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One Day, Two Contests, One Call, Two Lousy Results

What a bad weekend. The headline of this article sums up how the final weekend of our 2018 bbq season went. On one chilly Saturday, we competed in two contests at the same time that yielded a single 5th place call in ribs and two lousy overall finishes. The final contest of the season ended as much of the season has gone; with mixed results, inconsistencies and more disappointing results than we are used to.  Maybe this winter will allow time to regroup and move in a different direction in some areas.

Away from the competition circuit, this year has been rewarding.  Being able to be a part of Operation BBQ Relief has provided the opportunity to help so many folks in their times of need.  Smoke This has been able to work with OBR to serve our military and to network with people and corporations around the country.  We anticipate that 2019 will be bigger and better as OBR continues to grow.  Hopefully, there will be no natural disasters that we require a mass deployment and our efforts can focus on other types of service!

Now is the time that we are able to rest, relax and spend time with family.  Before long, we will be back at it and making plans for 2019!

Smoking In The Foothills A Huge Success For Smoke This

Normally an event at which Smoke This is tasked with vending along with competing, the results of the competition are average at best. This past weekend that was not the case. After arriving and getting set up for vending on Thursday, the focus on Friday was to prepare food to begin selling at lunch on Friday. Pulled pork, brisket, pork ribs, pulled chicken, smoked chicken wings, baked beans, mac-n-cheese and cole slaw all had to be prepared. It was a total team effort as the team was fully intact for the first time all season. In addition, family members and friends joined to get everything ready for the lunchtime rush. As the afternoon rolled on, the guys began to focus on competition. The first competition of the weekend was on Friday night beginning at 6:00 with the peoples choice chicken wing contest. Teams choosing to participate were given 30 pounds of wings to cook any way they chose. Some teams decided to grill while others decided to fry them. There were some that took the time to smoke them. Patrons of the event were allowed to purchase tickets which gave them a sample of each wing. After tasting them, those same folks cast a ballot for their favorite wing. They did not know what team they were voting for. The award for the winning chicken wing would be announced on Saturday during the KCBS awards ceremony. Once the wings were cooked, focus returned entirely to vending as a huge crowd arrived to take in the festival. By the end of the night, the team had sold out of everything they had prepared. While some consider selling out to be a bad thing, for Smoke This selling out is the goal!

Cooking for the competition began early on Saturday morning. As in 3:00 am early. That's ok though, getting up early and going on little sleep is what most teams do. As dawn broke on a chilly, autumn morning the team began working to prepare food for the day's vend as well as keeping a close eye on their competition timeline. Of course, the timeline is merely a wall ornament when doing a vend. Its only a suggestion because the focus is on having all the food prepared for vending. Somehow, the steamtable was loaded and warming boxes were full by 10:30. All of that was done while the competition meats basted, spritzed, wrapped and cut, somewhat on time. As the day rolled on, it was apparent that a sell out was imminent.  It was also apparent that the competition food had turned out good.  It wasn't great but it was good and should be in the running come awards time.  By the time awards were set to begin at 5:00, the team had nearly sold out of everything! 

During the awards time, one of the first awards handed out was from the people's choice chicken wing contest on Friday evening.  For the third time this season in four contests, SMOKE THIS was the winner! Thank you to all who bought tickets to support the charity and voted for box 17!  As the regular KCBS events were awarded, Smoke This was called for 6th place ribs and 1st place brisket.  They were also called for 5th overall!  This meant that the chicken and pork just missed on top 10 calls.  Chicken finished 14th and Pork was 12th.  Not bad considered the cluster of events that was going on!    

Back To Cooking, This Time in Virginia

Smoke This returned to the competition trail after a two month hiatus on October 13 in Alton, VA. Thanks to hurricane Florence and a subsequent deployment to Wilmington, NC to assist Operation BBQ Relief, Smoke This skipped events in Salisbury, NC and Newton, NC. Historically, Smoke This hasn't competed in the Commonwealth of Virginia that much but has had some good results when participating in events. This first-time event caught the attention of the team and the decision was made to forego the traditional Rocky Mount, NC event to go to beautiful Virginia International Raceway to compete in the Pigs in the Pit event that was founded, in part, to be a fundraising event for the local Boys and Girls Club. After driving through a severe rain and wind storm thanks to remnants of Hurricane Michael that devastated the Florida panhandle, the team arrived, setup and began preparations for the contest.  Unfortunately, due to the heavy rains many of the accompanying events were cancelled. That didn't have an effect on the cook for Smoke This.  Feeling confident is sometimes a scary emotion following a cook.  As award time rolled around, the confidence was verified thanks to an overall 9th place finish.  Chicken finished 9th, ribs were 7th and brisket was 3rd!  After some dismal results and several weeks off, it was good to get positive results!  Now the guys hope to build off that heading into next week in Lenoir, NC where they will also be vending. 

