Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Illinois State BBQ Championship:
A Pretty Good Weekend (Part Four)

This is the fourth and last in a series of posts from our trip to the Butt to Butt Invitational and the Illinois State BBQ Championship. For part one, click here, for part two, click here and for part three, click here...or just scroll down to the posts below.

Chris and I were feeling good about our third place finish in the Butt to Butt Invitational. Third place was pretty solid in that field of cooks…I felt like if we could turn in the same pork in the contest the following day, that we’d be in good shape come awards time Saturday afternoon.

We knew that we would need all the help we could get with the group of teams at this event. With over 60 teams competing, including five teams that finished in the KCBS top ten along with several past Jack Daniels Invitational Champions, this was some of the stiffest competition we’ll face all year.

I did think we had a small advantage over several other teams in the contest because we were able to get in, get set up and do a full cooking session a day ahead of time. It allowed us the opportunity to get everything ready to cook on much more relaxed timeline. The downside is that doing back-to-back contests is a grind. Tending a stick-burning cooker, dealing with the storms and not sleeping in your own bed can take it out of you. We were feeling the effects of it all on Saturday Morning.

We got all of our meat in the cooker with out incident. We were a little behind on our Friday night timeline due to some of the excitement that we experienced earlier in the evening, but it all evened out and we got back on track with out a problem. I was starting to worry a little bit about our briskets. They seemed to be cooking pretty fast and one was even pegging a temp of 200+ at 8:00am . That is a little hotter than we want it…and it’s a few hours earlier than we want it to get there. We pulled the brisket and threw in our warming box to hold until turn in at 1:30pm.

Ealier in the week we had caught wind that a special gathering of cooks were taking part in a special mid-morning shot of Jack Daniels. Now, this is nothing new...we have many times shared a shot of Gentleman Jack with our fellow competitors. But it seems the fellas heading this effort up were trying to break a record...and I believe they did. We were part of 59 contestants who held their shot glasses high as the Right Reverend Randy Twyford of the team Ulcer Acres gave a 9:22am toast to a hastily assembled but charasmatic congregation. This was the first time we had been a part of one of "The Rev's" toasts, and it was a treat. He puts some real thought in to his toast...err, sermons. We had a could you not, drinking whiskey at 9:30 in the morning.

Following that bit of nonsense, it was back to cooking BBQ. Chicken, ribs and pork all finished up just fine and I think we were pretty happy with our final product. I felt like we could have had a bit better turnout in chicken and brisket, but ribs and pork were good. I felt that we had our best chance for a call with our pork. After cooking that category two times the day before, it seemed like we had it dialed in.

We had a long trip ahead of us, so we packed up camp pretty fast following the final turn-in. It was a huge help to have Jenny and Jammie there. They have seen Chris and I pack up enough times to know what to touch and what to leave alone. They also tackled the dishes and washed them all. It’s always a good feeling to know that you don’t have anything to clean up when you get home.

We set up our chairs to watch the awards along with the rest of the cook teams, which started right on time at 4:00 . It’s always a welcome experience when the awards are on time at a BBQ Contest…But I wouldn’t expect anything less when it comes to this event. Everything seemed to run flawlessly (except for the rain).

When contest organizer Mike Lake announced at the beginning of the awards ceremony that they would call the top ten in each category, but only the top two overall, I have to admit that I was a little disappointed. I thought we cooked some pretty good stuff and that we had a decent chance at the top ten overall.

Our first call was for ribs. We have been lucky this year in that category and we were again stoked to hear our name called for 6th place. Pork was next and we were disappointed not to hear our name called. I thought we had some good stuff there. I also thought that we would be going home with a lone 6th place ribbon.

Instead, we were extremely excited to hear our name called for 2nd place brisket. As it turns out, we actually tied Rod Gray of Pellet Envy for 1st, but Rod won the tie-breaker and that was just fine with us. Brisket was a tough one for us last year. We’ve had some help with it this year and it’s coming around.

Next up, the Land of Lincoln Award was given out, as it is every year at this contest, to the highest scoring team from the state of Illinois. That award went to Joey Mac’s Smoke Stax - and it wouldn’t be the last time he’d be called up (the suspense is killing you, isn’t it?).

When the time rolled around to call Reserve Grand Champion and Grand Champion, we were really surprised to hear our name called out for the reserve slot! We didn’t know how the other categories shook out yet, but it seemed like there were a few other names who had more calls and higher placings than we did too.

We jumped up and strolled to the front, excited for the great finish. I would have been happy with the rib and brisket calls, but to have snagged Reserve Grand in that field just made our weekend! It makes the 8 hour ride home a lot easier to take too.

Joey Mac bested the entire field with a solid performance and he and his crew took home the Grand Champion’s plaque. As I mentioned before, they are an Illinois team – so I’m sure this win is extra special for them, with this contest probably being the most well-known event in the state.

We ended up leaving Shannon on a high! Jammie and Jenny had made reservations for us to stay the night in the Quad Cities, but we passed up those reservations as we made good time getting out of the contest early. We ended up staying the night about 100 miles east of Des Moines, which made for a pretty easy drive home the next day.

All in all, a pretty good weekend.

1 comment:

Pellet Envy said...

Nice job with the recap Neal. I thought I was long winded, but you're four parter puts me to shame! If I don't see you, good luck in Laurie.