All the small things. (Vernon IN)

This past competition started off on the same note as the previous one, a car nearly ran a red light almost hitting us, then on the interstate we had 2 incidents of a semi entering our lane. To say I was a bit on edge after that would be an understatement.

Leading up to this competition I checked our standings in the KCBS TOY for teams competing in 5 or less competitions, this comp was going to be our 4th, and realized that if we had a top 10 call in chicken and ribs that we would make it into the top 100. This is a field consisting of 2004 teams, as of this time. For some teams they don’t pay attention to this, but to us it gives us something to work towards. It gives us a bit pride and a feeling of accomplishment.

As usual, I scouted out who was going to be there and from the stats, all but a handful of teams seem to score on avg about the same. This meant the smallest of mistakes could potentially knock you out of a top 10 call. I wasn’t too worried about the chicken category, as we’ve been consistent throughout the year, ribs made me a bit nervous as I just haven’t been able to knock down the timing for some reason. Every cook they seem to overcook, no matter what adjustments I make.

It was just going to take me keeping my head in the game.

Our spot was right on the road facing out, so we could head out without much waiting. Backing in to get parked next to the curb had only 1 real obstacle, a power pole about 1 foot from the road. Then there was a decent crown in the road that leaned us towards it. It made for a bit of anxiety to avoid rocking into it.

Once we got settled in Vernon, the history of the town made itself known. It seemed every time I turned my head there was a historical marker describing a famous war battle, or lack thereof, or one of the first raised railroads. I had a great time just walking around the town square and exploring different things. I logged about 10,000+ steps and the town is only .24 sq mi.

Thursday night we had the privilege of meeting and talking with Indiana’s only town mayor. You could see the pride he had for his small town of 317. He told us about the history of the town and how it was older than the state of Indiana itself. Being surrounded by the river on 3 sides of the town and North Vernon on the other, prevented the expansion of the town. I I asked him how much commerce they had, he kinda chuckled and said for commerce they have parties. This in turn made me chuckle. Apparently they have regular street dances that draw nearly 500 people. Their population grows by 50%, not too many other towns can probably make that claim.

Friday started off with the normal comp routines, except this time Leslie had yard sales on the mind. This weekend the town has more yard sales than historical tidbits and she was in heaven. I got a kick out seeing her come back with her arms full of deals. One trip back involved her being driven by the people having a sale. Who knew there was a customer rewards program, “buy so many items, earn a trip home”. It’s amazing how friendly everyone was, Leslie offered them BBQ samples the next day for giving her a ride home.

Friday ended with the lighting of the fire and the routine walk through the comp to see who was up and who was sleeping. It gives me something to do while the big meats wait to hit the cooker.

Saturday begins with feeling like I hadn’t really slept at all. Good thing I have a pretty good routine and things tend to flow. This comp I opted not to put up our canopy, as I didn’t want to mess with taking it down later. The only probably this creates is where to put cleaning supplies. I usually hang them from the canopy supports. This time I’d just have to hang them off of the smoker.

As the morning went on it was time to spritz the chicken breasts and the whole chicken with juice. I grab the spray bottle and spray away. I get a nice shiny coverage just in time to notice I am using bleach water. “*&%%$^*(@#@!” All I could think is that I just ruined my chance to get a top 100 placing in chicken. The only positive is that I don’t spray my thighs, so I still have a chicken entry. I just hope it’s enough to make the judges happy.

The rest of the cook seemed to go as expected, ribs overcooked again and pork wouldn’t cook.

Award time came around and I stood anxiously waiting to hopefully hear our name.

1st category called was chicken, 9th place, Woo hoo!! we got our call.

Ribs, 4th place.That’s another call. I didn’t think we were going to make it that high. I thought the tenderness was going to kill them.

Pork, 16th place. I am going to spend a lot of time cooking pork and figuring out what to try next. This just isn’t working for us.

Brisket, 6th place. That helps for our overall standing.

Overall 9th place. Man that feels good.

