WOW I can’t believe it’s been over 1 year since we’ve competed. We took a little hiatus last year due to needing some good old family time and to vacation a little bit in the new camper. After some talking Leslie and I agreed we needed to get back out to compete. We’ve missed the friends we’ve met and the thrill of the competition in itself. We only had 1 issue to consider, what are we going to cook on?
A little history first. With the purchase of a new 5th wheel camper, we lost the ability to tow our offset cooker with us. This forced us to think of different options. One of those options was to go with UDS cookers. It would create a new challenge for me. I would have to learn a new cooker, a new timeline and a new logistical strategy. I like to say, “It’s not fun if it’s too easy”. I’ve had the opportunity to cook on the BPS UDS smoker (smoker #1) at home several times and found it to be a useful tool. The problem was I couldn’t do all of my meats on just 1 cooker, 4 would be ideal, but 2 would suffice. So I purchased one from Sweet Smoke Q (Smoker #2).
Once I got it, I only had time to cook each meat category once on it and tried to put together a workable timeline off of that before our first competition. Seemed simple enough. I knew how to cook, just needed to learn how to time it.
Everything seemed to be theoretically doable.
With any BBQ competition, I get superstitious, and do things a certain way. Good thing, though, is when things go bad, they seem to work out in our favor. Read any of my previous competition blog posts and you can tell. This time is was no different.
About 2 weeks before the competition, I find out we have a water leak in the camper. So I almost cancel our entry not knowing how bad it was going to be. Thankfully it was an easy and quick fix.
Then Leslie had a death in the family. We were ready to call it off, but she heard him tell her “Hey kiddo go ahead and do it.” just as though he was sitting beside her. That set it for her and I.
Tuesday tradition consisted of getting my haircut by Logan Vance. Packing up the remainder of things and relaxing.
This time something wasn’t quite right. The normal pre-comp anxiety never presented itself. I was calm and collect for the most part. Maybe this was going to be a good thing. I kept thinking about the sleep I was actually going to get using the UDS instead of a wood burning offset. I was OK with that.
Thursday morning brought a little bit of anxiety, the local grocery stores were all having problems securing green leaf lettuce due to crop damage in the south. This left us scrambling to find an alternative. Luckily the KCBS changed their rules and allow kale to be used as a garnish. The problem with that is that we have never used it before and didn’t know how to make a box with it. Thankfully Eric Ferguson was willing to take us under the wing per se and show us how they build their kale boxes. What a relief.
We headed out on Thursday without much of a hitch, the only real bit of concern was the 25 mph winds, near freezing temps and a rain that seemed to be tears of laughter coming from up above. This is setting up to be a fantastic contest. As we were cruising along I-70 we were finally allowed to give our brake system the test it deserved. Somebody didn’t comprehend how to merge into traffic, causing the HD dump truck ahead of us to lock his brakes and in return caused me to do the same all while being glad there wasn’t any young ears in the truck to hear my vocabulary.
Make it the comp and get greeted by Aaron like we were family. I have been to very few, if any, competitions that have welcomed us so well.
Our spot was very convenient and as always had the utilities close by.
Normally we like to get to comps on Thursday because it gives us a chance to hang out and talk BBQ with everyone else without worrying about what we have to get done. This day wasn’t like that, the weather seemed to be stronger than the desire to socialize. The 10 teams or so that were there seemed to stay hunkered up in their comfortable spaces. We did the same though. With how much we were in there and the amount of movement the camper did from the wind, everyone probably would think we were newlyweds if they didn’t know any better.
Friday began our normal routine, coffee, breakfast from the competition as well as a lunch. If I hadn’t said it enough in the past, maybe one more time might help, this comp sets the bar.
We even had a surprise visitor from a team we befriended about 4 yrs ago. Had only met him once and when he realized we were there, he said he had to come over to say hi. Thanks Shawn that really made the day.
Friday night we started our cook and everything seemed to be going OK. One thing I hadn’t factored in was how much of an impact the weather would have on the cookers. My plan was to shoot for 325* on both of them. Smoker #1 was running about 350ish, the pork would spend the night there. It always seems to be the meat that struggles to follow a timeline. Smoker #2 struggled to hit 300* and only ran at about 250 with a fan trying to control it. That was making me a bit nervous.
