Monday, August 27, 2007


Over the weekend, I started reflecting on the last two competitions we entered, Harpoon and New Paltz. While we did pretty well overall at Harpoon, we tanked royally in BBQ at New Paltz. While it would be easy to blame the judges and move on, I know in my heart that I took the fun aspect of the competitions a little more seriously than I took the cooking part, and it showed.

This has me rededicated to the cooking, practicing and overall improvement of the team going forward. This started Saturday, when I spent hours cleaning my WSM's, which were beat to hell after five competitions in eight weeks. Here's the end result below.

They're almost like new again! For a point of reference, here is what they looked like last week in New Paltz.

Leaning towards the Battle of the BBQ Brethren in Sayville, Long Island, NY for our next event. Haven't ruled Dover out completely though, but I really want to support the Brethren event if possible. I have made some great friends on the BBQ Brethren forum, and really want to try and make the contest. We'll see.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Hudson Valley Ribfest, New Paltz NY

The largest event we have ever cooked in the Northeast took place this past weekend in New Paltz, the Hudson Valley Ribfest at the Ulster County Fairgrounds. We cooked at New Paltz last year and really enjoyed ourselves, and were excited to be returning.

This year, we did things a little differently. First of all, we have our trailer now, and we were able to pay $25 extra for a larger team site. That was the best 25 bucks I have ever spent. Our site was huge, around 30 feet wide and 80 feet long. This gave us more than enough room to operate. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I knew going in that this was going to be a difficult contest for me, logistically. I had granted one of our reporters vacation for the whole week, and in a nutshell that meant that I could not take off Friday. In addition, the only way that I could leave early for the three hour drive to the contest would be for me to switch with another of my guys and work the early morning shift. So Friday morning, I had to get up at 3:30 AM in order to be in Hartford by 4:30. That was not fun.

The earliest I was able to leave was after my 11:00 AM newscast. I had to run and pick up the fish, stop and get ice, then load the trailer and hit the road. By the time I packed everything and got going, it was 3 PM. I had to stop and dump the trailer's grey water along the way, and was finally at the contest site at around 7:15 PM. And nobody from the team was going to be there until early in the morning, so I had to set things up all by myself. Fun.

I got a basic setup done and decided to take a little time to relax. I Smell Smoke! was the team directly next door, and they were just beginning movie night with a screening of "The Jerk." Everything was very relaxed until a massive crack of thunder stunned everyone. Soon afterwards, a massive line of thunderstorms slammed the site, complete with high winds, hail and torrential rains.

That would have been bad enough. But an apparent microburst hit the site, reducing numerous pop-up tents to piles of twisted metal. Fortunately, we were not affected by the storm at all. We were very lucky, as our tent was not tied down when the storm struck. Here is a picture of some of the tents after the storm, photo stolen from the NEBS web site.

Late Friday night, the team started to arrive. Cristiaan was able to make it around midnight, and Kathleen and Jon came a short time later. Even though I had been up since 3:30 AM, it was so much fun hanging around with the different teams that I ended up staying up until 2AM.

Saturday was the grilling contest. Everything went amazingly smooth for us all day. Now that we have done more than 10 competitions, we seem to have the timing and the flow of the events pretty much down. That makes the competitions so much more fun and less stressful. Forty-one

The first category of the day was fish. We decided to do swordfish as we seem to do in all of the events that have a fish category. However, instead of garlic butter, this time I decided to go with a champagne mustard sauce, and it hit. Fish was 2nd place.

Lamb was the second category. I decided from the start that we would do grilled rack of lamb. However, Sheila doesn't like lamb, so we never really eat it. That left me at a loss for a finishing sauce. I considered a simple mint jelly and later a Cumberland sauce, but we ended up settling on a rosemary au jus. Scored OK, 10th place.

Next was sausage. On August 1st, I ordered some sausage that is supposed to be awesome from a place in Texas to use in this contest. Someone called me a week later from the company and said it would ship Monday and I would have it Wednesday. it never showed up, so I had to scramble. I decided to use a "fatty" recipe I have been working on, and it came out awesome. 2nd place sausage.

