Sunday, July 27, 2008
Contest Recap - Up In Smoke BBQ Bash, Mason City, Iowa
Just a warning, if you don't want to read a glowing, gushing contest recap, redirect your browser now. Otherwise, if you've never experienced the Up In Smoke BBQ Bash in Mason City, Iowa, then you're truly missing out on one of the really great events on the circuit. This contest is first class from top to bottom. Ruth Miller, Howard Query and their entire staff leave no stone unturned while planning, organizing and producing this cook-off. The staff is cheerful and willing to do everything within their power to make the cooks feel like they're the most important part of this event.
The setting is the East Park in Mason City. Only a few short weeks back, this established, sprawling, tree filled park was completely covered in three and a half feet of water. But you wouldn't have known it by looking. Except the judging area, which had to be relocated to a tent due to extensive flood damage of the shelter house normally used, things were business as usual. Most cook sites are shaded. Ours was under a very large tree that provided us complete shade during the entire contest. And the volunteers were like ants, constantly patrolling to be sure very detail was executed and all of our needs were satisfied. Plus, they bombarded us with gifts. From trash bags, ice, event t-shirts, breakfast, and charcoal to an awesome folding seat emblazoned with the contest logo that was also a beverage cooler, and like she didn't have enough to do, Ruth even delivered awesome brownies to the cooks on Saturday morning.
The town really supports this event as well. The crowds were amazing on Friday evening. The vendors were overwhelmed and sold out early in the evening. The bands were entertaining. The media did an awesome job interviewing various teams. It doesn't hurt that Up In Smoke is run by the Globe Gazette, Mason City's newspaper, but other media was very involved as well. Even the spectators were friendly and eager to ask questions and learn about competition barbecue. All in all, this is a one of the country's premier barbecue contests. Even other contests organizers were plentiful. We met organizers from the Albert Lea, Minnesota and Vermillion, South Dakota events. As a result, we considering attending both events.
Speaking of the crowd, as Sheri and I were setting up camp on Friday, a couple stopped to ask us a few questions. Only a short time into the conversation, we all realized that we'd met before. In August of 2003, on our way home from a contest in Wisconsin, Sheri and I stopped to refuel. Turn-ins were late on Saturday at our event, so we stayed the night and headed home on Sunday morning. It was a warm Sunday afternoon and we were tired from the long trip. Sheri went into the convenience store and I began pumping fuel into our diesel truck. However, and for whatever reason, about three-fourths of the way into filling the tank, something clicked and I realized I was pumping unleaded gasoline into my tank. See, I had mindlessly gotten out of the truck, ran my card at the pump, and grabbed the green handled nozzle. Those of you that burn diesel know that when pulling into a station, you always look for the green handled pump, right? Why? BECAUSE THAT'S THE DIESEL PUMP!!! Well, not at BP Stations.
At that moment, I was totally disheartened. This was early in my diesel truck experience, but even I knew this was serious trouble. After telling Sheri what I have done, and completely demoralized, I walked into the convenience store and told the clerk what had just happened. I'm not going to bore you with the details of the ensuing hour or so, but the short version is that the clerk's name was Dawn. I'll never forget the look on her face. You'd have thought she just pumped 20 gallons of unleaded gasoline into her own diesel truck. I borrowed the telephone book and walked back to the truck to see if I could find anyone on a Sunday that could help us. Sheri and I put the truck in neutral and pushed it away from the pumps so as not to block the only diesel pump at the station. I remember during the first thirty minutes or so of this ordeal, that I didn't even know how to remedy what I had just done. I envisioned the truck being towed to a dealership, obviously on Monday, where they would drop the tank to drain it. I also remember thinking that if the local dealership was anything like my dealership, they were probably already booked on Monday and who knew when they'd be able to get to our truck. Just as we had resigned ourselves to staying a day or two in sunny Iowa, Dawn emerged from the store to tell us that she had called her husband and that he and a buddy were headed our way with a pump and a plethora of gas cans. There is no way words can describe the relief I felt when hearing this news. It was hot, we were tired, and two guys were giving up their Sunday afternoon to help us with my major screw up. A short time later, Dawn's husband Steve and a friend arrived. It wasn't a quick process, but they pumped about twenty gallons from our tank, leaving them with four gas cans full of useless fuel. Looking back, it wasn't nearly enough, but we gave them all of our barbecue from the previous day's contest packed on ice in a soft sided cooler and something for their trouble, refueled our truck, and headed for home. They may never know the sense of relief we felt as a result of their help that day in August of 2003.
Fast forward to last Friday. Imaging how surprised we all were to discover the players of my dark memory back together in the shade of a park in Mason City, Iowa five years later. Because of our team name, they stopped to ask us a few questions about Steve's new Traeger grill, not knowing we were the folks they had helped so many years back. We chatted for a few minutes longer, reminiscing about that day and then Dawn and Steve went on their way. Saturday morning they returned bearing gifts, a jar of homemade habenero peach jelly. So, we invited them to help us through turn-ins. They stayed and we talked barbecue for a couple hours while submitting our entries. It's always fun to interact with people who have just discovered competition barbecue and see how passionate they can be. Passing along some of the information folks have shared is the best way of paying it forward. But I digress . . . .to wrap this up, Steve and Dawn have attended the Mason City event for years. They saw what the turn-in times are all about and they're excited about competition barbecue. We tentatively decided that if we can change our plans, we'll cook in Albert Lea, Minnesota the end of August, instead of Birmingham, Alabama, and we'll ask the organizer to locate Steve next to us and help him cook his first ever contest. Having someone new to competition and so enthusiastic will be a blast. I hope we can make it all work out.
Congrats to Bruce Ring of Let's Kick Some Ash on winning this year's event. He did so in commanding style with calls in all four of the categories. As with last year's winner, Byron Chism of Butt Rub.com, Bruce was a first year participant. Also, congrats to Darren & Sherry Warth of Iowa's Own Smokey D's for their Reserve Grand Champion finish. That's amazing considering they were the largest and busiest vendor at the event. I don't know how those guys do it! Also, congrats to our neighbors, Monkey's Uncle, who was called in two categories and finished seventh overall. That's an amazing accomplishment consider they've cooked a grand total of five events. We won the chicken category and finished 5th overall. Not bad, not bad at all, especially in that crowd of talented cooks. I've given up thinking about what's going on with our chicken. It's dumbfounding, but I'm not complaining. We were in the 20's in ribs, the low 20's in pork and 11th or 12th in brisket. Fifty teams participated this year. That's down 13 teams from last year, which is sad considering the quality of this event. It's obvious that fuel prices are effecting competition barbecue is a serious way.
We haven't entered anywhere for next weekend yet. However, the pickin's are slim and Sheri tells me I'll be cooking solo. My choices are Laurie, Missouri or Waucoma, Iowa. We've never cooked Laurie even though it's a long established event. Waucoma is further than where we've been in Iowa the past two weekends. Not sure I'm up to a third trip over five hours back into Iowa. If anybody wants to weigh in on which direction I should head, please do so. You can comment here or shoot me an e-mail at rod at pellet envy .com We're headed down the stretch and I hate to take a weekend off, but it might not be a bad idea. See you all on the bbq trail!
This is Darren & Sherry Warth hitching a ride with a volunteer. In addition to competing and vending, they also catered a VIP meal at Mason City. They're my heros!