Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Back to Lynchburg

Kris and I headed out for the 23rd Annual Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue on Tuesday morning. Along for the ride again this year were Al and Phylis Eastman, Ted Lorson, and Maggie. Joining us for the first time was our Nephew Zack Healy. We decided to drive straight through to Lynchburg, TN again this year. This decision puts us in Tullahoma, TN by 4AM. Great, we're here!! But nothings open. Well, except the Awful Waffle. So, while we wait for Budget to open, and the hotel to let us check in, we go get breakfast. The Waffle House at 4AM is an interesting place to say the least. We had so much fun in fact, we went back at 7:30AM for breakfast number two. A few hours later the Eastman's were checked-in, they had their car, and the rest of us were making our way down Route 55. I love that 12 mile drive into Lynchburg. Passing the Motlow State Community College, the road winds down the hill as we pass the beautiful grounds of Moore County High School. Then I see the sign: Lynchburg Welcomes You! we're here; we've made it. As we pass the Jack Daniel's Distillery I can feel it. When we take that left and drive through Lynchburg Town Square, pass the Hardware Store, and pull onto Wiseman Park I can't help but smile. We pass Moorhead Pavilion on the way to our spot. All I can think of is what will happen in there on Saturday night. Who's going to win? Will we get a call? Will we bomb? I have to break my thoughts and remember why we're here. I'm not going to worry about these things right now. It's only Wednesday afternoon and I have two days before I need to think about cooking. Lets go have some fun.

Thursday is a great day in the Hollow. I love to relax and watch all the teams roll in. Watching teams pull giant trailers in to small spots confirms my decision of arriving early. We make coffee, nurse small hangovers, and enjoy as the misty weather turns into partly sunny. On tap for Thursday was the distillery tour, shopping in the square, and later on that night a great dinner with friends. Late night included much laughter, spirits, and visiting with teams that we don't see often enough. It was great catching up with everyone, talking about The BBQ Circuit, and staying warm with a bottle of Jack. We partied into the night without a single care of turn-in times, trimming meats, or staying focused. That sort of thing just didn't seem to fit into that night. Somehow it wasn't even relevant. Sure, we're at one of the most revered contest of the year, but worrying about it seems, oddly, stupid. We walked around all night, found people to hang with, and made memories. And that's all I really cared about that night.

Friday morning greeted me with a wonderful cocktail of coffee and Ibuprofen. After a hot shower we were off to our annual trip to Miss Mary Bobo's. Thanks to Steph for making these arrangements once again this year and including us in them. Miss Mary Bobo's is one of the highlights from the trip. It's something that I hope I'll never miss. Like all great meals in your life it usually has little to do with the food. For me it's the big communal table, the Host telling stories of Lynchburg, the passing of food family-style, and sharing this with my wife and my friends. In that intimate setting you can really feel the happiness. Oh, and as a bonus, the food rocks!

Friday afternoon we did a little prep, then got ready for the Parade of Teams, then off to the party up on The Hill. Also two things that I hope I'll never miss or get tired of. Back from The Hill I fired up the pit and started to get focused. The good news is that that didn't last too long. We were set up adjacent to I Smell Smoke!!! and the area was dubbed 'NEBSville'. Needless to say we had a revolving cast of characters to hang out by the fire with. Great beers were consumed, everyone was laughing, and if the fire or Jack Daniel's didn't warm you up, the company sure did. I did what I could do to hit all my 'triggers'. I think I missed one or two, but that's okay. I wouldn't change a thing about that night. That day was one of the best I've ever had down in the Hollow.

Saturday morning was cold and crisp, perfect weather for cooking BBQ. Besides the usual 4 categories we were also doing a Chef's Choice, sauce, and a dessert. So, it was going to be a busy day. But, we had a plan and a lot of help from our extended team. The cook went great and we were pleased with everything...except the ribs. This didn't surprise me too much, they have been our worst category all year long. We've tweaked them over the past few comps but it might be 'back to the drawing board' with our ribs over the off-season. Oh well. Our best bet I thought was with our pork or one of the ancillary categories. I know I've been saying over the last few posts that I'm just there to have fun. As factual as that may be, I really, really, want to hear our name called. To me that would be a lot of fun! So, we breakdown, clean up, and head to the awards.

The level of anticipation, excitement, and nerves are off the charts. It's like every other award ceremony X 1000. Surrounded by our friends, family, and our peers, we anxiously wait for the awards to start. After the usual 'achievement' awards they got on with the categories. Sauce was first - nothing. Next was the Chef's Choice. They started to announce top three only. This happens at The Jack a lot. Sometimes they call top 10, sometimes top 5, this time top 3. Oh well, no calls for Chef's Choice. On to BBQ. Chicken - nothing. Ribs were up next and we didn't expect much. But at least they were calling top 10 in the BBQ categories, so you never know. In the back of my head, maybe, just maybe, we could squeak out a 9th or 10th place in a category. As they announced ribs, and they got closer to the top, my hope was fleeting. I start thinking ahead towards pork, or brisket. Just then the Emcee hands the microphone to Master Distiller, Jeff Arnett, to announce the 1st place winner in the rib category. And in his thick Southern drawl Mr. Arnett said "Lakesiiide SmokERRs." A moment that I will never forget. That walk up to the stage is one of the best feelings a competitive BBQer can have. It's a whirlwind. People cheer, cameras flash, and in that 30 seconds your anxiety melts away. We walk back to where we were sitting and open up the bottle of Jack that we just won. Our friends congratulate us and all together we quickly kill that bottle. The rest of the awards are kind of a blur. But at the end of the day all 6 teams from Massachusetts got up to that stage. And one Massachusetts team made that final walk as World Champions. Huge congrats to Smokin' Hoggz on their win. We finish Saturday off in the Hollow by parting late into the night. It's cold, the fires are extinguished, and the crowd is thinning, but I don't want that day to ever end. Because I know tomorrow we start our journey back.

