It’s Beer, Wings, and BBQ at the 2017 Colonial BBQ Competition!

CBC TagThe Colonial BBQ Competition in Historic New Castle returns this Friday/Saturday for its second year.

The event last year left a sour taste in some attendee’s mouths due to some first-year road bumps that Michael Quaranta and a group of hard working volunteers have been trying very hard to fix for their second go around of the Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctioned competition.

The two-day event kicks off Friday evening  at 5pm with a combination craft beer/chicken wing event on The Green that will see 12-15 BBQ teams via for the People’s Choice Award for best BBQ, and YOU get to be the People. For $5 you’ll get to sample five wings of your choice and don’t be afraid to purchase another five because the event managed to acquire 225 pounds of wings for the event thanks to Mountaire and The Restaurant Depot.

The craft beer event will feature some local favorites such as Twin Lakes, 16 Mile, and Third Wave, as well as Grand Rapids, Michigan favorite Founders Brewing, which just recently started to distribute in Delaware. For those who like something light with their BBQ, Miller will also be on tap.

Saturday’s big event has the gates open at 12 noon, entry fee is $10 and Michael and his team have worked hard to ensure that there is adequate food available for all the BBQ lovers who attends.

“Saturday we’ve got 4 food vendors, including two locals (Locale Post, Philippine Smoke), and two retired competitors selling BBQ. In addition, the Restaurant Depot and Mountaire contacted 125 pounds of chicken leg quarters, so the good kids at Howard High and the culinary program, will cook and sell these as a way to make the school program a few bucks. We had 3 bbq vendors last year, and this year we have 5…and the two that [are coming back from] last year are bringing much more food”, Michael told me in a Facebook conversation.

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Pork and chicken await the crowd at last year’s Colonial BBQ Competition.

Saturday’s beer lineup will be similar to last year with $5 still getting you a 16oz pour, with the highlight being local Smyrna brewer Blue Earl on hand offering their Blues Power, Honey Suckle, and Walking Blues brews. Bud, Bud Light, Goose Island IPA, and Blue Point Toasted Lager will also be available and Michael want me to inform everyone that last call is at 4:30!

Michael and his team seem to have really put time and effort into evolving their event past the obstacles and problems of last year. With any new event like this, there are bound to be growing pains, and Michael even conceded that there will probably be new ones this year, but asked people to be patient, “It will be fun. We’ll have screw ups again this year, and it won’t be until year three or four when we have worked out most of the kinks….but we’ll get there!”

Live music for the event will be provided Backlash, Federal Street and Blue Cat Blues Band.

The Colonial BBQ Competition supports the New Castle Charities, a nonprofit organization that assists area homeowners and improvements to Battery Park.

As always I would like to thank Michael for taking some of his valuable time to talk to me!

New Castle BBQ Competition Winners plus a Discussion with Competition Organizer Sandy Fulton

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

Overall

1          3 EYZ BBQ                               697.120
2          SAUCE THIS BBQ                 681.6572
3          PIGHEADED BBQ                681.0628

Chicken

1          3 EYZ BBQ                              174.2628
2          BANG BANG BBQ                 173.1200
3          WEEKEND SMOKERS        170.3660

Pork Ribs

1          3 EYZ BBQ                             178.8572
2          PIGHEADED BBQ               171.4172
3          LITTLE LUKE’S BBQ          170.3088

Pork

1          3 EYZ BBQ                              178.8572
2          PIGHEADED BBQ                172.0000
3          Knee Deep BBQ                     171.4172

Brisket

1          SAUCE THIS BBQ                 180.0000
2          BIG D’S BBQ                           176.5600
3          BANG BANG BBQ                 169.7028

Amateur Chicken

1          Chock Full of BBQ                 169.1200
2          SOUTH BOWIE SMOKE     169.1200
3          Bubba Joe’s Que                    168.5600

Amateur Ribs

1          Welch Mountain BBQ            166.3200
2          SOUTH BOWIE SMOKE      161.1544
3          M & M Barbeque                    160.5372

Backyard

1          SOUTH BOWIE SMOKE      330.2744
2          Bubba Joe’s Que                     328.5144
3          Welch Mountain BBQ           327.4512

 

The Local Tap – Hogs and Hops 2013

Well this is a first here at tDoB.  I posted a preview of Hogs and Hops on Friday, attended the event on Saturday and here I am today posting the rundown only a few days later.  Usually I’m no where near this on the ball.  Oh, and as a TOTAL aside, this is my 200th post.  Anyway, as I said in my preview, a lot has changed since the inaugural event last year.

