Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Jack 2012

Q Haven qualified for the Jack Daniels World Invitational BBQ in 2006 by winning our second contest we had ever cooked. Our fifth contest was the Jack. It all seemed too easy. This would be an annual journey for us.

 Not so fast.

 In 2007 we didn't win any contests. Almost won Harpoon in 2008, settled for reserve grand champion. Nothing in 2009. Nearly won the Connecticut auto-qualifier in 2010. Had a really tough year in 2011. After a particularly bad contest at Harvard in late 2011, I seriously contemplated quitting competition BBQ altogether. You can only work so hard without gaining the desired results for so long before deciding to find some other ways to spend weekends.

 So I decided to take a different approach to things. After a lot of soul searching and hours of conversations with Sheila, I decided to stop being so stubborn and unwilling to make any changes and started to look at things differently. Between 2011 and 2012 we made a lot of life changes. Sheila got a new job that gives her much more flexibility in the summer. We moved back to the New Haven area, and I started doing a lot more cooking and catering with my brother's restaurant, Le Jardin du Roi in Chappaqua NY. They agreed to sponsor us in 2012, covering much of of our meat costs and providing a good deal of our supplies. I also took the Chris Hart class in February, as I wanted to open my mind to new ideas and processes. All of these things really set us up to have a better year.

 We cooked Green Lane and New Hampshire and did ok, finishing 15th in Green Lane with no calls and tenth in Merrimack with a call for third place brisket. Then it all came together and we won the Troy Pig Out, and two weeks later we won Harpoon. Harpoon is an auto-qualifier as the only Vermont contest, so we knew that we were finally going back to the Jack!

 All you need to do is go back in this blog to 2006 to see how wrong my approach was to the Jack that year. I had no clue what I was doing. So I immediately began planning to do it the right way. Put new tires on the truck and got it all tuned up. Shopped like crazy to find the best possible meat. Didn't worry about decorations, giving samples to the public, etc. Just wanted to cook the best possible food that I could and hope for the best. In the end, all we wanted really was a call.

 I decided that the only ones who would be coming down with the team were myself, Sheila, my brother Cristiaan and Max, who is now four. For weeks before we left, every day he would ask me "are we leaving for Tennessee today Daddy?" He as excited to be making the trip and any of us.
The drive down was perfect, well nearly perfect. At one point we were stopped at a light somewhere in Tennessee and a woman opened her window and told me that the side door of the camper was open. Oops! It had apparently just happened, no damage, nothing lost. Aside from that, the weather was great and it was an easy, enjoyable ride. Arrived in Tullahoma Wednesday night. Arrived on site in Lynchburg Thursday morning, got some setup done, then took the Jack Daniel's distillery tour, which was great.

 We had a hotel room in Tullahoma Thursday night as well. I made the decision early on to hotel it Wednesday and Thursday night, as our camper is very small and I felt that we all might kill each other if we had to live out of it four straight nights. There was a lot of partying going on Thursday night on site, but I decided that it was much better for us to be rested and fresh heading into the world championship event so I stuck to the script.

 Friday, the real festivities got underway. Lunch at Miss Mary Bobo's, meat inspection, trimming and injecting. Then the parade came. The parade of teams is part of the tradition of the Jack. This is where the emotion of the whole journey finally caught up with me. I know it's just BBQ, but when you work so hard at a goal and it is finally realized, it's easy for the emotions to get the better of you. But I didn't cry.

 Sheila and I had planned to go up to BBQ Hill for the cook's dinner after the parade, but I still had prep to do so we decided to skip it. I regret not making it up there, even though it is a pain to get a bus up to the hill, it is always overcrowded and nearly impossible to get a seat or a drink. It's part of the Jack experience, but in the end I decided that the cook was more important.

 I have been doing pretty much the same thing all year when it comes to the cooking process, so overall things went smoothly. The brisket was looking great, as was the pork. Got a few hours of sleep, and got the ribs and chicken into the cooker on time in the morning.

 BBQ day on Saturday was cold. That actually helped us because Max pretty much stayed in the camper all day watching DVDs, allowing us to really focus on the task at hand. I don't really care about the cold, living in the Northeast you get used to it.

 The Jack Daniel's sauce category was first. I had practiced a few things in the weeks leading up to the contest, and overall I was pretty happy with the sauce I had mixed up. Next was cook's choice, where I decided to do beef short ribs with bacon cheddar potatoes. I had done well with short ribs in the past and decided to give them a shot. The dish looked great and got all 9's in appearance, but on a couple of the tasters I felt the meat was dry. The judges agreed, and it finished 30th.

 I was worried about the chicken category from the start. Having to cook both white and dark meat is something different, and I didn't like how the wings I cooked came out at all. Chicken was 57th. Bummer. I wasn't totally thrilled with the ribs either, and they finished in the middle of the road in 36th. Brought eight racks of ribs with us and cooked four. Should have cooked the other four instead. Pork and brisket, I was much happier with. It was definitely the best pork I have ever cooked. The brisket burnt ends came out great.

 Sheila handled the dessert category, and did chocolate chipolte cheesecake. I thought it looked and tasted great, and it came in 20th place. I am so proud of Sheila and the effort she put into it, she really wanted to do well for the team and did not disappoint.

 As awards approached, it got colder and colder. We decided to get inside near one of the heaters, knowing the awards would take over an hour. Naturally, as the awards were starting Max had to use the bathroom so I scooped him up and ran for the port-o-potties. Made it back in time for the sauce category. Good thing, because we got what we were looking for. A call for 5th place sauce. A Jack trophy! Awesome.

No calls in chicken and ribs, then we were called again for tenth place pork. It was the greatest feeling to get called twice at the Jack. The announcer even introduced Max and he waved to the crowd, it was a great moment for us that I won't soon forget. We just missed a third call, as brisket was 11th place. In the end, we finished 18th overall. At most contests this would not be an acceptable result for me, but for the Jack I was thrilled. In 2006 we finished 44th and the Jack, and all I really wanted was to finish a lot higher than that. Mission accomplished.

 Saturday night was fun, but with news of a hurricane bearing down on our home state of Connecticut there was not a whole lot of time to relax. We rolled out of Lynchburg Sunday morning and drove straight home, stopping for gas and for lunch at the Waffle House (Sheila and Cristiaan had never been). Got home at around seven Monday morning, woke up at around 2PM, lost power 45 minutes later. It was out for more than four days. Welcome home.

 Looking back, the Jack was a great reward for what has been by far Q Haven's best year on the competition circuit. I hope it is an annual trip for us, but I know first hand how hard it is to get there and will not take anything for granted. Who knows, it may take another six years to get back, but I will keep trying. The trip leaves me more excited than ever about cooking competition BBQ, and the Snowshoe cannot come soon enough.


Chris said...

Excellent write up, Ted, and congratulations on the sauce and pork. I liked how your brought it around full circle from 2006.

Heck, a lot of people would be thrilled just to get to the Jack.

Ted Lorson said...

Thanks Chris! Believe me I was thrilled just to go, the calls were gravy!