Friday, December 23, 2011

That's A Wrap - 2011 Season In Review

Hard to believe that 2011 is almost over. Like everyone says, the older you get the quicker the time goes! I wanted to give a quick wrap up of our competition year. Even though it was a small window of time, it proved to be one of the best for us!

We got off to late start compared to most teams as our first contest was in Springfield, MO at the Rockin' Rib Fest in late April. This was our second time cooking this contest. The weather was not spring like at all. Cold, windy and some rain greeted us on Friday. It definitely was not barbecue weather but we approached it as a challenge. We get spoiled cooking in perfect weather and this was an opportunity for us to implement some different techniques to turn out the high quality product we seek to produce. What we learned here would come into play throughout our season as we faced different weather challenges. In the end, we finish 8th out of 58 teams. We had calls in Pork and Brisket. Not bad for our first contest out of the chute.

Trying to coordinate schedules for two people, plus their family commitments, sometimes does not leave time for barbecue contests. As we found out, the next contest we were able to get on our schedule was in Raytown, MO in early June. This was our second time around at this contest. The weather was warm but we did have to endure another downpour. We were just thankful for minimal lightning and no heavy winds. It made trying to finish our chicken somewhat of a challenge but no harm done. Forty six teams showed up and we finished 13th overall.  Not the top 10 overall finish  we were shooting for but a call in Chicken and Sausage would help ease the pain.

After another break, we cooked at Racing for the BBQ in Lee's Summit, MO at the end of a very hot July. This was our first time cooking this contest. We liked the venue as we had lots of room. The short walk to the turn-in tent was nice too. Prior to this event, a slight tweak was made to our Pork process and we tried it here. We loved the resulting flavor. Even though we did not get a call with it, we felt like we were onto something with it. Out of 36 teams, we finished 9th overall with a call in Ribs and Brisket. We were pleased with our results considering the level of competitive teams that participated at this event.

Our long break between contests would continue until mid-September with our return to Springfield, MO. This would be our second time cooking the Sertoma Summer Sizzle. It had taken place in August the previous year and moved to a cooler September date this year. We enjoyed cooking this event last year. It is well run and the organizers are great. Unknowingly, this contest would become our harmonic convergence. After twenty two attempts, all of our feelings of disappointment and doubt were swept away with the announcement of Holla N' Swalla as the Grand Champions of this contest. We were so close last year at winning here but we were betrayed by our Brisket entry. Not this year! A 1st in Chicken, 9th in Ribs, 1st in Pork (the tweaking paid off!) and 5th in Brisket finally provided some much needed validation about what we have been doing. It indeed was a huge goal reached for us and a goal we want to keep repeating!

The last stop on our barbecue tour was the American Royal Open. Our expectations were a little higher this year after coming off of our victory two weeks earlier in Springfield. The weather was great and our cook had no issues. The results were disappointing. We could not land anything in the top 100. I am still not sure what happened? All of our categories throughout this season have cooked and finished with the same consistency. There may be a slight divergence in taste on occasion but never anything drastic. It's easy to blame the judging but a contest of this size has so many factors that can influence it. I guess the only thing consistent about the American Royal is that Kemper Arena sits empty and the rest is a crap shoot.

The 2011 season is over but for our team, even though we only competed five time, it was our best season. Sure we had some great highlights from our 2009 season (BBQ Pitmasters, 3rd place Chicken finish at the Royal) but this was the most satisfying season. Now to look forward to 2012. We have already secured our spot at the Rockin' Rib Fest this coming April and we are looking at adding another five to 8 events for this season. Plus, we finally get to cook in the American Royal Invitational! No more looking in the toy store window like Tiny Tim. We get to go inside and play!

Happy Holidays from the Holla N' Swalla crew!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

American Royal = Circle the Drain

I haven't had a chance to comment on our experience at the 2011 American Royal. The weather was beautiful this year. We enjoyed sunshine for 3 straight days with temperatures in the 70's. Little to no wind made the conditions ideal for us WSM cooks.