First, let me say that although it is a little bit more of a drive for us, the new digs at Harrington were awesome.  Plenty of room for the competitors, the food/beverage trucks and the vendors; plus a huge open field in front of a good sized bandstand.  We got there a little bit before they could start serving/pouring so after we surveyed the area, we decided to take a moment to walk down the BBQ truck line and see what everyone had to offer.

Whole Hog
The whole hog that was part of the VIP food plate from Mr. BAR-B-CUE. I’ll be seeing this guy later.
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A great selection of food on the grill at Big Fat Daddy’s BBQ

Soon it was time for the event to start so we checked out the three beer trucks to see who had what on tap.  I started with an Old Dominion Monk Czech and Tracey started with a Fordham Wisteria Wheat.

Fordham Truck

With beer in hand we strolled around the venue and checked out the vendors.  We finally got the chance to meet Cindy Small of the Kent County & Greater Dover, Delaware Convention and Visitors Bureau, who were there promoting their up coming Delaware Wine and Beer Festival.  I’ve done some promoting for Cindy, but this is the first time we’d met.  It was great to relax a bit and get to talk about the up coming festival.  But soon it was time for lunch.  VIP ticket holders were served a BBQ platter from Mr. BAR-B-CUE which consisted of two out of three choices: brisket, whole hog pork or ribs.  I told you I’d see that hog later.

BBQ platter from Mr. BAR-B-CUE, beers by Fordham/Old Dominion
BBQ platter from Mr. BAR-B-CUE, beers by Fordham/Old Dominion

It wasn’t long before the bandstand got rocking, as Tyler Toliver and perennial local favorites Love, Seed, Mamma, Jump supplied the music for the afternoon and early evening.  Entertainment was also provided by the folks from Cowboy Up Saloon, who not only set up a fine tent, but got some of the crowd up for country line dance lessons and demonstrations in between sets.

Volunteers at the end of the event take a break and catch a bit of Tyler Toliver's set
Volunteers towards the end of the event take a break and catch a bit of Tyler Toliver’s set
The ladies from the Cowboy Up Saloon get the crowd involved in some line dancing.
The ladies from the Cowboy Up Saloon get the crowd involved in some line dancing.

“Pit row” as I like to call it was fun as always.  As first all we could do was enjoy the smell of smoke wood in the air, and drool over all the different equipment that the teams brought (we were asked not to bother the teams until turn-ins were done).   I always enjoy checking out the teams’ equipment, because you never know when you might see something you’ve never seen before.

Biker BBQ from Millville NJ uses an adapter to constantly feed apple juice into their smoker.
It’s not unusual to be using water in a Blackwood Smoker, but I’ve never seen anyone use an adapter to constantly feed apple juice from a 5-Gallon water bottle like Biker BBQ from Millville NJ.

And of course, many of them used the opportunity to show off.

TFFBBQ displays their xxxxxx chicken from The Middletown BBQ Cook-Off
TFFBBQ displays their trophy for their first place finish in chicken at this year’s Middletown BBQ Cook-Off

But after last turn-in we walked through again and got to stop and talk to a few of the pitmasters including George and Kim Przybylski from Bang Bang BBQ, last year’s Hogs and Hops second place finisher in points.  I asked them how they liked the bigger event.  “I love bigger events,” George commented.  “I normally don’t do small events, I just gave it a try last year.  And this year’s just the beginning.  This year he [Mark Hoffman, event coordinator] had to keep it small due to the KCBS sanctioning, but next year the sky’s the limit.”

