Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Our Journey into Competition BBQ

Back in 2009, when Bren NuDelman said we ought to enter the BBQ Bash, I thought why not – it’ll be fun.  After all, we both love BBQ and it’s close to home (Wildwood) so we can invite our friends. Bren will cook some ribs, I’ll make some pulled pork and chili and it will be just like a backyard BBQ. The thought of getting into Competition BBQ never crossed our minds. We had no idea at the time that this would be the beginning of a journey.

Bren cooking on the Original Two Barrel Smoker
As we started our preparations for the Wildwood Bash, the reality of it all started to sink in.  There were assigned spaces, move-in times, food inspections, sanitation requirements, meat and garnish requirements, and specific turn-in times. It was more like a backyard BBQ on steroids.  We made a list of everything we needed and started stockpiling. And oh yeah, we still needed to come up with a team name! So what would we call ourselves? As it turned out, our preparation was our inspiration for our team name. We had a smoker our friend Jeff Busby constructed out of two 55 gallon barrels (see right) and we had a stockpile of stuff we had accumulated for the competition.  Put it all together and you get “Lock, Stock and Two Smokin’ Barrels”. And so our journey begins!

We had really no idea what to expect at the Bash. I think we started out the competition looking like deer in headlights and ended up running around like chickens with our heads cut off.  Despite all the madness, we got the opportunity to meet some Professional Competitive teams who were gracious enough to answer our questions and give us advice. They made us feel like members of the Competition BBQ fraternity. We listened and learned and when the dust finally settled, we were absolutely shocked! We had only entered half of the food categories and ended up with two top 10 finishes (pork and chili). So now were hooked and we immediately start making plans for the 2010 Bash.

In 2010, we are going to cook every category. We will have all summer to practice. It will be great! We will do even better! Leading up to the Bash, were cooking every weekend and our confidence is growing. We are better organized, we have our timings down and everything tastes great. We are going to win the whole thing! When the competition starts, it’s not nearly as frantic as last year. Sure, were still drinking from a fire hose, but were not spilling a drop!  Whew! Were finished! We head over to the awards ceremony with visions trophies dancing round our heads. We’re pumped! The first category is Chef’s choice. They start calling the top 10. In 7th place: Lock, Stock and Two Smokin’ Barrels. Wow! Bren is called to the stage in the very first category! We are so going to win this thing! We move on to the next category. They start calling the top 10. They get to number 2 and we still haven’t been called. The anticipation is building. Could we have won! And the winner is … Oh no! It’s not us! No worries, it’s just one category, we have 6 more opportunities!  And as each category is called, we wait and wait and wait and never hear our name called again. What could have happened? We don’t get it. We turned in great food! The judges must be Smokin’ something too.

The simple fact is that this was only our second competition and we still had no idea what we were doing. But at least we had the right attitude! Despite the outcome, we competed in all 8 categories, finished 34th out of 91 teams and got a call to the stage. We looked at that as something we could definitely build upon. We just had to figure out what we should have done differently, so we embarked upon a quest for knowledge.  All aboard!

First stop, SLBS certified judges training. Richard and Susan Schmidt are extremely knowledgeable and experienced judges. They shared valuable information on what judges are expecting and how they score for appearance, taste and tenderness. Armed with that knowledge, our next stop was the Internet. We joined forums and discussion groups focused on competitive BBQ in order to learn cooking and presentation techniques; everything from how to build a turn-in box to how to achieve bite through skin on chicken.  And finally, the last stop, and perhaps the most fun, was in the application of what we learned. We made the decision in 2011 to enter some smaller contests to gain more experience heading into the Bash. Our end goal and what we had our sites on was to better our 2010 performance at the Bash. What we didn’t realize at the time is that is when truly started to become a Competitive BBQ team.

2011 Wildwood BBQ Bash
2011 Great Pacific BBQ
Eyes on the Bash, we entered two events to sharpen our skills. Our first event was Harrah’s High Steaks in June of 2011. This was a one-day event and it gave us the opportunity to practice pork steaks, chicken, ribs and chef’s choice. We ended up with a 2nd Place in pork steaks, 5th Place in Chef’s choice and 7th overall.  Our second event was the Great Pacific BBQ. We finished top 10 in ribs and pork and 13th overall. What we didn’t realize at the time was that 7 of the top 20 teams in the KCBS point standings were also competing at Pacific. So we felt pretty good coming in 13th out of 42 given the competition. With these two events under our belt, we gained valuable knowledge and experience on what we needed change heading into the bash.  So how did we do? If expectations influenced outcomes, we would have won the overall championship. Although we didn’t win, we achieved our overall goal of improving upon our 2010 results. We finished 6th place overall with 3 top 5’s (4th in pork, 5th in brisket and 5th in dessert).

Enter 2012, Two and half years of trial and error and 6 competitions later, we are all in. We decide we will enter 8 to 10 events culminating with the BBQ Bash in September.  We are now a competitive BBQ team! And so the journey begins!

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