A few weeks back Tracey and I attended the first annual New Castle BBQ competition back dropped by the Delaware River in Historic New Castle’s Battery park. We were looking forward to this edvent because we hadn’t attended a BBQ competition in awhile and with the event being right down the road from us we wouldn’t tie up a large part of our day with travel.
It was a nice sunny day as we strolled through the park watching kids play on the swings and interact with the animals at the petting zoo. The band’s music (sorry don’t know which of the bands was playing when we arrived) echoed across the park giving the event a nice outdoor festival feel.
BBQ competitions can be a mixed bag. By the time the crowd starts to roll in the teams have already put in a long night prepping their food for the afternoon judging. So patrons hoping to talk to competition teams about their rigs or their philosophies on Que, might be disappointed to see many of the teams closing down or just not being very interactive.
But if you stroll around enough, you can usually find one or two people who will talk to you and if nothing else, I enjoy looking at the different smokers with the smell of hickory and other woods wafting in the air. It always makes me want to get back to my deck and light a fire of my own.
On the drink side we were pleased (although I thought it a bit funny) to see Kent County representing big at the event, first with Ron and Rob from Blue Earl Brewing at the beer tent and then later with Painted Stave who made me an Old Fashion while Ron informed me that they were using syrup made with a rub mix from the vendor’s tent next to them – the fine folks of Dizzy Pig (picked up a few rub samples from them). Bourbon is more Tracey’s thing than it is mine but with a subtle hint of smoke and a touch of heat it was pretty tasty. Tracey gave it a thumbs up.
For the most part I thought the event went pretty well. They had a good crowd for a first time event and people seemed to be enjoying themselves for the most part. The layout could have been a little better and a second entrance near the bandstand was sorely needed for those who wanted to quickly go out into the park area. Still, if nothing else a nice day outside with smoke in the air.
But all new events are prone to growing pains and sadly, this one was no exception.
Advertising and social media content for the event contained the following statement or a variation thereof, “Come sample Competition Team BBQ! Ever wonder how good that tastes? For a “Buck a Bone” you can sample some great BBQ from our competition teams!”
Sounds great doesn’t it? Well we thought so as well, however having covered the now mourned Hogs and Hops event, I wasn’t sure if it was truly as easy as that. You see the first year the Hogs and Hops event was held at the FoDo Brewery it included a “people’s choice” judging. We ate quite a bit of BBQ that day.
But the next year it moved to the Fairgrounds at Harrington, received KCBS sanction and the people’s choice went away. Whether it was a case of ‘we now can’t’ or ‘we shouldn’t have in the first place’, I’m not sure. Mark Hoffman wrote to me in an email that he hoped to bring back the sampling the following year, unfortunately the Fairgrounds started their own BBQ competition, essentially locking up sponsors that had help Mark years before and his event (which benefited Dover First Responders) died.
So with that in mind we went in with healthy skepticism, and that skepticism it turned out was not unwarranted. We only found one tent selling samples for a $1, and they sold out just as Tracey walked up to the tent.
From a few conversations we had with the people around us, and the complaints that quickly began to be registered on the event’s Facebook page (which I’m sad to say I initially added to), there seemed to be much confusion, and great disappointment over the buck-a-bone offer. Competitors and BBQ enthusiasts jumped into the conversation which seemed to point the finger more towards the organizers from the venue more than the teams and the KCBS themselves. Statements were being made and countered until at the end, no purpose was really being served.
So for my own education (after calming down and realizing I wasn’t being value adding) I reached out to event organizer Sandy Fulton whose experience and reputation as a BBQ competition organizer has earned her the nickname The Porkanizer.
My first question was simple, is the buck-a-bone sampling common in BBQ competitions or did New Castle offer something they couldn’t ultimately guarantee?
“No it wasn’t New Castle’s idea it is done at several contests,” Sandy told me in an email conversation. “We only had four teams sign up to do it. Tried very hard to get more, but being a first year event, and not sure of attendance it can be risky.”
