either that spot or risk taking food home from lack of traffic, so I took that spot anyway. And we handled the crowds really well. Our site....

For vending, my plan was to cook ABT's, stuffed jalapenos. They are labor intensive, but I had a feeling that customers would love them, which they did. We ran out of them quickly, and even had to put a sign up "no more jalapenos!!!" because people kept asking for them. We also cooked ribs, and sold our extra competition meat too. We did end up selling out.
We also had Rick Westhaver, AKA "Little Dick" on hand to help with our vending. He's only 15, but has been going to contests for almost 15 years and the kid really did a great job for us. He knows his stuff, and don't be surprised if he starts winning contests as soon as he is old enough to cook himself.
Back to Thursday night, which was nice. There were not too many teams there, as most who arrived set up and went to hotels, and I had the camper to myself. Having a one year old boy, there are very few times when you can shut your phone off and just sleep in, which is exactly what I did. I did have to listen to the incessant sound of rain pounding the top of the camper all night, a reminder that this is a contest in the Northeast, where it always seems to rain.

At Harpoon, the KCBS competition is Saturday, and the NEBS grilling contest is Sunday. This is backwards from most contests in the Northeast, where grilling is Saturday and BBQ is Sunday.

Anyway, the KCBS contest is one I would rather forget. Nothing was either terrible or spectacular, it all was pretty much middle of the road. The bummer for us is that we had friends there who had never been to a contest before, and would have loved to give them something to cheer about at the awards. But no calls....

We did much better at the grilling contest.

I really wanted to do well in the grilling contest this year. As a team we have put up some really bad performances in grilling, and I wanted to reverse that trend. In my mind, I really wanted to win the grilling contest. I had only cooked two BBQ contests this year, and did not expect to be able to contend with a couple of top area teams that have been really nailing it lately in KCBS, but grilling is always wide open. And if you win Harpoon grilling, you get:

- One of the coolest trophies out there, which features a working Harpoon tap

- Free entry to next year's Harpoon contest, which will be at least $300
- $500 prize money

A pretty good prize package for a grilling contest for sure. I absolutely felt that we could compete for the win, and I wanted it badly. We came close.

Sheila and I talked a ton about grilling leading up to the contest. We settled on recipes that I felt would score well, plain and simple. Not trying to set trends, no experiments, just scores. The categories were lamb, beef, fish and chef's choice. Around 30 teams grilled.

For lamb, we cooked lamb chops. Got some nice chops, hit them with salt, pepper, fresh rosemary (thanks Jed) and some olive oil. They grilled up really nice. I had planned to hit them with a little mint jelly at the end, but it just looked horrible to me so I turned them in unsauced. Did ok, was 12th.

Next was beef. I did beef short ribs. They came out a little tough for my liking, but they tasted great. I had initially planned to turn in the ones that were all the same size, but sacrificed appearance in order to get the best, meatiest ones in the box. Worked out well in the end, took 2nd place.

Next was the fish, where we cooked salmon. This came out good too, took 6th place. Wrapping things up was chef's choice, which we did chicken wings. The wings were good, but it was the appearance that carried the day. Took 6th place.

So overall, we were reserve grand champions. Came close, but just wasn't enough to beat I Smell Smoke!!!, who swept both contests for the weekend. Even though we didn't win, it felt great to take RGC, especially after not doing well in the BBQ contest and dealing with a lot of adversity during the overnight hours Saturday into Sunday. It was a much needed confidence boost.

I stayed over alone at the site Sunday night. I had heard that in previous years, Sunday night had been a lot of fun, with many teams staying over and extending a great weekend by one more day. Unfortunately, pretty much everyone left this year. It was kind of sad to watch everyone break down and leave. We had just taken reserve and I really wanted to celebrate. At least a few stayed, including several members of the Lunchmeat team, along with Sean McCabe of Bourbon and Beale. Thanks to Lunchmeat for feeding me! It was a low key, relaxing night. I also hung around with Dr. Gonzo for the first time Sunday night. I had met him before but had never spent any real time with him. A really funny and interesting guy.

Before the sun went away Sunday, me, McCabe and Dr Gonzo walked down to the Path of Life Garden and the Connecticut River. I always make a point to go down there at some point during the contest. It is a really beautiful and strange place. If you want to see something really strange, venture down there after midnight on Saturday of BBQ weekend.

Got up Monday, packed up and was on the road by 9AM. Fortunately, this time I had an uneventful ride home, with no mechanical problems. It was great to see Max again, he stayed home and I really missed him. We stayed in touch via Blackberry though.

No comments: