Tuesday, January 16, 2007

1st Annual Winter Sizzler, Lincoln, NH

When the plans were announced for the 1st annual Winter Sizzler in Lincoln, New Hampshire in mid January, I wasn’t sure whether or not I would participate.

Now, I’m really glad I did.

And not just because we did well.

It’s because we had such a great time, hanging out with the other teams that braved the cold and the snow to participate. And also because of the organizers, especially Eric Pyra of InnSeason Resorts, who went the extra mile to make sure the teams were comfortable.

Eric Pyra, Inn Season Resorts
He’s also our good luck charm, as every time he has been at an event we have done well.

The trip to Lincoln was a long one. We departed from Norwich, Connecticut at around 10:30 AM Saturday, and didn’t arrive on site until around three in the afternoon. It was just myself and my brother Cristiaan, as the girls sat this one out. Sheila was supposed to come up Sunday, but got really sick and stayed home.

The contest area was pretty well filled up when we got there. The back of our team site was a snow bank; in reality our site was around 12 feet by 25 feet of usable space. It was plenty for us in this event, as we scaled back our equipment, as we usually bring way too much crap we don’t need. We still had too much, but it wasn’t as bad. This is our camp site below.

The good part was that we were located next to Mike Boisvert’s team Lakeside Smokers. Mike is one of our favorite people on the circuit, and it was great to spend time with him, Kris, Shawn and Lisa.
Mike Boisvert, the "Lakeside Smoker"
The first part of the event was the wing competition. After much deliberation, we decided to do Buffalo wings, and to fry them. We had to turn in at least three pounds. We turned in ten pounds, and the camp stove we got at Wal-Mart worked really well, at least for this part of the competition. More on that later. We used a metal hotel pan to fry the wings, which were floured, then doused with Cristiaan’s sauce, which was great.

As it turned out, we were the only team to turn in Buffalo wings. The other teams were a lot more creative than us, and apparently that’s what the judges were looking for. No big deal, this was a comparative judging system, and the 12 judges could only vote for their favorite one. We got zero votes, but I still think they were damn good, regardless of the voting.

Once the butt and brisket was on, we decided to spend Saturday night visiting with the other teams and having a good time. At some of the previous competitions, especially the Jack, we took the event way too seriously and didn’t enjoy the company of some of the great people on other teams.

We hung around at the I Smell Smoke!!! Camp for a while. They had a big outdoor fireplace and it kept everyone warm. We had a lot of laughs with Steve, Charlie, Doug, Carlotta and Patrick, and pounded a few Jello shots. Cristiaan ate the worm in one of them; no ill effects too! They really have a great team, are a lot of fun, and win a lot. At first we were intimidated by them because of their success, but now that we know them, I consider them friends and am very happy for their success. It is well deserved.

Steve Farrin, Charile Pini and Doug Pini from I Smell Smoke!!!

We also shared beers with the wild bunch Q Ball, including Sean McCabe, who usually cooks as Bourbon and Beale, and Michelle from Lunchmeat. Nobody seemed fazed by the cold temperatures. It was a great night of camaraderie, and made the trip worthwhile alone.

Sleeping, that was another issue. I didn’t want to book a room at the resort, so we roughed it. We tried to use sleeping bags under our pop-up tent, and Cristiaan was able to get a few hours of sleep. My inflatable mattress sprung a leak, and within a half hour I was on the freezing ground because of the deflated mattress. I was so cold that I moved into the truck, cranked the heat and slept in the driver seat.

I probably slept two hours in 12 minute intervals.

Backing up, Sheila called during Saturday evening with bad news. She was planning on coming up early Sunday morning, bringing breakfast and garnish, but she had become very sick and wasn’t coming. She ended up going to the hospital, and fortunately it was just a viral infection instead of something more serious. But it was a little scary going straight from the competition to the hospital.

So in the morning, we had no coffee, no breakfast, and no garnish. Fortunately, there is a supermarket within walking distance of the competition site. Cristiaan walked over and got some green leaf and some curly parsley; they had no flat parsley. But it was better than nothing. Found coffee in the resort shops and we were ready to cook. It snowed all morning, which created some nice ambiance.

The chicken; I have been struggling with the skin since we started competing. Our first event last year in Rhode Island, we took 6th in chicken, and have gone downhill since. I went back to that exact preparation, smoked, then finished indirect on a hot grill, and it came out really well. Also, we turned in some drums for the first time. We took second place chicken, our first real call since New Hampshire in May.

The box comes through pretty sloppy in this picture. In fact, all of our boxes this weekend looked pretty sloppy to me. But we did clean this chicken box up a little after the picture, and the appearance scores were two 9’s, two 8’s and two 7’s.

Next was ribs, and they didn’t come out that great. They were average at best. I tried a new homemade rub and it didn’t work well. Took 9th out of 15, our worst score of the day.

The pork. This is a great story. I used a great injection on the butt we brought up for the event. However, the organizers also supplied a butt to us for the people’s choice pork competition they were having. However, somehow they got mixed up on the grill, and we ended up turning in the injected butt for the people’s choice instead of the Q competition as I had planned. We turned in the donated butt, which I just rubbed and threw onto the smoker.

We didn’t make the top 3 in people’s choice. However, we took 2nd place in the BBQ event. Go figure! Maybe the injection wasn’t as good as I thought.
The brisket was a problem from the start. I asked my butcher for a large brisket, 13 to 15 pounds. He came through with an 11 pounder. It was done very early, I pulled it at around 9AM at 195 degrees, wrapped in foil and a towel and held. It had great flavor but was pretty dry. The two judges that got the driest pieces didn’t appreciate it, and two gave us 5’s in tenderness. That cost us, and we finished 6th in brisket, .5 away from a call.

The last category of the day was chili. I practiced chili three times leading up to the event, and came up with a recipe I was really happy with. The cook went along fine, until the end. An hour before turn in, it was done, and I took it off the heat to hold. As turn in approached, I turned the camp stove back on, what I thought was low, and put the corner of the chili pot over the flame.

I went outside to talk to another team, and came in a few minutes later to find smoke billowing from the pot. I grabbed the pot and yanked it off the heat (burning my finger in the process) but the damage was done. A little of the burned flavor made it in. I sent a sample over to I Smell Smoke to see if they would notice, as I trust their opinions and know they wouldn’t sugarcoat it. They noticed, and that confirmed that I was screwed.

You can see the burn was small, but the damage was done.
I was stunned that the chili finished 6th, even with the burning. Some of the other teams must have turned in some pretty bad chili.

In the end, we got two calls and were reserve grand champions. That made the long drive home a lot easier. Cristiaan and I worked really well together, and had a lot of fun. It was a great way to start the year.

And it didn’t rain.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Back From Lincoln

We're back from Lincoln, NH, where Q Haven did well in the Winter Sizzler BBQ competition. We took home reserve grand champions, taking 2nd place in both pork and chicken. We had a great time at this unique and challenging event. I'll post a long winded, detailed account of our trip tonight or tomorrow.

Q Haven Team Site, Lincoln, NH