It’s early in 2013. The days are short, the weather is cold, and BBQ season is still a ways away, so why am I writing about competition?
Because yesterday my team, SLABS a’ Smokin, took part in a fun, one day competition in St. Louis called Freeze Que. It’s a great event that gives all proceeds to charity and gives nut jobs like me a chance to fire up our smokers in the dead of winter. A challenge to be sure, but fun nonetheless.
It also was another reminder of the thrills and frustrations of competition BBQ, so I thought I’d share with you.
- They had a mystery meat category. We were given the meat at 9:30am and had to prep, cook and present by 4pm. This is a real measure of how creative and knowledgeable your team is with preparing food. We were given turkey tenderloins, which we marinated, sliced in half, stuffed with deliciousness, rolled up, rubbed, smoked, breaded, seared, sliced and presented with miniature stuffing balls. I’m thrilled to report that team effort landed us in the top 10. We even finished ahead of a couple of restaurants!
- Nailing Ribs. Yes, we absolutely nailed them yesterday. They were perfect. Wouldn’t change a thing. Any of you who have tried to cook perfect ribs understand how difficult it is. It’s truly an art. Yesterday it all just went as smoothly as can be and we finished #5. I’ll take top 5 any day.
- Team Effort. You won’t understand until you’ve been at a competition from beginning to end. There are SO many aspects that go into it…from planning to set up to cooking to cleaning to tear down and transporting. There are insanely intense times – turn in’s – and plenty of relaxing times, but there is always something to do. I am lucky to be surrounded by the best team anyone could ask for. The team members of SLABS a’ Smokin are second to none and I am constantly humbled by their work ethic, kindness and team-first attitudes.
- Inconsistent Judging. Yes, I know it’s all subjective, but c’mon. How is it possible for me to give 6 ribs to turn in that I know I nailed, and 5 of those judges agree, with one judge basically telling me they’re terrible? Did he drop the rib on the ground before taking a bite? Yesterday I had one silly judge. If he isn’t a complete lunatic, and my next lowest score is dropped, instead of placing 5th, we place top 3 for sure.
- Things NOT going as planned. We tried a slightly new method for our chicken yesterday. I thought they turned out fantastic, but not perfect. We could have done better. The skin of the thighs shrank more than I expected and our presentation was left looking something less than perfect. Sound crazy? Well, I’m not. Every tiny point helps, and if a judge sees exposed meat instead of smooth skin, he’s going to dock you. We came in 9th yesterday – that’s outstanding! But what was the difference between 9th and 3rd? 4 points. That’s all. That’s 4 judges giving us an 8 instead of a 9 because of the shrunken skin. Every. Detail. Counts.
- Teams that…don’t handle themselves well. At nearly every competition there’s at least one team that gets a little out of hand. Usually it’s related to their beverage of choice that day, and not knowing when they’ve had enough. I’ve seen teams falling over themselves, heard them scream profanities, and even threaten and try picking fights with other teams. That’s always a shame. There really is a brotherhood in BBQ, and when teams don’t get that, they ruin it for everyone else. I think everyone should read Mike Mills’, Peace, Love, & BBQ.
All in all, the thrills outweigh the frustrations for me. I’ve accepted the fact that sometimes it’s just not your day – even if you believe you’ve put your best product forward. Sometimes you just get the “wrong” judges. But at the end of it all, for me, it’s about coming together as friends and family, having a good time, enjoying each other and the competition, and being proud of the products you turn in. When those things happen, I feel like a winner every time.