Monday, October 30, 2006

The Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational BBQ

The planning for “The Jack” began in the minutes that followed learning that we had won the New Hampshire draw and were invited. The weeks of planning culminated Tuesday morning, October 24th, when I picked up the cargo van from Enterprise and we began packing the massive pile of equipment, coolers and other assorted items for the trip. At around 1PM, we were on our way to arguably the most prestigious BBQ competition in the world.

First, here is some background for those of you who have not been following the Q Haven blog this year. I decided to try my hand at competition BBQ this past May. We came out of the box with a lot of success, taking 3rd place overall in our first event in Rhode Island in May, then a few weeks later we amazingly won grand champion of the New Hampshire Rock-n-Ribfest. We competed twice more over the summer, and “The Jack” was our fifth ever competition.

While I think my Q is pretty good, I feel we were extremely lucky to have this opportunity. There are many teams in New England, and certainly nationwide that were much more deserving than us to be attending this event. But we were in, and I wanted to make sure we didn’t embarrass ourselves too much and that we would represent New England well. I hope we did. Here is my story of the week, the good, the bad and the ugly.

I covered the trip down to Lynchburg in previous blog posts. I was hoping to make it down to Lynchburg Thursday morning, but instead we arrived at around 3PM because of heavy traffic in Knoxville and getting a slow start in the morning. When we arrived, the volunteers were very helpful and showed us to our site.

The site was huge, at least 50 feet by 50 feet, with a water and power hook-up in the back. The site was in a high traffic area, and was bordered in the rear by a creek. We also had a port-o-potty in the rear of the site, which I cannot recommend enough. It was so great to have our own facilities, we will definitely do this at future competitions whenever possible.

We were situated right across a gully from Their RV had its back to us so we didn't see them much. Turns out their pit boss Scotty's father died Friday, but he was somehow able to carry on and he won the grand championship. I have never met Scotty, but all accounts are that he is a great man and has lived through a tremendous amount of adversity. My thoughts go out to him, and I give him tremendous credit for being able to do what he did.

It was dark and overcast throughout Thursday afternoon, but the rain held off until we got our basic site setup complete. Sheila and I stayed in a hotel Thursday night, but Cristiaan, Kim, Kathleen and John wanted to camp out. They certainly regretted it, as it poured most of the night.

Unfortunately, it poured most of Friday too. This dampened our spirits, and our well-organized site quickly became a mess because everything had to be brought inside. We had to put up the walls to our pop up tents and basically lock up inside to stay out of the rain and cold, stiff winds. Fortunately, we had a drainage ditch next to our site, so it did not flood at all. I used most of the day to trim, season, inject and marinate our competition meats.

We were entered in the “Happiest Home in the Hollow” competition, which was an event where teams decorated their sites to reflect their home state spirit. We decorated the best we could, despite the bad weather. We all wore Connecticut or UConn shirts and hats, hung a lot of Jack Daniel’s signs and banners. Also, the plan was to give away slices of Mystic Pizza and cups of New England clam chowder. The crowds were thin because of the weather, and we never did see any judges. won the event. I guess the judges made it to their site.

Late Friday afternoon, the weather cleared for a while, and that was perfect timing for the parade. It was really cool; every team lined up and paraded into the town square. There were hundreds of people lining the streets, waving to the crowds. For a few minutes, we felt like rock stars.

After the parade, we went to the reception at the pavilion at the Jack Daniel’s distillery. I hope that nobody thinks that I am being negative about the event, but this was a disappointment. We ended up waiting forever for the school bus to bring us up there. We then ended up waiting forever on line for food, which only consisted of bowls of chili, cornbread, nacho chips and apples with Jack Daniel’s sauce. Once we had food, we couldn’t find seats and the team had to scatter to sit down and eat all over the place. The positive was the open bars serving Jack & Cokes and Lynchburg Lemonades. If we ever go back I will skip the banquet.

The rain returned Friday night, and after getting the butts and briskets on, Cristiaan tended to the fires and I got a few hours of sleep in the tent.

We were one of the few teams to be “roughing it” by sleeping in tents. It seemed that most of the teams had these massive RV’s with all the luxury of a Manhattan townhouse. I have to get me one of those…..

