Saturday, September 27, 2008


Ribs are the reason I started cooking BBQ in the first place. But man have my preparation of them evolved over the years.

I am embarrassed to admit that when I first started cooking "ribs" on my own, I boiled them. And they weren't even ribs! I would take those "country style ribs" and boil them with spices. Then, I would finish them on the grill or in the oven with KC Masterpiece. Real BBQ'ers are probably cringing at this, but they were actually pretty good.

I always wanted to cook real ribs the way I had remembered them from eating out as a kid, and from my years at the University of Alabama.
Once I started learning about real BBQ on the Internet years later I started cooking loin back ribs regularly. And they were usually pretty good. These are our first place ribs from our second ever contest, the New Hampshire Rock-n-Ribfest in June of 2006.

Here's some extra porn...

Once I started competing, I learned that a lot of the teams that score consistently high in ribs use spare ribs instead of back ribs. This year I started practicing spares, and turned them in for the first time at Harpoon. They took 12th place, not bad at all for a first time out at a tough competition. My second shot at competing with spares was at New Paltz, and those came in 3rd out of more than 50 teams.

Will I stick with spares when competing in the future? I'm not sure. Only the judges will really know :-)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Westport, Connecticut, USA

Q Haven finally got to cook in our home state this past weekend in Westport, Connecticut, the first annual Blues, Views and BBQ. With the drive so short and perfect weather forecasted, it seemed like this would be an easy weekend. It was a lot of fun, but it was also anything but easy.

It started off easy enough. I took Friday off work so I could focus on getting ready for the contest. It was a whirlwind day. Dropped Max off at daycare, went down to BJ's for gas and final meat purchasing, then to Stop and Shop for final groceries, then home to prep meat and do final packing. Then it was off to pick up the camper, take it to a nearby campground to dump the tanks, then home to finish packing up. Oops, I forgot to stop and get beer, zipped down to the liquor store and loaded up, back home, showered and was ready. We hit the road at around 6:30 p.m.

Talk about leaving everything to the last minute....

Sheila, Max and I got to the site, and there were only a few other teams there. got the camper into the site and it was tight. At some contests there is some wiggle room, but here the sites were strictly 20 feet by 20 feet. Paying for the extra large site would have been a good idea.

We got our basic setup done pretty quickly, thanks to Merle and company from Wine and Swine, who all started unloading our stuff, was really nice of them. The bad news is that for some reason, the power was not being turned on until Saturday morning. This was bad for us, as it got pretty cold, and we only had battery power in the camper. When we had to turn on the camper furnace in the middle of the night, we were worried that the power would run out and poor Max would freeze. The battery was about dead when the juice was turned on in the AM Saturday.

Once we got up Saturday, there wasn't a whole lot to do. They wanted the teams to judge for the backyard BBQ contest, and the Iron Chef contest was not until after the cook's meeting at 5PM. We got there to judge and they had more than enough, so we were turned away.

In the meantime, we got to spend a little time with the many teams who made the trip. Lakeside Smokers, Transformer BBQ, Wine and Swine and a few other cool teams were all located right around us. However, it was just me and Sheila, and we were kind of tied to our site because Max was there, and I did not get to really hang around with everyone as much as I would have liked. It was easier with Max at New Paltz, because he was new and everyone wanted to hold him and watch him. This time we felt a little more tied down.


Fast forward to the Iron Chef. The ingredients they provided were a pork tenderloin, a sweet potato, a zucchini and a bottle of Paul Newman's marinade. We really did not go too far outside the box here. I marinated the tenderloin and smoked it, and Sheila made brown sugar mashed sweet potatoes and mixed the zucchini with some red pepper and butter. Overall the dish was OK, really nothing special, and it scored towards the bottom. We were so bummed about it that we didn't even take a picture.

There was a lot of partying going on Saturday night, but I didn't partake a whole lot. For some reason I just wasn't feeling it. Reloaded the Backwoods with charcoal and went to bed around 11:30, was up at 4:30 AM to start cooking.
Finally, Cristiaan showed up at around 9AM. He had to attend a wake Friday night, then had to work until late Saturday night, so he could not make it until then. It was good to have him there, we really needed the morale boost and an extra set of hands.


