Saturday, October 10, 2009

The American Royal

Got back from the American Royal a few days ago. It was my first time at the Royal, and if I ever go cook it myself I will now have a really good understanding of what it is all about.

Several weeks ago, Brendan of Transformer BBQ asked if I would be interested in helping to drive out to KC with him. This would be a different experience for me for sure. With my own team, I am the one who does all the planning, shopping, driving and most of the work, so I was not sure how I would handle being a spare part. But I decided that it would be a good experience and that if I could help Brendan, it would be worth it.

So the plan was to leave Brendan's in Canton, Massachusetts Wednesday morning 9/30. We would drive to outside Buffalo NY, where we would be picking up Brendan's trailer and Mike of Giggling Pigs, who would be driving out with us. We drove straight through to Kansas City, only stopping for gas and quick bites to eat. It took around 27 hours.

Once in KC, we went to the American Royal site and dropped off the trailer. Many of the teams were already there setting up, and it was clear that this was no normal BBQ contest. You always hear that it is the largest contest in the world, 500 teams, etc, but until you see it you can't really grasp the enormity of it. It is truly impressive.

Despite our exhaustion from the drive, we went to lunch at Oklahoma Joe's. Stephanie Wilson of The Slabs works there and at the adjoining Kansas City BBQ Store. Steph had set us up with an awesome welcome lunch, complete with ribs, brisket, burnt ends and sides. It was a great feast and an awesome way to kick off a long weekend of BBQ.

Then it was back to the site to start getting ready for the weekend. For the record, I didn't plan or pack properly for this trip. I knew that sleeping arrangements would be "potluck" for me, as the RV on our site was full. Also, KC was hosting the Royal, a NASCAR race and a Chief's football game, so getting a hotel room was pretty much out. I didn't pack a pillow, blanket or a towel. I bought a towel along the way, and it ended up being my pillow for the weekend in my various sleeping locations.

My mood improved greatly Friday when I finally was able to take a shower, my first in more than two days.

The cooking I was really not a part of. Mike and Kris of Lakeside Smokers were flying in to cook the invitational contest Saturday, while Transformer was cooking the open contest Sunday. They both have their own way of doing things and my goal was not to get in the way. I did try to help out wherever possible, doing dishes, straightening up, etc.
Friday night at the Royal was just crazy. That's the only way to describe it. Many of the teams hold parties, some are small affairs, some much larger. In fact, some of them have rock bands or DJ's, with huge crowds resembling a college bar scene. This was especially true in an area known as the "dark side." It's a section of the contest site that is located under a highway overpass, where the hardest partying takes place.

The Darkside

Anyway, the cooking Saturday seemed to go fine. I got to taste some of Lakeside's food and thought it was all really good, especially the brisket. Unfortunately, Lakeside didn't get any calls, but they finished 27th overall, which is pretty impressive considering that there were 119 contest winning teams entered, really the best of the best.

The open contest was Sunday, with around 500 teams cooking. Both Saturday and Sunday, I was the box runner for Yabba Dabba Que. Their site was a walk of more than five minutes to where the turn ins were, so needless to say I got my exercise.

Eric Mitchell, Yabba Dabba Que

In the end, the New England teams did not fare very well in the open BBQ contest. The only call was for 9th overall for I Smell Smoke!!!, which itself is very impressive. Yabba Dabba Que also got a perfect 180 score for their dessert entry, which was only good for 5th place, as there were a total of six 180s given in the category.
I prepared the potato entry for Transformer in the side dish category, and it didn't do very well, finishing 104th out of 130 entries.

Once the awards were over, within minutes we were back in the truck and headed east. Another 26 hours later, we arrived at Brendan's in Massachusetts, and two hours after that I was home. That was some hard core traveling for sure.
All photos stolen from Lakeside Smokers. For tons more pics visit his Picasa site HERE.

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