On October 21-22, Degüello BBQ competed in the 23rd Annual Jack Daniel’s World Invitational Barbecue in Lynchburg TN. ”The Jack” is one of the true signature events in the world of competitive BBQ, and an invite to compete is a both a privilege as well as an accomplishment. The Jack field is filled via automatic bids awarded to grand champions of a few select events and teams with at least seven grand championships over the previous year, a state by state drawing of teams with at least one grand championship, and selection of international teams. The selection process yields a formidable field of world-class competitors, so just getting to Lynchburg is a career highlight for many teams. And since the majority of the teams get their invite via a random draw, there is no guarantee a team will get a future invite. Bottom line, we were honored to have been selected via the Virginia state draw, and we came to Lynchburg with the intention of cooking the way that got us there in just our second year of competition. With 89 teams competing, Degüello BBQ was incredibly fortunate to hear our name called twice with a 10th place finish in chicken, 10th place ribs, 74th place pork, 59th place brisket and a 32nd place overall finish. Huge congrats to Smokin’ Hogz of Abington MA for taking the Grand Championship and Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q of Decatur AL for winning Reserve Grand Champion. I’d like to think I imparted some karma to Bill when I met him in the elevator at the Holiday Inn on Thursday morning and to Chris on Saturday when I came by to say hello (I told him I wasn’t buying his book because I already a “grease-stained” copy). But neither of those guys need any help; they’re world-class cooks and nice people too. Here’s the contest rundown:
Chicken: 10th out of 89 (173.1428)
We arrived at Moorehead Pavilion to find a mass of humanity already in place for the awards ceremony. As we looked around for a place to put our chairs, I found a stack of hay bales at the back of the pavilion with people sitting on them but open space behind. We set up there and settled in what we were told would be an incredibly long ceremony. After the all the ancillary awards, the main category awards began. By this time, I’d actually gotten a bit distracted with Facebook setting up a post with 10 to 1 that I would fill in with results for each category. I’d just finished and looked up when the announcer said “10th place chicken! Now, uh, how do I say this?” As any of the twenty or so of you that regularly read my blog know, the very first call we got was for chicken in Middletown DE and this is exactly what the announcer said there. Subsequently it’s become a bit of a running joke and some of our friends will shout out “DO YOU JELLO!!” or some other goofy approximation of our team name when we get a call. It also works out kind of nice because when an announcer says “How do I pronounce this name?” early in an awards ceremony we’re thinking the next thing we’ll hear is something like “‘deh-GWAY-o”. Or not. When I heard it this time, I actually thought “Ha! An international team’s about to get a call in chicken! Nice!” and then the announcer says something like “Dee-gOO-lo”. I turned to Sharon and said “Surely not….” and then the announcer tried agin and this time got the pronunciation perfect (there must’ve been a Top fan down there somewhere). Wow, what a feeling. We spent the next few minutes winding our way through the crowd to the stage and trying to find a gap. As we walked by Pork Barrel BBQ I gave Heath a man hug and said “I love you man!!” and we went down to get our ribbon and bottle of Jack.
I’d like to say we did something special with our chicken, but we didn’t. Aside from putting in seven thighs and some white meat, it was our standard recipe and prep. When it’s on, it’s pretty good. And on this day it was on. Great chicken from Wagshal’s Market in Washington DC was a huge part of our success on this category, and I’d like to give special thanks to Pam at Wagshal’s for hand-selecting and trimming our chicken.
Ribs: 10th out of 89 (174.8572)
After the thrill of getting a call at the Jack, we were standing around behind the pavilion talking with Jen and Jack of Black Cat and feeling really good about our day. I was only half paying attention again when the announcer began calling ribs. So imagine my complete surprise when I faintly hear “10th place ribs…..Degüello BBQ!” The one call had made our day, but two calls? I was pretty stunned. I ran from behind the pavilion back to the stage to get our second ribbon and bottle of Jack.
Of the four categories we cooked on the day, this was the one I thought came out best. I’ve had temp issues cooking ribs on the WSM almost all year, and on Saturday morning I woke to near freezing temperature and a pretty hard frost. Based on conditions, I made the snap decision to cook less racks and use our WSM blanket from the BBQ Guru. Turned out to be the two best decisions I made all day as the big WSM held perfect temp for the entire cook. After the craziness I experienced at Shrewsbury with temp control and a broken door handle, it was odd to be able to sit there calmly instead of fiddling with doors and fans in an attempt to stabilize smoker temp. We had plenty of good bones to choose from, and I was gratified the judges liked our submission.
Pork: 74th out of 89 (157.7144)
Well, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses at Moorehead Pavilion…..
I’d say I was surprised by the pork results, but I’d be lying. True to form, schizophrenic pork (actually I think I’m going to start calling it “manic-depressive pork”) was due for a depressing performance after a top ten finish the week before in Chambersburg. And just like every pork submission of the last four months, I don’t have a clue why it performed the way it did. When we’ve hit it big (2nd, 2nd, 5th and 8th) I wasn’t overly impressed with the turn ins, and when we’ve gone the other way, I thought things went OK.
I wasn’t thrilled with the result, but I wasn’t exactly crushed either as I have to look at it partly in the context of the level of competition. My #1 priority in the off-season is to work on cooking consistently moist, tender pork with snappy, well-balanced flavor. I feel it’s an achievable goal, especially the consistency part.
Brisket: 59th out of 89 (158.2856)
Middling results for a middling submission. And like I’ve been saying all year, if you don’t bring it strong you’re not going to be too thrilled with the results. I was keeping pretty good company down there, though; I counted two 2011 automatic Jack qualifying teams as well as previous winners of the “Big Four” (American Royal, Jack, Memphis in May and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo) south of where I finished on this day. Don’t get me wrong; I would never place myself in the category with any of those guys. I’m just saying it was a tough field when teams of that caliber finish that far down the ranks. I tasted the brisket of one of those teams, and I now know why he is one of the most-respected cooks in my home state of Texas. I know it put my entry to shame. If you’re wondering who I’m talking about, I’ve given you enough clues that it shouldn’t be hard to figure out at all.
Having had some time to process the experience of the Jack, all I can say is wow. The setting, the ancillary events, and just the honor and thrill of competing against so many incredible teams all made for an experience that may never be surpassed for us. If this event ever becomes a “grind” then it’s time for us to hang it up and do something else. Seriously.
The spread at Miss Mary Bobos. My parents are wanting to go to Nashville and visit Opryland, and when they do I intend to take them down to Lynchburg to experience this place. Great food and great stories here with Pork Barrel BBQ, Mango Mike, Jen and Nisha.
Our Jack Daniel’s sign courtesy of the organizers!