Pork tenderness killed us this time, but I was pretty happy overall. It helped to offset my disappointment with making a mistake with chicken. Now just to make it safely home. Hopefully the semis will see us a bit better.

As I start to pull out into the street to hook up the smoker, I hear a god awful scraping sound. All I can I think of is what in the world did I make contact with? Did I leave an antennae up? Did the trees overhanging tear up something on the roof? I looked in the passenger mirror so I wouldn’t hit the smoker.

Oh yeah I forgot I have a driver’s side mirror. Oh hello Mr power pole that I was so worried about when parking on Thursday. Did I forget to say good bye to you? Well you left an everlasting impression on me and pulled the side paneling away from the motorhome. UGH!!!!!! Another small simple thing that was avoidable had I just paid attention the small things.

With the help of Extra Mile BBQ, I patched it up with duct tape (that lasted long enough to make it to the interstate). This was quickly becoming one of the most expensive BBQ competitions we’ve attended. So with that little OOPS, I think our KCBS season will be done this year.

On the silver lining of it all:

We are a top 100 team in chicken, ribs and brisket. Leslie had a great time shopping and I learned to take my time and appreciate all the small things.

Thank you to our sponsors for helping to get us where we are this year. #bigronsrub #chopspowerinjector #dandjentertainment #madcowcutlery

And a huge thank you to my wonderful wife for being so supportive, even when she may not have wanted to be.

Hopefully a milestone in the making

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Here we go again. The last day of preparation before a competition and as such the nerves start to run a bit wild and the gut doesn’t seem to really settle down. I add to it with the thought of how I need to have a great cook. You would think I would be use to this routine by now, but it doesn’t really get much better. We are having a pretty good season and feel like anything less than the last comp isn’t acceptable. Each competition we prove to ourselves that we are competitive, but seem to be just out reach of a GC. If we could just get everything to come together in perfect harmony, at the same time, at the same event, then we would get our chance to stand out among the great teams that compete.

Plus, we are very close to having a bit of personal recognition as being a top 100 team in the 5 events or less division. This little accomplishment to some means a ton to us. All it would take is a 10th place or better finish in the categories to move us from:

Chicken 134th > 75th

Ribs 168th > 88th

Pork 451st > 254th

Brisket 222nd > 115th

Overall 238th > 127th

This would be out of 2010 teams competing in 5 or less events and it will only be our 4th event of the season. It helps to reassure us that we are on the right path in some categories.

Well it’s time to get back to getting the final things ready and maybe have a few beverages later.

Please take some time to visit our sponsors. Without their help we wouldn’t be able to be successful.

Big Ron’s Rub

Chop’s Power Injector System

Mad Cow Cutlery

D&J Entertainment

Indianapolis, IN 4-11-15

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“Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it”

This past weekend was our first competition of the year and this first one in about 10 months. So to think we felt a bit rusty and a bit anxious, was an understatement. This competition was a 1st year event and when I signed up, hoped it wouldn’t be too stacked with top teams. It is located in an area of several great teams, but I still crossed my fingers that may have had other plans. No such luck, 39 teams signed up for this event and 38 of them seem to be able to win on any given weekend. This was a field of competitors that I would be happy to hear my name called just once in. This was going to be a competition that the littlest of details would make or break you from getting called.

Leading up to the event I managed to injure my right knee, possibly tore my Meniscus, and was hobbling around pretty good. This is not a good thing for a competition, considering I may have a 2-3 minute uninjured walk ahead of me. I waited a few days and without a lot of relief in the soreness I asked the organizer if I could possibly get placed closed to the turn in area. Without a question they said they would work something out. The only thing, I earned a nickname, “Meniscus”.

Our drive to the CCS Springfest and BBQ Competition was nothing short of a pain in my butt, the wind was ridiculous and pushed us all over the road for the 1 1/2 hour drive.  I couldn’t wait to pull in to the competition and relax. We pulled in and were the 3rd team to arrive on Thursday night. I tried to play the “1st team to arrive onsite has to buy dinner for the rest of the teams that night” card on Pappy Q, but I seemed to have been a little late for dinner. I’ll drive faster next time.

