Sunday, October 28, 2007

New Smoker!!!

While many BBQ teams were returning home from the Jack Daniel's Invitational Sunday, I was on my way to pick up something we hope will help get us back to the Jack next year.

Finally, after months of planning, research, shopping, and pestering other teams to see their smokers, we have purchased a Backwoods Party with the fixed water pan and stainless steel doors. Here she is!

Ain't she a beauty!

We drove more than three hours Sunday morning up to New Hampshire, where Backwoods dealer Rick Surette of Seabrisket lives. We've been e-mailing on and off, back and forth for more than six-months as we shopped. Finally, after much deliberation, we settled on the Party instead of the Fatboy, which is the next larger size for those not familiar with their products. We settled on the Party (140 pounds) because is is much lighter than the Fatboy (270 pounds), and the party has almost as much cooking space as the Fatboy.

Also, the Party costs a grand less, which helped make the decision too.

Rick was awesome to deal with. I highly recommend him to anyone shopping for a Backwoods. His team Seabrisket has been very successful over the years, and last year they only cooked Memphis in May sanctioned contests. I hope to see them out on the KCBS circuit in 2008.

I can't wait to try it out. I would have cooked tonight but we got back pretty late and didn't have any meat. I immediately went to Home Depot and got some casters for it. They only had smaller ones that fit the smoker, but I got them anyway. The wheels will make it easier to roll it in and out of the garage during the winter as I practice on it. They will definitely need to be replaced, as these won't budge in the grass, which is where most of our competitions are held.

Since we have been competing, we have used Weber Smokey Mountain smokers exclusively. I will still continue to use them, as we will certainly need extra cooking space at certain competitions. They have served us well, and we are just one of many teams who have won competitions using WSM's. I highly recommend the WSM to anyone who is just getting started cooking real BBQ. Here are me and my WSM's.

But I am so excited to have this new smoker. I want the 2008 season to start tomorrow....

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Battle of the BBQ Brethren, Sayville NY

This past weekend, Q Haven competed at the Battle of the BBQ Brethren in Sayville, Long Island, New York. We had originally planned to compete at Dover this weekend, but after much deliberation we decided to head to Long Island instead. It turned out to be the right decision for many reasons.

The first had nothing to do with Long Island. Apparently there was a massive storm in Dover that caused major damage to team sites. I remember how scary the microburst was at New Paltz back in August, and by all accounts this was much worse. In Long Island, we got a lot of rain Friday night, but the weather was beautiful Saturday and Sunday.

Getting ahead of myself again....

Sheila and I decided that we would take the ferry to Long Island instead of driving the long way, down I-95 to New York City, then back up to Sayville. Even though it cost over a hundred dollars each way, it was well worth it, as getting the SUV and trailer on and off the ferry was a snap, and the drive was easy on the NY side.

We arrived at the site of the contest mid afternoon Friday. The contest was set in a park in the middle of a neighborhood. Will Breakstone aka Willie B greeted us and set us up with a nice site at the back of the contest area.

We only did a partial set up Friday because of the rain. However, we made a ton of ABT's, also known as stuffed jalapenos wrapped with bacon, for the planned potluck dinner Friday night. Unfortunately, a lot of the teams decided to either arrive Saturday morning or went home for the night because of the bad weather. That meant a lot of ABT's ended up in the garbage.

The good news was that there was a ton of food left over from the sponsor's dinner, so the teams were treated to a late night feast of prime rib. Very cool.

Saturday, the weather cleared up nicely, and the conditions were ideal for a competition for the rest of the weekend. High around 80 both days, no humidity, little wind. It was perfect.

Saturday was the grilling competition. Nineteen teams participated in the grilling event of the total of 29 teams entered in the contest. It was one of our finest events as a team, even though it was just Sheila and I doing the cooking, with assistance from Kris Eastman of Lakeside Smokers.

The first category was beef steak. I decided to cook filet mignon with bernaise sauce. The sauce came out really well, and the steak took 5th place.

Next came chicken wings. I've never had a call in chicken wings before spanning several grilling competitions. However, these came out awesome. I used Plowboy's Yardbird Rub and BBQ sauce, and the wings took first place.

Next was fruit. Sheila developed this recipe, which was grilled pineapples with chocolate sauce. Again, first place. Sheila rocks!

The final category was fish steak. We did the exact same recipe we used at New Paltz, swordfish with champagne mustard sauce, which came in second place out of 31 teams that contest. Not this time. The swordfish came in 13th.

When all the numbers were in, we were reserve grand champions, which is 2nd place. It was a great moment for us.

Saturday night was just a whole lot of fun. There wre a lot of friends at the contest. We were sited right next to Lakeside Smokers, who are our best friends on the competition circuit. On the other side, we had Wine and Swine, another Connecticut team who we had never met before. They turned out to be a great bunch of guys, with Merl and Jason working in the liquor business and Mike DeAngelo, who is a chef at Paul Newman's restaurant in Fairfield County.