Piggin' In The Park Recap

On June 1, 2018, Smoke This traveled to Woodruff, SC for the first time for the town's annual.  This event is a music festival and bbq contest along with the Miss Woodruff pageant.  The festivities take place in beautiful McKinney Park and was a very well run event! While only 34 of the registered 38 teams made the event, the field was loaded with teams that are contenders week in and week out in the region. The contest kicked off Friday evening with chicken wings.  Wings have always been somewhat of a Smoke This specialty - especially when they are cooked just right with that golden brown, crispy skin.  On Friday, two teams were a little better than Smoke This as Pig on Fire won the wing event with Old Colony Smokehouse in second place. There was also a dessert competition which we chose not to participate in.  However, our good friends and fellow Tarheels, Midnight Burn, were the winners!  On Saturday, the traditional KCBS contest was held were each team prepared their best chicken, pork ribs, pork butt or shoulder and brisket.  For Smoke This, the cook was just okay overall.  The guys felt that the chicken and ribs were both good and the results showed.  Chicken finished 7th and ribs were 6th.  Unfortunately, when you start with an inferior piece of meat you often get lackluster results.  That exact scenario played out in Woodruff.  The normal brisket that Smoke This cooks was not available and the team was forced to cook a different brand and grade.  The result was the worst score in brisket since 2014. Overall, the strong chicken and rib finishes coupled with a middle of the pack pork butt was enough to yield a 14th place finish.  Fourteenth is not at all what Smoke This expects, especially in a small field, but it provides motivation to get better in the off weeks ahead.  Hopefully by the time Smoke This heads to Greenwood, SC in July, the team will have improved and be ready to get back to their winning ways.   

Papa Joe's Banjo-B-Que Provides A Little Rebound

After two events with sub-par results in Kannapolis, NC and Waynesboro, GA, Smoke This returned to the Augusta, GA area for the annual music and bbq festival. This event is one of the team's favorite contests each year. This year, the organizers added a mudsling to the events. Ok, not really. However, thanks to torrential rains and various points during the week the contest area at the amphitheatre was a muddy mess. Rig after rig was stuck and had to be towed by another truck or a skid-steer. Smoke This had a really good cook. Following turn-ins, many judges came by to comment on how good all of the food they had was. It shouldn't be a surprise though, considering that there were so many top level teams at the event. Seventeen of the top 20 overall are perennial contenders that are respected for their cooking ability. While Smoke This was only able to garner one top ten call, a 2nd place in pork ribs, the team finished 12th overall. While the results in the chicken and brisket categories were lower than expected, knowing that the quality of food was back closer to the level we are used to was encouraging to say the least.

Some Days You Are A Bug On The Windshield

On May 4-5, Smoke This returned to Kannapolis, NC for the annual Jiggy With The Piggy event. This event is widely considered the best contest in North Carolina from an organizational and location standpoint. Located in downtown Kannapolis, an old mill town famous for Cannon Mills, the contest is held of the grounds of the North Carolina Research Campus. The current research campus is a part of the old Cannon Mills complex. This event is so well run and organized. Eddie Smith and his staff are top-notch and work to make this event cooker friendly and a can't miss contest. There are some weekends that things are just off and do not turn out like you want them too. This weekend, we felt the cook was decent. Certainly not where it needed to be but acceptable nonetheless. The judges felt differently, though, and the result was our worst overall cook since June 2015 in Tryon, NC. There isn't a lot more to say. Some days you are the windshield breezing through and somedays you are the big bug that splats against the glass. This weekend we were that bug.

The good news is that next week provides opportunity for a rebound at another favorite contest. Smoke This will leave Thursday morning enroute to Waynesboro, GA and the annual Boss Hog Cookoff.

What? Another Nice Weather Event in Kings Mountain? YES PLEASE!

Maybe there is a correlation between having good weather in Kings Mountain for the annual Firehouse BBQ Cookoff and Smoke This having success. For years, one thing was a guaranteed to happen during the weekend of the Firehouse Cookoff, rain. Torrential, blowing, driving rain. Rain in such quantities that firetrucks would get stuck while pulling campers and trailers out. Rainstorms that required tow trucks to pull out stuck firetrucks who were hooked to stranded rvs and custom built bbq trailers. Serious rain events. It never failed. However, last year was different. The weather was pristine, chamber of commerce weather, as folks commonly say. The result? A second place finish by Smoke This in an event that had been hard on the team in the past. This past weekend was another post card weather weekend. Maybe that weather is to thank for a good result. Smoke This was able to capture 3rd overall behind the strength of a 4th place chicken, 7th place pork and 1st place brisket! Congrats to The Smokehouse Mafia on the Grand Championship and Midnight Burn on your Reserve Grand.

