Grill Kings 2005 - The Inside Story
I promised you guys a post about the experience of competing at Grill Kings this year. I best get started; it's been a while, I cooked in New Jersey since and have another contest coming up this weekend in Highland, NY.
The Grill Kings 2005 was moved to Heckscher State Park in East Islip from its traditional home in Eisenhower Park, East Meadow. On paper, this was a great idea. Heckscher Park is a state park which adjoins the Great South Bay. It has beaches, campgrounds, lots of parking, fields, and trees. Best of all it's maintained by the state, so it's clean and safe. It's also huge! Crowds would not be an issue.
But, apparently the caretakers of Heckscher, didn't want us there. Let's just say that they did everything possible to make the contest fail. From giving Dean a hard time as he tired to mark out the cooking spaces, to charging every competitor to park ($8 a day), to turning off the water at night. Thanks guys.
Even against all of this, Dean puts together a good event. He had some really big names this year. We were up against Dr. BBQ aka Ray Lampe, Adam Perry Lang from Daisy May's BBQ, Dirty Dick and the Legless Wonders and Philly Pigs; all big names in the BBQ world.
Jerry and Linda Mullane were the KCBS reps and any contest they rep is one of the best. They are two of the nicest people I've met and they really know how to keep things organized. Jerry also ran my judging class when I got certified, so maybe I'm biased, but they are great reps. Just ask any of the other teams out there.
This contest would be a first for us as we agreed to cook in the open competition on Saturday. An open competition is a competition is created by the organizer of the event with his or her own rules. This year the categories were Pork Chop, Sauce and Chicken Wings. A lot of rookie teams get their start in the open contests as the rules are much more lax than at the KCBS sanctioned events.
You can see our entries in previous posts. I enjoyed the open contest. It allowed us to be more creative than usual and to play around more with flavors and presentations. Unfortunately, we must have played too much because we didn't take a single category. The closest we came was in sauce with a fourth place.
Greg, also known as Parrothead on the BBQ-Brethren, made the sauce and asked me to taste it just prior to turn in. I stuck my finger in and quickly proclaimed, "Tastes just like KC Masterpiece." Greg said, "That's good enough for me." And in it went. My gut feeling was that we'd do great with this sauce. KC Masterpiece is very popular on Long Island.
For the pork chop competition we made three different versions of stuffed pork chops. I made a stuffing of apples, smoked cheddar cheese and onions. It was based on a recipe for stuffed pork chops with apple slaw in Bon Appetit magazine that month.
I took a lot or ribbing from the guys about this. But I get a lot of inspiration for my recipes from published recipes. I look at recipes and think about how I can adapt them to my needs and tastes. I've never followed a recipe in my life. I don't measure, at least not individual ingredients. I measure ingredients in comparison with each other. If I put in a fist sized tomato, well maybe I’ll add about a handful of parsley. It's one of the reasons I don't like to bake; baking is much too precise for me.
Phil made pork chops that were stuffed with apples, nectarines and candied cherries. Some of the cherries were soaked in vodka which added to their flavor. There was another version of the chops cooked, but I can't remember what we did. We tasted all three and it was decided to enter Phil's version. Honestly, I didn't particularly care for it. It was good, but candied fruits and vodka soaked maraschino cherries are not my favorite. I personally liked mine best, go figure, but I thought that I had too heavy a hand with the bourbon to be a winner.
For the chicken wings we entered a recipe that took Phil and Greg to first place at last year's event. It tanked this year. Oh well, that's part of the game.
Careful readers of this blog will remember that Phil had an article about him and the BBQ-Brethren published in NY Newsday a few days before the event. Well, this made him a star. People coming through the contest were asking to meet him and crowded our tent. This made it very difficult to cook. For some strange reason, a lot of people there thought I was Phil. Apparently we look alike. Personally, I don't see it except that we both have the same hairline. All of these visitors distracted us for much of the afternoon and evening. We weren't on our game and I think our results showed it. Crowd control is much more important than I ever realized.
That night and afternoon I really didn’t feel part of the team. We weren’t communicating. I almost walked away. Phil was distracted and not paying attention to the tasks at hand. He was enjoying his moment of fame and I can’t blame him. We were bombarded by people, all well meaning, but they kept us from doing our work. Too many people had opinions about what we were doing and too much time was spent listening and rationalizing. This part of the contest was definitely a low point for me in my brief contest going experience. But, things picked up as the people went home for the evening.
In my next post, I'll talk about the KCBS sanctioned part of the contest, what happens when you get a bunch of drunken BBQ cooks together in the middle of the night, and what I learned to do differently in the next contest.
On another topic, please welcome The BBQ Report to my list of BBQ links. It's a great site, one you'll probably spend as much time on as I do. Hey, I think they may have nabbed one of my pictures for their report on firewood. Enjoy!