The last category was steak. I decided to try and replicate the 1st place steak that I had cooked two weeks ago in Maine. However, that was a sirloin steak category, this one was steak of any kind. I only turned in one full NY strip steak, and it looked alone and empty in the box. The melted gorganzola cheese didn't really work out either. 30th place steak, really hurt our chances of being grand champs.

So overall, we were 4th out of the 41 teams that participated. Pretty cool.

Saturday afternoon/evening was great. My brother Eric, his wife Laurin and three of their four kids came up to hang out Saturday afternoon. We cooked up a whole bunch of ribs, beef ribs, hamburgers and wings, and just hung out and enjoyed the great weather. It was a fun and relaxing day.

Saturday night, we started cooking for the BBQ event Sunday. The evening was relatively calm, and we enjoyed hanging out with I Smell Smoke!, the head of the BBQ Brethren Phil, the guys from Muzzle Brake and so many others who were partying down.

I woke up around 6AM Sunday to start the smokers for the BBQ contest. 57 teams competed in the Q event. Everything was going pretty smooth at first, largely because Cristiaan stayed up really late to tend to the smoker with the brisket and pork in it. However, trouble emerged when I put the ribs on. I walked away for a short time, and when I came back I saw that the temperature had spiked to 280!

Any little thing can drastically change the end result of BBQ, especially ribs. All of our ribs were in that same smoker, and all were affected. The ribs just didn't turn out that great.

The first turn in was chicken. I have been working on a new recipe, and it just isn't coming along as I would like. 36th place.

Next were the ribs, which ended up 24th.

Pork came next. Our best entry of the day, 18th place.

When I cut the brisket, I thought it was our best entry. It was very tender and moist. The judges disagreed, 35th place.

For chef's choice, we had to use apples in the entry. We did an apple stuffed pork tenderloin. It scored pretty well with five of the six judges. The last one gave it a 3-5-3. Don't even get me started on that. 25th place.

We finished 22nd overall for the BBQ event. It was our third competition in four weeks. That and both Sheila and I being very busy with work, I ended up having a lot of fun and blowing off steam instead of paying attention to some cooking details. But overall, it was a great weekend. We did really well in the grilling event, and came very close to winning. I will fix the BBQ problems. We are taking a few much needed weeks off, with a small catering job September 1st.

We are not going to compete at Lowell. Sheila and I are planning to go up and hang around one of the days instead. Hopefully we will add another competition to the schedule before the end of the year, but as of right now, we have nothing set in stone yet. We're looking forward to some much needed R&R.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Back From New Paltz

We got back from New Paltz late Sunday night. We had a blast with the almost 60 teams that cooked the event. Lots more on the event in the coming days. In the meantime, here is a link to our pictures from the contest.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Next Stop, New Paltz

It was nice to have a weekend off from competing. Four competitions in six weeks was a whole lot of work, and it was good to take a few days and relax before the New Paltz event this coming weekend.

Saturday, Sheila and I took in a comedy show in New York City, and went to the BBQ restaurant RUB afterwards. We didn't arrive to eat until after 10PM, so I'm not sure that we got their best Q. However, we didn't think it was that great.

I had the two meat platter with brisket and chicken for $18, and added St. Louis spare ribs for an additional $6. The ribs were good, but were not very meaty. I liked the brisket, but Sheila thought it was too dry. We both thought the chicken was extremely dry and flavorless.

Sheila had the two meat platter too, with smoked turkey and pork. The pork was definately the best thing we had. We really wanted to try the smoked chunks of bacon appetizer, but they were out of that. They were also out of loin back ribs.

Again, we thought it was good, not great. I really want to try Hill Country next. Next time.

In two days, we leave for New Paltz. Since I had already approved a vacation for one of my employees months ago for this week, I have to work on Friday. However, the only way I can make it work is to switch shifts with another reporter and work the early morning shift. That will require me to be in Hartford by 4:30 AM. Then, after work, I am going to have to drive back to Norwich, grab the trailer and drive to New Paltz. It's going to be a really long day.

I'm trying to figure out a way to drive the camper up to Hartford, then leave directly from there after work. Hopefully I can come up with something....

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Maine BBQ And Grilling Festival

When I was deciding what BBQ contests to cook this season, the event last weekend in York, Maine was not even on my radar. It was plastered all over the cook's packet that RV's and campers of any kind were strictly forbidden, so I immediately dismissed the contest. Why go somewhere that we would not be able to bring our new trailer?