Soon it was the time everyone was waiting for, the awards presentations.  The field topped out at 45 BBQ teams from the surrounding area and as far away as North Carolina.  The event consisted of four meat turn-ins: chicken, pork, ribs and brisket.  The top ten in each category were awarded, along with reserve champion (second place all around points) and grand champion (first place).  The Mid Atlantic BBQ Association was on hand as well to award the highest placed team from Delaware as “Delaware State Champion”.

The trophies stand ready as Love, Seed, Momma, Jump finishes their last set.
The trophies stand ready as Love, Seed, Momma, Jump finishes their set.
xxx of Bang Bang BBQ and my thumb wait to hear if they've matched last year's performance.
Kim and George Przybylski of Bang Bang BBQ; and my finger wait to hear if they’ve matched last year’s performance.

Here’s a run down of the results:

CHICKEN:

Third – Aporkalypse Now
Second – GoneHoggin.com
First -Smoke-aholics

RIBS:

Third -GoneHoggin.com
Second –3 Eyz BBQ
First –Badlands BBQ

PORK:

Third – Rockin Robyns BBQ
Second – M & E BBQ
First – Big Dee’s BBQ

BRISKET:

Third – 3 Eyz BBQ
Second – Tasty Licks BBQ
First – Lo’ and Slo’ BBQ

MABA, “Delaware State Champions” – M & E BBQ

RESERVE CHAMPION – Lo’ and Slo’ BBQ

GRAND CHAMPION – Aporkalypse Now

Hogs and Hops 2013 Grand Champions - Aporkalpsy Now
Hogs and Hops 2013 Grand Champions – Aporkalypse Now (Smoke em’ all, let the judges sort em’ out)

Congratulations to everyone!

When I asked event coordinator Mark Hoffman about the turn out, he indicated that he was happy with the numbers, “We estimate attendance to be around 3500 at this point but we won’t know final numbers for a week or two.”  Of course being a beer guy, I couldn’t help but ask about what  got poured out the three beer trucks and the on-field beer bar, “It looks like we burned through about 45 barrels [ETA: I believe he meant half-kegs] of beer, about the same as last year. That may be because we had the wine option with Fenwick wine cellars this year.”

For the most part I think Hogs and Hops surpassed itself in just about every way when compared to last  year.  But there was one feature of the event last year that I (and several other people I talked to) sorely missed.  “We could not do a peoples choice this year due to health [department] regulations on contests like ours,” said Mark when I asked him about the missing Peoples Choice Award from last year.  However, Mark recognizes how much people enjoyed that aspect of the event last year and although he knew he couldn’t implement it this year, he had already been formulating a plan to bring it back.  “But we are working on something for next year already where teams would turn in a tray [of] pulled pork and WE would serve 1/2 oz cups and you vote for your favorites,” he told me.  “It was just too late in the planning stage to add that in this year but we are already trying to develop that system for next year.”

And if everything works out, we’ll be there next year.  After all, what dog doesn’t love a BBQ festival?

CUS with Dog

Hogs and Hops Preview – 2013

Hogs and HopsLast year I had the pleasure of attending the first annual Hogs and Hops (H&H) beer event and BBQ competition hosted by Fordham Brewery and Old Dominion under the shadow of their brewery itself.  And it didn’t take but a couple of hours of sipping on a beer while walking through the rows of smokers, the aroma of hickory, apple and other smoke woods wafting in the breeze;  for this to become my favorite annual event.  Yeah, that’s right.  The event struck a chord with me almost immediately.

And apparently I wasn’t the only one.  Event founder Mark Hoffman organized what I’m sure he considered going into that Saturday to be a very successful event.   Hogs and Hops was designed as a combination beer event and competition BBQ whose proceeds benefited the local FOP’s emergency relief fund.   Twenty-four BBQ teams signed up to compete and advanced tickets sales were brisk, topping out at approximately 1000. So no doubt Mark was sure they had succeeded in generating a good buzz about the event.  Then suddenly (and admittedly not so suddenly) something happened.

exploded

The day of the event walk-up sales quickly reached the advanced sales, doubling the crowd and causing the event to outgrow its venue in the first year, which resulted in the competition being moved to the Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington.  The crowd consumed 44 half kegs of beer and made it obvious that more beer trucks would be needed to alleviate the long lines (although to be fair, I didn’t think they were that bad).  Not long after the event, Mark reached out to the Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) and was able to get the event sanctioned as an official KCBS event, only the second such event in the state of Delaware.  Governor Markell then signed a proclamation back in May designating Hogs and Hops as a Delaware State Championship barbecue event, again only the second in the state.