Aaron was on site to guide us to our spot and give us the run down. This event was sounding like it was going to be one to remember and to be talked about for a while. The teams were going to be treated like kings and queens. If you needed something all you had to do was ask. Friday was going to consist of a continental breakfast, snack area, sandwich lunch table and a prime rib dinner served on china by servers. We didn’t have to leave our seats to get anything.

We decided not to set up our site until the wind died down as we didn’t want to start a canopy graveyard. The winds, despite what WU reported, had to have been 15 mph with frequent 25 mph gusts. They were literally rocking the motorhome because we are currently unable to lower our stabilizer jacks, thank you again to Bob Ellis for spending your afternoon trying to locate the problem and finally getting the jacks to retract.

So Thursday night was a relax night and to watch who we were going to be neighbors with. It tuns out that the area we were setup in was “Michigan Alley”

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everyone of the teams along this area, is from Michigan. Guess I should have mentioned I was from Illinois when I asked to have a spot near turn ins.

The team in front of us was Smokin’ Aces and had a sticker on their trailer that made me chuckle, because he asked how close he could get to us.

too close

Friday morning started our day of the competition routine. Normally we pull everything out and set up our canopy, awning, banners and tables, but the wind was still punishing us. We agreed that we would hold off on any set up until it died down. According to the weather reports that would be late at night or early Saturday morning. It wasn’t too big of a deal, as I had most of the trim work already done before arriving. We ended up spending most of the day inside sheltering ourselves from the temps and the wind. **Note, remember to bring a jacket and/or sweatshirt when the weather is forecasted to be cold and windy.

Lunch was served with a variety of sandwiches. It was pretty much an eat what you want lunch.

Lunch table

Cook’s meeting was @ 5pm and then a top notch (or as my wife called it, a romantic BBQ competition dinner) Prime rib dinner @ 6:30pm

20150410_175304 Dinner

The only thing missing were candles. During the dinner the organizer handed out a few small useful prizes. Our name was called for one of them. I really hoped that wasn’t the “This was a field of competitors that I would be happy to hear my name called just once in” wish coming true. I should be a bit more specific in my wishes next time.

After dinner we hurried back to the site to start the prepping of the meats. Normally we do this outside, but as it was the wind was still howling. If only the wind would die out, this would be a perfect night. I figured my other wish came true maybe the wind wish would come true also.

But for the time being we needed to improvise. I got the idea that a folding table would fit in the kitchen area of the motorhome and figured we’d give it a shot and see. Guess what?

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BAM!!! I have an indoor prep area. Not how I would do it all the time, but when the weather won’t cooperate we have an alternate plan.

Well, low and behold, my wind wish did come true late in the night. The wind died out and the fire began. To my surprise the pit heated up quickly and the meat was on on time.

For those of you that compete, take note that the Michigan boys have a Michigan Offense if you didn’t know. Around 0:dark 30, while catching a short nap in between feeding the fire, I hear what sounds like a digital thermometer going off only it sounded like it as in our bedroom. Well one thing was accurate, it was in our bedroom just not a thermometer. It was our carbon monoxide detector going off. Funny how the two of those items sound identical. The inside of the motorhome smelled like charcoal burning so I walked outside to investigate. Sure enough Smokin’ Aces had started their pit up and without the wind blowing, the smoke was hovering low and around our site. Well played Mark, well played. So after trying to shut the alarm up, opening the vents and confirming that the detectors are hardwired. I had to turn off all the power to the motorhome to reset it. Problem fixed. *** Note next time a Michigan team asks if the can park close to you, check to see where their exhaust is facing.

Back to taking my naps.

