Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Months ago, I stared at my calendar and had pretty much decided that I would not be able to go to Harpoon. Sheila was pregnant with Max, and her due date was July 22. The Harpoon BBQ contest is July 25-27. There was just no way I could possibly plan to go with the baby's due date so close.

Then, something happened.

In June, the doctors moved her due date up to July 15, and I started thinking that maybe it would be possible. When he was born healthy even earlier on July 11, the decision was made. I was going.

Now, we are the reserve grand champions of the event. But let me back up.

I always expect to do well at BBQ contests. If I didn't, I wouldn't compete. I doubt any of the teams put in all the time, effort and money with a hope of finishing 38th. However, at this particular event, I did not feel any real pressure to do well. We had not competed at a sanctioned KCBS contest since last October at Sayville, and most of the top teams at Harpoon had competed five, six times so far this season. To think I would show up after so much time off and do really well would have been silly. Also, some big national teams had come up, making the normally tough Harpoon field just that much tougher.

But the good thing is that I have been cooking and practicing all along. Mostly chicken and ribs, but I did do a brisket last month too. Since Sayville, I also got a new smoker, a Backwoods Party, and have added a BBQ Guru to it to help better control the temperature.

I was also planning to cook spare ribs in the competition instead of baby backs for the first time. While I felt pretty good with my new spares recipe, you never really know how they will do the first time out of the box.

We were planning to vend too, which adds a layer of difficulty to things.

So going in, I decided a few things; For one I wasn't sleeping Friday night. One problem in the last few contests was that if I go to sleep at all, the pit temperature crashes. I was not going to let that happen. Also, while I wanted to do well vending, my competition meat was going to get top priority.

So the plan was to have my brother Cristiaan go up early to secure a good vending spot for us. He got up there Thursday morning, but the site we wanted was already roped off. So we got a good spot next to our first choice, which was near the beer tents, but not on the main drag. I had no intention of cooking enough food to justify taking a spot on the main road, which is where most of the food is sold.

I got up there Friday before noon. We were set up right next to Lakeside Smokers, which was awesome. Mike and Kris are the best, and there is nobody I would rather be set up next to. On the other side was the Giggling Pigs, who were nice.

Unfortunately, Sheila did not make the trip. The baby was only two weeks old, and even with the camper, we felt that it was just too soon to bring him to a contest. Also, his presence would have been a huge distraction. That, combined with Sheila needing to be near a computer to deal with work issues, made it impossible for her to come.

We got our meat inspected quickly so I was able to get everything marinated and seasoned quickly. Usually I end up running around socializing with everyone, but I really tried to stay on our site and focus on the task at hand.

With the exception of the new ribs, the rest of the recipes for the contest were set. The only difference is that I went back to my old butcher for briskets, Salem Prime Cuts in Salem, CT. While he always gets quality meats, when I picked them up, they were really small. This concerned me, but I just adjusted cooking times and they clearly worked out well.

So Saturday rolled around, and while I was pretty tired, the cook went very smooth. My sister Kathleen, her boyfriend Jon and Cristiaan's girlfriend Kim all were going to handle the vending operation. This allowed myself and Cristiaan to focus on the contest.

The chicken came out ok. I was not sure how it would do. The skin was a little rubbery, despite my best efforts, but it tasted pretty good. Chicken was called for 9th place.

The ribs, I cooked three racks of spares for the contest. Two of the racks, I overcooked. I lifted them with tongs and they fell apart. Ut oh....but the third rack was not too tender and sliced nicely. All six bones came from the same rack, which I understand is unusual for competition spares. They did ok, 12th place in a difficult field. Not bad for a new recipe.

Next was pork. My pork recipe has been pretty consistent, usually gets called in the top ten. This time was no different, 7th place.

Then came the brisket.

I should have had some idea that the brisket was going to come out really good during the overnight hours. Brendan from Transformer BBQ was over, and commented how good the brisket smelled coming out of my Backwoods smoker. Then, once the vending started, I carved some of the brisket for a few customers and they raved about it.

Once I started carving for the contest, I knew the meat was really good. However, a couple of the slices seemed a little bit tough, although they all tasted great. When they called it for first place, it was a great feeling.

About a minute later, we were called as reserve grand champions. We missed being grand champions with an automatic bid to the Jack Daniels contest by 2.2 points. While of course I would have liked to have won, I really couldn't have been much happier to win reserve. With the strong team list, even finishing in the top ten is a great accomplishment.

My only regret is that Sheila was not there to share the experience. She is my partner and biggest supporter, and I know she would have really enjoyed the weekend.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Harpoon, Reserve Grand Champions

Even though we did not win, Q Haven represented this past weekend at the Harpoon New England Championship BBQ in Windsor, Vermont. We got calls for 9th place chicken, 7th place pork and 1st place beef brisket and were reserve grand champions of the event. We missed winning the contest by 2.2 points.

