The last weekend in July brought the Dodge County Smokers to the Lake of the Ozarks for the Laurie Hillbilly BBQ contest. We were just one of 77 teams to converge on the fairgrounds of this sleepy lake town to compete with some top-notch talent along with several local teams.
I should also mention that this was a unique event for us in that my wife’s family has a deep history in the area. Jammie’s grandfather was born and raised here. His family farmed and scratched out a meager living in the Osage River Valley before it was damned up in the early 1930’s to form what is now The Lake of The Ozarks. The family was forced out of the valley, moving above the water line, some of them even settling on the land making up the present day fairgrounds of Laurie and the location of this contest for the past 16 years.
Chris arrived to the park just a few hours after I did and Jammie and our boy, Jack, also drove down with her parents to join in on the fun. We enjoyed a nice dinner on Friday night and Chris and I got to work prepping our competition cuts and gearing up for the night of cooking ahead.
One would only assume that you would be reading about oppressive heat and out-of-this-world humidity when taking in the account of a BBQ contest happening in late July or early August in south Missouri. Not so this weekend. The weather was really the star of the competition, with extremely mild temps in 70’s. In fact, I was down right cold as I tried to catch a few winks over night.
Precipitation was in the forecast for Saturday morning – some reports even calling for showers right at turn-in time. I even wondered out loud if we should put up the sidewalls on our tent. But our resident amateur meteorologist, Chris “Thunder Head” Nickelson put a wet finger to the air and declared dry conditions moving forward. Indeed, he was right. Other than a light 5-minute sprinkle, nary a drop was felt. I did notice that panic set in over at the Pellet Envy cook site. Rod was ready and waiting for the rain, with his sidewalls up and at attention!
Saturday’s routine went off with out a hitch – right up until it was time to select our turn-in samples. I thought out chicken was pretty decent. We pulled out our best pieces, boxed them up and sent them off. Ribs, however, were an over-cooked disappointment. Chris performed a little cosmetic surgery on a few of the individual ribs and we turned them in, not holding out much hope for an award in this category.
Pork and brisket were next. I thought our pork was OK. Chris did a good job of getting the box presentation in order before running it in. Then I pulled our brisket from the hot box and began my battle with that over cooked slab of beef. The flavor was there…but getting it sliced and in the box looking the way we wanted it was a challenge. We finally got it boxed and Chris took off for the judging tent with just a few minutes to go. He returned several minutes later, and I was really relieved to see him not carrying our box back to our site. He had made it with a few seconds to spare. A few other teams were not so fortunate.
Larger contests like this (77 teams) always have more interesting awards. They always seem to be spread out over more teams and it’s harder to predict a grand champion. Well, most of the time. Andy Groneman took the suspense right out of the afternoon. Smoke On Wheels was the only team to claim top 10 finishes in three out of the four main categories. Andy also celebrated his birthday over the weekend, so he was blowing out the candles on his cake in fine fashion!
We were able to muster out calls to the stage for awards in the pork and brisket categories. A 6th place finish in pork was a nice pick-me-up, and our 5th place called for that brisket was a big surprise. As usual, the category that I personally liked the most, scored the worst. Our chicken was down in the 40’s overall and our overcooked ribs were some where in the 20’s. Total it all up and that will get you a 7th place overall finish.
I felt pretty good about the finish, considering that we really didn’t feel like we put our best foot forward. We did OK, and I know that we have room for improvement – so that is encouraging. We hope to keep getting better as we approach a few pretty important events in the coming weeks and months.
Chris drove back home Saturday while my family stayed the night. Jammie's dad, Jim, drove us around the next day visiting old cemetaries, school houses and homesteads where past generations of the Silvey family once lived. Observant cookers may have noticed that they turned on to Silvey Road in order to get to the contest and the fairgrounds. It was a nice end to very pleasant weekend.