This Saturday, marks the second annual Hogs and Hops and the event looks amazing.  The competition field has almost doubled to the event’s maximum (KCBS set the limit at 50), drawing BBQ competition teams from the Mid-Atlantic region and several from other parts of the US.  Fordham and Old Dominion are again supplying the beer this year, tapping Rams Head Ipa, Victory Lager, Copperhead Ale, Spiced Harvest Ale, Wisteria Wheat, Morning Glory Espresso Stout, Double D Ipa, Gigi’s Farmhouse Ale, Monk Czeck, Oak Barrel Stout, Octoberfest and for the kids and designated drivers, Old Fashioned Root Beer.  Because of regulations, the people’s choice award got shelved (hopefully only for this year), but VIP ticket holders will still get a chance to try competition BBQ in the form of food presented by Milford, Delaware competition team Mr. BAR-B-QUE.

But they aren’t the only team representing Delaware this weekend (some teams had very little if any website or social media presence so if I’ve inadvertently missed someone, I’m sorry).  TFFBBQ (Wilmington), Big Bang BBQ (also Wilmington, last year’s H&Hs 1st in ribs and 2nd overall), Slower Lower BBQ (Milton), Pigheaded BBQ (Middletown), Gone Hoggin’ (Bear, who I’ll be rooting for because in their Bios they list their favorite competition food as “beer”) along with That Guy BBQ and Rub Me Tender BBQ (both from Smyrna) will be hoping to cook their way into H&H’s first Grand Championship.  And why not?  The highest scoring team from Delaware will be named Delaware BBQ Team of the Year by the Mid-Atlantic BBQ Association (MABA).  On top of that, due to the sanctioning by the KCBS and Governor Markell’s proclamation, the Hogs and Hops winner (regardless of state) will represent Delaware at the Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational in Lynchburg, Tenn.  Well not this year.  And maybe not next year.  Or the next.

See, as I said Hogs and Hops is the second KCBS event and the second Delaware State Championship barbecue event.  The first is the Middletown BBQ Cook-Off which just celebrated its fourth year and attracts over 50 competition teams.  Because of its solo State Championship status over the last three years (as well as this year, I guess they figured it wasn’t fair to do it this year since Markell signed the proclamation only weeks before the winner of Middletown was crowned) the winner of the Middletown Cook-Off was the undisputed representative of Delaware at Lynchburg.  But starting next year, the winning teams from Middletown and Hogs and Hops will compete for the honor of representing our state.  What will that competition entail?  I don’t know right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it involves some large chunks of meat and some smoke.

One person who is probably very aware of the situation is David Marks, owner of the Famous Dave’s BBQ Restaurant franchise and pitmaster for Wilbur’s Revenge BBQ Team, this year’s Middletown Grand Champion.  Dave’s team will be on hand at Hogs and Hops and no doubt would love to walk away with a second Grand Championship, a claim to the undisputed Delaware BBQ Champion title (that doesn’t exist but it should!) and set the tone for next year’s round of competitions.

But he’s not the only big dog in the yard.  There’s a lot of great teams in the field this year, including 3 EYZ BBQ (2012 KCBS and MABA Team of the Year, current MABA points leader for 2013 Team of the Year) led by Dan Hixon; two time Pennsylvania State Champions LO’ N SLO’ BBQ led by Tom Perelka; and Hawg Nation (Pennsylvania state brisket champions three years running and MABA Team of the Year for brisket in 2012) led by Michael Czajka.