I got up around 5AM and basically worked non-stop until we finished loading the van and pulled out of town Saturday night.

This being our rookie season and obviously our first Jack, I wanted us to experience everything. We entered all seven categories, were selling rub and t-shirts, and agreed to give away samples to the public. We had a lot of help from family and others to work the various stations, but it still was crazy. There were so many people, and I tried to accommodate all of them when the asked questions about the cookers, the team, etc.

Too many people to mention came by and said “Connecticut? They have barbeque in Connecticut?” It was really funny, and all good-natured. Our site was mobbed all day long, between people buying rub, or seeing the chaffing dishes and looking for samples, or just stopping by to say hi.

Somebody who was a friend of Andy King of the Bastey Boys came by, I believe his name was Johnny. He was a really nice guy. We also had special guests, Chuck and Lisa Edman, a couple we met earlier this month in Jamaica. They happen to live in Shelbyville, and we were happy they were able to make it to see us.

The rub sales went well, we sold all 75 bottles I made by around 3PM. We probably could have sold another 25, wish I had made more. Unfortunately, we didn’t sell any t-shirts, probably because I overpriced them at $15.

Turn-in’s began at 12:00 with sauce. I made an apple “Jack” sauce, but I wasn’t blown away with the flavor. I had Cristiaan work on it and he spruced it up a bit, and the sauce finished 24th, not bad.

Next was cook’s choice, which I delegated the preparation to Cristiaan so I could focus on the BBQ that needed to be tended to in the smokers. We made flank steak. It was flash grilled, rolled with a crabmeat mixture and then smoked for a while. It was finished with bĂ©arnaise, which is my father’s specialty, and he pitched in on the preparation. The judges seemed to like it, as it came in 13th place out of the 35 U.S. teams that participated.

Next was chicken. For the first time in our short history, we were required to cook both white and dark meat. I cooked thighs for the dark meat, and then smoked two whole chickens for the white meat. I detached the breasts and sliced them, placing the best one in the bottom of the box with six thighs. I didn’t like the way the box looked overall, and it came in 35th place.

Looking at the picture, I can't believe that one of the judges actually gave us a 9 for chicken appearance.

Next were ribs. I probably should have cooked spares, and judges in the south are probably more used to them. However, I always cook loin backs, and I wasn’t going to try something new. I thought they had great flavor, probably not our best but still pretty good. Again, I was unhappy with the box, but because of time constraints I went ahead and turned them in. Ribs placed 36th out of 65.

Next was pork, and I really felt this was our best category of the day. The meat and bark had great flavor, and I thought the presentation was our best ever for pork. It scored 20th, which was our best Q score of the day.

Next was brisket. I really thought it came out great. I thought the tenderness was right on and it had nice flavor. The judges disagreed. Brisket finished 44th place, not last but towards the bottom.

Finally, the last category was dessert. I delegated this category to Sheila and gave her total control over what to make. She did tons of research, and decided to make a chocolate trifle. After several test cooks, I knew it was great. The judges agreed, and we got our only call and ribbon for 10th place dessert.

I am so proud of Sheila, and because of her we were able to bring home something for our trophy case.

Well, we were supposed to take it home.

Once the excitement subsided, I looked at the ribbon and it was not for dessert, it said “5th place sauce.” The envelope for the check also said “5th place sauce.” Sheila brought them up to the woman at the side of the stage and alerted her to the problem. They took away the ribbon and the check, and told her they couldn’t deal with it now. She had to walk away empty handed. Afterwards, they told us that they would mail the correct ribbon and check to us at a later date. At least we got the walk.

Meanwhile, as we completed our turn-ins, all of the leftover meat was given away to the public. I cooked extra meat so we would have a lot to give away. We made around 25 thighs, two whole chickens which were pulled and sauced, 10 racks of ribs, three butts, two 14 pound packer briskets and an additional brisket flat.

As soon as we opened our sampling buffet, our site was completely mobbed. One by one, each of our trays of meat was devoured by the public. This helped us sell rub, which was the marketing plan, although I know free food was the main motivation.

We had a great time serving the people who attended the event. All of us on the team either have worked or currently work in restaurants, and we embraced the chance to serve the Q fans. However, if we ever are lucky enough to go back to the Jack, we probably will not do it the same way, but it was awesome to get so much attention from people at the event, and they seemed to really enjoy our food and hospitality.

