Sunday, March 15, 2009

We "heart" Arkansas

Pellet Envy was crowned the Reserve Grand Champions of the Presidential Center Smoke On The Water USA Barbecue Championship this past weekend in Little Rock, Arkansas. A Ron Cates production, the event drew 130 teams from as far as Massachusetts and Oregon. Although mother nature wasn't very cooperative, the cold, windy, wet weather was long forgotten when the MC called our names next to last. Little Rock marks the fourth time in the last five major Arkansas contests where we've been successful. Driving home, we joked about picking up roots and moving to the state that apparently loves our barbecue the most.Hosted at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library with rumors of an appearance by President Clinton himself, this event required a level of planning not previously seen on the competition circuit. With teams being assigned very specific load in times, we arrived at 11:00 AM sharp expecting to see mayhem in the streets of Little Rock. However and based on our past experiences with events organized by Ron Cates and his family, we were not surprised to be greeted by a well informed staff and witnessed total preparation and organization. We should have known better than to even think otherwise.

Ushered into our team site located in the parking lot of the presidential library, it was great to kick off the season and see so many old friends and even make a few new friends. With two long established contests competing with the event for teams, it was obvious that many had decided to take their chances of winning a piece of the $50K payout. Names on the roster included teams from the MIM circuit, many displaying elaborate pits and cooking rigs. We elected to go old school, cooking on our Jambo under a canopy as we had last September at the Smoke on the Water festival in Hot Springs. In the end, I'd say it was a good decision.

Even with our top ten calls in chicken, pork and brisket, it was difficult to know the final outcome. The event paid twenty places in the four main categories plus ten spots overall. As many teams do, we tried to keep a mental track of the frequency and place of team calls. However, the sheer number of places and huge team count made it nearly impossible to predict. It's especially important to mention that history has shown that at events of this size and larger, the categories where a team doesn't place greatly effect their overall outcome, sometimes in a positive way, but more typically in a negative way. Not knowing our Pork Ribs category finish made it difficult to know if we ultimately had a good day or a great day. In the end, it was an amazing day. We missed winning the event by the slimmest of margins, about one raw appearance point, a very slim margin. All said, we were surprised and excited with our finish. And once again, Arkansas rewarded us for our style of cooking.

After a weekend to clean-up, rest up and get organized, the season will be in full swing. Next stop is Hammond, Louisiana, home of the Smokin' Blues and BBQ Challenge, one of the most hospitable events on the face of the earth. Eric Phares and Deek DeBlieux do a damn fine job of making the teams feel special. Hammond has quickly become one of my all time favorite events. Hope to see you all there!

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