The chicken could have done really well. It was probably the most well cooked chicken I have made in a while. The only problem was that I used a little too much rub, and we all agreed that it tasted too salty. Finished 25th (35 teams).

Next were the ribs. I was worried before these ever hit the smoker. When I bought them, I thought I had selected two packages of two racks of spares each. However, one of them was deceiving, and actually contained three racks. Three scrawny racks. The other two were ok, so I knew the turn ins would probably have to come from those two.
The ribs missed. 20th place.

Thank goodness for the pork. Just like at New Paltz, one good call salvaged the weekend for us, as we were called for third place. I had experimented with a new pork recipe at New Paltz, and it didn't work at all. I went back to the basics this time, and the old recipe worked pretty well.

Funny story about this call to the stage. We obviously didn't have a discussion about what to do if we did in fact get a call. When we got called, Sheila, Cristiaan and I all headed up to the stage to accept the award. I just assumed that my parents would stay with Max as we went to the stage. I assumed wrong...when we got back people immediately pointed out that we just abandoned our little boy, right there in the crowd! It was embarrassing, but seriously, I would never worry at all with him surrounded by great BBQ people!

Max all alone at the awards!

Next was brisket, and I knew immediately this was not going to win any awards. I cooked a whole packer and a flat. The packer just wasn't where it needed to be, and the flat ended up being shoe leather. We took 12th, which surprised me a little. I thought it would be much lower.
So in the end, we were 9th overall. Not great, not too bad. The one good call really helped though, without it it would have been a pretty lousy scoring weekend.

The grand champions were "Sledneck" Steve and R2-BQ. Was great to see a new face in "victory lane."
So with the Westport contest history, our 2008 season is likely done as well. While we had a good time at Sayville last year, it is a lot of work and expense. Especially with the choices getting there being a $300 ferry across to Long Island, or driving down through the Bronx and Queens, then on the LIE with the camper. As of this writing, I am just not feeling up to it.

But overall, ending the season probably isn't the worst thing right now. We got a really late start because of the birth of Max, but were still able to get Harpoon, New Paltz and Westport in after he was born July 11th. We were reserve grand champions at Harpoon too, which was one of our all time team highlights.
Probably the best thing I can do is start practicing for 2009. I feel like some changes are in order.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Back From Westport

Got back from the Westport contest around 9PM last night. Was a really fun weekend, great weather, great venue, lots of friends close by. Our scores weren't where I would have liked them to be, but the judges were really right on. I can identify exactly what went wrong with each category that led to the scores missing the mark.

Got one good call, 3rd place pork with 35 teams, and we finished 9th overall, so it was an OK showing. But 25th place chicken and 20th place ribs hurt. Brisket was 12th, and I was surprised it finished that high.

It's funny how I think that the more competitions you do, the easier it should get, and that is never the case. In a couple of ways, it is back to square one for me. I'll post the whole weekend round up soon....the good, the bad and the ugly!

Friday, September 19, 2008


It's competition day!

We leave for Westport tonight. Finally a contest I don't have to drive more than two hours to get to. With light traffic, as I am expecting after 6 tonight, it shouldn't take us more than an hour and 15 minutes.

The best part for me today is that I took the day off work. I do have a full day planned though.

First, it is off to the camper place to get a new house for dumping my tanks. The last one is what came with the camper, and it never really stayed on properly. I don't want to go into detail but this is the nasty part of owning an RV. I will be getting the best one I can buy.

Next, it's off to BJ's to get last minute meat and charcoal. Then, home to do a little prep work. After that it will be off to the place where I park the camper these days, bring it home and do some final packing. I went over to the camper yesterday to get some stuff done, so everything is clean and ready to go.

After that, some final packing, then when Sheila gets home with Max we are off!

The good news is that a lot of friends are coming tonight. Lakeside Smokers, Transformer BBQ and Wine and Swine will all be there tonight. We really have nothing to do until the Iron Chef contest Saturday night, so we will have a lot of time to just hang out and relax.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Finally A Connecticut Contest!

