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

 

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!