The long ride home gives me a chance to think. I'm tired; it's a lot of work to have this much fun. I reflect on this past season. I realize that chances are I'll never be able to have a better season than this one. So what do you do? What's the end game? The phrase 'quit while you're ahead' keeps on echoing in my head. It's brief, but still, it's there. But what dominates my thoughts are the laughter and smiles of my friends. The great food and drinks we've had. The late night partying with strangers. Sharing this with my wife and family. And all the great times I've had on the BBQ Trail over the years. By the time we get home I'm thinking more clearly. The thoughts of quitting are left on the road. I start to get excited for next year. I don't need to have a better season than this one, I just need to get back to Lynchburg.

Monday, October 17, 2011

La Fin du Saison

In one week the 2011 BBQ season will be over for us. We will be driving home from The Jack; undoubtably tired, hungover, sad, and happy. The goal of every season for us is to get back down to Lynchburg. To be fortunate enough to compete at The Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue. To eat at Miss Mary Bobo's, be part of The Parade of Teams, and party up on BBQ Hill with all of our friends. I love watching the sunset over the Hollow. I love the feeling I get in that open air pavilion. I love seeing everyone smile, laugh and drink. I feel their joy; it's palpable. I think that is what makes The Jack so different from all other contests for me. I'm truly there to have fun. I know that sounds a bit cliche but it's true. It's the only contest that we do that I can honestly say that I'm there just to have fun. I don't do competition BBQ to have fun. Don't get me wrong: I have a blast. But that's not why I compete. I'm at a BBQ comp to cook the best that I can and try to win. Sure, I'll consume a copious amount of La Fin du Monde, eat great food, and late night shenanigans are going to happen. And as a result, I have a great time at BBQ comps and end up with a lot of wonderful memories. But running through my brain the whole time is the task at hand: to get to The Jack. So if I'm lucky enough to get back down there, I'm really looking to just have a great time.

Because as soon as it's over, and we're on the long drive home, my mind drifts to the next season... Was that the last time that I'll see Lynchburg? Will I ever sip Jack Daniel's up on The Hill again? Over the cold winter those questions will remain unanswered. Then spring will finally get here and I'll set up my gear in a muddy field for the first time of the year. The new BBQ season is underway; the race begins. As summer marches on I'll try to secure a spot down in The Hollow. I hope to have at least one bung in The Draw. I hope that I'm lucky enough to get it pulled. And if that does happen, only then, do we start making plans for an autumn road trip. So, after all the angst and uncertainty of the BBQ season, after working hard on getting back down to Lynchburg, when I get there I intend on having some God Damn fun.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Jack 2011

The Draw for the 23rd Annual Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue is now in the books. Congrats to all the teams that had their bung pulled. And a special congrats to my fellow New England and New York teams who are going down to Lynchburg to represent the Northeast this year. Of the 71 American teams going to The Jack, 8 of them are from New England and New York. Not bad for a bunch of Yankees!

Massachusetts teams:
Fatback Joe's BBQ
Smokin' Hoggz BBQ
Saucehound BBQ
I Smell Smoke!!!
Lakeside Smokers

New Hampshire teams:
Feeding Friendz

New York Teams:
Mr. Bobo's Traveling BBQ All Stars

Saturday, August 20, 2011


It's the Monday morning after the Mainely Grillin' & Chillin' competition in Eliot, ME and looking outside from my window all I can see is sheets of rain coming down. And it dawns on me on just how lucky I am...

Early on in the week the forecast was rain for Sunday. But as the weekend marched on the rain held off. It was cloudy for most of the day but the rain didn't start to come down until our drive home. That might not seem like a huge deal to some, but for us on the BBQ Circuit packing up our gear when it's raining just plain sucks. But, that wasn't the luckiest part of my weekend. Getting to hang out with our friends this weekend and meeting a few new ones. Eating oysters, cured meats, fine cheeses, Pimientos de Padron, and chicken and waffles. Drinking Harpoon, La Fin Du Monde, and many, many Jack Daniel's shots at all hours of the night...and the morning. All of these things were great! But, not the luckiest part of my weekend. An hour before driving home Lakeside Smokers were announced as Grand Champions of the event. Our friends from Feeding Friendz were called for Reserve Grand Champs. After we congratulated each other with accolades and hugs we received our score sheets and found out we had the same score! 666.8566! Unbelievable! We all know there are several procedures in place for such a thing. Bringing back the dropped score, using just the taste scores, and so on. Talking to one of the KCBS Reps he said that he had never seen the scoring so close before. But, even that wasn't the luckiest part of my weekend.

But, sharing all of this - the friends, the love of fine food and drink, the great times, and the feeling of accomplishment - with my wife Kris was not only the luckiest part of my weekend, but was also the best part of my weekend.

Monday, August 1, 2011


Like every year our Harpoon weekend started on Thursday night. Our good friend Stephanie Wilson comes in from Kansas City to spend the weekend with 'Her Man' Steve Farrin and hang out at the Harpoon Brewery in Windsor, VT. On their way up to Vermont they stopped by our home to visit with Kris and I. We had just finished up packing and trimming so the timing was perfect. We popped the cork on some great Prosecco, enjoyed some fine meats and cheeses, and talked with much anticipation of the upcoming weekend. It was going to be a fantastic time, I could just feel it.

Friday was hot. At one point it hit 100 degrees with plenty of humidity. We picked a great weekend to get a little help from our Nephew Zack. Kris and I do these competitions by ourselves. We set up, cook, and breakdown all the time; we have a good system that works for us. But this weekend having another pair of hands turned out to be a great thing. Zack is a good kid and is not afraid of hard work. After we set up our site in the sweltering heat we went inside the Harpoon Riverbend Taps and Beer Garden for a few pints, lunch, and some much needed air condition! We were joined by our friend Ted Lorson and his brother Cristiaan. We spent a few hours catching up and drinking some fresh Harpoon beer. There was a rumor going around that Harpoon had lifted the swimming ban on the river. With the forecast of more heat and more humidity on the way that news was awesome. We all went back to our sites, suited up and headed down to the Connecticut River. A short walk through The Path of Life and we were there. People hung out on the rocky banks and relaxed in the hot sun. Drinking, swimming, and enjoying the summer in Vermont was on the agenda for everyone here today. The BBQ contest seemed, not only miles away, but months away. As I sat in the refreshing water I tried to resist the swift current. Every once and a while you would lose your footing and start to float away. I felt like the river could take me anywhere that day. If I drifted out into the ocean it would be okay. Then something instinctually stops me and anchors me firmly on a rock or on another person. It was much like the dilemma I faced right then: Do I drift away with all my friends and continue to party on that perfect afternoon? Or do I anchor down and get back to business at the BBQ contest? I try to find a balance but it can be difficult at times. I grabbed my towel, rinsed off, and walked back to our site. The sun was setting on this wonderful day and tomorrow held much promise.

