December 14, 2011

So You Want to Compete?


Like a lot of other people I like to eat, especially good BBQ. So the wife and I decided to go to the Hudson Valley Ribfest and check out the local BBQ cuisine. We waded through the lines and got some decent ribs then wandered into the back where some friends from work were competing in the contest. The minute I turned the corner from the county fair playgrounds into the world of competition BBQ I was hooked.  My friends treated us to some competition ribs that placed in the KCBS portion of the event the next day and it was like an explosion went off in my brain. I had to have more of this and soon.
It was a tumultuous sleep that night. The round of golf I was supposed to play that day on the golf course around the corner from my house never even crossed my mind as I hopped on the thruway and drove an hour to get back to the smells, sights sounds and tastes of competition BBQ. My friends were slightly surprised to see me but they knew I had been bitten. I was lucky to be there for the hustle and bustle of competition Sunday when everything is on the line, which sunk the hook even further.

I wondered around the event looking at smokers and talking to anyone that would lead me in the right direction, I purchased wood chips, pulled pork, 4 racks of ribs and this garlic concoction that is the lead car on the train to cardiac arrest. “You don’t have a smoker you idiot “ was what I heard when I returned to my friends, “What are you gonna do with those wood chips?” Everyone laughed at my foolishness including myself. The moral of this story is; “ you can’t make apple pie with a bag of oranges”, Meaning, you better make damn sure you know what you need and when you need it or you are going to spend and awful lot of money on the wrong things.

Looking back at the purchases I have made for BBQ I can honestly say I have thrown away some money. But overall I feel that every penny has been worth it. The team welcomed me with open arms, as a “hanger on”, I would have to handle garbage and cut parsley until I earned my stripes. Fortunately in my first event I was allowed to cook shrimp in the NEBS portion of this contest and happened to take home first place. A check! A Trophy! and a bottle of booze!, my spot on the team was cemented.

The first thing you will need is a team. The most important part of this concept is that you must like these people. You cannot not do it alone!!!  You need to be with people who will make you laugh when the stress is building at turn in time.

The next thing you will need is a smoker, the litany of choices is overwhelming and on a team of seven guys I believe we have six different smokers. We have 2-Big Green Eggs ( XL and L), 1- Backwoods, 1- UDS, 3- different Box Smokers from various box stores.  We usually bring two or three smokers to an event.

The next thing you will need is shelter. We are fortunate to have access to one of the world’s finest traveling accommodations, “The Mallard”. If you do not have a travel trailer or RV I recommend spending your money wisely on some camping gear and quality pop-up tents with walls. You can make your own walls with tarps and those little clamps from BIG BOX STORE , which help to secure the tarp to the frame. Your smokers and workspace need to be covered and clean.

Okay down to the details:
  •  1 or 2 folding tables and leg extenders, Extenders are 13 inch long pieces of 11/2 inch pvc that slide over the legs to raise your workspace.
  • A plastic shelving unit helps to hold all your stuff and keeps the tarp in place.
  • Sufficient charcoal for 2 days of cooking.
  • Big contractor garbage bags to throw everything in when the rain hits.
  • A master plan of when everything needs to go in the smoker, remember, “ in the smoker” is different than “start the smoker”.
  • Wood Chips, Brines, fire starters, tongs, gloves ( several pair), thermometers, rubs, mustard, olive oil, spices, cast iron skillet, hydration canisters, Toolbox with everything you can think of Clorox wipes, heavy duty tin foil, tin trays, paper plates, plastic forks and knives, lots of napkins, meat cooler, beer cooler, cooler and towels to drop meat temperature, rubber gloves, Insulated rubber gloves for handling meat, large container hand sanitizer, Buckets and dishpans to wash up, hoses, extension cords, Food for yourself, water and a great attitude.

The team needs to define roles and be willing to sacrifice for the greater good.

Thank god we have a guy who handles all the applications and dues for the team. I would rather go to three different stores in holiday traffic to find Nepalese Yak milk then fill out an online application and collect dues money but it has to be done. You need three people minimum for a contest, there are way to many deadlines and things to forget during a contest for one or two people to handle. Dri-erase boards help to keep track of it all.
You need to stop, walk around the event, and check out all the cool stuff that is going on.

I hope this helps someone, somewhere, I am pretty sure writing it all down just helped me! I am absolutely positive that I forgot a bunch of stuff but that is why I have teammates.

Thanks,  The Cleat

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