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2017 Season Wrap-Up and a look ahead to '18

Steve, Scott and Dennis at the 2016 GBC Banquet in Young Harris, GA February 3rd, 2017The 2017 season for Smoke This was a somewhat of a roller coaster ride that included more low spots than we are used to. We only cooked 16 points paying events in 2017 due to many prior commitments and being involved with Operation BBQ Relief. We began the 2017 season with two special events thanks to the success we were able to achieve in 2016. Because of our Grand Championship in Maggie Valley of 2016, we were invited to participate in the Sonny's BBQ Throwdown which is a non-points invitational event which was held in Sanford, FL. This event hosted 52 championship winning teams at Central Florida Zoo and was first class event. We had never competed in a Florida BBQ Association sanctioned event. We were able to capture a 2nd place chicken which we considered a huge compliment. Our first points event of the season was also a special event. In 2016, we finished 5th in the Georgia BBQ Association points chase and therefore had reason to attend the GBA Banquet that is held as part of the KCBS event in Young Harris, GA. Cold doesn't begin to describe the weather or our results. The banquet was great though.

As the calendar turned to March, the guys were packing up for a four week stretch of events that included a three week road trip. We began the month in Lawrenceville, GA at a contest that is held in the parking lot of the baseball complex that houses the Triple-A baseball team of the Atlanta Braves. This well run event is organized by other competition bbqers so teams are well taken care of. While the prize money isn't the greatest, the contest raises much money to help with charities in the Gwinnett County area. Kudos for that! In the past couple years, helping with charitable causes has become a passion for Smoke This, more on that later. Anyway, the contest results were great after sub par performances in Florida and Young Harris. Anchored by a 4th place in ribs and a 7th place in brisket, we were able to come away 3rd overall! The next week began the three-week road trip for the guys. The second contest of March was in Bainbridge, GA on the banks of the Flint River. This is quickly becoming a destination for teams. The reason? Prize money. $75,000 to be specific. That type of money for a contest that isn't an invitational or one broken into stages is unheard of. The location is great too. The contest is held in a park, with great access to water and power. Bainbridge has been ok for Smoke This. 2017 was the third year of the event and for the 3rd time, Smoke This finished top-ten, this time a best ever 8th out of 67 teams even after receiving only one call, an 8th in ribs. The hot streak for ribs continued the next weekend in Pensacola, FL. After spending a week in the Pensacola area, eating way too much fresh seafood the team descended on the downtown area for their second attempt in this street festival. After a dismal 2016 result, the guys were anxious for some retribution in '17. A 4th place rib call coupled with top-15's in chicken and pork catapulted the team to a second consecutive 8th place overall finish. Following the contest, the guys loaded up and headed west to Hammond, LA to spend a week in the great New Orleans area visiting with great friends and enjoying authentic cajun and creole food. In a tightly scored event, a 4th place in brisket and 12th in pork only led to a 16th overall finish.

After returning home to celebrate Easter and regroup for a couple weeks, the team made the short ride to Kings Mountain, NC. Normally, this weekend is marred with bad weather. Rain has become as synonymous with the Firehouse Cookoff as the smell of hickory wood and sizzling pork fat. This weekend was a rare meteorological exception. The weather was amazing! Warm days, comfortable evenings and crystal clear Carolina skies! This event had 49 teams present and our cook was good for Reserve Grand (2nd Place). A perfect score on chicken, a 7th brisket and 11th pork led to the finish. This event placed us almost at the top of a roller coaster ride, the only place here was down. The next seven events included three that we vended at, three layoffs of a month or longer and a near rock-bottom moment in Asheville, NC where there were thoughts that we had completely lost our way. During that seven contest span that concluded as we attended the contest in Rocky Mount in October, we only received 7 total calls and zero top 10's. The best event during that span was an 11th place finish with two calls in Franklin, while vending.

The low point of the season was definitely following the Asheville contest. However, the events of the next 6-8 weeks provided moments of perspective. Hurricane Harvey ravaged the southeast Texas coast from Rockport inland to Houston. In 2016, after retiring, we became an active participant with Operation BBQ Relief. This nonprofit group was founded in 2010 as a result of the devastating tornadoes that flattened the town of Joplin, MO. The initial concept was simple, bbq folks coming together to cook for those in need. Over the years, this group has grown and the focus has widened from being a regional aid group to becoming a nationwide organization where folks come together with the help of private and corporate donations to provide well balanced, full, hot meals to anyone in need when disaster strikes. As it became obvious that the hurricane was going to form into a huge storm with massive destruction, OBR began to formulate a plan to assist. Following the storm, the group issued a deployment to Houston to assist the greater Houston area. The hurt and loss that folks in that region felt is not adequately described in words. In their largest time of need, OBR was able to provide a momentary relief thanks to a hot, hearty meal. While dealing with the loss of their homes, vehicles, pets or loved ones, the last thing that they needed to worry about was food. OBR takes that worry away, if for only a short time. While on deployment in Houston, it became apparent that there was another storm brewing in the Atlantic Ocean that was going to adversely effect some part of the southeast. Following the same path as Hurricane Harvey, newly formed Hurricane Irma was poised to become a stronger storm than category 5. The decision was made by some OBR executives to send the Smoke This guys home so that they would be available to help with Hurricane Irma relief. Irma finally made landfall in the Florida Keys and moved northward through Florida into Georgia and Tennessee. Thankfully, it weakened as it moved north and failed to move back into the sea where it would restrengthen would occur. After a few days of scouting areas to set up, the decision was made to set up in the Fort Myers area to serve folks. This second deployment of resources marked the first ever air drop of meals and supplies. The US Coast Guard assisted with making the drops to those in need in the keys that were without anything. Participating with OBR has been a life altering experience because it gives you a new perspective on the important things in life. things that we covet can be taken in the blink of an eye. Winning contests or hearing our names called are good for the ego but do nothing compared to being able to help fellow humans in the most difficult of times. Our prayer is that OBR will not be needed in 2018. However, realistically we know that something will happen that OBR can help out with and we plan to help if possible. The devastation of the two hurricanes was immense and the rebuilding efforts continue today. Following the two natural disasters that OBR deployed to, we were able to get back on the competition trail at the tail end of the season with a new perspective and renewed outlook.