Harpoon is a little different than most New England competitions. KCBS is on Saturday and NEBS Grilling is on Sunday. I like this. Grilling comps can be a lot of work and it can throw you off a little. Your site gets messy and you spend a lot of time cleaning after the contest when you should be prepping for KCBS. Going into Harpoon we never have any 'great feelings' about doing well. There is a lot of drinking, a lot of distractions, and a very strong team list most of the time. So, we just stay focused and try not to embarrass ourselves. We had a good cook with no major issues and everything seemed to taste okay. Turn-ins ran smoothly and the Harpoon White was extremely thirst quenching on this hot Saturday afternoon. Another bonus of the Saturday turn-ins is that you can relax and enjoy some beers afterwards. Most of the time after the last turn in we would be rushing around cleaning and breaking down. I can't drink too much either because I need to drive home later. So this was nice to sit, enjoy a few beers, and not worry about cleaning up right away. We can do it after awards... and with the sound of the bagpipes in the distance, awards were upon us.

Awards are always stressful. They usually bring me a nauseous feeling in my stomach and complete anxiety. Today was no different. Ken Dakai took the stage and got right into it. As he read out the top 10 in the chicken category my confidence was fleeting. It's an odd feeling. You hope your chicken was at least in the top 10. But as he gets to 5th place, and you don't hear your name, you start to accept that it is not to be. 4...3...2...nothing. (This sucks, I hate this hobby.) '1st place chicken...Lakeside Smokers.' And in that moment that's all that matters. You made a walk at the top of a category; I'm happy with that. Which is good because we didn't get a top ten call in the rib category. So, the vicious circle continues. That 1st place chicken call seemed like it happened a month ago... Then we took a 4th place in the pork category and a 6th place in the brisket category. I'm thinking that's not going to be enough to win it. If we tanked our ribs we have no chance of a Grand. During awards I am an absolute pessimist so I start to accept that our ribs bombed. As Ken calls the top 10 overall I have mixed feelings; hopeful, but doubtful. He calls our friends and great neighbors Sweet Chicken for Reserve Grand Champions. The moment of truth is upon us, we're either 11th place or lower or Grand Champions. And until you hear your name never assume it. Because I've seen it go bad many, many times. But, today was our day: Lakeside Smokers Grand Champions of Harpoon. Hoisting that coveted tap trophy up high in front of friends and peers was a tremendous feeling. Smiles, hugs, congratulations, and many, many more beers would round out the rest of the day.

Doing Harpoon Grilling was a last minute decision for us. By 'last minute' I mean 2 weeks before the event. But, for us that is last minute. I really have to thank Ted Lorson and Brendan Burek for making some valid points on why we should grill at The Summer Sizzler. Thanks guys! After looking at the categories I realized that we've had some success at past events with all four of them. So, we'll cook what got us to the stage at previous comps and hope for the best. As always cooking a grilling contest is chaotic. It's a lot more work than BBQ and a lot more prep. With BBQ comps everything is pretty much resting and waiting for turn-ins. With grilling comps you kind of cook to order for most of the turn-ins. A much different experience. But Kris and I got through it and managed to turn everything in on time. Before awards it was time for our cleaning/breakdown rituals. We both have our jobs to do and it works out great for us. But this time around Kris had other plans. Her and Steph camped out in the RV and shared stories and libations. Kris has worked her ass off this year. She is the backbone of our grilling comps as well as the creative force. Her job schedule has been very demanding this summer and getting these weekends off can be really difficult. So, if she needs to decompress with her friend Steph over a bottle of Godiva Chocolate Raspberry Vodka, I say good for her! But where the hell is Zack?

Even the award ceremony is different at a grilling comp. It just seems a little more relaxed, a little less pressure I guess. They announced last call right before the awards. The mad scramble to the beer tent would explain why we were all double fisted at awards. Spirits were high, the last beers of the weekend were being consumed, and we were all happy for our friends when they got called to the stage. Lakeside received calls in all four categories. As they called Ique for Reserve Grand Champions it started to sink in. But as the crowd started to chant 'sweep, sweep, sweep...' I guess we knew... Lakeside Smokers were Grand Champions of The Summer Sizzler. Two grands in two days. A great feeling indeed.

It's been one week since Harpoon. The trophies are in the basement, we are well rested, the hotels are booked for The Jack, and we are ready for Eliot, ME. Reflecting about our time at Harpoon is satisfying. Even as the glory fades we are still left with great memories of a magnificent weekend. Our wins are over; soon forgotten. The headlines on forums and websites are already on to the next comp on the calender. Sure, I might remember our wins for a while, but that too will pass. But what I will relish more than anything else is the time enjoyed with our friends. Prosecco and cheese. Fresh beer and cured meats. Laughter with my wife. And the sun in my face as I drift down the river.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Troy Pigout

We love The Troy Pigout. Kris and I have been there for all four years and I think we like it more and more every year. The first year (2008) we got our first 1st place chicken call. The second year we won the contest. The third year we found a hotel within walking distance. And this year we were named Grand Champions again and brought Victor back home. This Grand also ended a dry spell for Lakeside Smokers. It had been a while since our last KCBS win. We've been close, a lot of 3rd overalls, and a few Reserves, but no wins.

We pulled into Troy, NY on Friday night and checked into our hotel. They were overbooked for the weekend so they had to upgrade us from a room to a suite. That didn't suck. We had plans with some friends for dinner later that night. But, for now, we had some time to kill. So, we walked over to Dinosaur BBQ and sat at their outside patio and had a few drinks by the Hudson River. The sun was setting, the libations were flowing, and we watched as our friends pulled onto the contest site. We ended our night with a great group of friends and fellow competitors over dinner and drinks. It's only Friday night and this trip was already worth it.

