Thursday, July 2, 2009

You win some. You lose some.

Well, by now it's no secret that we finished as the Reserve Grand Champions of the Safeway National Barbecue Battle in Washington, DC this past weekend. Wins in chicken and ribs, coupled with a ninth place finish in pork and a fourth place finish in brisket, out of 48 teams, just wasn't enough to pull off a win. Instead, Tuffy Stone of Cool Smoke was awarded the Grand Champion of the event. His calls were sixth in chicken, third in ribs, seventh in pork and second in brisket. When the points combined, those finishes were about three points better than ours and I'm not going to beat around the bush here, it stung. In fact, that might be the most shocking finish we've ever had where we were on the losing end of a deal like that. Hey, I'm just telling the truth. Oh sure, I could sweeten it up, saying things like "We just didn't hit the right tables," or maybe "Tuffy just cooked a little better than us that day," but I won't. What I will say, is that we've been on the giving end of situations many, many times and we were due to end up on the receiving end sooner or later. I gotta say though, if you're going to get beat, there's nobody better to get beat by than the Mr. Rogers of competition barbecue, sans the sweater. Well done Cool Smoke crew.This event is seventeen years old, but this was just our second year to cook on Pennsylvania Ave, and it was no less eventful than our first. See, move in for cook teams is 10:00 PM on Friday night. Obviously the turn in times are later on Saturday for the KCBS event, starting at 6:00 PM, but that's still the equivalent of getting into your spot at a normal cook-off at 4:00 PM. Plus, it's not like everyone casually shows up. Oh no. This is more like a land rush in slow motion. Plus you're competing with big time vendors and sponsors attempting to set up. This is the single most hectic move-in in the history of competition barbecue. It's like absolutely nothing else you've ever seen and it takes forever.Once we got to our spot, we discovered that the event shorted us 5' of space. This sounds minuscule, but it wasn't. In fact, I knew right then we'd have trouble leaving on Sunday night, and we did. With one team already in place and the other arriving just as we did, it was sort of a mad scramble to get the trailer positioned and unhooked. Finally in place about midnight and ready to get organized, we fired up the on board generator, knowing that last year there was no on site power until Saturday morning. Forty-five minutes later the generator died, and I mean DIED. It wouldn't fire, it wouldn't crank, it wouldn't make a single noise. It was dead. So, there we were, wedged into our spot, meat prepped, in the dark, tired and hot with crap everywhere. We sort of made the best of it. To a pellet head, power is everything. The contest power went live about 2:00 AM, but was very poor. This added to our frustrations and made for a very long, hot Saturday. We finally gave up on Sunday and ran our AC even though our power meter told us the power output level was dangerously low. Luckily, Dave of Lazy Ass BBQ was there to keep the motivation level high. Despite his new turquoise cap, he was a pillar of strength for the team.Amongst all this chaos and hubbub, there was a huge success story. Across the isle from us at the event was a brother and sister team. They came equipped with one of those WalMart $60 canopies that was more like a kite than a shelter until after the third attempt at flight, they finally tied off to the fence like a dog and used their coolers and two buckets and some bungees we loaned them to weight it down. They also had a couple of those beige, square, padded card tables. Finally, they cooked on two Weber Smokey Mountain bullet type cookers and a Weber kettle. In addition to competing in the Saturday KCBS event, this young team entered not one, but two of the Sunday MIM categories, Shoulder and Ribs. There were forty-eight teams at the event and I don't know how many were entered in the Ribs category because we didn't get any results on the MIM event, but our neighbors made finals. For those of you that don't know, in an MIM event, the top three teams in each of the three categories (Whole Hog, Shoulder, and Ribs) make a second round of on site judging. Typically, the Ribs category has more teams than the other two combined. So, it was crazy exciting to see these two make the finals? "Why?" you ask. Because in MIM it's been said that it's a dog and pony show, one where teams use china, crystal and silver to set the tables and wow the judges. One where chef's coats and tuxedo's are donned by the cooks and greeters. One where there is more produce on site than a farmer's market. So here you have these two, no team shirts, no high brow place settings, no uppity anything AND THEY MADE THE FINALS! Congrats to The Cheeseheads in space T-19.
We actually finished 4th in the MIM ribs, one spot shy of making our first finals. I'm waiting to see our scores before passing judgement, but I think I know what I did wrong and if so, I definitely know how I will fix it. We've improved each of the three times we've cooked an MIM style event. Congrats to Myron Mixon and his Jack's Old South Team. They swept the three MIM categories and obviously won the overall. Myron told me they've now won there 12 of 14 times they've cooked it. Now that is my definition of a honey hole. We also spent some quality time with Marc Z. from Greased Lightning. It's always good to see Marc. He finally got to sample all four or our KCBS entries, which was cool because it means he ate some of the winning chicken and ribs. Also, through the wonders of Facebook, we also got to see an old friend from high school now residing in DC. She brought her husband, daughter and a friend. We weren't very good hosts though, having just finished our on site MIM judging. Congrats on your retirement from the military Sharon, and thanks for fighting the crowds to come down. It was good to see you again after 25 years.

We're home, unpacked and cleaned up. Jeff of KC Custom's diagnosed and repaired our generator plus some work on the trailer door. If you have any need for someone to work on your motor home, travel trailer, etc., I highly recommend you get in touch with him. His work is top notch. He even has a paint booth large enough to fit a 45' motor home. I've never seen a booth that big. It's cool. We're off for the holiday weekend. Next stop is Great Bend, Kansas for the Chest to Chest Invitational and the Central Kansas BBQ Cook-off. This is an event we've only missed once. We love what Kent Romine does with this contest and we're excited to get back there. See you all on the tarmac in Great Bend!

All photos in this post were courtesy of The Closer.

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