Later on in the morning, I was standing by my pit talking with one of our neighbors, Cal Coop. I hear someone’s thermometer going off and chuckle a bit thinking, someone needs to wake up and check their meat. After thinking for a while I am reminded that our carbon monoxide detector sounds like that. Sure enough it was me, again. Good thing I was there, because my wife was out like a light and never heard it going off. So once again, vent the area and reset the detector. Damn you Michigan boys and your offense.

Other than the big meats starting off by cooking somewhat fast and nearly being poisoned by CO, the morning went well. I even got the chance to attend a cook’s church service, which was a nice addition. We decided not to set up the canopy and only had a table out to work off of. Ribs cooked a bit fast and luckily we caught it in time to hopefully salvage them.

Turn ins began and the only meat that really made us happy was our chicken. Everything else seemed to not be our best. Ribs tasted average, not bad just not a WOW! Our box contained ribs from only 1 slab. The others seemed to still be a bit overcooked. Pork started off with a money muscle sample, but there seemed to be an after taste that was off and we decided not to add it in and had to make a box with chunks only. The brisket flat was too tender and the burnt ends were great. We struggled to find the slices that we could use.

As always it was a relief to get that last box turned in and to know that there wasn’t much cleaning up to do.

It seemed like it took forever for the 4:30 awards to start, once they began the anxiety really hits and the hopes that I didn’t burn my wish for a call too early.

As the awards were called out it was odd not hearing some teams that you’d expect to hear called. It seemed like there were very few that received multiple calls and it made it hard to guess who would win it. The exception was team Hug Hogs, with 3 calls. Looking back through it there were some others with multiple calls, but it seemed it was all over the place.

At the end of it all what we thought was a bad cook turned out to be a pretty decent one.

Chicken 16th place – 168.0000

Ribs 8th place – 170.8456 (woohoo and heck yeah, that is a call and an award) From somewhere in the crowd I heard “Way to go Meniscus!”

Pork 17th place – 164.5600

Brisket 20th place – 164.5256

Overall 13th place – 667.9312

8th place ribs indy

The kicker of it all? Had we paid a bit more attention to the little details we could have had an overall top 10 call. Our appearance scores prevented it. But for us being rusty and our first event of the year, I am totally happy and walked away holding my head high with our results. We’re steadily making our way up the ranks and will soon be a team that others see and think “Damn ’82’s BBQ Crew’ signed up”.

This is an event that I hope we get to return to every year. Really had a blast with the volunteers. They were a great bunch of people that went out of their way to make everyone feel important and valued. Next year I predict they may have to turn teams away.

Is “Pre-Comp anxiety” a real diagnosis?

So here we are looking into the future of this year’s BBQ competition season. I am trying not to plan too far in advance and more or less take it one weekend at a time. I’m not going to try and let it consume each available weekend, unless of course we are on a hot streak but we’ll look at that if it happens. It is always a basket full of emotions and feelings. There are plenty of laughs and jokes. Friendly razzing and lending of hands. There are even a fair share of disappointments as well. Take all of that and you have a bit of anxiety.

anx·i·e·ty
aNGˈzīədē/
noun
 
  1. a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.

It’s the moments that lead up to the first competition of the year that really seem to sit heavy on me and have my mind going 100 mph trying to sort everything out. Sleep? HA! I may do that, but the quality isn’t always the greatest.

I have tried to prepare for this competition a little bit at a time so as to not overdo it and take it easy, but that still isn’t working. Just thinking about the level of competition at this event is crazy. Hearing our name called could easily be missed by a small fraction of a point.

Taking this to my mind, has made my appetite unpredictable. Feel hungry but can’t think of anything to eat. Plus, I think I have been visiting the bathroom more times than a food poisoning victim that caught the flu and drank a laxative by mistake.

The good news is that these symptoms do seem to settle down as the year goes along.

So if there are any Psychiatrist out there looking to do a paper on something new, get a hold of me, I might just make you famous.

If you ask for it, you should also return it

It seems as soon as one BBQ competition season ends I begin to think and plan for the next. Reloading the KCBS recently added events page becomes an instinctual part of my web browsing. I am always updating our schedule with competitions that are closer to home, making sure I don’t miss an early bird discount and making sure I don’t miss a deadline to enter.