Saturday morning we walked over to the contest site and set up our gear. It was hot. Hot and muggy, true summer weather. As most teams were getting ready for the People's Choice Rib Competition, we walked over to the Troy Waterfront Farmers Market. One of the best farmers markets I've been to. We purchased bread, cheese, basil, and tomatoes to share with some friends later that night. After the madness of the People's Choice contest all the teams got down to business. As always, there was some late night antics to get involved in. I find the hardest thing for me at a competition is to stay focused. It can be real easy to become sidetracked and get caught up in the moment. I often do and tonight was no exception. I hit all my late night 'triggers' but I did stay up a bit too late partying and it made for a rough morning.

That Sunday morning shower might have been the best shower of my life. Although the hotel lost power in the middle of the night and the hot water was anything but. The luke warm shower rinsed the hangover away and I was ready for the day. During the morning and through turn-ins was uneventful. Things ran smoothly. We started cleaning up and waited for awards.

The awards are held in a unique setting. Under a canopy of trees is a huge stage surrounded by a grassy, hilly area. People set up blankets and chairs and spend all day there listening to bands. It's a great place for awards. Elizabeth Young took the stage for the award ceremony. She is the hardest working organizer in BBQ. She is the heart of this competition. She handles every aspect of this event with a smile. She deals with the teams, the vendors, the town officials, and will often be seen sweeping the parking lot. After she thanked everyone for coming she handed the microphone over to her fiance Jeff Buell. Jeff does a great job with awards. He is quick and to the point. He understands most of us just want to hit the road and get home. Before we knew it, we had 4 calls: 8th place chicken, 9th place ribs, and 1st in pork and brisket. Taking that walk up to the stage as Grand Champions felt great. It had been a while and with the passing of each and every contest you want it more and more. Our friends congratulated us, we hugged everyone, we buckled in Victor, and said bye to Troy, NY until next year.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Back to Back to Back

We have just finished competing in 3 comps over the past 3 weekends. Actually, we have competed 4 out of the last 5 weekends in 4 different states. It has been a lot of work, a lot of shopping, a lot of packing and unpacking, but it has also been a tremendous amount of fun. Hitting the road every Friday morning and coming home late Sunday night can put a huge strain on your everyday life. Kris and I both have jobs and every once and a while, we want to enjoy our home. We have also just put the finishing touches on the Lorson-Wilson-Burek-Healy Suite at our house. So by this weekend we will be ready for company. Kris and I are really looking forward to hosting our annual 4th of July lobster bake at the house this weekend. After the past few months of competing, having a big party at the house sounds like a fantastic idea! We can't wait to chill with our friends and family.

I wanted to write a recap of the past 3 events. Detailing every aspect of each comp. I got half way finished and realized it all sounded the same. Kind of boring I thought. So, I'll sum up the past few weekends: We drove to an event, it rained, we cooked food, drank way too much with our friends, and somehow got a few decent calls to the stage. Some low-lights were: Maggie's injured paw, the cold and rainy weather, and tanking chicken and ribs at New Hampshire. Some Highlights were: The perfect weather at New Hampshire, the impromptu gatherings that happen on Friday nights, the copious amounts of spirits consumed at those gatherings, late night shenanigans, grilling Grand Champs and Reserve Grand Champs, and a run of first place category calls. As always, way more good than bad; and that's why we keep doing it. For every rainy, cold night, there is a bright and sunny day. For every dismal finish in ribs, there is a first place in chicken. And for every 7 hour drive to Lake Ontario, there is a 40 minute ride to New Hampshire. Maggie's paw has healed, my gear has dried off, and, believe it or not, I'm ready for Troy, NY.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Roc City Rib fest

We left a balmy New England at 5AM and arrived on the shore of Lake Ontario 7 hours later. Although Rochester, NY is only one state over from us, it felt like we entered an entirely different climate zone. Raw, drizzle and a slight wind greeted us. We got into our site, broke out the sweatshirts, and did a quick set up. With a brief walk around the grounds we realized that we were real early. (shocker!) So we decided to go outside of Ontario Beach Park and walk around town. Kris and I love when we are within walking distance of restaurants and bars at an event. After a little searching we found a good dive bar and had a drink. We also snooped out a restaurant for dinner later on that night.

Back at our site we watched as teams started to roll in. Some familiar faces and some new ones. I love watching as organized chaos unfolds. Everyone had a preassigned spot, but as the day gets later, the spots get much harder to get into. Other teams, trees, and scattered vehicles make for difficult navigations. A great case to be made for getting to these comps real early. That, and now we get to go have some fun.

The Mitchells, Kris and I headed out to Pier 45. A restaurant just a short walk away. We sat at a high-top table and ordered some drinks. We talked...about BBQ, cooking comps, what comps are next, and what comps we've done so far. The drinks kept coming and we even ordered some food. The beers, the company and the conversation were great! After a couple of hours we walked back to the site just as the rain started to come down. We said goodnight to the Mitchells and took cover in the RV. It was good timing too because as we got in the motor home, the skies opened up. A torrential downpour was hitting Roc City hard. It was the perfect time to call it a night. But that's not what happened. After receiving a few texts and checking FB, I saw that a few friends were hanging out at the dive bar that we were at earlier. Kris and I braved the storm, headed out, and ran to that bar. We hung out with Ique and the Beverage Brothers, did some shots of Jack, and watched the Bruins clinch the Eastern Conference Finals. It was a great night.

Saturday morning the fog started to burn off and you could feel that it would turn into a nice day. Our site was set up next to the Giggling Pigs BBQ. We've known Mike for a while now and him and his team were awesome neighbors to have. Sometimes neighbors can be the difference from having a great time or just an okay time at an event. And over that 3 day weekend, we had a great time and a lot of laughs. Today was the NEBS grilling event. When this is attached to a KCBS contest Kris and I usually do not compete in them. We find it's a lot of work to do right when we should be concentrating on the KCBS contest. But, Brian Wemett, the contest organizer, had some irresistible categories. One of which was bacon. So, when we saw that in the cooks packet we both knew that we were doing the grilling on that day. We put together a good plan and a solid timeline to follow. We had a good cook and everything came together on time. We quickly cleaned up and started our prep work for KCBS.

