At the end of last year, I reflected on the progress our fledgling BBQ team made over the course of our first season. With a year of competition in the books, I wondered how 2011 would unfold. I figured we’d do OK, but I also wondered if we could actually improve on 2010. Never in my most optimistic forecast would I have anticipated what 2011 would bring Degüello BBQ.
I will look back on on 2011 as the year we really found our footing. The few miscues we pitched and obstacles we dealt with have actually made us a better team. So when I tried to think of a phrase that encapsulated the season, the title of a certain Sergio Leone spaghetti western came to mind. Hope you enjoy reading Degüello BBQ’s version of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.
Really there’s enough for several blog entries here. The year started off with our receiving the Mid-Atlantic BBQ Association 2010 Rookie Team of the Year at the MABA annual meeting in Downington PA. Our friend Mike Fay presented us with a nice banner and unique blown glass trophy that now resides prominently on the wine cabinet/trophy case. Come on over and I’ll show it to you, whether you want to see it or not.
Our first competition of the year was the Go Naked BBQ Showdown on the grounds of Mason-Dixon BBQ Services in Greencastle PA. Degüello BBQ took 3rd place in ribs and tied for 2nd place in the People’s Choice Wing competition in this one-day chicken and ribs event. Aside from the handsome framed tightie whities and a $100 bill, we took two things away from this competition. First, I reconfirmed that I can cook “naked”, as in no temperature control devices (OK put down the bleach you were about to wash your eyes out with).
But even better, I met two new friends at this event, Alex Covrljan and Al Do. These two rolled up about 7:30 AM in steady rain and temperature in the mid-30s, pulled a brand-new canopy out of its box, set up a UDS and proceeded to destroy the rest of the competition, taking 1st place in chicken and ribs. Great job guys!
Our first full KCBS competition of the year, the Lexington NC BBQ Capital Cook-off was good, bad and ugly all in one. The good came as a direct result of dealing with a real setback. On Friday morning I opened up our chicken and found it was spoiled. Every single piece. Sharon immediately stepped up and began looking for somewhere to buy more chicken. She found Conrad & Hinkle’s Market in downtown Lexington, which was literally a three-minute walk away. We bought 16 whole legs, which I broke down into thighs and legs. Prior to awards I was talking to several other teams about our chicken challenge, and the consensus was “you’ll get a call for sure”. Guess I should listen to my friends, as we took 3rd place! Many thanks to Conrad & Hinkle and to Sharon for finding them.
The first annual Naptown barBAYQ was another successful outing. I got to spend some time with organizer Don Chomas, who has become a good friend and occasional BBQ collaborator. And we took 2nd place for ribs and finished in 10th place overall.
Although the 2nd annual Middletown DE BBQ Cook-off didn’t go quite as planned for us, we did get to see our good friends Pork Barrel BBQ win their first ever Reserve Grand Championship. Heath, Brett and Rex worked extremely hard to refine their competition ‘cue over the previous year, and it was awesome to be there when it paid off.
The first annual Swinetastic BBQ Festival in Frederick MD was another good finish for Degüello BBQ. Along with our 2nd place chicken, we finished 3rd overall in a field of 53. I also want to mention the really nice words of encouragement from Paul Hess of PA Midnite Smokers. Paul and Brenda set the bar for class as well as success on the competition trail, and Paul told me to keep working hard and that we’d get our first GC soon. Turns out Paul was right…..
The 2nd annual Holy Smoke Barbeque Championship in Easton, MD gave Degüello BBQ our first-ever four call performance. Despite that result, we still finished out of the running for the GC at 3rd overall. And once again, one of the classiest competitors out there gave me a little pep talk. Mark Breen of Serial Griller advised me to keep on cooking consistent and the GC would come. Little did I know we’d only have to wait a week…..
The inaugural Bluemont BBQ Bash in Bluemont VA saw Degüello BBQ’s first career Grand Championship. It was sweet to get the first GC so close to home and even more so when we were surrounded by several teams who’d just nipped us out several times. There is never an easy week out here. The funny thing is, the downstream implications of our GC never occurred to me until someone said “hey now you’re in the draw for the Jack!!” Like we’d actually get a chance to go to the Jack in our second year of competition.
Our first participation in New Holland PA Summerfest didn’t exactly set records, but we did keep our ribs call string alive with a 9th place while keeping an eye on the approaching Hurricane Irene.