We returned to our same spot for the fourth consecutive year and set up our gear like we always do. This year we had Myron Mixon and his entourage behind us. It was interesting watching people approach his area as if they were getting an audience with the Pope. Myron seemed gracious to everyone, stood for pictures and let each visitor kiss his ring before leaving. Okay, it wasn't his ring! Seriously, Myron is a good guy and and has a been a great ambassador for barbecue.

Friday night was the typical Royal spectacle. We spent most of the night guarding our porta-potty from being defiled by drunks and their raging cases of diarrhea. I suppose if we were to charge the drunks to use our crapper, we probably would make up our entry fee money on Friday night but it ain't worth the hassle.

The cook went well. No problems or issues. It was very relaxed for us and I thought that would be a good sign. Chicken came out great, tasted like it always does and we were able to get 8 pieces in the box. Box looked great and off it went to the judges! Ribs cooked perfect, great flavor and color. Many pieces went into the box and confidence was high as that box went off to the eaters. The Pork had great flavor like the Springfield contest and looked great in the box. So far in my mind, we are 3 for 3. Brisket was good, nice beef flavor, passed the pull test so we loaded the box with slices and burnt end cubes. Off it goes to be judged. Last up was Sausage. It cooked well too, great taste and we loaded the box. I had a good feeling about our chances of getting a call.

Time for the awards. After all the sides, etc. are announced we get to the Sausage category. Last year we were called for 6th overall. This year no call. Chicken no call. Ribs no call. Pork no call. Brisket no call! I'm thinking maybe we were just on the outside of the top 20 in at least one category but it was a cruel day for us. We end up 270th overall. Yuck! You go from Grand Champs one weekend to the dung heap the next. Such is the world of BBQ.

So we are done for the year. We'll crawl back into our cave and lick our wounds. I wish we had another contest to close out our 2011 season but scheduling won't allow it. Our plan is to amp up our cook schedule for 2012 and hopefully win another Grand and roll into the Royal ready to rumble! I'm ready to take the Invitational on next year!

Good luck to everyone cooking the Jack this weekend! Safe travels to you all!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Springfield Sertoma Summer Sizzle - Boom Goes the Dynamite!

Springfield, MO - Our fourth event this season took place on September 16 & 17th at the Sertoma Summer Sizzle. We cooked this event last year when it was in the blazing days of August. This year it was moved to mid-September and the weather was the opposite. Of course it rained, it would not be a contest for us this season with out rain. We have been four for four this year with the rain! But rain be damned! It was time to cook.

We really enjoyed cooking this event last year. It was well run and the organizers were constantly coming around to check on the teams. You could not ask for better organizers. It was a no brainer for us to do it again. The event date did change this year and made this contest coincide with 5 other regional events. We were not really sure what the final team list would be like here but knew going into this, like all events, we would have to be on our game.

We arrived and set up in the same spot we had last year. We were able to beat the rain and get everything set-up our standard way. We were able to get our prep work and boxes done before it got dark and had down time to enjoy the bands until it was time to cook.

The cookers were fired up at 1230am but the rain forced us to move the cookers under the tents to keep the temps where needed them. Our brisket was a little bit undersized. Probably about 11lbs or so. It went on at 130am with the pork butts. The cookers stayed at 250 degrees so we took a nap. Everything cooked well without any problems which was nice considering the conditions. The rib cooker did spike to 350 degrees for about 10 minutes while we went to grab some coffee and donuts but fortunately no damage was done.

Our chicken came out well and we were able to get 8 pieces into the box. We had plenty of good ribs and filled that box too. We repeated our pork process from our last contest. We made a few tweeks to the injection and followed our normal timelines with it. What really helped is that we were able to get some great money muscle slices to put in the box with our pulled pork. The brisket turned out like it has the last 3 contests and did not wow us but had good flavor. After the turn-ins were over, I felt we had a strong chicken entry, good ribs, good pork and decent brisket. Now it was time to sit and wait for the awards.