The 1st place brisket at this event was my single best accomplishment as a BBQ cook.
The only bummer was that Sheila couldn't be there to enjoy the great weekend with us. We decided that at two weeks old, Max was just too young to bring to a contest. They were both sorely missed.

I will write up a full recap of the event at some point this week. But I want to say thanks to everyone who was so great to us this weekend at Harpoon. An unforgettable weekend for sure.
[[Photo shamelessly stolen from Lakeside Smokers, thanks Mike!]]

Monday, July 21, 2008


Four days until I head up to Harpoon!

I cannot wait to get up there. We haven't cooked a KCBS sanctioned contest since late October of last year, almost 9 months! It seems like forever, that's for sure. However, I do not regret putting the schedule on hold as Sheila's pregnancy progressed. Looking back, she was fine, and we certainly could have cooked at Peter's Pond, New Hampshire or even Lake Placid. In fact, she worked at her job until the day that her water broke. Pretty impressive, a tough, hard working woman. I am proud of her.

Unfortunately, she will not be coming to Harpoon. She keeps saying that she wants to come up for one of the days. Max is doing great, and seems to enjoy riding in the car. But we know that it is just not worth it. She will be missed, that's for sure. She has been handling all the garnish for the turn in boxes, and my brother and I will have to pick up the slack. Also, we expect to be busy vending, and her help would certainly make a difference.

With the air conditioned camper, she certainly could come. But it would be just more trouble than it is worth. However, Max will be coming to Hudson Valley next month for sure.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Max Has Arrived!

I haven't had much time to post lately, with a very good excuse. Our first child, a boy named Max, was born Friday, July 11th.

The little guy and Sheila are both doing great, and today is the first time I have been able to start thinking seriously about BBQ. We leave for Harpoon next Friday morning, and I have started planning for the contest and the vending operation.

Since the baby came early (he was actually due July 22), I will be able to go up to Vermont for the whole weekend now for sure. If he had just been born on the 22nd as expected, there is no way I could have left Sheila alone and gone away for the weekend. But now, that has changed. Sheila had the baby naturally, and she has bounced back great. We have friends who will come down and stay with her for those days if she needs it, but she feels that she can handle him on her own either way.

The last time I cooked a KCBS contest was last October. Wow, that is nine months ago. I cooked the FYBO in March, but that was not KCBS sanctioned. I am really concerned that I will fall flat in the competition at Harpoon because I am so out of practice. Most of our competition friends have cooked three, four, five or more events this year. But if that happens, so be it.
Regardless, I will be sure to have a great time and soak it all in. Harpoon may just be the first time I get a full night's sleep!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Catching Up

Haven't had a whole lot of time to post, but have had a few BBQ related things going on.

Last Wednesday, I went to the Cookhouse Cafe in East Hartford for a little BBQ with Gary Goldblatt of After hearing a lot of negativity about the cookhouse, I was pleasantly surprised by our meal. They have a new appetizer called "pig wings." They are pork wrapped around a small bone and smoked. They were good, and definitely something different and interesting.

I was also surprised by the brisket. It was extremely moist and flavorful. Their "burnt ends" were nothing more than point meat cut into cubes. They weren't seasoned any further or re-smoked as some people like to cook burnt ends, but they were still pretty good. The ribs were OK, would have been mush if they had removed the membrane.

The one thing that really annoyed me was the service. I do not expect white glove treatment or the table to be crumbed between courses when visiting a BBQ joint, but for Gary to have an empty drink through the entire dinner in a near empty restaurant was unacceptable. And she dropped the check before the table was cleared. We sat there for an hour after we finished, she could have at least refilled our waters instead of taking them away.

But I have learned to get used to bad service. But I am allowed to complain about it....

HERE is the link to the review of the Cookhouse Cafe, complete with pictures. They have updated the menu since his review, but it still holds up.

Saturday, we hosted a BBQ for around 20 people for the fireworks show in Norwich where we live. Our condo complex overlooks Norwich Harbor where the fireworks show takes place, so we decided to have a little cookout. I cooked 9 racks of ribs, a bunch of beef short ribs, wings, and a fattie. I decided to really stretch the Backwoods' legs, and cooked everything in there. It was a good learning experience.

Since everything in there had different cooking times, I ended up opening the smoker more times than I would have liked. This clearly contributed to the fact that the ribs were not as tender as they should have been. The large scale cook will be extremely helpful in a few weeks, when we will be cooking a ton of food for Harpoon and cannot afford to make any mistakes.