We also got to spend time with a lot of friends from the BBQ Brethren, including Clint Cantwell (Smoke in da Eye), the Anchormen (sans Ray Depot), the grand poobah Phil who runs the Brethren web site, and many others.

Perhaps the weekend's most impressive showing was by Transformer BBQ. They decided that doing one BBQ competition in a weekend wasn't enough, so they cooked in Dover Saturday, then drove to Long Island and competed Sunday. They came in 20th in Dover among some fierce national competition, then finished 5th overall in Long Island. Brendan, Julie and JT are clearly a force to be reckoned with. They'll be at the Jack Daniel's sooner than later in my opinion.
Anyway, back to the cooking.

Unfortunately, our strong showing in the grilling contest didn't exactly carry over to the BBQ competition Sunday.

The first category was chicken. I didn't get the grill as hot as I wanted it, and I was having trouble getting the chicken finished. However, it finished just in time, and we got our first call of the season in chicken, taking 5th place.

Next were ribs. I decided to take a chance and marinate the ribs, something I had never done before in competition. Also, I bought the ribs at Restaurant Depot, which is a place I use for a lot of things, but not usually for ribs. Not sure if those things were really factors, but the ribs really missed the mark. 22nd place.

Missed with pork too. We thought this was our best turn in of the weekend. The judges disagreed. Also, 22nd place.

The final category was brisket. We thought brisket was our worst category of the weekend. Dry and tough. There must have been a lot of bad brisket turned in too, because we took 8th place.

Overall, it was a pretty successful and very fun contest. I wish the BBQ results were better but I recognize some key mistakes that probably cost us in ribs and pork.

The people who put this contest together did an awesome job. Especially Eric Devlin (motoeric), who despite a foot injury hobbled around from team to team on crutches every day to make sure everything was OK. Will Breakstone (Willie B) did a great job too, as did the too many to mention people who did little things behind the scenes that made the contest such a success.

Now, the long off season begins. Believe me there will be a lot of practicing.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Back From the "Battle of the BBQ Brethren"

We had an awesome time this weekend at the Battle of the BBQ Brethren in Sayville, NY. It was a great weekend of friends, food and summer-like weather conditions that made for a wonderful late October getaway.

To top it off, we took reserve grand champions in the NEBS grilling event Saturday and got two calls in the KCBS BBQ contest Sunday.

I'll post a complete recap of the contest by the end of the week.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Preparing For The BBQ Brethren Battle

Friday morning, we are heading to Long Island for the Battle of the BBQ Brethren in Sayville, NY. This is our first competition since the Hudson Valley Ribfest in mid August.

We have had a lot of time to plan for this contest, and can't wait to get there!

We leave Friday morning, taking the camper on the Cross Sound Ferry from New London, CT to Orient Point in Long Island. Since the New London ferry is ten minutes from our house, this will make the trip a whole lot easier, albiet more expensive. But now, we won't have to drive a giant circle, or pass through New York City with the trailer, to make it to the contest.

Even better, we have decided to get a hotel room near the contest site for Sunday night. Mike and Kris from Lakeside Smokers are staying in the same hotel that night, so we will be able to just relax with friends after the event instead of driving hours home Sunday night. Then, we are taking a noon ferry home on Monday.

Since the contest is being planned by competition teams, including Willie B of the team I Like Smoke and Lightning, this will surely be a cooker friendly contest. If anyone is heading down to the event this weekend, be sure to stop by and say hello.

Also, we will have plenty of Plowboy's Yardbird Rub we will be selling at the contest. We have both 8 ounce shakers for $5 and 16 ounce shakers for $8.

We're looking forward to a great weekend of Q with some great friends!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Chicken Skin

The one thing I have never been able to get right when BBQing is chicken skin. I have had varying degrees of success in achieving both crispy and tender skin. I have struggled with whether to go for crispy or tender. I'm beginning to think crispy is the way to go.

Chicken skin is the source of a lot of debate among BBQ cooks. It is such a difficult thing to get right. I envy some of the teams in New England that seem to really do well with chicken, Dirty Dick and the Legless Wonders, Lunchmeat and QWannabees to name a few. I have no idea what they are doing, but I haven't been able to figure it out.

Well maybe not until now.

I think all the practice is starting to pay off, and I'm finally starting to get good crispy skin without burning it. I used to smoke our chicken, but in the last few months I have changed everything, the entire recipe, and we're grilling and not smoking. The last few test cooks have been really good. I can't wait to try it out on the judges later this month at the Battle of the BBQ Brethren in Sayville, NY.

In the meantime, several New England teams are jetting off to the American Royal in Kansas City this weekend. I really wish we had qualified for the invitational like we did last year. Unfortunately, we had booked a vacation for that week last year, so we couldn't go. We could go and cook the open, but that is always more than 400 teams and I have told myself that we will not go unless we are qualified for the invitational. Good luck to the New England teams in KC this year!

Hopefully next year we'll be there! Instead, I'll be working Friday and Saturday, and watching football on Sunday.