We met some great people, and I had the chance to meet some of the best Q’ers in the world. Being able to meet Ray Lampe AKA Dr. BBQ was a big thrill too. Also was able to spend a little bit of time with some of the other people I look up to on the competition circuit, including Steve Farrin and the Pinis of “I Smell Smoke,” Chris Hart and company from iQue, and the family from Dirty Dick’s Legless Wonders.

The “Dirty Dicks” were next to us at our very first competition back in May. That seems like a lifetime ago. They helped saved our tent and were so great to us that day in so many ways. I’m glad we were able to repay the favor a little bit by lending Richard a vegetable peeler for the “I Know Jack” event.

Sorry this has been such a long post. I have so much more to say, and so many other stories to tell. As a competition rookie to go to what I consider the Super Bowl of BBQ is a huge accomplishment, and we feel honored to have had this chance. Who knows when the next one will come, or if we will ever go again. I hope all of our fellow competitors get the same opportunity.

For a lot more pictures visit our web site at

Sunday, October 29, 2006

What A Day

What an exciting, exhilarating day today was. I will fill in the blanks in the coming days, as I am currently in a hotel around two hours away from Lynchburg and don't recall ever feeling quite so tired.

Here's the short of it. We had two goals coming to Lynchburg, not to finish last and to hopefully get a call in a category. Both things happened.

We finished 40th overall out of 65 teams (24th sauce, 17th cook's choice, 35th chicken, 36th ribs, 20th pork, 44th brisket. We got a call for 10th place dessert, which my wife Sheila gets 100 percent credit for. My only credit is that I tasted her dessert entry numerous times during the last few weeks as she prepared. But to hear our name called in that venue is something I will not soon forget.

The weather was perfect today, a far cry from yesterday, when it poured most of the day and was freezing at night.

We met many great Q'ers during our 3 days in Lynchburg. We also met so many great people who wandered over to our site to say hello or to watch us at work.

We gave away samples, and that attracted a few people.

We got to see some fellow New Englanders have huge success, including iQue winning both the "I know Jack about grilling" event and the cook's choice category. Also, Dirty Dick's Legless Wonders took first place chicken and 4th overall.

There is so much I want to say but I am completely exhausted. More to come....

Thursday, October 26, 2006


After a loooong drive from Elizabethton to Lynchburg (including getting lost twice) we finally rolled in to Lynchburg at around 3PM. Everyone was friendly and they led us right to our site. Fred at Jack Daniel's told me he would hook us up with a great site and he certainly did not disappoint.

Here is what our site looked like upon arrival. Will post what it looked like once decorating is complete.

Our site is around 50 feet by 50 feet, located in a high traffic area, right in front of the main entrance to the competition. Hopefully that will help us sell rub and t-shirts. We have water and power, so we will not need to use the generator we borrowed. A creek runs right behind our site. We spent around three hours setting up our site, and fortunately the rain didn't come until we were finished for the night.

We went to Crockett's in Tullahoma for dinner, and enjoyed several Lynchburg lemonades. I've decided that will be my libation of choice this weekend, with the exception of the occasional shot. I won't be drinking too much though, someone has to keep a slightly clear head.

Staying in the Hampton Inn in Tullahoma, nice place, not far from Lynchburg. I recommend the place to fellow Q'ers who are in the area. A little pricey at $140, but I'm sure everyone jacks up their prices this week.

Met Ray Lampe, aka Dr BBQ today. This was a big thrill for me, as I have read his books and have seen a lot of him on TV. He said that he knew of us and knew we were coming, with surprised me, this heavy hitter even knows that I exist.

Also saw the boys from iQue and the Dirty Dicks, was nice to reconnect with fellow New Englanders. Everyone seems to be the same as us, really just happy to be there and soaking it all in. I know this could be a once in a lifetime thing, so I'm making sure we take time to smell the roses (and the sour mash).

To our friends at Lunchmeat: If there is a team out there that deserves to be here, it is you. Lunchmeat epitomizes what I feel competitive BBQ is all about, and I really hope you get the chance to come here and experience this.

