Monday, August 22, 2011

Saratoga Springs

As soon as I pulled out of the Harpoon parking lot I began thinking about what to do next. I knew there was a Friday-Saturday contest five days later in Saratoga Springs, with a relatively small field and $12,000 in prize money. Decided, why not make the drive up there and throw a dart at the dartboard? Figured that even on a bad day we could win enough of the prize money to cover fuel costs. Unfortunately, all we won was gas money.

Since my work days off are Friday-Saturday, didn't have to worry about getting time off, which is helpful. I can get Sundays off but don't like to dump that on my bosses on short notice.

Got to the site, which was a harness racing track and casino. Looked like a nice place, although I didn't explore at all.

As soon as I got the trailer unpacked and the basic set up done, the skies opened up. Naturally. Fortunately it poured for 15 minutes and and was great the rest of the two days.

The contest site itself was great. It was the first time I have ever met the organizer Arlie Bragg, but I knew going in that he runs some serious events. I wish more organizers had come up to see how he runs things, as the guy clearly knows how to take care of the teams. There was awesome power, as my air conditioner was on from the moment we arrived until I pulled out to leave and we had no problems. He also built a fenced in area with a full restaurant dish washing station, a commercial ice cooler filled with bags and bags of ice, and ash dump exclusively for the teams. As contest setups went this guy is first class.

Our site.

We were set up with Meat@Slims next to us and Sean Keever and Big Guns BBQ behind us. Couldn't have asked for better neighbors.

Sheila had to work all weekend and did not make the trip, but we made some basic garnish boxes and I brought them to the site, where they were transferred to the actual boxes. This was our first time trying this method and we will definitely do this again. On turn in day, my sisters Jenny and Kathleen fine tuned the boxes, including doing touch up with parsley I have been growing on my patio. The home grown stuff is really nice, next year I will be raising an entire parsley garden.

But our turn in boxes looked great. Best appearance scores we have ever had, all but three scores on the entire sheet were 8 or 9. A lot of that had to do with the overall massive scores that were being handed out at the event, but I feel we deserved the high scores.

Anyway, on to the meat. Chicken I thought came out decent, but was a little on the salty side. It took 7th place call out of 16 teams. Ribs were next, I thought they were good, but they were also 7th place. With such a small field I knew I was screwed as far as winning the contest and the $3,000 first place. Bummer.

Anyway, pork was a disaster at Harpoon, and I was determined not to let that happen again. Another call, this time 6th place.

Final category was brisket, and while it was decent, I just wasn't happy with the results, but it was good enough for 4th place. Although the category score was a 173, which at most contests is good enough to win the category. But this was a weekend of massive scores, the trademark of upstate New York contests.

So in the end we were 5th overall, and walked away with a mere $325 of the $12,000 prize purse. It's ok though, sometimes you go to an event just to have fun and wind up winning some dough, other times you go with the goal of trying and win money and end up having a great time. That's what happened here.

Was the first time that I was able to get a massage after turn ins. Was a nice way to end what was a a fun weekend of BBQ.

Monday, August 08, 2011


The weekend of July 23rd and 24th brought the Harpoon New England Championship BBQ in Windsor, VT, one of our favorite weekends of the year. We always have a great time at Harpoon, and this year was no different.

Arrived around noon after an uneventful drive. Usually the drive up to Harpoon is relatively easy, a clear shot up Interstate-91, but the states of Massachusetts and Vermont decided to add a layer of challenge this year. Numerous bridges are being repaired, and they have them closed down to one narrow lane, with around an inch clearance on each side of the trailer. Amazed I did not clip the trailer at least once, it was really close.

Cristiaan and I got on site around noon Friday. Went to lunch at the brewery with Mike and Kris of Lakeside Smokers, was great to see them again as always. Great lunch, and afterwards members of our team for the weekend started to trickle in. Some of pour longtime friends were coming up for the weekend, including John Kozub, who introduced me to my wife and was in our wedding. Also there were Bill Bonato and his wife Sue, who we have been friends with for a long time. They were coming to enjoy the event for the first time and help us with vending.

My Mom came out too, her first contest since my father passed away last October. It was great to have her at a contest again.

KCBS is Saturday at Harpoon, and NEBS grilling is Sunday. Teams are also allowed to sell their food at Harpoon, which is good and bad. The good is that you can make money, the bad is that it can distract you from the reason you are there in the first place, which is to try and win the contest.

Overall the KCBS contest cook went ok. I have been working on some changes to my chicken recipe, as it has always scored decently but has never been first place. Clearly my changes have gone the other way, as chicken was 20th place out of 40. Back to the drawing board.

I was determined to cook better ribs than our last time out at New Hampshire, where they were 33rd out of 39. That was completely unacceptable to me. Harpoon ribs came out much better, and were 5th.

Pork was where I really screwed up. Distracted by the vending and overall zoo around me, I neglected the pork. It was done too early and all I really had to turn in was mush. It finished 24th, and I was shocked that it finished that high.

Brisket was another story. I normally only cook one brisket at contests but at Harpoon I cooked two, knowing I could sell it all. I cut into the first one and it just wasn't exactly where I had hoped, so I tried the second one and it was right on. The judges confirmed this, and it was second place.

Overall, we were 6th for the contest. Our good friends at Lakeside Smokers won, which was awesome. If we are not going to win I want them to, and they nailed it. Nailed the whole weekend, as they also won the grilling contest the next day.

Think I am going to leave the discussion about the grilling contest out completely. No calls, and a pedestrian finish of 15th overall. I did not put my best foot forward here and it showed. I think the food was ok but you really need to take it to the next level when it is open garnish and such a strong field of teams. Also, I stubbornly refuse to cook a dessert for chef's choice, even though I know that it what has been hitting.

12th place wings.

Cooked ABT's for chef's choice. A disappointing 16th place.

But overall it was a great time, especially cooling off in the river after a long day Saturday. Truly a highlight of the weekend for me.

Harpoon was great as always. While we did not win the ultimate prize, we got a couple of good calls and had a blast with some great friends. To me, that's what it is all about.