About 4 hours into the cook, I noticed the temperature on smoker #1 was slowly dropping, sure enough out of charcoal. So I started another basket full of charcoal and wrapped the butts. The butts looked kinda odd this time, almost like a ham, there was no real bark on them. I hadn’t done anything really different to them. The only thing that was unusual is that they had been in a deep freeze for about a year or so. I wouldn’t think that would have played a factor, however, I have had some atypical things happen in the past.
Brisket and butts came off and the smaller meats went on. I tried to wait as long as I could to put the ribs on because the new basket of charcoal on smoker #2 was still burning a bit unclean. Time was passing along and I had to gamble it. 2 hours into it at 250* they were wrapped and 1 hour later they were over-cooked *&$#&*, if you have read any of my other posts, you’ll note this is a common thing. I swear I could probably over-cook my ribs in 30 minutes.
Chicken was coming along slowly and actually thought that I might not have it done in time for turn-in time. About 15 minutes before time to make up the box, they hit their temperature. Boxed them up and sent them in.
I thought it tasted really good and would meet all of the requirements. Even the breast was moist and had one bite flavor.
Next up was ribs. I was hoping that they would have tightened up just a bit to get them turned in and salvaged.
Nope, I struggled to find enough to make a box. Normally like to get 8 in an entry, but could only find 6. The flavor wasn’t good and you could taste the bad smoke on it. Despite what the comment card says, the sauce was not burnt. You can’t burn sauce that never enters the cooker, just saying.
This is starting to make me loose my faith in how we were going to do. They were so tender that just touching some of the ribs with a knife caused them to break apart. Ribs got a majority of the comment cards and I couldn’t disagree with them.
Pulled our pork out to start breaking it down. It was tender, but drier than an 8 hour lecture on the evolution of America’s water treatment process. It was so bad that I couldn’t even swallow it. I considered just sending in a box of money muscle alone, but Leslie convinced me to sauce up some pulled and add it to the box. Guess what I forgot to do? Cover my cut up money muscle for the 10 minutes I struggled to figure out what I was going to do with the pulled. Add in 50* temps and that makes for a cold entry. Nothing I can do about it now, send it it off.
At this point I am about fed up and just want to be done. Even Leslie mentioned that I just didn’t look like I was in a groove. The cook hadn’t gone anything like I had wanted it to, I slept less running the drums than I had running the stick burner and I still hadn’t had a shower.
Oh well let’s get brisket over and done with.
Got the brisket out and got it sliced up, forgot to add the burnt ends back on the heat to caramelize up a bit and made an entry out of it.
The flavor, I thought, was a great beefy flavor with a taste of the rub. Tenderness was about perfect, but what do I know I’m just a cook.
The relief came after that last box went in. Tired, stressed and a feeling of disappointment had me just wanting to go isolate myself for a bit. I can’t say how much I appreciate my wife for all of the work she puts in at the end of a competition.
Award time finally came around, not that I was looking forward to it, but was just ready to go home. We sat down with our newly made BBQ friends from BBQ Jedi and listened to a really good christian band from the Indiana Bible College.
The teams started to get called up to the stage one by one, and one by one my thoughts on my cook were confirmed. Deep down I was hoping my entries found tables that were generous with their scores, but that never happened.
As I went up to get our scores, it appeared that just about every score sheet had comment cards attached to them. That is actually a really nice thing to see. Good or bad, we like to hear it, we may not agree with it, but it is still nice to hear.
We looked our’s over and it confirmed what we thought, my cooking was that bad. Out of 45 teams here’s how we finished up.
Chicken – 17th 167.3828
Ribs – 44th 144.5260
Pork – 31st 159.9540
Brisket – 36th 153.6456
Overall – 35th 625.5084
I honestly can’t think of a time when we have ever scored that low. I guess it is back to the training block for me. I never thought I would have had that much trouble with a cook, but I guess it happens. Just bites knowing what we were capable of doing in the past and what we did on this cook. I know what I say about fun and being too easy, I just wish it didn’t have to be too hard.
Well I guess I should stop rambling and get to cooking. Hope to see everyone again and to meet some new people.