I hope we're here again with you.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Stage Two Complete

Stage two of our journey to Lynchburg is complete. Arrived this afternoon in Elizabethton, Tennessee, home of several relatives on my father's side. it will be nice to see some cousins and reconnect with some family members I haven't seen in a decade.

Great scenery along Interstate-81 in Virginia. I did that drive many times going back and forth to college, brought back some ince memories.

More importantly, the meat is staying cold on ice in the cooler, the rental van is running like a champ, and we haven't had any real problems. Tomorrow morning, we will drive around five hours to Lynchburg. The plan is to get our setup completely done, so we can focus on the tasks at hand Friday and Saturday.

Even though we live more than a thousand miles from Lynchburg, we are expecting some guests both days of the trip. In addition to my parents, we are expecting relatives from here in Elizabethton to come down Saturday. We are also excited that Chuck and Lisa Edman are coming to visit us both days. They're a couple we met on vacation in Jamaica earlier this month who live in Shelbyville, which is close to Lynchburg. Chuck played for the Tennessee Vols football team in the late 1970's. I went to Alabama, the natural enemies of the Vols, but since he is such a good guy I am able to overlook that.

Chuck and Lisa

Also, a fellow report from my company, Metro Networks is planning to come down Friday. Her name is Mary Perren, and she is our state correspondent from Tennessee. I met her when they flew both of us out to Arizona to help with election night coverage in 2004. She's cool, hope she makes it down.

Mary Perren interviewing one of the teams at the 2005 Jack.

We are staying in a hotel in Tullahoma Thursday night, so I'll update again then.

On The Road

We hit the road Tuesday afternoon, and got some hard miles under us last night. The cargo van is packed tight and we made it as far as Harrisonburg, VA. We stayed in a nice little motel called the Village Inn, a small family run joint that came highly recommended on Comfortable room, can't wait to hit the breakfast buffet in a few minutes. Most reviewers say the breakfast is the highlight of staying here, and I love breakfast buffets.

I plan to post updates whenever the Internet is available to alow people to get updates from The Jack from a rookie team experiencing it all for the first time. While we are really just happy tobe going, we plan to put our best foot forward and try and take our cooking to another level.

After breakfast, we will head to Elizabethton, Tennessee, where we will be reconnecting and staying with relatives. Thursday, we will head down to Lynchburg to set up our site, then Friday and Saturday it will be go time.

Keep checking back for updates, hopefully I will be able to post frequently.



Tuesday, October 10, 2006

BBQ, Jamaica Style

I haven't posted in a while because I have been extremely busy, combined with a weeklong trip to Jamaica. While in Jamaica, we stayed at an all inclusive resort in Ocho Rios. It was a tropical paradise, and we had a great time.

While at the resort, jerk chicken and pork were served regularly. Jerk is essentially to Jamacians what BBQ is to Americans, as the meat is cooked low and slow over charcoal or wood fires with intense spice flavor. While the jerk at the resort was good, it got me thinking that I wanted to try the jerk that real Jamacians eat.

On the way to the airport after our week of vacation, I asked our taxi driver to stop somewhere that he feels serves real jerk. Around halfway between Ocho Rios and Montego Bay (around a two hour drive) the driver pulled off into a little hole in the wall along the highway. There was nothing resort about this place. There was a circular bar, and off to the right was a little cage where the jerk is prepared.

Even though English is the language used in Jamacia, the natives speak a broken, fast version that is difficult for Americans to understand. After the communication problems were worked through, we ordered 1/2 of a jerk chicken.

The cook let me have a good look at their pit. There is a little room off to the side where the charcoal is started. The fuel appeared to be standard lump charcoal.

The lit fuel is brought into the main cooking area, where it is placed in the pit. The meat is placed on a metal grid, and is covered with what appeared to be siding used in the building of houses.

The cook took the half chicken and violently hacked it up and placed it in foil for us. The total was eight dollars. I added jerk sauce and we piled back into the van and continued towards the hotel.

The chicken was tasty, extremely spicy with a little wood flavor mixed in. While it was not much different than the jerk we had at the resort, I was glad to have a chance to get some true road food in an exotic place. It was a great way to end a fantastic week in a tropical paradise, where we made new friends and got some much needed relaxation.

Now, the Jack preparation begins in earnest.