The person in charge of scheduling vacations knows when our season begins as requests hit his desk on a pretty regular basis. This, other than an empty bank account, is about the only reason to prevent us from attending an event on our schedule. I do this so that I don’t make plans and financially commit to go somewhere only to be told you can’t have that day off.

That would create a bit of unnecessary grief for us. We would have to tell anybody going with us to change their plans, potentially have a brisket aging for no reason and also have to explain to an organizer that I needed my money back because I didn’t think to make sure I had the day off before committing to your event.

No what do you think an organizer is going to say to that request? I would hope they would be sympathetic, but wouldn’t blame them if they said “sorry about your bad luck, maybe next time plan a bit better”.

Now here is another scenario

As a team, I make sure I have the time off, the money to travel and follow the event’s updates. I have a planned date to mail my entry fee in 2 days before the deadline, (Again I am constantly checking for closer events), and if possible I try to let the organizer know of my intention to attend and when I will send my entry in. That way if there is a concern about making a minimum of required teams they can unofficially count us in the tally.

One of the events that we planned to attend posted on their Facebook page that “only X amount of spots are remaining (theoretically plenty but didn’t want to chance it) you better not wait until the last minute or you might get left out”. As soon as I read that I let them know they could subtract one more spot because our entry fee would be mailed out that day.

I filled out our entry and to the post office it went. Signed, sealed and mailed.

As each day passed, I looked for updates to their page. I would see other teams being added but not our’s. I check my bank account and the check hasn’t been cashed. So I send an email making sure they received it and to see if there was a problem that I didn’t notice because it’s now a little over 1 month away and wanted to resolve it before the deadline.

I finally get an email response saying “I received your application last week.  I am holding it until I kknow for sure that I have a spot for you.  Should know by the end of next week.  Hope to see you soon.”

I think to myself “Crap!! I somehow was too late” I send a reply asking “Are you full?”.

“Not yet but close”

Seriously?!?!? You have my paid entry and I am assuming open spots, so why are you holding it and not confirming it?

My actual response was “I guess I’m confused then. What is the concern with having a spot for us?”.

I am still waiting to hear back.

So in theory I now have to wait until then end of next week when they figure out where they plan to fit us, if they can, before I can make plans to attend. Maybe I am not a big enough or popular enough team to matter as to whether or not they’ll have a spot for us.

The first thing I did was reload the KCBS website and see where the other comps for that weekend were. I am nearly irritated enough to drive an extra 200 miles.

That might be a bit overreacting and dramatic, but organizers would hate if the teams started waiting until the last minute to say whether or not they were coming. Have the same respect for the teams. If I have sent in my entry on time and you have spots open, then I feel I shouldn’t have to wait until the last minute to be told I can make plans to go.

Although I do hear Georgia is nice this time of the year.

New Palestine, IN

This weekend we were at the “New Palestine Wine, Brew & Bar-B-Que Too” competition

  This competition was going to be a true test of skills as a good portion of those competing were championship teams. 6 of the teams alone were in the overall top 100 of the KCBS TOY. Leslie was optimistic and wanting to win it all, I on the other hand was just hoping to get a call in the categories. Seeing the team list it was looking like it would be a challenge to crack it. 

We started out on Thursday to prevent having to maneuver around the other 56 teams and to get some good rest before the near sleepless cooking night begins. The event location was fantastic and utilities were nearly perfect. Water and electricity were close by, the only negative would be it was only 15 amp. 

The sites were on grass and really helped keep the near 100 degree temperatures from being totally unbearable. My only concern with grass was the possibility of rain making it a challenge to leave, but it only sprinkled on us.  

During the cook’s meeting we were told that the standard turn in times were going to be delayed 1 hour. As insignificant as this may sound, it is a mental factor. As cook’s you work/cook on a routine timeline and throwing a 1 hour delay into the mix forces you to rethink and to re-plan your timeline. For me, it almost cost me a category.