The awards started with the chicken category. I thought we should get a call and as the winners names were called 10,9,8,7,6,5,4 still no call 3,2, and then we called for first! It felt great! We won first place in chicken here last year and it was great to repeat. Then the rib category started and we heard our names called at 9th. Not a bad finish and I was happy for the call. Pork was next and I really didn't know what to expect. Maybe 8th or 6th at best. As the names were read 10th through 2nd place, I was disappointed. I didn't think we had a 1st place entry but then I heard our names called for 1st place! I was shocked. After getting our award and sitting down, then I became nervous. We sat in this similar position last year waiting for a call in brisket to have a shot at winning but we never heard that call. We looked at each other and said we just need to hear our names. When we heard it at 5th in brisket I knew we had a shot at a top 3 finish. As the top overall was read and we were not the 3rd place finisher, we were now on the verge of doing something we had never down before -finish 2nd or 1st! Well when we weren't called for reserve grand I knew we had done it! Finally a Grand Championship! What a great feeling to finally experience. It had been a long time coming for us!

Thanks to our families for hanging in their with us. Thanks to Brant for dragging me into the competition world. This is not a cheap hobby and I was not sure how much longer this train was going to roll but I could never say no. There were times that I thought we were on the verge of breaking through to a win only to sit in an award ceremony and end up out of the running. It has been long haul to get here and I am glad our team did not give up! Now we need to work on our 2nd Grand Championship!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Racin' For The BBQ

Heat and rain! What a great combination we had this past weekend in Lee's Summit, MO at Blue Springs Lake. This was the third year for this competition and a new venue for 2011. Despite the 100 degree temperatures, humidity and rain, we had nice time and enjoyed the new venue. The organizers did a great job and the KCBS reps (Dave & Peg Rogers) were superb.

Overall, our cook went well. We dealt with the rain and even though it came down hard for about an hour, there was no strong wind or hail. The chicken came out like it always does but the skin was slightly rubbery. The ribs had great flavor and we were able to get 9 pieces into the box. We have made a few changes to our rib process and we have been pleased with the results. The pork tasted excellent but the money muscle was too overcooked to use. We were really excited about how the pork tasted. We have made a few changes to our recipe and felt like it payed off on how the prok turned out. We knew either it was a winner or the eaters would trash it. We cooked a prime brisket for this contest instead of the Waygu. It cooked well and also had a good beef flavor.

The boxes went together well. We struggled with the pork box because we had no money muscle to work with. We gave the eaters a lot pulled pork to sample and hoped that would help our cause.

At the award ceremony, we were not called in chicken and we were surprised. Afterwards, we would find out that we finished in 11th place. We actually tied with the 9th and 10th place finishers in that category but lost the tie breakers to keep us from being called. So I was a little disappointed after that first category was called.

Ribs were next. Again, they were cooked perfect and had a great flavor. Usually this is the kiss of death for us. It is one of our more inconsistent categories. Surprisingly, we were called for 6th place and that improved the mood.

We sat through the pork category and no call. I really felt we would hear our names but once again a no call. We ended up with 23rd place. I was really disappointed with the result. I felt it was a strong product. Were we knocked because there was no money muscle or too much pulled pork? Just a few questions that need to be answered to get a grip on this category.

The brisket cooked well. We decided to try a prime brisket purchased at Sam's and it did well for us. We heard our names called for 4th place and got some much needed redemption.

We ended up 9th overall out of 34 teams. Big Creek BBQ took the grand, Pork Pullin Plowboys were the reserve champs and Muchin Hogs at the Hilton finished 3rd . A super trifecta to try and overcome for sure. This was our third contest of the season and considering that we have now had two top 10 finishes in two out of three, I'll take it!

Now we have more down time until mid-September. Myron is right - we don't cook enough!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Raytown To Now

It's been awhile since the last post. Work and other commitments have been keeping me busy. However, we are competing again on 7/29/11 in Blue Springs, MO at the Racin' For The BBQ event. Sounds like 35 teams will be participating. Hopefully this 100 degree weather will break a little bit for the weekend.

We did cook the Raytown, MO contest on 6/10/11. This was a second year cooking this and it lived up to it's nickname - "Raintown." Fortunately this year it rained late Friday night until about 3am Saturday morning and didn't bother our cook.

