Sunday, June 26, 2011

New Hampshire

Had a great time at the New Hampshire Rock-n-Ribfest last weekend. This was our first KCBS contest since Norwalk in September, so I was anxious to see where we would stack up after such a long layoff. Overall I was happy with the results, with a few major exceptions.

Arrived on site at around noon Friday. It was just me and Max, with Sheila coming up later in the day. We were a little concerned because it would be just the three of us, with nobody to help out with Max. Since he is almost three, he obviously requires a lot of attention. But he was just great all weekend, especially KCBS Sunday when he kept himself occupied and just did his own thing right through turn-ins.

Anyway as I started to get the setup going, it began to rain pretty hard. So I scrambled to get the pop up tent open, so I could unload everything from the trailer and put it all under there to stay dry. Unfortunately, it is somewhat difficult to open one of those EZ-ups solo, and I snapped it. "Hello Sheila, can you stop by the house and pick up the backup tent before you come up?"

Friday night was a great time. I always love Friday nights at a Saturday-Sunday contest. There is no pressure to be up early Saturday, so we can hang out and have a good time. I don't get out a whole lot in my day to day, as I work at home now, so I really like being able to visit with people and have fun on nights like these.

As usual, we had a blast hanging out with the Lakesides. We spent a lot of time under a tent city, as several teams had pooled their pop up tents and created this huge space. Charlie Cicero of Mighty Swine Dining shared a proscuitto with us that had been curing in his walk in refrigerator for a year and a half, it was outstanding. Some fine tequila and Gentleman Jack was also shared. We had a great time with old friends and made a few new ones along the way.

Saturday was grilling. I was feeling good about the sausage and pizza categories going in, but as documented in a previous post I was not thrilled with the salt water fish fillet category. It sure did show, as I put together a horrible entry that came in dead ass last. It was fish tacos, and the fish was blah, the tortillas were too doughy, the salsa too watery and it just bombed, rightfully.

The good news was that the pizza took second place and the sausage was third. Sheila made shrimp wraps for the shrimp category, and they finished in the middle of the pack somewhere. I liked the entry though.

So we were 13th overall for grilling. I was able to laugh the fish entry off for the most part publicly, but in reality I am upset at myself about it. I could have just grilled up some salmon and dumped butter all over it and finished much better than dead ass last. Why I decided to do fish tacos I have no idea. And if I am going to do something outside my comfort zone, it might help to practice it first.

Anyway, it was on to the BBQ contest. It was just me, Sheila and Max at this contest. We had no visitors, no guests and really were able to focus on prep. Everything went well heading into the overnight.

Woke up Sunday morning and the smokers were chugging along just fine. However, when I temped my pork it was ahead of schedule. I had to nurse it to the finish line, and did not like the finished product. Shows what I know, as the judges scored it third place. I chalk this one up to being able to make last minute adjustments, something that was never my strength but I have been working on it. I used to just put the meat in the box and just turn it in. But I have learned subtle adjustments can be made that make a big difference.

Unfortunately there were no such adjustments that could save my ribs. For some reason they just tasted off. I can't really put my finger on it, but something wasn't right. Judges confirmed it for me, 33rd out of 39th. Ouch, I would have to go back and check but I think this was my worst ever rib finish. I thought the box looked atrocious too, although the appearance scores were not too bad.

Chicken was ok, 16th place.

I was a little concerned about brisket going in. I had not cooked a brisket since the Norwalk contest (although we took first place brisket there). Also, the current trend has many teams using these fancy, waygu briskets from cows that are hand fed by virgins and massaged daily. I still buy my briskets at Restaurant Depot, but I have gotten better at picking them out. But there is always the concern that using a lesser meat will eventually hurt me in the end.

Usually you have a good idea what you have with brisket when you make that first cut. I liked it, and as I cut further I felt pretty good about it. The box looked great, and the brisket was 3rd.

The low rib score dragged us down, and we were 8th overall. Overall, I came away happy, eight categories over two days, and four of them in the top three. Could have been a lot worse.

The bummer is that it looks like our next KCBS contest will be at Harpoon. That's a month away. I wish it was tomorrow.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cape Cod, New Hampshire

Well the Cape Cod BBQ Championship is in the books. This was the second year I organized it and it seemed like more work this time around. But it's over, and I am relieved. I haven't cooked a KCBS contest since September, but I have organized or helped organize two events since then. These experiences have reminded me that I enjoy cooking contests a lot more than organizing them. But I will be running Cape Cod again next year, but I plan on keeping things a lot simpler.

The good news is that the cooking starts this weekend in Merrimack, New Hampshire at the New Hampshire Rock-n-Ribfest. This was our second ever contest in 2006, and we won it that year. It is not the best contest in the world, with huge crowds and small prize money, but we keep going back. I like looking across the field at the spot where we cooked that year, it seems like so long ago. Especially since we have not won a contest since then.

Looking at the forecast I am beginning to worry that we may be dealing with more of the mud that made that 2006 contest such a mess for everyone. Hopefully I'm wrong.

So I am excited about getting up there for the weekend. I have been packing, unpacking, cleaning, trimming, and planning all week as we get ready to cook this one. The grilling will be a little screwy, with shrimp and salt water fish fillet as two of the categories, and pizza and sausage as the others. I was tempted to just say "screw grilling" and skip it but we are just going to give it a shot. As of this writing I have no clue at all what I am doing for that fish fillet category. I'll come up with something and let you know how it goes.