Usually NEBS grilling events get about 30 teams. On this day we were competing against 57. The biggest grilling event that NEBS had ever sanctioned. My thoughts of doing well were quickly diminishing. I figured our only hope of a decent finish would be in the bacon category. That dish was all Kris; she conceived it, practiced it, and cooked it. Everyone we shared it with, loved it. So, I was keeping my fingers crossed with that one. Awards were delayed a little, so Kris and I just sat there and drank. The time right after cooking and just before awards are always the most dreaded time for us. It's always way too long. All we do is anguish over what we did, or what we should have done. It's brutal. Hopefully, it will be over soon. After Alan Burke and a Solid Gold Dancer entertained the crowd, we were ready for the awards. Lakeside took 3rd place in scallop, 4th in game hen, 7th in tri-tip, and 1st place in bacon. And took Grand Champions for the overall. So far this had been a kick ass weekend....

Saturday night we spent visiting with a few friends. Then Kris hit the wall early and I hung out with our neighbors. It was a nice mellow night. My smoker ran great overnight and everything was on track to finish on schedule. Sunday morning went smooth; boxes looked good, food tasted okay, and everything was turned in on time. We will certainly tank this contest.

83 teams were competing for the New York State Championship. At the end of the day it went to our friends from Smokin' Hoggz. Congrats Bill, Alan and Shaune. Lakeside Smokers finished 12th overall with a single call in chicken. Obviously not what we were looking for, but not horrible. Looking over our scores we were actually (kinda) happy. Nothing tanked, one call for chicken, and the ribs and pork were just outside the money. Score wise, we did okay.

Sunday night we hung out with Smokin' Hoggz, Sweet Chicken, Beverage Brothers, and a revolving cast of characters. We did a beer-run, and even had pizza delivered to the site! It was a great night. The decision to stay until Monday morning was a good one. That 7 hour drive seemed far, far away. We, drank, talked and laughed late into the night. It was a perfect way to end a perfect weekend.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Rose City BBQ Cookoff

In typical Lakeside fashion we pulled onto the contest site about a day early. I realize that a full day ahead of schedule for a grilling competition might be an overkill, but we enjoyed our free time in Norwich, CT. And when I see teams pulling in at 9AM rushing around to set up their sites, I'm happy with my decision. On Friday afternoon we were greeted by our friends and organizers Ted and Sheila Lorson. We hung out for a little while and talked in anticipation about the upcoming event. After some time of catching up we dropped off our trailer and found our way to the hotel. It was a short 5 minute drive from the contest site and made for a perfect 'jump off' spot for the entire weekend. After we checked in Kris and I quickly found the nearest bar and enjoyed a few pints. Later that night, more drinks, and a fun evening with the Lorsons, the Mitchells, and Kathleen and Cristiaan. The food wasn't good, but the company was great!

The weather forecast threatened for showers on Saturday. Rain on the circuit is not that big of a deal. Don't get me wrong, I'd much rather have nice weather. But rain is part of this hobby, you just need to deal with it. The worst part about wet weather is setting up in it, or breaking down in it. So, the last thing I wanted to do was set up our site during a rainstorm. So I left my hotel room at 4:30AM found some coffee and made my way to Dodd Stadium to set up our site. I found out that I can set up in 34 minutes. Not bad considering it was still dark out. By 6AM the Lorsons were onsite doing meat inspections, teams were arriving, and the rain was holding off.

The categories for this one day grilling competition were: Chef's Choice, Chicken, Sausage, and Pork. With some last minute tweaking of the sausage category we were good to go. (By last minute I mean the week before.) All the prep was getting done and the cook was going good. But by the last turn-in the clouds were rolling in...here it comes. They said 'a few showers' but they lied. At 1:40 the sky opened up and torrential rain, along with thunder and lightning was upon us. But as quick as it came, it was gone. If you're gonna have rain at a comp, I'll take it like this anytime! The clouds gave way to sun and there was a slight humidity to the air. I think that made the cold Harpoon IPA's extra good that day. Summer was coming and I could taste it.

Once again Kris cooked the Chef's Choice category, and once again she took first place with it. That's her third 1st place with that dish! We also placed 2nd in the Pork category, and 5th place in both Chicken and Sausage. That was good enough for us to get Reserve Grand Champions for the overall. We were beat out by our friends Transformer BBQ. Congrats on the Grand, guys! Brendan is now the Abe Froman of New England.

The event itself was great! There were food and craft vendors, a People's Choice chicken wing contest, and despite the rain, the public came out to support the event. It successfully raised money for the Rotary Club of Norwich. Sheila and her team did an outstanding job and covered all the bases. All the right things were done to ensure that this event will happen again next year, and it will be bigger and even better. Great job.

We finished off Saturday with pizza, salad, and Prosecco. It was a nice way to end the day. The next morning Kris and I relaxed at the hotel, poolside. We sat in the hot tub and inevitably talked about our next event. That seems to be the cycle with competition cooking. You're either at an event, getting ready for an event, or talking about an event. It's a healthy addiction that I'm completely comfortable with.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Lexington Battle-Green BBQ Festival

After a cold and snowy winter here in New England an early spring contest was very welcome to all of us competitors! As the snow was slowly melting and the date was looming most of us were making bets if the field in Lexington, MA would be ready for a BBQ competition. Well, it was, and we were all ready to get out there. This time of year us New Englanders have very few choices for an overnight BBQ competition. The closest being Pork in The Park in Salisbury, MD. It's a great contest, but it's also a 9 hour drive, one way, for us. So we decided to support a local event and make the 31 minute drive to Lexington. It's officially the closest contest we've ever cooked!

At the heart of the event was organizer Steve Eastridge of Meat@Slim's fame. His work on the event was ongoing from late summer and into the winter. And it showed. The festival had food vendors, cooking demos, music, stuff for kids, and even a basketball tournament. Us teams had great power, clean (and enough!) portable bathrooms, a place for ash, trash, grease, and grey water. These things might seem very simple, but you'd be surprised by how many organizers overlook the basics. Also, all the proceeds from the event went to support the LABB Collaborative. A great cause. Despite the chilly, raw weather on Saturday they had a decent turnout. But, to make this event a giant success, they needed a big day on Sunday. And the forecast did not look good...