Then, a few things changed.

The contest we planned to cook August 11th and 12th in New Britain, CT was cancelled. That left us with an open date. Also, the camper issue was raised, and the organizers allowed us to bring our toy hauler. Those changes and a little message board "encouragement" led to the decision to go up and cook Maine.

The event was only one week after Harpoon, which was a lot of work and a huge contest. Maine was a little different.

We arrived after dark Friday night, April 3rd. We pulled up the narrow road to the farm and it was pitch black. I took a chance and veered right off the driveway towards some pop-up tents. Fortunately, this was the correct way to the contest site.

The bad news.....the entire contest site was on a slope. It wasn't that bad a hill, but there was not a single site that was level. We were right in the middle of a working farm, with huge cornfields on either side. It was great scenery.

We were sited right next to our good friends at Lakeside Smokers. We were really looking forward to this event being laid back, where we could just enjoy friends and cook up some great food. That's exactly how it went down.

Bob, Kris, Mike, Lakeside Smokers

Friday night, once we got situated, we settled in for a night of drinking Mike's beer. He was the only one around who had iced his beer, and no ice was available at the venue yet, so his supply took a beating. We had a great time just shooting the breeze with Brendan and Julie of Transformer BBQ, and Sean McCabe of Que Ball. The girls went to bed early, but the rest of us pulled a real late nighter. It was around 4AM that we all finally retired after a great night with a lot of laughs.

It was especially nice to better get to know Brendan and Julie at Transformer BBQ. They started competing a little bit after we did, and they have been coming on strong lately. Much like Lakeside Smokers, I see Transformer as a team to be reckoned with in the near future. They won the grilling event at Harpoon, which is a big deal. Brendan and Julie drove cross country last year, eating almost exclusively in BBQ restaurants across the nation. That kind of dedication shows me that they're really serious about BBQ. Click HERE to read about their journey.

Brendan, Transformer BBQ

Friday night's drinking made Saturday morning a little rough. Once we got through meat inspection we focused really hard on cooking some great food for Saturday's grilling competition. I had delegated some of the grilling categories; Sheila was going to handle the pork tenderloin and bluebery dessert, Cristiaan was doing the pizza category and I was handling sirloin steak and wings.
The first category was wings. They were marinated for several hours, then grilled with a dusting of Plowboy's Yardbird Rub. They were finished with a nice BBQ glaze. I thought these would hit for sure, but they only took 11th place out of 19 teams that competed in grilling.

Next up was steak. I've tried bearnaise sauce and bourbon maple sauce in previous grilling competitions, but since this category was wide open, I decided to do it the way I like steak at home. Brushed with extra virgin olive oil, rubbed with a Montreal steak seasoning, grilled to medium rare, then melted gorgonzola cheese on the top. Four of the six judges gave this entry a perfect score, and it took first place.

Pork tenderloin was next. Since we will be using this recipe again soon I am withholding it for now, but needless to say it was delicious and took 2nd place. I will post the picture though....

The next category was pizza. Cristiaan did pretty much the same recipe that took 2nd place in the chicken category in Lake Placid. However, it missed the mark here, 15th place.

The final category was blueberry dessert. After going through a few recipes, Sheila settled on blueberry crepes. We made the crepes over the charcoal grill, which was interesting. The filling was a saute of blueberries, maple syrup and butter folded into cream cheese, topped off with a homemade blueberry sauce. Took 3rd place.

Here's where the fun started. At the awards ceremony (which was delayed until Sunday) we were called as reserve grand champions for grilling. We were given a large trophy and $250 in cash. We were really excited, but it didn't last for long. It was later determined that they had counted the blueberry dessert towards the overall score, which was not supposed to happen. When the dust cleared, we had to give the trophy and money back, and we were 3rd place.

It was an honest mistake. Onward and upward....

I entered Sunday's BBQ competition with a lot of optimism. We had taken 7th place overall in a very tough field just a week ago at Harpoon. I wanted to make a serious run at grand or reserve grand champion in this event, which was only 21 teams, with several of them competing for the first time.
It was not to be.