Sadly, it looks like last year's winners Alpha-Q-Up will not be returning to defend their title.
Sadly, it looks like last year’s winners Alpha-Q-Up will not be returning to defend their title.

So Saturday I’ll be strolling around rows of smokers again.  The smell of smoke wood permeating the air (and my hair, it will probably take a shower or two to get it all out), sipping on a cold beer and discussing BBQ with some very knowledgeable competitive pitmasters (we’ve been asked to hold back from talking with the competitors this  year until 3:00 due to the later turn in time from last year.  I have a suspicion that the real party will start at 3:15).  It probably would inspire me to do a little smoking myself on Sunday, if my smoker hadn’t nearly collapsed to the deck during my last smoking session.

But that’s another post.

Good luck to all the competitors on Saturday, I’m sure you’ll do Delaware proud.  And to Mark, Fordham and Old Dominion Breweries, all the volunteers and sponsors; thanks again for putting on an amazing event. See you there!

The Local Tap – Hogs and Hops 2012

It was always my belief that when it came to events I enjoyed, nothing could beat a beer festival.  There’s just something fun about walking around, tasting beers, and talking to brewers and other beer lovers.  But Dover Police Officer Mark Hoffman and the people at Fordham Brewing have changed that.  Because as it turns out, there is a way to improve my enjoyment of a beer festival, or at least, a beer event – pair it with a competition BBQ – and call it Hogs and Hops.

Hogs and Hops continues the wonderful tradition that Fordham/Old Dominion Breweries have of giving back to the community.  It started with R2HOP2 in May, a music festival in conjunction with American Craft Beer Week.  The combination Beer Fest/Music Festival was a hit, and a portion of the proceeds went to local charities.

Mark then approached Fordham Brewing about having another event to benefit the local community service organizations.  The result was Hogs and Hops, a combination beer festival and competition BBQ whose proceeds would benefit the Emergency Relief Funds of the Dover Police and Dover Fire Departments.  With over 20 BBQs competing, and Fordham brewing pouring the beer, there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to this event.

As an added bonus, the Delaware Craft Beer and Wine Lovers were on hand for a group first – setting up a vendor’s tent at an event.

By the time we got there, the BBQ judges were already hard at work.
Squealing’ Big Time BBQ was one of the 26 teams to show up that day.
Some of the BBQ teams had some pretty impressive rigs.  Some were smoking in converted 55 gallon drums.
DCBaWL member Mike surveying the field.
The beer line.  Fordham/Old Dominion have stated that they went through 44 half kegs that day.
VIP ticket holders got a chance to vote for a People’s Choice award in pulled pork and ribs.  This was an awesome bonus as some events don’t allow people to eat the competition food.
A few DCBaWL members taking a break at the tent while planning which beer truck to hit next.
The rain looked like it might hold things back a bit, but after awhile the area in front of the band stand was full of dancers and mud sliders.
Even the kids were getting into the act.
Event Chairman Mark Hoffman (L), and Chad Messina (R) of Alpha-Q-Up BBQ, winners of the first Hogs and Hops Grand BBQ Championship

When I asked Chad if this was his first competition win, he shocked me by informing me that this was the first competition he’d ever entered. Way to start out!  Unfortunately, he wasn’t in my judging bracket for People’s Choice so I didn’t have a chance to taste his food.  However, Bang Bang BBQ was in my bracket and I really enjoyed their BBQ.  So much so in fact, that I voted for them in the pulled pork and over-all categories.  In the judged competition, they came in first in ribs, and second overall.

Being in the BBQ area was a blast.  So many times on TV BBQers are portrayed as a secretive, unfriendly bunch, but to be honest you couldn’t have asked for a nicer group of people.  The folks at Troops USA were more than willing to spend 20 minutes with me outlining their brisket technique.  Others discussed wood varieties and how/when they would use them.  People were just throwing BBQ knowledge at me.  Maybe it was because I was smart enough not to ask about their rubs.  Although a few, having seen the Bad Byron’s “Butt Rub” shirt I was wearing, did call  me over and say in a low voice, “we use that.”  We even got a few invites to come back after the event for some food and beers.

