BBQ Events: Grill Kings 2006
So what happened at Grill Kings? I've had a couple of days to mull this over and think about it. So let's take a look at the event with a fresh, relaxed set of eyes. I'm sorry that this is so long, but I want to get it all out on the table. I spent a lot of time, effort and money promoting this event and I feel that you need to know the good and the bad.
Let's start with the good things.
- It is a good thing that this event takes place at all. Like it or not,
is not barbeque country. Dean and his team at Grill Kings deserve major kudos for putting this event on each year. New York
- Trophies were given out to third place and ribbons out to fifth place. It's great to recognize as many teams as possible. Grill Kings gives out some nice large customized trophies as well.
- The bands were pretty good and at the other end of the parking lot. Bands are nice, but if you're setup right next to the amps, it can get a little tough by the end of the day.
- The port-a-potties were plentiful and immaculate.
- The crowds this year were much better behaved than last. We didn't have anyone trying to steal our turn in foods and no spectators demanding to be fed.
- The chance to meet some more of the competitors.
- Ice was available from a vendor at the event at a reasonable price. While ice was not free as at many events, the prices were comparable to 7-11.
- Power was provided to every site and was reliable.
- The spaces were clearly marked and well laid out.
Now, let’s look at the problems. Now not all of the problems I mention are major problems. Many of them are minor annoyances and if they had not compounded I would have long forgotten them. But the problems continued to mount and nothing was resolved.
- If I had to sum it all up, the major problem was a total lack of communication from the organizers and contest reps. I saw the organizer a few times both days, and the KCBS reps not at all. This is very unusual as at most contests both the organizer and reps are in your cooking area many times a day.
- The event was miss-represented from the beginning. After last year's event at
, the organizer immediately began promoting Belmont Racetrack for this year's event. It was promoted as being held in the racetrack and "part of the Hecksher Park experience." There was talk by the organizer about the event being held next to the actual race course. Belmont has a beautiful festival area which is where it was being touted as where the event would be held. Belmont
Two weeks before the event, the layout is published on the Grill Kings website and the event is placed in the outermost parking lot of Belmont, about 1/4 mile to 1/2 mile from the main entrance to the race track. There's no shade and the lot is surrounded by the
Cross Island Parkwayon one side and a busy major roadway on the other. To claim that we were part of the experience is like saying that you're at Belmont when you're in the long term extended parking lot and need a bus to get to the terminal. Kennedy Airport
- The organizers touted having 100 teams at this event, when the actual number turned out to be about 40. I honestly don't have a problem with this as it's irrelevant to me how many teams show up as long as the prize money is as promised. But to many of the other cooks, this was an issue. They feel that winning a small contest is not as prestigious as winning a large event.
- The organizers touted an expected attendance of 30,000 spectators. Now that's a wild claim which doubled last years numbers. Again, this isn't an issue for me, but it was a major problem for the vendors. I would say that less than 5,000 people showed up. You can attribute that to many things such as the weather, the entrance fee and the lack of attractions, but this wasn't the first Grill Kings event. A more reasonable number should have been presented. By the end, vendors were selling rapidly defrosting meat for bargain basement prices.
- Team sites were reassigned from the published layout on Saturday morning. While this isn't a major issue, it's an annoyance when you tell friends and family where you'll be only to have them have to search for you when they arrive.
- Guest passes. There was a $5 entry for adults and a $2 fee for children. Unfortunately my family was unable to attend, but my friend Pete's family did. Pete was competing, at my urging, for the first time. His family of 4 adults paid to enter the event each day. Apparently the organizer provided guest passes for family member of the teams, which would have allowed them to enter for free, but this was not communicated to every team. I didn't know about this until late in the event and Pete didn't find out until after it was all over.
- This was an expensive contest to enter. To cook in the KCBS sanctioned event a team paid $300. To enter the PureFire grilling contest the fee was an additional $50. Most events include entrance to any ancillary contests in the KCBS fee. For other contests in
the entrance fees run from $100 to $225. New York
- Most events give something back to the contestants. It can be as simple as coffee and bagels on Sunday morning, or a t-shirt, a hat or a pin. Some events are very generous and give each team goodie bags that include such things as fire extinguishers and coolers. Grill Kings gave the teams nothing. On Sunday morning I asked the organizer if the teams were getting a t-shirt, which they were selling for $16, I was met with a resounding no.