Chicken: I have been developing a new chicken recipe, having given up on the old one after only getting one call in nine events. Grilled instead of smoked. Ysing the new Yardbird rub and a new sauce. Missed again. I definately over-rubbed the chicken and it came out really salty. Chicken placed 11th place.

Ribs were next. While they were good, the tenderness was not exactly where I wanted it to be. Also messed up the appearance, and couldn't fit the last rib in the box, making it look uneven. Ribs were 8th place, which got us a call and a "consolation prize" mini-trophy.

Pork was next. I thought it came out really good. It took 7th place but I really expected it to be higher. That's how it goes sometimes. Just ask Sean McCabe of Que Ball about his brisket this week, he thought it was a true winner and it only took 9th. He didn't even want to go and get the trophy. Anyway, here's the pork.

The brisket just flat out missed. I used a different rub than I had in previous events, and it didn't come out the way I would have liked. The meat was tougher than I have ever had it come out before. 13th place.

Chef's Choice had to be 50% lobster, so I did bacon wrapped lobster with seafood remulade. Swing and a miss. 15th place.
Overall I was very disappointed with our BBQ scores. Disappointed with myself, not with the judges. I need to practice more.

After the BBQ turn ins were complete, we were all hanging around in the Que Ball tent. Somehow the discussion came up that Q Haven, Que Ball and Lakeside Smokers would all merge together and become a "MegaTeam." The MegaTeam would only cook in backyard BBQ competitions. Throughout the afternoon and awards ceremony, shouts of "MegaTeam" could be heard echoing through the farmland of Maine. Whether or not the MegaTeam will actually compete in any events remains a mystery. But look out....if MegaTeam does go public, the other teams at that particular event will be in big trouble.

Not from our cooking, but for their own personal safety!

I have fond memories of our weekend in the farmlands of Maine. I'm sure a lot of other competitors feel the same way.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


We finally got a chance to find out first hand why everyone says the Harpoon New England BBQ Championships is the best contest in the Northeast.

Harpoon certainly lived up to its billing.

We arrived at the Harpoon Brewery at around noon Friday. I had wanted to drive up Thursday night in order to get a good vending spot, but was informed by the organizers that we could not get on site until Friday at 11AM. Apparently we were the only team who got that directive, as when we arrived, around 30 teams were already in place and set up. No big deal though, as we got a good spot just off the main drag and near the beer tents.

Harpoon is basicly backwards compared to the other New England BBQ Society events. Usually, NEBS has the grilling event on Saturday and BBQ Sunday. Harpoon has BBQ Saturday and grilling Sunday.

With the BBQ Saturday, we had to immediately begin prepping once we got our site set up. As usual, we brought way to much gear, something I have been trying to avoid. I'm getting better though.

Friday night was fun. Chris Hart and iQue cooked up a taco dinner for the cooks, which was great. It was nice to not have to worry about dinner and focus on the more important task at hand: drinking as much of the free beer as possible. Soon after we arrived, some Harpoon folks delivered three cases of their fine products, and we ended up getting two more the next day. Also, with our welcome packet, we received a big stack of drink tickets. Needless to say, there was no shortage of drinking going on.

There was no shortage of Brethren on hand. Visited with Vinny of Bad Bones BBQ, and finally got to meet the Poobah, Phil, who runs the BBQ Brethren web site. We talked for a while in his competition trailer, which is really cool. Also got to hang around with Willie B, the Champlain Pit Crew and many others.

Willy B

Friday night was a lot of fun. We set the WSM's on Minion method autopilot and cruised around the venue. Didn't party too hard, visited with a lot of teams and Cristiaan and I focused on making sure we didn't lose the temperature on the WSM's. At Lake Placid we all went to sleep and woke up to a 180 degree pit.

After a few hours of sleep, Saturday was all about the BBQ competition and vending.

Harpoon is the one event in the region where the teams are allowed to vend BBQ to the public. I decided that since we have the manpower available with my sister Kathleen and her boyfriend Jon, that we would try our hands at vending. I didn't want to go too crazy cooking and end up not selling all our food, so I didn't bring a whole lot to vend. However, our efforts were very successful, and we sold every bit of our Q, which was awesome.

I wish we could sell food at all our competitions, it would be a great way to offset costs.