For Kris and I the contest started off unlike any we have done. Because the comp was so close to home I dropped off our trailer on Friday afternoon. Friday night we spent at home, trimming chicken, washing parsley, and relaxing. Saturday morning we casually got our stuff together and took our time getting to the contest site. We arrived in Lexington just before noon. It was windy and raw out. Teams were trying to set up their EZ-ups in the wind. All you could hear was the flapping of canvas and the swears of competitors. Kris and I looked around and decided to go find lunch and our hotel. A few hours later we showed up and set up our site. Well... we really didn't set up our site, we set up a modified version of our site. Those who know us know we set up our site the same at every comp. But, with the forecast of torrential rain and high winds in our very near future, we decided to try something a little different. That's a big step for us. We cleared out our trailer and set up a few tables inside of it. Besides the poor headroom it worked rather well. We got all our prep done and then walked around to visit with some friends.

Saturday night was brutal. High winds, a lot of rain, and cold temperatures. The kind of night that makes you question your hobby. If only for a minute or two. Because usually, upon reflection, these are the nights that you remember the most. So, you make the best of it. Put on the rain gear, grab a bottle of something, and go visit. We ended up at the Ique camp for most of the night. John Delpha made a wonderful porchetta that we all snacked on. The whiskey was flowing freely and for a few hours we forgot about the rain storm outside that canopy. It felt good to be cooking a contest again.

Sunday a warm front moved in, the clouds cleared, and the sun was present all day. A welcome change that everyone deserved. As the day got nicer by the hour the crowds grew. Spring Fever was in full effect and everyone was enjoying this beautiful day. We drank our traditional 11AM beer and listened to our standard play list on the iPod. Turn-ins went good and the awards ceremony was upon us quickly. After the smoke had cleared Lakeside Smokers took 4th overall, with a 1st place in ribs and a 2nd place in brisket. Not a bad way to start off the BBQ season. Congrats to Fatback Joe for Grand and for Mighty Swine Dining for Reserve.

The sun dried our gear, we got packed up, and we were home by Sunday late afternoon. As usual, the after-competition-shower felt amazing! We were home and cleaned up by 5PM. So, with award winning BBQ sitting in our fridge we did what anyone would do: Kris and I drove to one of our favorite restaurants, sat at the bar and ordered a beer, enjoyed a wonderful dinner, and reflected fondly of a great weekend.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

'Prime Rib'

It's big, it's fatty, it's beefy, and it's one of my favorite meals. A roasted rib roast, or prime rib as it's known, can be a perfect meal. It is a classic special occasion feast. It also seems to be very popular around the holidays. On all the forums and foodie websites you will find hundreds of recipes and techniques on cooking this primal cut of beef. Marinated, injected, smoked, slathered, crusted, stuffed, herb infused...it can be overwhelming. For me, a rib roast should taste like rich beefy goodness. Well executed, simple food just tastes good.

Here is my rib roast recipe/technique that I use any time I cook one.

Sourcing The Goods

Buying an 18 pound piece of quality meat can be costly. But buying an 18 pound piece of average meat can just plain suck. I'd much rather spend a little more money for a higher quality cut of beef than save a little money and buy something inferior. So, I have some great relationships with several different butchers. That's real important for getting the good stuff. But what I think is almost as important, is buying beef in it's original cryovac packaging. I want to know exactly where this beef came from. We've all seen these high end butcher shops claiming that their beef is the best. Sure, the meat looks great in those fancy display cases, but where did it come from? So, I ask. I also would like to see the shipping box that the beef came in. That way I can see the pack-on date that's printed on the box. That is very important if you'd like to age the beef properly. If you feel awkward about asking these questions, don't. Most butchers don't mind, and the ones that do, shouldn't be in the business. Just move on.

This was a nice 18 pound Certified Angus Beef rib roast that I sourced from BJ's. Yep, BJ's Warehouse Club. They don't always carry CAB, but when they get it in, I get a phone call from my guy on the inside. He'll be thanked with some pulled pork real soon.

Mise En Plas

Just a fancy way to say: get your stuff together; it literally translates to 'putting in place.' So for this recipe I gathered everything I needed and did anything that I could do to make the cook go as smoothly as possible. Grind my pepper, cut some twine, chop some onions, carrots, and celery for my au jus, and basically get out everything that I need.

Trim, Tie, and Season

When you buy a whole cut of beef still in the cryovac you need to do some trimming. The rib roast always comes with a thick fat cap on the topside. I take most of it off, but not all of it. I think a little bit of fat on the outside is very important. That cooked exterior, with fat, rub and a little char, can be a fantastic bite. The rib roast is usually thicker on one end. I trim off a few inches from the smaller end so that the roast will be more uniform in size. This really helps the meat to cook more evenly. I also end up with 2 giant rib eye steaks to cook in my cast iron pan at a later date. Win, win!

After I trim the roast I tie it up. I think this is an important step that most people skip. Again it all has to do with uniformity. The more that you can make this roast consistent in size, the better. From cooking it, all the way down to the final presentation.

I season my rib roast simply, but aggressively. It's a thick cut of meat so it can handle it. I use a copious amount of extra virgin olive oil and rub it all around the outside of the roast. Then I apply a liberal amount of kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Followed by a dusting of garlic powder. I let the seasoned meat sit out at room temperature covered with tinfoil for an hour, sometimes two. Right before it goes into the oven I season it with another heavy sprinkling of kosher salt.


I grew up in a household with one cooking style: 350 degrees for 20 minutes a pound. It didn't matter what it was. Beef, pork, whole chickens, any kind of roast; whatever was going into the oven, it was going in at 350 degrees for 20 minutes a pound. Sometimes things turned out okay, sometimes not. (Try cooking a 2 pound pork loin for 40 minutes!)

For this type of roast I like using two different cooking temperatures. First, I get my oven as hot as it can go. For me that's 500 degrees. I adjust the oven rack so the meat will be just a few inches from the top broiler. I cook the roast for about 20-30 minutes, flipping and rotating the whole time. I'm trying to get an even 'sear' on the meat all the way around. Then I take the roast out, shut off the oven, and keep the oven door open.

While the oven and roast cools down I'll assemble my ingredients and equipment for the rest of the cooking procedure. In a disposable tin (or a big roasting pan) I place a roasting rack, chopped carrots, onions, and celery. Then pour in about 4 cups of beef broth. This is the foundation of my au jus.