- While the cash awards remained the same, but the prizes have changed from what was originally posted on the website. I don't know when the prizes were finalized, but I know for example, that the prizes from T-mobile that were promised originally were never given out. I don't know if this is a violation of the KCBS sanctioning agreement, but it needs to be looked at.
health inspectors required each team to have a separate hand washing station in addition to the three compartment sinks required by KCBS. There was nothing about this in the cook's pack and left us scrambling to satisfy the health department. I know a couple of teams were notified prior, but many were not. I know we weren’t. Nassau County
- There was a lot of confusion this year during meat inspection this year. KCBS rules state that a team can not begin to marinate or season its meat until the meat has been inspected on site. Usually meat inspection occurs right after you check in at the event. Grill Kings had meat inspectors for the PureFire grilling challenge and a separate inspector for the KCBS event. Unfortunately, the inspectors for the challenge were not properly trained and told us that we were not able to touch the meat for the KCBS contest until it was inspected on Sunday morning! For many teams this caused some real problems getting their meat ready on time. This whole situation could have been avoided had the organizer or reps were more available.
- For the PureFire grilling challenge, teams were required to cook on their charcoal. Many teams did not and this rule wasn't enforced. I don't know if it affected the outcome, but some teams were put at a disadvantage because of this.
- There was no announcement of the cook's meeting for the KCBS contest. If there was one, none of the teams I talked to heard it. I don't even know if a cooks meeting took place.
- Water was provided from one large tank for the teams to haul back to their site. While this isn't uncommon, it's certainly not ideal. What was unique about this event is that the water supply ran out on Saturday afternoon and was not refilled until late Sunday morning. The organizers could have really helped out here but visiting each team and explaining the situation and explaining what they were doing to correct the situation. If I was in that situation, I think I would have offered to buy each team a few gallons of water to tide them over.
- The teams weren't provided with our turn in boxes until about on Sunday morning. Again, there was no announcement that they were available, just word of mouth as the knowledge spread from one team to another. I only knew because I saw them being unboxed in the judges tent as I walked by. Sunday morning is crunch time; the teams don't need to be worried about the location of turn in boxes when the meat is coming off the cooker.
- The judge’s tent wasn't secluded enough at this event. While it's interesting to see the judging and the weather was oppressive this year, the judges need to be less accessible to the public. Their tent was completely wide open and smack dab in the middle of the contestants. After I turned in one of my boxes, a table captain called me over and tried to start a conversation. Not good. I don't think there were any shenanigans going on, but the judges need to be more remote next time.
- Garbage was picked up regularly on Saturday, but not so much on Sunday afternoon. The people who were supposed to be doing it were hanging out in the now empty judge’s tent and the garbage piled up. There weren't any dumpsters as far as I could find, so we were at the mercy of the clean up crews. I would have liked to dispose of some of the more fragrant garbage myself instead of leaving it in the aisle waiting and fermenting in the hot sun.
- The awards ceremony was scheduled to take place at on Sunday. They were late which is no big deal, but the band called everyone up to the stage at . The viewing area was in the hot sun, without shade or seats. According to the radio, the real feel temperature for Sunday was running at about 108. We were all standing there, tired, hot and wanting to go home. The band just kept playing without explanation which pissed the teams off even more. Many of us returned to our sites to continue breaking down.
- The organizers had stated that the event would run until , but some teams were ready to leave earlier. Security guards blocked the gates with their bodies and cars and would not allow anyone to leave the event. We were told by the guards that this was the order from the organizer and if we wanted out we'd have to talk to them, if we could find them. When one of my team mate’s wife threatened to call the cops, the guard laughed at her and said - "What are you a lawyer?" Which - guess what - she is! That shut him up fast and he offered to let her and only her leave.
- Around suddenly the band stopped and with out any sort of announcement Sal, one of the organizers began the awards ceremony. I missed the beginning because of this. Again, no big deal but at this point any mistake was a major problem. I felt bad for Dean and Sal on that stage, because they were getting no love from the audience at that point.
- Score sheets were lost for the individual teams.
- The security guards were snotty all day and night, even when cruising through at in the morning in response to a report of gun shots being fired.
- There was no place to dispose of ashes. A large mound of ash was created by the water tank. The ashes were still smoking and blowing around in the wind last I saw.
- The power was turned off at on Sunday while we were still breaking down.
- And finally a personal slight. Phil, my team mate's truck broke down and needed a jump at the end of the event. Dean did arrange for one of the vendor's to provide it, but he didn't take a minute to make sure that we were alright even as he drove past us twice.
So there you have it. I think that's all of it, but frankly, I'm tired of writing about it. The major problem from my point of view was the lack of communication from the organizers and contest reps. At other events these people are everywhere. They're constantly checking on you and asking what you need or what they can do to make your life easier. Here, they hid out in their air conditioned trailers while we went without water.
But did I have fun? Yes. It’s always fun and a high to cook and compete. Winning anything is just the cherry on the cake.
I think that the Grill Kings event is redeemable. It can be fixed, but the organizers need to talk with the teams or better yet get out and cook with some teams and find out what we need. I hope it's back next year, but without some real substantial changes in attitude and execution, I won't be back.