Monday, July 27, 2009


Cooked one of my favorite contests, last weekend, the Harpoon New England BBQ Championships in Windsor, Vermont. It's a weekend of cooking, friends and beer, beer beer. It was our third Harpoon, and as it had in previous years, the event did not disappoint.

The plan was for me to leave Thursday in order to get to the site in the afternoon and save some good spots for us and other teams.

The trip started off poorly Thursday, as I didn't get more than 10 minutes away from home before I had trouble with the trailer tires, again. I was adding air to the 4 trailer tires when the valve stem just blew off and whizzed past me like a rocket. Further inspection revealed that all four tires had dry rot on the valve stems, so I went over to an auto shop in Colchester and they replaced all four in around 15 minutes, and I was back on the road.

Unfortunately, that whole deal set me back a few hours. By the time I made it up to the contest site, it was after nine PM. One of my main motivations in getting up there so early was to have a choice of sites. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived, most of the sites I had my eye on were either taken by teams that were already there or were roped off.

My choices were: towards the front gate on the main road, a single spot in the high volume vending area, or way back in what is known as "the ghetto," back by the port-o-johns. I didn't want to be near the gate or in the ghetto, so I ended up taking the spot on the main drag. While I had planned to do a decent amount of vending, I did not think we would have enough food to justify being in that spot. But I felt it was either that spot or risk taking food home from lack of traffic, so I took that spot anyway. And we handled the crowds really well. Our site....

For vending, my plan was to cook ABT's, stuffed jalapenos. They are labor intensive, but I had a feeling that customers would love them, which they did. We ran out of them quickly, and even had to put a sign up "no more jalapenos!!!" because people kept asking for them. We also cooked ribs, and sold our extra competition meat too. We did end up selling out.
We also had Rick Westhaver, AKA "Little Dick" on hand to help with our vending. He's only 15, but has been going to contests for almost 15 years and the kid really did a great job for us. He knows his stuff, and don't be surprised if he starts winning contests as soon as he is old enough to cook himself.
Back to Thursday night, which was nice. There were not too many teams there, as most who arrived set up and went to hotels, and I had the camper to myself. Having a one year old boy, there are very few times when you can shut your phone off and just sleep in, which is exactly what I did. I did have to listen to the incessant sound of rain pounding the top of the camper all night, a reminder that this is a contest in the Northeast, where it always seems to rain.

At Harpoon, the KCBS competition is Saturday, and the NEBS grilling contest is Sunday. This is backwards from most contests in the Northeast, where grilling is Saturday and BBQ is Sunday.

Anyway, the KCBS contest is one I would rather forget. Nothing was either terrible or spectacular, it all was pretty much middle of the road. The bummer for us is that we had friends there who had never been to a contest before, and would have loved to give them something to cheer about at the awards. But no calls....

We did much better at the grilling contest.

I really wanted to do well in the grilling contest this year. As a team we have put up some really bad performances in grilling, and I wanted to reverse that trend. In my mind, I really wanted to win the grilling contest. I had only cooked two BBQ contests this year, and did not expect to be able to contend with a couple of top area teams that have been really nailing it lately in KCBS, but grilling is always wide open. And if you win Harpoon grilling, you get:

- One of the coolest trophies out there, which features a working Harpoon tap

- Free entry to next year's Harpoon contest, which will be at least $300
- $500 prize money

A pretty good prize package for a grilling contest for sure. I absolutely felt that we could compete for the win, and I wanted it badly. We came close.

Sheila and I talked a ton about grilling leading up to the contest. We settled on recipes that I felt would score well, plain and simple. Not trying to set trends, no experiments, just scores. The categories were lamb, beef, fish and chef's choice. Around 30 teams grilled.

For lamb, we cooked lamb chops. Got some nice chops, hit them with salt, pepper, fresh rosemary (thanks Jed) and some olive oil. They grilled up really nice. I had planned to hit them with a little mint jelly at the end, but it just looked horrible to me so I turned them in unsauced. Did ok, was 12th.