There’s the thing, the teams are not required to do the buck-a-bone offer and in most cases it comes down to a matter of cost. “The meat is expensive and these competitors have already paid $250 entry fee and then probably close to $500 if not more on the meat they are being judge on for cash prizes,” Sandy continued, “They compete in pulled pork, chicken, ribs and brisket. They purchase and cook more than they turn in because they pick the best of it for turn in to the judges. So you have entry fee, meat cost, transportation cost and in some cases you’re going to have hotel costs. So competing is expensive and they concentrate solely on the cooking and timing for these meats. They want to win.”
Taking all that into consideration it’s easy to see why teams might be hesitant in joining the buck-a-bone not knowing the attendance or their likelihood of getting their money back on the food cooked for the crowd, “So not knowing the attendance of a first year event, cost of being there and number on teams will determine if they can and want to do Buck a Bone. That’s why only 4 did it. If they have the event [again next year] I am sure more will [do it] because of the public’s interest and they feel they won’t be losing money.”
Another issue is that once the teams have decided they won’t be doing buck-a-bone, they’re unable to change their minds. There are strict regulations regarding what BBQ teams are and are not allowed to do at competitions, and they all surround public health.
“[The teams cannot give out samples] because of Board of Health Regulations,” Sandy informed me. Anytime a BBQ team wishes to feed the public they must be inspected by the Board of Health which does not automatically happen, “…as a competitor they do not [need to be inspected] because only Certified KCBS judges are judging their food.”
But once competitors have decided that they will serve the public, either using a buck-a-bone or similar offer all their pit areas must be inspected by the Board of Health as the organization does not allow for ‘blanket’ approval for the entire event.
So just when does this happen?
“First the competitor fills out the Board of Health form, some counties charge. The day of the event, prior to gates being opened the inspectors will come inspect their area to make sure they have met all their guidelines.”
While many may have been disappointed by the situation, it seems that it could be attributed to the aforementioned growing pains associated with a new event, and Sandy seemed to agree, “It is all a learning experience. Some first year events are not as well attended as this was. Perhaps next year if they have it they will try again.”
With this information I reached out to Michael J Quaranta who I assume was involved in the venue side of the event to get his perspective but sadly he did not return my message. However he did post this on the Facebook event page (which is why I assume he’s involved with the venue side):
“Folks…I take responsibility for this and learned not to promote the “buck a bone” idea ever again unless I have half the competition teams agreeing beforehand to sell. Many make that decision too close to the actual event date and by then, media and our own promotion is in full swing and expectations are set. The $5 charitable donations covered the costs of putting on the event, including the 10k in team prize money, three very good bands, stage, tent rentals, and so on. We learned a lot. I also believe our three food vendors, Locale Post, Phillipine BBQ, and Haas, all with very good food and reputations, did an outstanding job. The beer was also quite good and fairly priced for a 16oz pour. I appreciate the feedback and suggestions.“
So hopefully next year the event will return and these kinks will be ironed out. But let’s not forget that this was a competition! So congratulations to the winners and to all those who competed, we hope to see you again next year!
Grand Champion: 3 EYZ BBQ
Reserve Champion: SAUCE THIS BBQ
1 3 EYZ BBQ 697.120
2 SAUCE THIS BBQ 681.6572
3 PIGHEADED BBQ 681.0628
1 3 EYZ BBQ 174.2628
2 BANG BANG BBQ 173.1200
3 WEEKEND SMOKERS 170.3660
1 3 EYZ BBQ 178.8572
2 PIGHEADED BBQ 171.4172
3 LITTLE LUKE’S BBQ 170.3088
1 3 EYZ BBQ 178.8572
2 PIGHEADED BBQ 172.0000
3 Knee Deep BBQ 171.4172
1 SAUCE THIS BBQ 180.0000
2 BIG D’S BBQ 176.5600
3 BANG BANG BBQ 169.7028
1 Chock Full of BBQ 169.1200
2 SOUTH BOWIE SMOKE 169.1200
3 Bubba Joe’s Que 168.5600
1 Welch Mountain BBQ 166.3200
2 SOUTH BOWIE SMOKE 161.1544
3 M & M Barbeque 160.5372
1 SOUTH BOWIE SMOKE 330.2744
2 Bubba Joe’s Que 328.5144
3 Welch Mountain BBQ 327.4512