Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Jack's First BBQ Award!

It wasn’t a BBQ contest, but a junior member of the Dodge County Smokers scored a big BBQ award!

Last weekend our family took a trip back to my home town in North Bend, Nebraska. The occasion was the annual Old Settler’s Days – it’s your basic small town community event, complete with a carnival, baseball games, a parade and lots of other stuff going on at the city park.

Part of the festivities included a “Kiddie Parade,” which is basically just a bunch of pretty cute kids strutting their stuff about a half a block down the street. Some dress in costumes, others ride decorated bikes and some kids showed off their pets.

My sister told us that our nieces would be riding their very stylish pink pedal tractor in the parade, so I figured we should bring our 2 ½ year old boy Jack’s tractor as well. Both tractors came courtesy of Uncle Eric and Aunt Laura last Christmas. For good measure, I threw Jack’s mini-smoker in the back of the pick-up. Some of you may remember that little cooker that Jack got for his birthday from his Uncle Kurt back in February.

We weren’t sure what all was involved in the parade. Some of the entries were really good. Turns out there were three categories. Jack and his cousins were in the “Bike and Wagon” category. Jammie dressed Jack in a pair of overalls (no shirt, thank you very much!), and his cowboy hat and I hitched the smoker up to his Oliver and lit a fire in the firebox.

Jack is still learning to pedal his tractor, so to keep things moving in the parade we tied a rope to the tractor so I could pull him through the route. You can’t see it the pictures very well, but his pit was smoking pretty good. About halfway through the parade I think he finally "got" what was going on and started smiling from ear to ear. He loves the attention. Then he started yelling "Dodge County Smokers!!!," something he has been doing a lot lately when he hears people clapping (as they were when he rode by). I think he associates the applause with the awards at a competition and he knows we wait to hear our name!

Before and after the parade several people asked me what I did to “make smoke come out of that BBQ grill?” When I told them there was a real fire in there, some were shocked! Others were surprised. And some were just plain confused. A real fire? The horror!

He ended up with a third place ribbon, but just like a BBQ contest, the judges don’t know anything and he was robbed! We’ll back next year, and maybe we’ll be more prepared. I’m thinking a few ribs for the judges should do the trick!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Tonganoxie Days BBQ Contest

After the throttling we took at the GAB, Chris and I were both looking forward to cooking again. We had set our sites on the contest in Tonganoxie, KS but when I contacted the organizer I was promptly told they were full. Bummer.

You see, Chris and his wonderful wife, Jenny, recently had a beautiful baby girl named Megan. So we were hoping to minimize the time away from home and cook a nice, low key contest. Tongie fit the bill, as it is just minutes from the front door of Chris & Jenny’s house and it’s one of those great, small town events. So when they called me back to say they were opening up five more spots due to an overwhelming response…well, we jumped on it!

Chris and I both worked a full day before heading up to the contest. This has become a fairly common practice for us. We have become pretty good at rolling in later than usual and getting set up.

Since we got in and set up late, we didn’t have much time to walk around and visit until later in the evening. As we made our way around the grounds, we sized up the competition – 48 teams, and it was stacked! We were set up next to Rubbin’ It and Lovin’ It and they have been very good lately. Jeff from KC Can Crew was there with his trash cans and he’s always tough. Captain Gary and his Bare Bones crew were smokin’ with their WSM’s and just across the row was T’s Smokin’ Pit. Smokin’ Guns were all set up and we spent a good amount of time talking to our friends from the legendary Rib Stars. One thing I wish I would have gotten was a picture of John from Parrothead Smokers’ new Jambo pit. The color of the pit matched his new Ford pickup and it looked sharp! It won’t be long before John has that thing dialed in – lookin’ and cookin’ good!

As for our entries - they were good. Neither of us were all that happy with our chicken, and our ribs were just OK. Chris really liked our pork (and I did too) and I thought our brisket was pretty damn tasty. So it’s only natural that our chicken scored (7th) and we really hit with our “just OK” ribs, nailing down 1st. Of course our brisket and pork both fell to 14th place.

Not hearing our name called in the final two categories was a little hard. I had accepted the fact that we had a pretty good day with the 1st place call in ribs, but didn’t think we had enough for even a top 5. Usually when the top 10 overall places are called out, by the time you get down to Grand and Reserve, there is really little doubt who they are. I wasn’t so sure on that day. I thought we either won it all or finished 20th.

Turns out we won it all…but just barely.

We held on for the win by .0004 of a point over the guys from Burnin’ Down the Hog. Watch out for them…they are knocking on the door of a grand championship and it won’t be long!

We had a great time in Tongie. We are very proud to have won this event – our 6th grand championship in about 50 or so contests, give or take a few. The staff was great, the setting was really nice and the competition was top notch.

We have a new record!