Next was beef. I did beef short ribs. They came out a little tough for my liking, but they tasted great. I had initially planned to turn in the ones that were all the same size, but sacrificed appearance in order to get the best, meatiest ones in the box. Worked out well in the end, took 2nd place.

Next was the fish, where we cooked salmon. This came out good too, took 6th place. Wrapping things up was chef's choice, which we did chicken wings. The wings were good, but it was the appearance that carried the day. Took 6th place.

So overall, we were reserve grand champions. Came close, but just wasn't enough to beat I Smell Smoke!!!, who swept both contests for the weekend. Even though we didn't win, it felt great to take RGC, especially after not doing well in the BBQ contest and dealing with a lot of adversity during the overnight hours Saturday into Sunday. It was a much needed confidence boost.

I stayed over alone at the site Sunday night. I had heard that in previous years, Sunday night had been a lot of fun, with many teams staying over and extending a great weekend by one more day. Unfortunately, pretty much everyone left this year. It was kind of sad to watch everyone break down and leave. We had just taken reserve and I really wanted to celebrate. At least a few stayed, including several members of the Lunchmeat team, along with Sean McCabe of Bourbon and Beale. Thanks to Lunchmeat for feeding me! It was a low key, relaxing night. I also hung around with Dr. Gonzo for the first time Sunday night. I had met him before but had never spent any real time with him. A really funny and interesting guy.

Before the sun went away Sunday, me, McCabe and Dr Gonzo walked down to the Path of Life Garden and the Connecticut River. I always make a point to go down there at some point during the contest. It is a really beautiful and strange place. If you want to see something really strange, venture down there after midnight on Saturday of BBQ weekend.

Got up Monday, packed up and was on the road by 9AM. Fortunately, this time I had an uneventful ride home, with no mechanical problems. It was great to see Max again, he stayed home and I really missed him. We stayed in touch via Blackberry though.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Ct river in VT

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Just me and McCabe

Almost everyone else is gone, but we're still hangin. Finally got down to the path of life gardens, such a great place.
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What a wild weekend

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Grilling at harpoon

Reserve: Q Haven!!!
Grand: who cares haha ISS
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Friday, July 24, 2009

The King

Andy the king
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Skip And Julie

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Our Vending Operation

Kathleen and Little Dick
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Mr Bobo

Hangin at Harpoon
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Finally at Harpoon

Well I've been here for a few hours, but the tire issues surely complicated things. But the problem has been dealt with, and believe me I will be real careful with my tires in the future.

By the time I arrived, most of the spots I wanted were long gone. So I ended up in a high profile vending site, right across from iQue on the main drag. Unfortunately we won't be next to Lakeside Smokers as we had hoped, but we are next to Transformer, which is cool.

Max will not be joining us this weekend. While I love that little guy more than anything, we really need an adult weekend. Adult swim has begun!

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Back in Business

At least it wasn't a blowout this time. The valve stem rotted out and when I went to add air blammo. Great guys at reliable auto in colchester replaced all 4 and I'm back in business. Back on the road and harpoon bound!!!
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Yep you guessed it

Another dam flat!
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Wednesday, July 22, 2009


It has been a really hectic past few weeks. I know that is not an excuse for the lack of posts, but it will have to do. I've had a few catering jobs combined with my real job, my part time job, and of course spending time with Sheila and Max. I feel guilty that I didn't post a recap from Lake Placid. So here is the short version: We drove, we got to our site, we had fun, we went to the awards.

The good news is that tomorrow, I will be heading up to Harpoon! I can't wait to get there. I have decided to make Harpoon my mini-vacation this year, as I will be there from Thursday until Monday. While the results of our last two contests don't have me very optimistic about a repeat of last year's success, I guarantee that we will have a lot of fun. In the end, that's why we do this.

Fortunately I have a new tire, and a new hydraulic jack in case the I-87 fiasco happens again. Here's to safe travels for my BBQ friends, see you in Windsor!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Harry's Place

They make some great burgers at Harry's Place in Colchester, CT. If you don't believe me, ask the folks at Gourmet magazine....

It's just off Route-2 in Colchester, between Hartford and Norwich. It's worth the stop. We had been there before for ice cream, but had dinner there for the first time tonight.

