Monday, June 22, 2009

We now return you to your regularly scheduled program . . .

If you've followed this blog, then you'll know I veered off course last week. I'm now ready to get back to business as usual. This past weekend we cooked at the Colorado BBQ Challenge in Frisco, Colorado. We had always heard good things about this long established event and it lived up to it's reputation, including the unusually mild weather with highs in the 60's and lows in the upper 30's while most of the country suffered from the first blast of sweltering heat. Frisco appears to be primarily a tourist trap, nestled in the Rocky Mountains, about 9000 feet above sea level and an hour or so from Denver. I'm sure better writers than me have waxed poetic about Frisco with words like "quaint", "rustic" and "friendly.". I'm just going to tell you that it's oxygen deprived and full of young people who lack direction in life.Tens of thousands of people walked the six block stretch of Main Street on Friday, sizing up the fifty plus tents, deciding where to spend their "hog backs." Most vendors offered up traditional barbecue, while others offered carnival type cuisine and yet others purveyed things like roasted corn, flavored shaved ice, upscale pizza, kabobs and even hoagie style sandwiches of sausages with peppers and onions. And most vendors sold out by early evening that day.So if we're in the same circles on Facebook or Twitter, you already know the trouble I had with the lack of oxygen at 9000 feet above sea level. You just can't deprive a fat man of his air and ask him to perform. That has to be some basic law of physics or something. It just doesn't work. But in the end, I don't know who had a harder time this past weekend, me or my pit. Don't get me wrong, I received a lot of advice about cooking at altitude, and most of it was even valuable. And I did all the right things. I fired up an hour early. As expected, it took almost two hours to get the pit up to temp, more than double the usual time. We were good so far. I got my meat on as scheduled. I watched the pit like a hawk. I ran a good fire. Until daylight broke at about 5:30 AM, things went very smoothly, almost too well really. But that's about the time stuff started to unravel. From day break on , the cook was far more difficult as the pit began to swing back and forth, at least twenty-five degrees either side of where I wanted to be. It was a constant struggle, some might even say a classic battle, between man and machine.
So, here we were, almost two miles high, lacking what each and every one of us take for granted every day (air), playing "adjust the damper and add more fuel" every fifteen minutes. During the trip to Frisco, I had told Sheri that I would not allow ANYTHING to be under cooked at this contest, knowing just how easily this could and does happen when cooking that far up the hill. See, of all sixty-five plus teams in attendance, only one was actually from the area. So, unless you trek up the mountain just to practice cooking, no team cooks more than maybe three or four times a year in these conditions max. My motto has always been "overs beat unders", so I knew if I did nothing else right, getting everything cooked to the desired doneness was critical.

Dear reading, can you tell I've led you down a path? Do you know what happened next? Can you guess? If you thought to yourself, "He didn't get his stuff done," you'd be correct. The pork butts temp'd out exactly where I wanted at about 9:30AM. However, the briskets hung in there about ten degrees short of my final mark until I finally threw in the towel and retired them to holding at about 11:45AM. The ribs were beautiful but were just a little under done for my liking. The chicken was good, but it also fell short, determined by our inability to bite through the skin. Despite what was shaping up to be a bad day in the Pellet Envy camp, we didn't hang our heads. Oh no, we found what we thought was our best product that day, got it in the box, and successfully completed all four turn-ins without incident.I'm done boring you with the details of what we felt was a less than successful cook. We finished third overall and won the brisket category. We finished 14th in chicken, 28th in ribs and 3rd in pork. The pork and brisket finishes were a little surprising, but the judges were right about our ribs that day. They had great flavor and an awesome appearance, but were tight. Oh well, it happens, and this probably won't be the last time. We didn't cook our best and we almost got away with it. Momma said there'd be days like this.Frisco is an amazing event. Events where tons of enthusiastic barbecue fans turn out are truly our favorite, and that's exactly how it happened this past weekend. Heck, shortly after we got packed up rain began to fall. Do you think that effected this event? Heck no! As the rains fell, spectators clutched their Hog Backs and waited patiently in line to sample the offerings of the vendors who had not sold out that previous day. It was a site to behold. The damn funnel cake line was 20 people deep. Madness!!!
Now we're off to Washington, D.C. to compete in the National Barbecue Battle, another event were the masses will descend on us. Last year there were over 150,000 spectators on Pennsylvania Ave over the weekend. The forecast says it's going to be a little cooler than last year, so hopefully they can break their attendance record. See you all on the bbq trail!

Editor's note: The pictures of the crowds as they are in this blog post, really don't do justice to the massive amounts of people attending. Click on the pictures to see them full screen. Trust me, it's worth it!


John Dawson said...

Rod - If I didn't know better, I'd think you were describing what happened to me at the competition on the mountain at Snowbird Utah last weekend. My cookers (UDSs) were pretty much rock-steady until daybreak. Then they were all over the map.

My pork and brisket just would NOT get to the temp I wanted. Like you, I held them and turned them in, hoping for the best. Mine did not fare nearly as well as yours.

I wonder if Scottie had the same problem with his FE at that elevation (not altitude :-).

Thanks for the interesting read. I wish you the best in DC.


thinkerwinker said...

I've been to a bbq fest only once and I loved it!! But my injury has me bogged down at home ordering painkillers at instead. I really wouldn't have minded squeezing in with all those people rain or shine just to have a taste of all those mouth-watering treats!

Molly said...

These BBQ competition pictures are amazing! Wish I could have joined in on some snacking and nibbling from those grills!

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