There’s nothing like a BBQ competition to really demonstrate the diversity of this style of cooking.  It was great to get to taste how different teams approached their flavor profiles.  From spicy to sweet, light smoke or heavy, each team did their best to put their own stamp on their finished product.  Including one team who I swore mixed a little “Old Bay” into their dry rub (for the record, it didn’t really click with me).

Overall the event was a success with over 1000 ticket pre-sales and approximately 1000 walk ups [according to The Dover Post].  Mark is already thinking about next year’s event, and already has plans for improvements.  In fact, he already had an eye towards next year when we bumped into each other in the crowd that day, “I’m thinking one more beer truck for next year.”  Mark is also checking into the possibility of  getting the BBQ competition sanctioned next year with the Kansas City Barbeque Society.

Man, I can’t wait for next year!  Time for another beer…with some ribs!

Helping an Old Friend with his Image Make Over – Grill Referb

Sometimes it happens.  You look at an old friend one day and realize that he’s just let himself go.  If you see your friend on a regular basis, this change can be so subtle that you might not even notice it.  But then one day, it becomes very obvious.

I had this realization early this spring when I went out to fire up my smoker for the first time.  Time and weather had not treated my friend well.  The smoker was obviously rusty all over, and the fire box (where ash and moisture do their most damage) was in a state of complete shambles.

Many people would have just shrugged and taken the opportunity to go out a buy a new smoker.  I find myself loath to do that for several reasons.  First, the smoker was a gift from the GF, something she gave me early in our relationship and in truth, I just don’t want to part with it.  Next, while I like a lot of the new smokers available, few manufactures still sell a vertical style with a side fire box like mine; and I really, really love it because not only can I smoke in it but I can do direct grilling on coals and wood.  And finally, I have to admit that my friend’s condition lay squarely on my shoulders.  I hadn’t plunked down the measly dollars it would have required to buy a cover for it, and now that opportunity was lost.  No, this was my fault, and I had to make it right – if possible.

Here’s what I had to start with:

Oh my friend, what has happened to you.

The first step is to remove all the damage.  This is the most important step, not only to remove as much rust damage as possible, but when finished you really know if you have anything worth saving.  I recommend a beer and a box of tissues for this step.  Then take a hose, or power washer, and go at it.

The fire box with all the rust removed. Yes, that’s my deck you can see through the hole in the bottom.

The fire box was a disaster, however I felt there WAS enough structure for me to build onto and repair it.  The smoke box was relatively undamaged, just some cosmetic rust on the outside.

The tools for the job.

I want to state, that I don’t consider myself the most handy person in the world but if you give me something that needs repair, I can usually do a pretty good job.  Admittedly, this is one of those times when I wish I knew how to weld – or still worked in one of my company’s production facilities were people who do know how to weld can easily be hired for a couple of cases of beer.

My first task was to build a box frame from the angle metal I bought that fit snuggle into the bottom of the fire box and then bolt it to the sides where ever I had solid metal.  Then I used flat metal to build a bottom on which I could lay flat metal plates.  This allows me to remove the plates occasionally to thoroughly clean the firebox.  If it works as well I hope, I’ll eventually have custom stainless plates made that fit better.  I then cut aluminum sheets to slide into the fire box on the sides.  The fire box had a lip on the top to help lock the sheets into place.

The rebuilt fire box bottom.

I then cleaned any lite rust with Krud Kutter “The Must for Rust”, which I highly recommend.  This stuff is great.  I even soaked the chrome handles to clean them up.  Just don’t soak them to long, or you’ll start to take off the chrome and pit the metal.  And yes, I’m speaking from experience here.  Finally, the cleaned smoker gets several coats of black paint (make sure you get the paint that’s rated for high heat), and the handles got a couple of coats of chrome.

Rebuilt fire box, finished and painted.
Nothing prettier than rain beading up on a freshly painted surface.

So after all that, here’s the final result:

My friend rocking his new style!

During the referb, I also to the opportunity to re-sure the door on the side of the fire box, and to clean and lub the air grate in it so that it easily slides open and closed again.

