Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Kansas Winter Q - Great Bend, KS

As I loaded up and prepared for the 2nd Annual Kansas Winter Q in Great Bend, I wondered to myself several times if this was really a good idea. With forecasted temps in the teens and possible rain and/or flurries in the area, to say cooking championship BBQ in those elements would be a challenge is an understatement.

But we went anyway. The call to compete again was too strong and even a few set backs leading up to the contest could not keep Chris and I away. In fact my wife, Jammie, and my little monster, Jack, came along as well. I always like having them around at a contest.

Sure, the weather was a major factor in deciding if we should make the four hour drive to Great Bend, but when you take into account the planning and effort that organizer Kent Romine puts in the event, you know you will be well taken care of when you enter the gates of the Barton County Fair Grounds.

We knew that we would arrive at the contest late, but a call to Kent had us right on track as soon we arrived. Chris had to put in a longer day at work than he had originally planned, and I was running behind as usual anyway. We hit the I-70 around 3:00 in the afternoon and, after a few potty breaks for Jackson along the way, we rolled in to town around 7:15pm. That is officially our latest contest arrival time yet.

One of the many unique parts of this event is that you can choose to set up outside (burrrr), or you can take advantage of the offer to set up your working area inside of a nice, big and warm expo building, with your cooker just steps outside the door. Our earlier call to Kent paid off as he had saved us a prime spot for our smoker and great area inside the building for our tables.

Arriving late did mean that we had to sacrifice taking part in much of the other cool stuff happening on Friday Night. There was an appetizer contest and everything we saw looked great. We took part in this last year and it really is fun. There were also some real, live auctions going on too. Not your typical fund-raising silent auction stuff, but honest to goodness auctioneers and ring men pushing bids. And they were bidding on the teams in the contest! There was one auction to sell off donated pork butts that we were to cook and have ready on Saturday Morning.

There was another auction to distribute the teams for the Calcutta contest with-in a contest that Kent set up. Teams were bid on with the hope that they would place 1st, 2nd or 3rd in any category or in the overall so their “owner” could cash in on the purchase. It was a pretty interesting way to get side action going in the contest and I think it put a little extra pressure on some of the teams too.

Despite the weather, we actually stayed pretty much on track with our cook. I heard that it got down 15 over night and I believe it. We were checking our fire every 45 to 60 minutes and every time I went outside, all I could hear was the rumble of diesel engines idling as a lot of guys choose to sleep in their pickups with the heater on. We had the smoker set up inside a tent and we used our insulating blankets to hold temp and the cooker performed just as we are accustomed to. As usual, a few cuts came off a little early, some stayed on a little longer, but come morning we were in good shape.

Jammie and Jack spent the night in our little tent. I pitched it close to our working area and we both fought Jack for a couple hours in the middle of the night as he refused to go to sleep or lay still. I am not sure if it was harder keeping our fire going or keeping him down. But it caught up with him later as he took a nap for a few hours come mid-morning.

Several teams contributed to a nice Saturday Morning breakfast, which kicked off the beginning of crunch time for us. Chicken went on, then everything came off. We put our boxes together and Chris ran them in, just barely beating the clock more than once…in fact he was the last one to the window three times.

We were happy to hear our names called three times at the awards: 9th in chicken, 7th in ribs and 4th for brisket. We also just missed a call in pork, finishing 11th. We were tied for 8th with four other teams, but after tie breakers we finished just out of the money at 11th.

Kent also recognized the top ten and, on the strength of our three calls, I full expected to hear our name called as he started. But he got to number five, and our name still had not been called. I started to think that we just really tanked our pork entry and it cost us. The 5th place team was called, then we were called to stand in front of the group at 4th place. Then Kent explained that teams finishing in the top five are invited back to compete in this summer’s Barton County Fair contest (in July) and next year’s Winter Q at no charge! That was a big surprise to us and a pretty cool prize. I have always wondered why more contests don’t do things like this. Kent Romine really “gets it.”

Great Bend’s local BBQ rock star Kelly Wertz and his 4 Legs Up team finished in the reserve grand spot. Kelly and his family run a BBQ restaurant in town, also called 4 Legs Up, and they are the reigning Jack Daniel’s World BBQ Invitational Champions. Munchin’ Hogs at the Hilton took the top spot as Rob and his crew keep the train rolling after claiming the KCBS Team of the Year title in 2008.

We are pretty happy to have faired so well against such a solid field of teams. I counted it up after we got back home and I think, out of 33 teams in attendance, there were 13 teams there that had won grand championships and another pair that have won reserve grands. It’s a good way to start the year, and we are looking forward to getting back out and cooking again. Next up - the Snake Saturday competition in North Kansas City, March 13th and 14th.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Jack's New Smoker

Last weekend was my son Jackson’s 2nd birthday and he and I were both surprised to see the mini smoker that my brother decided to build for him. Amidst the dump trucks, toddler’s clothes and Cars movie toys, without a doubt, this stood out as my favorite present…I guess I mean his present.

A few months ago my brother, Kurt, and I talked about building a mini sized replica of my big smoker, but nothing really came of it. Then, true to his word, Kurt started putting the project together…about the same time we were leaving KC on Friday. The late start is really nothing new for Kurt.

There are many more stories like this involving my brother. They all pretty much go the same way…he has 6 months to think about a project, he waits until the last moment and when it’s done it looks like he has spent all that time working to make it perfect. I think he once completely remodeled a bathroom in less than 8 hours, simultaneously wrapping up laying the linoleum floor and texturing the ceiling as the door bell rang and the first of my sister-in-law’s guests for a party were arriving to their home.

So my Dad wasn’t all that surprised when Kurt came back from the metal shop with the supplies to put together this little smoker. As I mentioned, he modeled it after the big cooker my Dad built for us to use in competition a few years ago (cooker #000001). You can see the general similarities between the too. I was blown away when I saw it being put together in the shop. Kurt did a great job of representing the larger cooker in his work and my Dad helped add a few final touches like the smoke stack dampner, which works just like the one on my stack.

After a fresh coat of high temp paint Saturday afternoon, cooker #000002 rolled out of the shop at the Dodge County Smokers assembly headquarters on Sunday Morning, February 1st.

Jack was excited for his new custom cooker. When his present was rolled in to the living room after he opened all of his other presents, he ran over and lifted the lid right away. Then he told his cousins “HOT! No touch!” I guess he does listen to his mom & dad when the smoker is going outside.

We got home Sunday night in time to see the end of the Super Bowl and on Monday we wasted no time in lighting the first fire. It took a couple minutes and about 15 coals and a few sticks of wood to get the chamber up to 250 degrees. We cooked a hotdog, which Jack ate for a pre-dinner “naaaack” (that’s a snack, by the way).

We’ll spend some more time learning how to cook on our new “toy” and hopefully we can bring it out to a few contests this summer where you can see it in person. It really is cool!

See more pictures here: Dodge County