Monday, March 30, 2009

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Translation: Let the good times roll! And roll they did in Hammond, Louisiana this past weekend as Pellet Envy was crowned grand champion of the sixth annual Smokin' Blues and BBQ Challenge. Rough weather Friday night could not dampen the spirits of the volunteers of this great even. If you don't know, you won't find better hospitality at an event any where in the country. Eric Phares and the gang roll out the red carpet for teams, judges and sponsors at this event. From goodie bags and gifts to lavish meals on Friday night AND Saturday morning, these folks know just who to treat folks.With forty-nine teams in attendance for the KCBS event, most of the best talent in the country was on hand. Rain, heavy at times, and strong winds challenged the cooks on Friday evening and into the early morning hours Saturday. Luckily, the sun broke through mid morning Saturday and a cold front chased away the high humidity of the day before.Mike and Theresa Lake, of Rock River BBQ, debuted their new Jambo pit for the event. Having picked it up only days earlier, the Lakes received two strong calls and finished fifth overall. Outstanding way to break in a new pit if you ask me. Speaking of Jambo pits, five of the top six overall finishers cooked on Jamie Geer built pits. I can't say that I've ever seen such a thing before. Congrats to Jamie on building such a quality product.

For the second year in a row, I was proud to have Emily Phares as my taster and runner. For those that don't know, Emily guided me to a reserve grand champion finish last year. So, when she arrived at my site on Saturday morning, a felt a small sense of relief. See, Emily has a great palate and just as important, can verbalize subtle differences in taste. She also has a track record of steering teams to victory, helping to a victory at this event in '07. Having my head in the smoke since 2:00 AM really makes it difficult to discern the finer points of final product. Having someone who does such a great job tasting and describing the nuances is a huge help. Sheri typically does this for the team, but could not be there this weekend.As for our finish in the categories, we were 12th in chicken, 7th in ribs, 1st in pork, and 1st in brisket. For the record, I cooked two Swift C.A.B. briskets and I.B.P. pork butts from Restaurant Depot. I mention this so as to dispel any rumor that I'm cooking any genetically superior beef or heritage breed pork for competition. Here's the deal, good food is good food. If you prepare it well, most days you get rewarded. Some days you don't, even when it's good, and some days you do even when you probably shouldn't. We all know how that happens in competition barbecue. So, you take what you can from the experience and celebrate the victories a little, tempered by those other days. Winning Hammond was a thrill. It was great to see my cooking class partner Johnny Trigg have a strong finish as well. It was great to see so many friends this early in the season all in one place as well.Next week we're off to Shannon, Illinois for the Old School versus High Tech cooking class. Shannon was the site of our best class last year and it's shaping up to be the same this year. It's also the home of the infamous Butt to Butt and Illinois State Championship held there every July. We're really looking forward to this class and meeting a bunch of new folks. See you all in Shannon.

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