All said, this was a fun little project.  The smoker is back to its functional glory.  There’s still some work to do however, the ash tray and coal grate that came with the smoker were both beyond repair so I need to figure out a replacement option for them.  But that’s another post.

Who’s hungry?

Saying Goodbye to Last Year’s Summer

There are many ways people gauge the end of summer.  For some it’s as simple as looking at a date on the calendar.  For others, yearly rituals like closing up beach houses, pulling the leaf rake out of the shed or closing pools serve as a sad indication that autumn, with it’s shorter days and colorful leaves is just around the corner.

Nature of course has her own methods.  Heat and humidity (at least here in Delaware) give way to cooler days, and even cooler nights.  Summer flowers fade into memory as fall colors from mums and sedums start to prevail.  The night sky intrudes more into our daytime as the summer triangle (Vega, Deneb, and Altair) slides from sight and Orion begins to rise in the southern sky.

But some of us have other methods to gauge when summer is over, and indeed it doesn’t even have to be the summer in the current calendar year.  For me, summer 2011 ended on Sunday when the last of the vacuum sealed pulled pork was taken from the freezer.  Having taken a trip to BJs to stock up on some pantry items, Tracey suggested picking up rolls for dinner and hinted that perhaps, just perhaps, it was time to let last year’s summer finally go.

The prep was easy enough, some sliced onions in a pan until they were translucent and then in with the thawed pork.  Soon the tantalizing aroma of smoke, onions and meat was wafting through the kitchen.  When ever I walk into a Yankee Candle store get dragged into a Yankee Candle store by Tracey, I always give a silent prayer that someone there has realized the gold mine they would be sitting on if they would infuse this bouquet into one of their candles.  I hold my breath as I scan down the shelves hoping to find Smoked Pork® between  Sage and Citrus; and Soft Blanket™.  Always to be denied.  Don’t any men work in that place?

Looks good. Smells awesome.

Once the pork was heated through I hit it with kosher salt, two caps of apple cider vinegar and red pepper flakes – and stepped away.  I happened upon this simplistic preparation at a winery one summer where a local BBQ team was set up to serve sandwiches to people out on the wine trail.  Only three ingredients, but each having a very important and distinct role.  It starts with the tang of the vinegar balancing the sweetness of the meat and then the red pepper flakes adding a welcomed, but understated heat to the party.  Salt?  Well salt does what salt always does – make things taste better.  I quickly adopted this method  which I have playfully dubbed “naked” for serving my pork, but I am not a man of strong will power and found it impossible to give up on BBQ sauce entirely.   But I turned this into a positive when I realized that by not putting BBQ sauce on the pork, it was leaving me and my fellow diners the opportunity to take our sandwiches in any direction we individually wished.  After all, what could be better than BBQ sauce – well obviously having your choice of BBQ sauces!

So once the food hits the table, I break out the six pack of BBQ sauces.  I have to thank my friend Lisa for the inspiration here.  One year for Christmas she got me a set of white squirt bottles because I had mentioned how I loved Guy Fieri’s set up with his oils on “Guy’s Big Bite”.  When she bought them, our mutual friend John asked her, “Why are you buying him those?  You know he’s never going to use them.”  Of course John should know better then question the connection between two Aquarians born only a day apart.

The “six pack” stands ready.

Oh he was right, I couldn’t really use them for my oils like Guy does.  I already had a set up for that.  However, I could use them to bottle different BBQ sauces to put on the table.  So I grabbed a couple of my favorite sauces (that’s another post) and a couple I wanted to try and bottled them up.  To make them all transportable, I put them in a Stoudt’s Scarlet Lady ESB six pack holder which is an excellent use for it, second only to transporting six bottles of Scarlet Lady into my house.

Needless to say, the pork was very good and still tasted as smokey as the day I … well, smoked it.  And while I admit it was sort of sad to sit there and stare at my empty plate and realize that my summer of yesterday had finally come to end. I could take comfort that another summer was indeed around the corner and that Tracey was already thinking ahead.

“This was the last of the pork right?”

“Yeah”

“So when are you making more?”