There were 48 teams this year and we ended up 13th overall. We finished 7th in Chicken and 7th in Sausage. Ribs were 15th, Pork 21st and Brisket 17th. We were disappointed that we didn't finish in the Top 10 overall. I thought our chicken and brisket came out very well. The pork was a little over cooked. The ribs came out like they always do. We either do well or they are just average. With a few tweaks of our process, I hope that we get closer to a more consistent product.

More to come.....

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Rockin' Ribs Recap

Finally! Our season kicked off in the center of Springfield, MO's universe. On the sprawling grounds of The Bass Pro Shop, 58 teams faced off in what turned out to be some of the worst cooking weather we had ever faced.

Now we all know Missouri is no Eden. It is more like the sweaty knee pit of some fat lady on the Tilt-A-Whirl at Silver Dollar City. Hot and sticky or cold, clammy and wet. Well, we ended up on the cold and wet part from the start. Throw in non-stop windy conditions and it was miserable. I was layered up more than that kid from "A Christmas Story" and still could not keep warm! It was a test of fire and temperature management for us.

The wind created problems with our set-up. Normally, we like to put our 2 Easy-Ups together and use our sides to give us a nice block from the wind. Luckily, we were supplied with a 10x10 tent from the event organizer that was anchored in the asphalt. We anchored our Easy-Up to that tent. The gusting wind made it almost impossible to put it up but with some persistence we were able to make it work. The sides were another story. The wind blew so hard that the velcro straps would not hold. We had to find a way to block the wind and rain or we were in big trouble. Plan B kicked in. I bought 2 tarps at the Pro Shop and we zip tied them to the anchored tent creating a much needed wind/rain block. The downside was that we had every piece of equipment crammed under the tent which severely hampered our work space. Yet another challenge to work around.

The cook itself went better than I had thought it would. The brisket and pork finished on time. The ribs followed the always predictable timeline we have. The chicken was stubborn. For some reason, about half of the pieces were not done. I am still not sure why? We followed our same exact recipe and cooking timeline and have never had this issue before.

In the end, the chicken proved to be a disappointment. We were only able to select from a limited amount of pieces and it handcuffed us when it came time to put the box together. The chicken looked good but it did not taste very well (too tough in my opinion). The ribs also disappointed me. They had a great flavor but did not look good in the box. We tried a different brand of rib that was supposed to be of better quality but it did not deliver for us. On the bright side, I thought our pork and brisket tasted great (this usually signals doom at judging time).

Overall, we were "caned" by Quau as they took the Grand. We finished 8th out of 58 teams. In chicken, we finished in 16th place and 19th place in ribs. Pork was our first call in 8th place and brisket finished in 10th place. Considering the crappy conditions, I was pleased with our finish.

Now we have a few weeks of downtime as my personal schedule and competition schedule are not seeing eye to eye. We are looking at the Raytown, MO contest for our next event. I hope that my schedule will allow for another in between but it is not too promising right now.

See ya' down the trail and beware of the "Missourah" fat lady!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Kookers Kare Banquet 2011

Well it's been awhile. Sorry it has been so long. We are still in winter's grip and not much has been happening. A new job for me has created less time to concentrate on barbecue. As we have had two days here in the last week that have hit 70 degrees, I know it is just Mother Nature thumbing her nose at me and more cold weather is right around the corner!

My wife and I attended the Kookers Kare banquet on February 19th. It was a sold out event with 300 people in attendance. This is my first time attending and was anxious to see what it was all about.

I never realized the amount of food that Kookers Kare donates to local food pantries in the Kansas City area. The amount was staggering. For example, they provided over 460 turkeys this past Thanksgiving. It really shows what a great service they provide!

There was a lot of great food for all. If you went hungry, then there was something wrong with you. The amount of door prizes and contest entries that were donated to be raffled off was a terrific draw for them. I purchased $50 worth of tickets in hopes of winning a contest entry. I came up short and did not win anything but that did not matter. I never have luck at raffles and my streak continued. Regardless of the outcome, I still had a very nice time.

Kudos to all the folks at Kookers Kare for putting on such a great event! I encourage all cook teams to support them as best they can.

More to come............