At just 15 days old, Megan June Nickelson is the youngest guest to a Dodge County Smoker’s BBQ contest. Megan and her sister Emily along with Mom, Jenny came to visit Dad (Chris) on Saturday at the contest in Tongie.

Megan is getting her BBQ experience early! She beats out our previous record holder, Jackson Dunker, by 21 days (36 days old at the North KC BBQ in 2007).

Congratulations, Megan! I am sure that your parents are very proud…well, I know that your Dad is, anyway!

Monday, June 15, 2009

All the cool kids are doing it!

While we didn’t do so hot at the GAB, there were a few new members of the team who did.

Every so often my wife Jammie and I invite her cousin’s boys to come and stay the weekend with us. They are a great bunch of kids and we really enjoy them. Even though they are Jammie’s cousin’s kids, it just easier to call them our nephews. Saves a lot of time and words.

Last year our “nephews” Luke and Kyle came down one weekend and it happened to be the same weekend as the Lenexa BBQ contest. Chris and I already had plans to go visit friends of ours at the event and Luke (the older of the two) came along. He had a great time at the contest, eating until he was stuffed, asking lots of questions about cookers and BBQ, and making plenty of new friends.

A few months later Luke and Kyle visited us in Excelsior Springs and once again enjoyed themselves. I knew then that I wanted to get them into a Kids Q contest if they opportunity ever popped up. That turned out to be at the GAB. While time of the contest presented us with some challenges (it happened on Saturday morning, during the Invitational), Chris held down the fort and I helped the boys with their entries.

Kyle (who is 8) competed in the younger age group, cooking a pork chop, and Luke (11) in the older group cooking steak. We practiced our techniques on Friday night, before the contest the next day and both of the boys were really in to it.

On Saturday morning both Luke and Kyle cooking their entries and turned them in. I was proud of them and they were proud of themselves. It was a lot of fun.

I prepared them both before the awards that they may not win anything, but to my surprise Kyle won 4th place for his pork chop! Luke didn’t finish in any of the top spots with his steak (a somewhat shabby piece of beef if you ask me – but that is neither here nor there), but he was just as happy when his name was called for a consolation prize drawing and he quickly hopped up from his seat and ran to the stage to claim four tickets to renaissance festival. Hazzah!

I really had a great time and both of the boys did too. I can see why they do these Kids contests now. It really is a great way to get boys & girls interested in something other than all of the garbage out there that can pollute a kid’s mind.

When Luke told me that he wanted to go home and cook a steak for his Mom, I was pretty happy – for him because he learned something new and exciting, and for his Mom because that boy can grill a pretty damn good steak!

The Great American BBQ (Collapse)

It’s time to play catch up. When last we spoke, Chris and I were gearing up for the Great American BBQ contest. Well…there wasn’t a lot that happened for us worth writing about, which is probably why the recap hasn’t shown up until now.

Chris brought the cooker out on Thursday night to scope out our spot and save us some set up time, allowing us both to work most of the day on Friday. Then we got down to business cooking for the Invitational. We also had an extra brisket on board for the Oklahoma Joe’s World Brisket Open. Our stuff came off in pretty decent shape with the exception of our briskets for the invitational. The taste was solid, but quite honestly, the rest was pretty crappy. Over cooked. Bad presentation. All around pretty poor.

I thought we had a chance for a call with any or all of our other entries. We ended up with two calls, but I’ll only claim one. They gave ribbons down to 20th place - which was nice - but with 44 teams in the Invitational, what is a 20th place call really worth? In our case, it’s worth a yellow ribbon for our pork. Our high point was a 10th place finish in ribs, but we ended up a lowly 35th place overall. Ugh.

The brisket-only contest sponsored by Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ restaurant recognized the top 10 finishing teams, all of whom made a second round cut and had their entries re-judged. We finished 13th, missing the cut by 1.1426 points. That was a good brisket. Maybe the one of the better ones we have cooked in a long time – so that felt good, but it still stung to miss that cut by such a slim margin. Chris Cox and his Brew N’ Bar-B-Que gang claimed the best brisket in the work title (just a couple weeks after taking grand champion in Lansing) and our buddy Doug from Toad Hollar BBQ in Maryville, MO finished a close second.

After the dismal finish in the invite, we regrouped and were re-energized to do well in the open. I’ll spare you the details. We crapped all over the place again. For the second year in a row, we didn’t earn a call. And for the second year in a row, I thought we had decent stuff. But it just wasn’t going to happen for us on this day.

The recovery of the weekend didn’t happen for us. However, it did happen for the Habitual Smokers crew out of Arkansas. They finished one spot below us in the invite at 36th and ended up winning the open, putting the hurt on the rest of the field and winning by 9 points over the next closest team. Those guys are real competitors and have done it before, winning the American Royal and Great American contests in years past.

We did have a good time, enjoying the new venue (Sandstone Amphitheater) and spending some time with our families and a few friends. We be back next year and hopefully we can put together a better performance then!