About 15 minutes later the meat and oven have both cooled down enough to continue. Some people might think this is an odd step. Why 'cool' down the roast? I'm just trying to slow down the cooking process. I want my roast to be seared on the outside and then rare all the way through. I'm trying to avoid a large 2-3 inch band of overcooked meat before you get to the rare center. This step assures that.

Then I set my oven to 180 degrees. I want this roast to cook as slow as possible over the next several hours. This is another crucial step in making sure that the meat is rare all the way through. If you're looking for a roast that is more medium then rare, don't follow this recipe. Just do 350 degrees at 20 minutes a pound. :)

Move your oven rack down away from your broiler and place the roast in the oven. Now go do something. Clean the house, go for a walk, talk to your spouse, anything. Just don't touch, fiddle, poke, or fuss with the roast for the next several hours. Just leave it alone and let it cook.

After about 3-4 hours of cooking probe the meat once in the middle of the roast with a reliable thermometer, like a Thermapen. I like my beef rare, so I'm looking for 122-125 degrees. When it hits that temp, remove the roast from the oven, wrap it in heavy duty tinfoil a few times, wrap that in a towel, and let it rest for 1-2 hours. In that time strain the juices from the bottom of the roasting pan into a grease separator. Let it sit for 30 minutes then decant into a small sauce pan and bring to a boil for one minute. Adjust the seasoning and set aside. That's your au jus.


Now, it's inevitable that someone you're cooking for will not want their meat cooked this rare. It's crazy, I know. But don't ruin the entire roast because of one or two guests. Cook it to rare, rest it, then slice it. Take a few slices and toss them into a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes a pound. They'll love it!

At our house we serve our 'prime rib' dinner with a fresh and simple garden salad, potato gnocchi, and hot biscuits. The au jus and a creamy horseradish sauce are served on the side... I'm sure some of you are wondering where the hell is that picture, right? You took pictures of your oven but none of the final dish? Yeah, sorry about that. I cooked this roast for my sister's birthday and by the time it hit the table, it was gone. You'll have to take my word on it, it looked and tasted excellent.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Snowshoe Results


GC Heritage Foods

RGC I Smell Smoke!!!

3rd Lakeside Smokers

4th Q Haven

5th Transformer BBQ

Strip Steak:

1st Heritage Foods

2nd Sweet Chicken

3rd Insane Swine BBQ

4th I Que

5th Transformer BBQ

Pork Tenderloin:

1st Heritage Foods

2nd I Smell Smoke!!!

3rd Lakeside Smokers

4th Beverage Brothers

5th Sweet Chicken

Sausage Fatty:

1st Q Haven

2nd Transformer BBQ

3rd East Meets West

4th Shoe City Smokers

5th Lakeside Smokers

Chef’s Choice:

1st Lakeside Smokers

2nd Transformer BBQ

3rd Q Haven

4th Heritage Foods

5th I Smell Smoke!!!

Saturday, March 12, 2011


GC Heritage Foods
RGC I Smell Smoke!!!
3rd Lakeside Smokers

1st place chefs choice
3rd pork tenderloin
5th fattie

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Gallagher's NYC

About a year ago we were walking around New York City and blundered into Gallagher's Steak House. We were just looking for a drink, but we found so much more. Upon entering Gallagher's you walk by a giant 'meat locker' with aged beef strip loins and other primal cuts inside. We sat down at the worn, all wood bar and ordered a drink. Within a few minutes of taking in the ambiance and smelling the charcoal fire, I knew we were staying for dinner. We snacked on fresh kettle chips and had a few more drinks. An hour later the Maitre d', vintage in years, ask us to follow him. He sat us in the main dining room which was very loud and full of energy. You could see the entire kitchen including the charcoal fire. There was about 20 people behind the line all busy cooking. The din of plates and silverware clanging together was a constant. The seasoned waiters walked around the room joking and entertaining everyone. People talked and laughed loudly; the place was full of life. At this point, I didn't even care if the steak was going to be good or not. The atmosphere itself was completely worth it. But then the steak came and it delivered. It was a great steak. One that I would think about for some time...

After a year of anticipation we finally made it back to Gallagher's last weekend. Will it be just as good? Will it meet up to the hype that I created? Is that even possible? Probably not. Every time I look back at the great meals I've had in my life they all seem to have a few things in common: I was doing something memorable or I was with people that made me happy. You know the way food can taste with your toes in the sand and the Caribbean sun in your face. The way perfectly slow roasted prime rib can taste when you're surrounded by family at Christmas dinner. The way lobster and steamers can taste at a BBQ competition in Maine during the summer. The way an impromptu gathering of friends can produce something magical with some beat up charcoal grills. And the way a steak can taste after you've blundered into a great old school, prohibition era steak house. These things are hard to reproduce, and when you try, they seem to fall short. Sometimes I don't think it has that much to do with the food. I think it has a lot to do with the environment and the people around you. Don't get me wrong, the food has to be awesome too. But, if you eat the best tasting steak in the world, but you're in a dingy room all by yourself, it's gonna suck.

So, we tried to recreate a feeling, a moment, and a meal. And we came pretty damn close...

Monday, February 21, 2011


I'm not sure if anything is more beautiful than a room full of aged beef. Right now that picture is just the background on my computer; I've been drooling over it in anticipation. But soon, real soon, I'll be there... I'll be sitting at that establishment, sipping a Jack, eating fresh made potato chips at the bar, and smelling that charcoal fire cook my steak.

Any guesses?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Maggie's Winter

Here's a few pics of Maggie trying to enjoy the New England winter we're having. She's originally from Arizona so she's still not in love with the cold weather here. But, once we get her off the heating vent and get her outside, she makes the best of it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Rib Practice

Last weekend I was able to go outside and get some cooking done. After a few hours of shoveling I found my trailer and got to my BBQ equipment. Originally, Because of the winter we've been having, I was just going to use the oven to test out a few new flavor profiles. But we got real lucky last weekend with no snow and temps in the 30's. Perfect! Upon opening my trailer I realized that I have not cooked anything over fire since the Jack. That's 3 months! Not good.