The 3rd annual Southern York County BBQ Cook-Off in Glen Rock PA was another first, as we had our first-ever two 1st place call competition with top results in brisket and ribs. Unfortunately, our chicken and pork didn’t come out so well which spoiled our chance at a second GC in six weeks.
The inaugural Sam’s Club Series local qualifier in Chesapeake VA was a miserable experience from a weather perspective. Our manic-depressive pork was definitely on the manic side this weekend as we took 2nd in the category after two disappointing pork finishes in a row. Coupled with an 8th place chicken call we moved on to the Sam’s regional final in Laurel MD. But just as quickly as it was near the top, our 2nd place pork in Chesapeake became 27th place pork in Laurel and our run in the series came to an end with a 17th place overall finish.
Aside from seeing friends, Smoketoberfest at the Grove was a bad way to go into the Jack. For details see “bad” and “ugly”.
And then there was the Jack Daniel’s World Invitational Barbecue. In September, we were fortunate enough to win the Virginia state draw for the Jack. I told Sharon that the opportunity to cook one of the signature events in competitive BBQ in our second year was really enough for me, and I meant it. After a year full of good results, getting to Lynchburg was the perfect way to end the season. And getting not one but two calls (10th place chicken and 10th place ribs) was more than we could’ve ever hoped for.
There were a few bad things in 2011. The funny thing is bad things often seemed to lead to good things.
On the way back from Middletown, we had a blowout on our trailer on I-495 less than five miles from home. Most importantly we didn’t have an accident, and thanks to Fairfax County Motor Patrol we got our spare on the trailer and made it home in once piece. The next day, I found that the inner treads on both tires of our single axle trailer were completely worn down, which indicated we had an axle issue of some sort. And imagine my unhappiness when I drove down to our dealer and learned that our trailer was three days out of warranty.
But like I said, in 2011 bad things seemed to lead to good. We’d been disappointed with our trailer’s suitability for carrying our equipment and its general durability, and on a lark I decided to take a look at toy haulers. By the end of the day we’d traded in our single axle trailer on a tandem axle Forest River Work and Play that has made our life a lot easier.
I already mentioned our spoiled chicken in Lexington. However, having to find new chicken introduced us to Conrad & Hinkle’s fabulous pimento cheese. That pimento cheese is really calling me to back to Lexington for 2012. And thanks to Conrad & Hinkle we learned that we can cook winning chicken, just as long as we have good product to work with.
Consistent results across the four categories was occasionally a problem in 2011. But nothing could have prepared me for the gut punch of a 44th place finish in chicken at Smoketoberfest. That was out of 47, but #47 was a DQ for late turn in. I was cooking Eric’s event as a dress rehearsal for the Jack the following week, so a rock-bottom chicken result was tough to take. But once again, something good came out of this experience. I got advice from too many people to count saying to shake it off and cook the Jack just like it was another comp. And seven days later, Degüello BBQ received the first call in the four major categories with a 10th place chicken in Lynchburg. I am certain that the advice and words of encouragement were a part of our success at the Jack.
And then there was the weather. After getting really lucky for the most part in 2010, we fared much worse in 2011 when it came to the elements. From near-freezing temp with an accompany steady downpour to begin the season, riding out a really intense hailstorm in Frederick, cooking New Holland in the teeth of an approaching hurricane, and thinking we’d have to purchase an ark at the Sam’s Club events, it was an adventurous year. But the biggest challenge was the extreme heat in July. We hit 105F in Easton with a heat index somewhere north of 120F, and the high temps taxed the onsite power to the max and beyond. From that event we learned that it was imperative to be self-sufficient as much as possible, and our Honda dual-generator setup carried the day in Bluemont and the Jack.
Nothing uglier than the sight of the KCBS rep approaching your site with a box in hand. And although it hurt a lot to get disqualified for having a foreign object in our brisket box in Lexington, the experience taught us a valuable lesson about the importance of keeping foil away from the cutting board.
Oh and NEVER put cream cheese in an apple and smoke it, even if Steve Raichlen does say it’ll be a taste sensation.
So 2011 is in the books, and now it’s on to 2012. We enter this year with a wealth of experience and a goal to cook more consistently across all four categories.
To that end, we’ve added a new piece of equipment to our arsenal. We are looking forward to competing with our new Backwoods Extended Party purchased from Mason-Dixon BBQ Services in 2012. The WSMs will still be in the mix, but we hope the Backwoods will help us achieve the goal of smoking consistently superior products.
As always, thanks for reading and we hope you’ll keep checking in!