However, the vending may have been a little bit of a distraction from the real task at hand, trying to make a strong showing in the BBQ contest. We did pretty well, finishing 7th overall in a very strong field of teams. But I really wanted to do better, and get one of those really nice beer tap trophies.

For chicken, I have completely blown up my old recipe and am developing a new one. However, with any recipe change, there are growing pains. We are now sponsored by Plowboys BBQ and their Yardbird Rub, and this was our first competition using it. The chicken really tasted great, but the appearance was way too dark. Even though it was just smoked, it looked burned, and it didn't score well. Chicken took 22nd place, our worst score of the day.

Next were ribs. I missed the mark a little bit with the flavor here, having made a subtle rub change. However, they were still damn good in my biased opinion. They took 12th place, even though one jerk judge gave them a 7-5-5. I get annoyed when five of the judges give mostly 7's, 8's and 9's then one gives a 5-5. I know the low scores get dropped but it is still annoying. Ribs were 12th place.

Pork was next. I'm very happy with the pork right now. The rub-injection-smoke-sauce combination is working well for us. I started using this recipe at the Jack last year and it was 20th there. Since then, we've had pork calls in almost every event, 2nd at the Winter Sizzler, 2nd in New Hampshire, and at Harpoon a call for 7th place. Was our only call of the weekend.

The final category was brisket. We cooked two briskets, and neither came out particularly well. Both were a little dry, so I ended up saucing it for turn ins. The flavor was pretty good, and brisket took 13th place.

Overall, 7th place is not that bad, especially with the impressive list of teams that was on hand.

My plan was simple, focus on the BBQ competition, then party hard Saturday night. Cristiaan was going to completely handle the grilling on Sunday, so I was really relaxed for a change. After all the stress of planning for the event, working my full time job as a news bureau chief for Westwood One/Metro Networks in Hartford, and putting in long hours at my part time job as a bartender at the New Haven Country Club, I was ready to get ripped.

We hung around with several teams Saturday night. Also, Mike Boisvert and Kris Eastman of Lakeside Smokers were up to judge, and we got to party with them. It was great to see them for a while, and we're looking forward to spending time with them in Maine this weekend.

We also got to have some drinks and Jello shots with the event grand champions, Lunchmeat. Michelle, Gary, Sully and the rest of their team have always been so nice to us since we started competing last year. After numerous reserve grand championships, they now are officially going to the Jack. I'm really happy for them, I know they will have a great time and represent New England well. Barrrh-bahhh-quueee!

Also got to spend some time with Robert Fernandez of the White Trash BBQ blog, who was up for the weekend to judge. Nice guy, and I enjoy his blog. He updates almost every day, unlike me....

Things took a turn for the strange late at night. I went in for a tour of the brewery sometime after midnight, but grew bored pretty quickly in my intoxicated state and left. By then, most of the teams had packed it in and wrapped up their parties. I found Cristiaan back at our camp, and we decided to go check out the camping area down by the Connecticut River to see if anyone was still partying.

Down by the river, there were a bunch of people hanging out by a bonfire in the center of this strange circle made up of these really tall, wooden stick figures playing instruments. I know that makes very little sense, so here is a picture of it.

They were mostly people who work at the brewery and members of bands performing at the festival. They had a guitar and were just sitting around the fire, playing music, laughing and drinking. They took us in and it was a great way to finish up the evening.

Sunday was the grilling contest. Cristiaan came up with the recipes for all four categories, allowing me to focus on the BBQ and vending for the weekend. The first category was chef's choice, for which he decided to cook skirt steak with a green peppercorn sauce. I thought it was good, and the presentation was really nice. The judges agreed on the presentation, but panned it overall. 29th Place

Next was wings. Cristiaan grilled the wings with a honey bourbon glaze. I didn't get to taste one, and they scored 19th.

Sausage was next. I believe it was maple glazed sausage patties, and I believe it took 22nd.

The final category was pork chops. This was our best showing in the grilling competition, taking 12th place.

Overall, we were 24th in the grilling. Certainly not what we expected, but what can you do? I felt bad for Cristiaan, because he put a lot of work into the planning and cooking. But I'm sure it will just motivate him to improve.

After the breakdown, we went down to the river and cooled off before hitting the road. It was the perfect finish to a great weekend.