I went ahead and started my big meats as usual. I normally plan for them to be done ahead of turn-in and rest in the Cambro. Ribs & chicken cook on a specific timeline with very little variation and every timeline event is important. As the time for chicken comes around I realized at the last minute that I had not had my chicken ready for the cooker. A sudden rush of urgency hit me and I scrambled to get them on. I managed to get them cooking just about on time. After 1/2 hour of cooking it hit me, I forgot to inject them. Unfortunately at that point it was too late to do anything about it and we’d just have to hope for the best. 

Throughout the day things seemed to be fairly smooth and easy, other than making a mental effort to remember the time delays. Remember I’m trying to keep focused with little sleep. 

I noticed something during turn in times, as stressful as that time period should be, I get into a very energetic yet calm mood. Maybe it’s the beer, maybe it’s just me, who knows.

As 5:00 came around our nerves started in again with hopes of hearing our name called. 

During the award announcements we were shocked at the lack of expected names being called. And in the end a little disappointed at not hearing our name. 

I still had hopes that we scored well. Last week the KCBS implemented a new scoring program and this was the first time that we got a chance to see it for ourselves. Image It showed us who was being judged on the same table as us and how each judge/table had scored during the event. I am totally thrilled about this new format, as it gives me something new to play with. I just have to figure out what I want to know from it. 

In the end our category scores were good and our overall score was the best that we have ever done. We are moving in the right direction for an eventual win, it’s just not going as quickly as I would like. 

I’m hoping we can still add a couple more comps to our schedule, if not our next one is Sept 27-28 in Danville, IL

Smokin’ on the Lake, Monroe City, MO

After our last 2 chicken results we were ready to start feeling positive again. We played around a bit at home and felt comfortable about the results. This event was the one to turn things around. With 17 teams and us averaging in the top 50%, our chances of getting a call in each category were very good.

We arrived at the Mark Twain Landing resort Thursday afternoon and got situated into our spot. This time it was a bit unique in that we hooked up to sewer and cable TV. Kinda nice to have all of the creature comforts. The resort had plenty of space to go hide away for awhile and relax, The catch and release pond was my getaway spot. 

The staff was certainly happy to have all of the teams there and did everything they could to make the teams feel wanted. I no sooner put a trash bag by the road and turned around and it disappeared. Ice was cheaper to have them deliver it to than if you wanted to walk and get it yourself.

The only thing that would have been nice was to be able to interact with the teams more. Usually teams are parked across from each other as well as beside. The setup for this event made it that the teams only saw the backside of the other team’s RVs. If that is the only negative thing about this event then there is no reason it won’t grow.

We started our cook off just like any other. The smoker ran smoothly throughout the early morning, late morning it gave me a bit of trouble, but nothing that was devastating. The big meats seemed to cook a bit slower than usual as well as the chicken. Ribs cooked great. The nerves/stress started really hitting around turn-in time. Chicken came off and into the box 

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The flavor seemed to be just what we wanted. High hopes for a call.

Ribs came off looking great, tenderness wasn’t right on but nothing to ruin the cook.

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Pork was good. Kind of had to search a bit for the pieces that we wanted to use. One money muscle tasted hammy so we opted for the other one. The rest of the  pork that wasn’t turned in needed some more time to tenderize.

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The last category, Brisket, seems to be the one that we are doing to really good in this year. Everything about seemed on the mark. The slices just laid over your finger, separating but without breaking. 

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At the end of the day the results were read out of 17 teams here is how we did:

Chicken -17th. yup that there is a DAL. If someone out there can please share with me how to cook chicken, I would love to know

Ribs – 12th

Pork – 14th

Brisket – 10th, woohoo at least we got a call.

Overall – 15th

This was a bust for us. Congratulations to everyone that walked and to Salt N Pepper for their GC and Smokin’ Butts for their RGC. 

This is an event that will definitely be on our list if we can make it.