Following such a poor result in Asheville, NC at the Sam's Club local contest, the Eastern NC BBQ Throwdown in Rocky Mount provided some much needed confidence. We wanted, desperately, to get the roller coaster headed back up the track. This event always draws a who's who in BBQ from the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia and Tennessee. Fifty teams were in attendance and the weather was spectacular. Fourth place chicken and 5th place brisket coupled with quality ribs and pork led to a 6th place overall finish. The next weekend we were in Lenoir, NC for our final vending event of the season. Vending events, traditionally, are contests in which we don't focus too much on the competition and focus on satisfying the tastebuds of the public. As we focused more on providing the public the best food possible and dealt with some competition cooker issues, we knew the results weren't going to be great. Three weeks later, we headed to the final contest of the year. On Friday evening, we were happy to host a seafood dinner of Fried flounder, steamed oysters, and deviled crab for teams, judges and contest representatives. It is awesome to fellowship with fellow competitors and just have a good time. Our cook on Saturday was a great one. After turn-ins were complete, it was hard not to be excited about awards. However, you just never know if the judges, who constantly get a bad rap, agreed with you. Judges, for the most part, have a passion for bbq similar to those of us that cook contests. For whatever reason, they have chosen to become judges instead of forming a cook team. For many reasons, I can see why. Competition bbq is an expensive hobby. None of our team hunts, fishes or plays golf. This is a hobby. Would we enjoy finding a way to make a fulltime living cooking bbq? Some would. Others quiver at the thought. Anyway, the judges are a key, often unthanked cog to the contests we love doing. As award time came, the sun was setting and the temperature was falling fast. The anxiety was rising because we knew we'd had a great day--we just wanted a payoff, of sorts. Awards started with announcing the winner of the wing contest from Friday. Smoke This had partnered K&D Smokers on an entry. Because we were busy cooking seafood, we weren't going to submit an entry. We did, however, fry the wings for K&D. In the end, his idea to fry wings and our award winning sauce came together to form a 1st place finish in chicken wings. Our deal on Friday was that we'd fry and sauce. If the wings won, OBR would get the prize money. Winner, winner chicken wing entry!! The main event followed with the professional results. Chicken was called: 2nd place, actually a tie for 1st but lost on tiebreaker criteria. Ribs followed. Fifth place winner. The first top-5 rib call since way back in Pensacola, FL. Pork was up next. Pork was the bugaboo all year. Never really finding the right combination of process, recipe and sauce. This event was a new timeline, recipe and sauce that we loved but would the judges? Seventh place! May as well been a perfect 180 as happy as we were. After calls in teens, thirties and forties all year, this seventh to end the year was awesome! Brisket was, as usual, the final category called. As a team, we were split on the quality of entry. Some felt it was the best, some felt it was average. It finished 10th! Well above our year average. In the overall, it was clear that Redneck Scientific was the winner but where would we land? Second? Third? Finally, we heard our name as the third place finisher. At the conclusion of a season that saw our team start off strong, falter mightily in the middle of the season, be able to help out our fellow humans in a desperate time of need and finish with a strong rebound, the totality of the year has to be considered a success.

Some numbers for the season:
Contests: 17 (incl. Sonny's) Chicken thighs cooked: 105
Top 5's: 3 Racks of ribs cooked: 102
Top 10's: 6 Pork butts cooked: 40
Category Top 10's: 22 Briskets cooked: 18

As we turn our focus to the 2018 season, we have a lot of work to do to prepare. Not only must we revist recipes, processes and timelines but we are also faced with rebuilding the firebox of our competition cooker. Since purchasing the cooker basically new in December of 2012 in Florida it has cooked 95 competitions and countless other meals, vends and caterings. Toward the end of last season, we began to struggle with fire and temperature management in large part due the firebox having burned through. So, this winter we are in the process of taking the cooker apart to rebuild and reinforce the firebox and fire grate. Hopefully, this repair will restore the cooker to its previously consistent state. There are also some final touches to the trailer that need to be addressed. When you travel through nine states over thousands of miles, there is always maintenance to be performed and the winter gives time for that to happen

The schedule for 2018 will be similar to years past with a few changes. Our season will begin in Bainbridge, GA followed by the annual two week trip to Florida and Louisiana. Normally, our first vend event of the season is in Lexington, NC. We had planned to roll out a new setup here to streamline our serving efforts. That will have to wait as the Lexington BBQ Capital Cookoff has been cancelled for 2018. Due to a large fire and subsequent cleanup in the historic builiding directly behind the cooksite, it has been determined that the area will not be safe and ready for the event in April. In May, we plan to return to Kannapolis, NC and Waynesboro, GA after a year being absent. A staple event in June, The BBQ and Bluegrass event in Tryon, has been cancelled. Stay turned for some potential news regarding this weekend moving forward! We also plan to attend the event in Woodruff, SC for the first time in June. The summer and fall portion of the season looks similar to years past. We will be vending and competiing in Greenwood, SC, Franklin, NC and Lenoir, NC. we plan to return to Goldsboro after missing 2017 when we were in Texas. The season will be here soon and we look forward to seeing old faces and making new friends in 2018!



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