The burgers are never frozen. It was interesting to watch the guy cooking as he placed balls of meat on the grill, then mashed em down. They came out really juicy.

For me, they're a little small. Next time back I will have two for sure. But for the two of us two burgers, a large fries, large onion rings and two sodas it was only 15 bucks, can't do much better than that!

Fryin em up

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Sunday, July 05, 2009

Flat tire on I 87

We finally made it through the mountains from lake Placid to Interstate-87 and figured we were home free....guess again. The far rear right side tire on the camper blew out. I pulled over and by the time I had stopped to investigate the damage Brendan Burek of Transformer BBQ had already stopped behind us and swung into action. He basically changed the tire himself. I can't thank him enough, I would probably still be there along the Interstate if he did not pull up. It pays to have friends like Brendan, I certainly owe him multiple favors...

Actually three other BBQ teams also stopped to offer help...Eric Johnson of Mr Bobo's, Eric Mitchell of Yabba Dabba Que and Andy King of the Bastey Boys. When you hear people say that the people of the BBQ community are what bring them back to these competitions, this is exactly what they are talking about. Thanks to all!

The line of cars and trailers along the side of the highway was actually kind of funny.

The good news is that we made it home from Lake Placid safely. The bad news is that I was so wiped out that we didn't even make it to Albany before stopping and getting a hotel room for the night. But we made it, Sheila was at work before 9 and I was home by 10.

More about Lake Placid in the coming days. As the competition went, we were 11th overall with one call for 5th place chicken. Not a great showing but a lot better than New Hampshire two weeks ago. I guess improvement is all you can ask for, right?

Lake Placid Results

Top Chef Winner: Eric Mitchell, Yabba Dabba Que

Chicken: 1st Mr Bobo and the traveling all stars
Ribs: 1st Dirty Dick and the Legless wonders
Pork: 1st: Smoke on Wheels
Brisket: 1st: Good Smoke BBQ

3rd: Transformer BBQ
RGC: Smoke on Wheels
GC: I Smell Smoke!!!
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Awards starting

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They're looking pretty good so far. After a late night Friday I was in bed by 10:30 last night. There was a great fireworks show the weather cleared and things look awesome for today. Here's hoping for another Miracle in Lake Placid today. The team list is very strong so I know our stuff will have to be near perfect to have a chance.
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Blue Skies in Placid!

Things are looking up!
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Saturday, July 04, 2009

Still Raining

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Gary T

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Late night

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Friday, July 03, 2009

Max N Carmen

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Un freaking believable. Been here 10 minutes and its pouring.
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On the way to Lake Placid

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Thursday, July 02, 2009

Next Stop, Lake Placid

Well early tomorrow morning it's off to Lake Placid, NY and the I Love BBQ Festival. We are really looking forward to getting up there. Before many contests, I'm frantic getting ready, but for some strange reason there is an unusual calm.

I figure there are a few reasons for this. One, we just competed less than two weeks ago, and for the most part everything is still packed. Many times, I leave things to the last possible second, including securing the load in the trailer, dumping the tanks, etc. All that stuff is already done. All I really need to do is throw a couple of coolers into the trailer, hook up and go.

Also, there is very little pressure. We are not in contention for any team of the year honors, so no pressure there. My brother is cooking the midnight grilling bash, so I don't have to worry about that. We are doing the buck a bone contest, but there is no real pressure there either. Regardless, we make a few dollars there, whether we win any awards or not.

Then there's the KCBS contest. I am really looking forward to this. New Hampshire was a bit of a wake up call for me, and I don't plan on making the same mistakes this time around. I'll probably make some new ones though. There are obviously no guarantees of doing any better but I feel pretty good going in.

Lake Placid is just such a great place. Just knowing we are going to be there for a few days is enough alone to lift my spirits.

Unfortunately, it does not appear that the weather is going to cooperate, again. I'm beginning to think that we are turning into "Black Cloud BBQ" again. Why the heck can't we just have a couple of contests where it is 80 degrees and sunny all weekend? This was supposed to be the summer of George!