I decided to use the WSM instead of my smoker. I gave the Bullet a good deep cleaning and got some Wicked Good charcoal going. Every time I use the WSM I'm always impressed with how good it works. Light the charcoal, get it to your desired temp, then close the dampers. It's a great little smoker and I plan on using it at some comps this year.

Our ribs were all over the place last year. We came out strong in the first half of the year; a few highlights was first place at New Hampshire and 3rd overall for NEBS Team of The Year in ribs. But towards the middle and the end of the season our ribs started to lose ground. I didn't ignore my notes or forget my timeline; I didn't change anything. Sometimes these things just happen. The judges might be looking for something new and different. What used to be original, now is the norm. Also, there are a lot of new teams out there armed with great cooking skills and no preconceived notions of 'what judges want.' So we all need to step it up. And that means practice.

Changing recipes can be a difficult thing. What do you change? Rub, sauce, technique? Foil, no foil? Everything? Last year our rib recipe contained 12 ingredients. Probably a few too many. So the first thing I did was review my notes and see where I can eliminate a couple ingredients instead of adding ones. I continued the theme of less is more and simplified a few other things too.

One thing I really wanted to change was the rub. I use a wildly popular rub on our ribs...that means so do a lot of other teams. So Kris and I took a ride to New England BBQ and Catering and stocked up on some staples and picked up some new stuff to try. I mainly focused on rubs and picked out 3 new ones to try. I loved the taste of the rub on these ribs pictured below. (Any guesses?)

I cooked the ribs with my usual technique with the exception of the WSM. It was a good cook and the ribs were done right on schedule. How'd they taste? Good, not great. To me they seemed a little lacking in flavor. They were tender but could have used...something. I'm hoping that over the next few months I'll find out what that something is. Because ready or not, these ribs are going into a 9 X 9 real soon.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Speaking Of Practice

I have a tendency to overbuy for a competition. I start shopping weeks in advance. I'll walk through two different BJ's sometimes three times a week. I'll look around Restaurant Depot once and a while and I have 2 butchers sourcing briskets for me. Inevitably I end up with way too much meat. I just can't help myself; I'll buy what I think looks good, but then something better comes along. So over the BBQ season my freezer gets packed. I don't love using frozen meat for a competition so it's perfect for practice cooks. If everything works out right my freezer will be empty as the 2011 season starts. Then repeat.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Looking Ahead

Even though another foot of snow is falling outside, all I can think about is the upcoming BBQ season. It's been a tough winter so far here in New England. With this last storm we have already exceeded the average snowfall for the year. And winter has 8 more weeks to go! All we can do is look ahead. So I've been shopping for BBQ items, practicing BBQ, and filling out applications. I know it sounds a little early to do these things but it helps with the winter doldrums. It takes your mind off of the -10 wind chill factor and lets you think ahead to better days. Believe it or not, they'll be here soon. So, dig out the grill and start practicing for the winter/late spring competitions. Get online and order some ingredients. And get those applications out. I guarantee it will make you feel better.

Here is a list of some competitions that have their applications already up:

Check out the NEBS website frequently for updates and added comps.

Also make sure you are prepared for the upcoming BBQ season with a fully stocked pantry. Go to New England BBQ and Catering and check out their online store.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Lawton's Famous Frankfurters is now closed. This had been a Lawrence, MA institution since 1929. It was a shack, a dive, a hole in the wall, and was serving street food way before the foodies declared that stuff popular. They opened their doors 8 decades ago to sell hot dogs to mill workers. Sure, you could get other stuff there too, but to be honest I'm not sure what else was on the menu. You went to Lawton's for a hot dog.

Their dogs and buns were sourced locally (again, decades before that was the in thing to do.) There were always a few urban myths about how they cooked the dogs. Growing up I was told that they were boiled in beer. That was untrue. Another one was that they used the nearby canal water to cook their dogs. Hence the term: dirty dogs was used a lot. That was an obvious fabrication. But the myths continued and I think it added something to the place. It had charm, character, and damn good hot dogs. Truth be told they were deep fried in oil. Fried to the point of almost becoming a ripper. Toppings were the usual fare; you could get chili, sauerkraut, sauteed onions, mustard and relish. Ketchup was available in packets on the counter and was only to be used for the french fries! If you were caught putting ketchup on the hot dog you would get a verbal assault from the girl behind the counter. I would get my hot dog with sauteed onions and mustard.

Ordering was always fun too. The lines would normally be coming out of the door and on to the sidewalk. A great cross section of society was there waiting for a quick bite to eat. Young, old, all races, people in suits, people dirty from construction jobs or from working in one of the neighboring paper mills. Great proof that food can be used to unite people. Upon entering you needed to be careful of a couple of things. The place was extremely narrow and the floor was a little uneven. But more importantly you needed to watch out for the fire hydrant sticking up in the middle of this tiny shack. This place was literally built on the sidewalk back in the 1920's. Apparently back then the building codes were not as strict as they are today. After navigating yourself up to the counter, just speak up, tell them what you wanted, pay, and move on. The line would move you out the other door and on to the street. Because there was no place to sit inside this little hole in the wall.

But, now it's all gone. Another one of my childhood favorites has succumbed to the times. Not able to keep up with the fast food chains and the convenience store hot dog. But the ironic thing is that this place was both convenient and served food fast. Maybe it had just run it's course, maybe traditions are fading, or maybe the city itself is just undergoing a change. Whatever it might be, I sure will miss those dirty dogs.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Off Season

Usually during the off season I build something to cook with. In recent years I have made a sous vide cooker, a rotisserie, and my chicken cooker. This year I've decided to focus my energy on something else. This room. We built an addition on our house in 2005. This addition had plans for a bonus room over the garage. It's a good size room measuring in at 15' X 25' and over the years we've used it as storage. But, anyone who knows us knows we don't really like too much clutter. (watching the show Hoarders puts me into shock!) So having this room dedicated for 'stuff' seems like a waste. So after a trip to Goodwill and one to the dump, I was ready to get to work. It's a pretty straight forward job; a little framing, a little electrical and heating, then sheetrock and paint. Kris already has the furniture, rug, and paint picked out, so things should go reasonably quick. At the end of it all we should end up with a nice guest bedroom...unless Maggie likes it, then it's all hers.