This weekend, Q Haven will be competing in my home state of Connecticut for the first time since I started cooking contests in 2006. It's the Blues, Views and BBQ in Westport. It should be a very interesting weekend to say the least.

As of now there are 30 teams signed up for the contest. That's a great showing for a first time event, with a few factors playing into it. One, it seems like it is going to be a pretty cool event. Two, pretty good prize money. Three, as things stand now it is an automatic qualifier for the Jack. However, that could change if there is another Connecticut contest added between now and September first of next year. But I have heard nothing, so it is very likely that whoever wins will know that they are going to Lynchburg in October of 2009.

Anyway, I am excited for this one. It may be our last contest of 2008, so I really want to do well as I get ready for the long winter off season.

We will be arriving in Westport Friday night. I'm taking Friday off work so I do not have to go nuts getting ready all day.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Jack Draw

The Jack draw was today. We weren't in it. Bummer....

Actually, Q Haven came pretty close. We missed an automatic bid to the Jack at Harpoon by 2.2 points. So close, but yet so far.

I am not complaining though, as it can go both ways. When we won the New Hampshire state championship in June of 2006, our score was 632.0002. The team we beat, BS BBQ, had a score of 632.0000. Two ten thousandths of a percentage point. That must have been tough on them, but because of it we went to the Jack.

I really want to go back someday. When we went in 2006, I was so new to the competition scene that I don't think I quite appreciated it. We kind of did our own thing, and did not really spend a whole lot of time with the great teams that were there. It did not help a lot that the first two days it poured like crazy.

This year, only three New England teams are qualified. But if you could pick three New England teams out of the pool, most would pick the three that are going, I Smell Smoke!!!, iQue and Lunchmeat. Congratulations to all three teams, I wish you the best of luck down there!

Hopefully at this time next year, we will be in the draw with a chance to go back.

For a flashback post, click HERE to read about our trip to the Jack in 2006.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Labor Day Weekend Catering

Been a while, sorry for the lack of posts lately.

I've been pretty tied up with the combination of caring for our little man, along with working a full and a part time job (so our little man can enjoy a comfortable lifestyle!)

Got to do a little Q'ing, however, as for the second straight year we did a catering job for a Hamden, CT family on Saturday of Labor Day weekend. Naturally I had to complicate things by bartending Friday night. It was margarita night at the country club where I work part time, and I have learned that making myself unavailable for an important shift like margarita night usually leads to being left off the schedule for weeks. So I sucked it up and worked.

So that meant that I had to work from 5AM until noon at my full time job, drive home to Norwich, load six pork butts and two whole packer briskets into the Backwoods, then get into the car and drive to New Haven by 5PM to bartend. While I was gone, Sheila filled in admirably as pitmaster and made sure the smoker stayed at temperature. Home at 1PM, dumped the ash and reloaded a new full basket of charcoal, filled the water pan, threw in a brisket flat I was making just in case and it was off to bed for a few hours of sleep.

Up at 7AM, once the meats were at temperature I wrapped them all in foil and piled them into a large cooler for transport to the site. Got there at around 12:30 PM, with arrival between 3 and 3:30 PM.

The job was for 50-55 people, and they wanted plenty of leftovers. I cooked the six butts, two whole briskets and one flat in advance. On site I cooked 50 smoked chicken wings, three sausage fatties and 50 ABT's (bacon wrapped stuffed jalapeno's). I served the ABT's and one of the fatties as appetizers, with each fattie slice cut into fours and toothpicked. They all went pretty quickly.

All the other food was on the buffet. By the time we left after most people had already eaten, all of the other two fatties were gone and there were only three wings left. Most of the brisket flat remained, along with the burnt ends (which I put out last as a final treat), and there were a couple of small chaffing pans of pork left.

Overall, everyone seemed to really enjoy the food. Catering jobs are a lot of work, but can be really satisfying when they go well. We really had a good time doing it, and hopefully they will ask us back for a third year next year!

Naturally, we forgot to bring our camera and did not take any pictures of the food. If the host took any that she can send me I will post them.