Team Has Great Day In Hammond, LA

The team poses with trophy check and paddle trophies in Hammond, LA This season marks the 5th year that Smoke This has ventured to Hammond, LA for their contest. The results have been been up and down through the years. This year's contest in Hammond yielded the best results across the board. Three top finishes in the meat categories are a first for the team in Hammond. Through the first three contests of the season, chicken has been really good. The Pensacola results don't show how good the product was. This weekend in Hammond, chicken finished 2nd after a 1st to open the year! Brisket has been consistent as well this season. While not always scoring as well as expected, it has been a decent scorer. This weekend, brisket finished 10th with our modified version of the normal brisket. Ribs have been a struggle. The struggle has been from quality but to get the scores needed to be competitive. The first two contests found the ribs results to be mired in the 20's. A couple very subtle changes were made this week and the rewards were felt immediately. FIRST PLACE! The three top 10 finishes out of the four categories was enough to give Smoke This a 3rd place finish in a field of 48 strong teams.  Now the long, 13 hour journey home begins and a couple off weeks before heading to Kings Mountain, NC on April 20-21.

2018 Kicks Off In Bainbridge, GA

Steve, Scott and Dennis with trophies for 3rd overall and 1st place chicken at 2018 Flames 
       on the Flint in Bainbridge, GA A long winter of work on the cooker and some practice cooks ended on March 7, 2018 as the team loaded up and headed south to Bainbridge, GA to cook in the 5th annual Flames on the Flint. The bbq contest is the marquee event of the towns Riverdays celebration. This event marks the beginning of a three contest road trip for Smoke This and has been on the schedule for four years now. Once arriving in town early Thursday morning and getting some rest, the guys moved into their cook site and soon after began a final round of practice for the contest. This was mainly due to giving the cooker one last cook in its new configuration before it really counts. It's amazing how differently the cooker performs now that it has been rebuilt. The final test went well and the team was eager to get started on Friday!

For those that might not be familiar with how a KCBS sanctioned bbq contest works, on Friday morning a representative from the contest or KCBS must come by your cook site to inspect all four of the meats that will be cooked. While you are allowed to trim the meats, there can be no marinating, injecting or other form of flavor enhancement done to the meat prior to inspection. Meat inspection is also the usual time that you are provided the emtpy turn in boxes for Saturday. Each team is provided four boxes that have a number on them. This represents the team's number for the weekend. Upon turn-in, this number gets changed to a number only known to representatives of KCBS. This changes ensures that no one will know whose box of food they are judging. After inspection is complete, teams are allowed to do any final trimming and can begin soaking, marinating, injecting, applying rub, etc. The processes are left to the team's discretion. It is also up the to teams to decide when to begin cooking. Some choose to begin Friday night while a new trend and process allows for cooking of large cuts (pork shoulder or butt and brisket) to start around 5 am Saturday. The only requirement is that meat must be turned in during a set time. Chicken is turned in at noon, ribs at 12:30 pm, pork at 1:00 and brisket at 1:30 pm. Teams are given a window of 5 minutes before each time and 4:59 after to get their food to the judging tent. Failure to do so results in an automatic disqualification.

Steve Finger holding his 1st Place Chicken trophy at Flames on the Flint in Bainbridge, 
        GA In 2015, a cooker from New Jersey named Bill Allen won the chicken category with a perfect score of 180. It was his first ever 180. Moments after the awards were finished, Bill was at his trailer beginning to pack up when he suddenly passed away. Bill had told folks on Friday that he would die a happy man if he'd win chicken with a perfect score. The organizers of the Flames on the Flint event heard the story and made the decision that beginning in 2016, the winner of the chicken category would receive the Bill Allen Memorial Trophy as a way to memorialize and honor Bill. Smoke This has been fortunate to receive four perfect scores in the chicken category over the past few seasons. On Saturday, Smoke This received the most meaningful 180 ever as they won the chicken category! There are no words to describe the emotions of receiving the Bill Allen Memorial Trophy. What an honor! The awards for ribs, pork and brisket went by without hearing Smoke This again. As the overall awards began, the organizers called the top seven, in random order to the stage. Smoke This was not a part of the group. Later, the final three were called representing the eventual grand champion and reserve grand as well as SMOKE THIS! How could this be possible? A team with four top 10 finishes had already been called as the 4th place finisher. Did Smoke This have three 11th place finishes and a 180 chicken? Well, not exactly. Smoke This finished 3rd with two 12th place finishes in pork and brisket. Those finishes, along with the 180 in chicken were enough for 3rd overall!

The guys left Sunday morning enroute to Pensacola, FL from Bainbridge, GA. The three hour trip was much better than the 9.5 hours it would take to get back home. They will spend the week in Pensacola preparing for the next weekend's contest while relaxing on the beach and eating plenty of fresh, local seafood! There are several other teams taking advantage of the week for a mini vacation between the contests.