Tuesday, August 16, 2011

10 in a Row

I’ll spare you the excuses regarding the abandoned blog.   Instead I’ll pick up with the last Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational Draw back in Sept 2010:

My team IQUE had an automatic bid based on our win at the Jack the previous fall.  The 2010 Jack would also be our 9th straight year competing at the contest.  And we were quite aware of the following rule in the fairly complex Jack Daniels qualifying criteria:

After a team has competed at “The Jack” nine times, the tenth year they win a qualifying competition, they will be invited without going through any draws.

So we had a year to win any qualifying Grand Championship and we would become the first team to ever be invited to the Jack 10 years in a row.  While winning a Grand Championship is never easy – in fact it gets harder every year – the task seemed at least quite do-able.  We usually cook 10-12 contests a year and have probably averaged 2-3 Grand Championships each year.  We were fresh off of winning New England BBQ Society team of the year and felt good about our cooking program.  No stress, no worry, let’s go get that Grand now! 

First up was Harvard, MA Sept 2010:

Chicken (2), Our absolute bread and butter category for at least the last two years
Ribs (19) rib issues were on the horizon
Pork (7), Brisket (3)

Reserve Grand Champion.  Close.  Oh how nice it would have been to knock out the qualifier in the first attempt

Oinktoberfest, Clarence NY Sept 2010

Chicken (16), Ribs (5), Pork (14) and Brisket (1, with a big score), Reserve Grand.  Yes close again.

Both the Oink and Harvard were good cooks.  In both cases another team just cooked better than us that day.

Jack Daniels 2010 (76 teams)

Heck a Grand here would be a great way to get qualified for next season.  ::grin::

Chicken (20), Ribs (55), Pork (18), Brisket (9), Overall (17)

Ribs, OUCH.  But deserved.   Guess we’ll have to wait until 2011 to qualify.


I was coming off of teaching two cooking classes in the NEBS and Mid Atlantic regions.  My plan for 2011 was to try out some new entries and mix it up a bit hoping to standout.   And why not?  I had a whole season in front of me to qualify for the Jack.  Turned out I got my butt whooped regularly by teams that had taken my class.  

Lexington MA April (27 teams)

Chicken (4), Ribs (6), Pork (14), Brisket (9), Overall (7)

A variety of new ideas tried.  Pork becoming an issue

Middletown, Delaware May (47 teams)

Chicken (3), Ribs (12), Pork (19), Brisket (20), Overall (8)

Chicken rock solid, Pork still a problem, Brisket undercooked.  Self-imposed mediocrity.

Rochester, NY May (83 teams)

Chicken (3), Ribs (31), Pork (28), Brisket (11), Overall (10)

I’m sensing a trend, my Pork sucks.

Cape Cod June (33 teams)

Chicken (22), Ribs (6), Pork (18), Brisket (5), Overall (10)

Even my reliable chicken was not present at this one.  These first four contests were all won by teams that took my class.  I mention that only that it made me question my approach.  Maybe I should use my old recipes?  I would mark this contest as the point where the pressure started.  Shit, I am running out of time and need to win a contest.  Stick with it or change up the program?

Old Orchard Beach June (17 teams)
Chicken (3), Ribs (5), Pork (6), Brisket (2), Overall (2)

Missed GRAND by 1 pt!

Lake Placid July (26 teams)

I took a much needed break but my team-mate John Delpha who has been bit hard by the Comp BBQ bug competed:

Chicken (10), Ribs (11), Pork (3), Brisket (11), Overall (10)

Well maybe John knows something about Pork.  I would have liked nothing more than to see John win our qualifier.

A note on Pork 
We have a risky Pork presentation that basically entails filling the box with huge slices of pork.  Risky because judges looking for pulled pork often ding this turn in.   Other times it can be quite impressive.  We have had hot runs with this presentation including 2nd place at the Jack in 2009.  We decided to take this approach out of the archives and give it a shot.

Troy NY July (32 teams)

Chicken (2), Ribs (18), Pork (9), Brisket (20), Overall (7)

Chicken returns, Optimistic about Pork but undercooked the Brisket.  I was really struggling to pull four decent categories together.  The problem category is starting to be something different every week.

Harpoon July (40 teams)

ROCK BOTTOM.  Possibly the worst showing I have had at a KCBS contest ever.

Chicken (26), Ribs (29), Pork (21), Brisket (8), Overall (20)

Fryeburg, Maine July (38 teams)

Meanwhile John was back in Maine

Chicken (9), Ribs (9), Pork (4), Brisket (8), Overall (3)

STRONG effort... close


The plan from here was to cook safe tried and true recipes, stay cool and cook as many contests as possible.  The large slice Pork experiment was over.  The next weekend John went to Saratoga and I went to Brockport.  It was unclear if either would be qualifiers but we needed to cook.  At this point I had a cooler in my car with ice and meat in it pretty much non-stop for over a month.  Thankfully my family was incredibly supportive and I actually had this in my fortune cookie:

Saratoga NY July (16 teams)

Chicken (5), Ribs (12), Pork (8), Brisket (2), Overall (7)

John thought ribs were the best thing he cooked.

Brockport NY July (25 teams)

Chicken (17), Ribs (5), Pork (3), Brisket (4), Overall (4)

How cruel.  A solid cook, pork finally returns but the bread and butter chicken does not score today.  Pretty much sums up how the year has been going.  Good news is I stumbled upon a nice Pork technique here.  I am a bit more optimistic, stick with it, change nothing.

Manorsville, NY August (42 Teams)

Chicken (2), Ribs (22), Pork (5), Brisket (1), Overall (1)

Boom!  There it is - 10 years in a row  The BBQ Gods still tried to derail me by dinging my excellent ribs but the brisket was just too good and we won our Grand.  Break out the Single Barrel we are going back to Lynchburg!

Eliot ME August (40 teams)

I’ll cook one more, why not?

Chicken (31), Ribs (1), Pork (5), Brisket (8), Overall (5)

There it is again.  A different weekend and a different category gives me trouble.   My plan is to take a month or so off to recharge and then start practicing for the Jack.  I'm dropping out of the Sams Club tournament... it just doesn't feel like its our year.

Hudson Valley, NY August

John is cooking this one, good luck!

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Get Competition Smart

The IQUE Competition BBQ Class
2009 World Champion
2010 NEBS Team of the Year
2009, 2010 NEBS Chicken Team of the Year
2009, 2010 Mass State Champion
2010 NY State Champion

We will follow the exact timeline of a real KCBS contest. No additional categories or activities, 100% focus on the KCBS 4. Will show both insulated cooker and offset cooker methods.

Location: Milford MA
Start Date: Oct 9th 5pm
End Date: Oct 10th 2pm

Limited to 15 seats
Please email Chris: hart2001@yahoo.com for more details

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

IQUE at the James Beard House

The folks at the James Beard House have invited IQUE to cook a barbecue dinner on September 11th. Some folks raise an eyebrow or grimace when I tell them I have an event in NYC on 9/11. I look at it in a completely different way. I think of it as a great honor to be able to stand in NYC on that day and represent the greatest American cuisine - Barbecue. Here is what the menu looks like:

Hors d’Oeuvre

Pork Shoulder - Johnny Cakes, Bacon Jam, IQUE Dry Rub

Burnt Ends - Pickled Onions, Pit Sauce, Texas Toast

Island Creek Oysters - Barbecue Mignonette

World Champion Barbecue Ribs - Pecan Smoke, Agave Nectar

Harpoon Ales
Jack Daniels Cocktails


Barbecue Wild Spot Prawns - Anson Mills Grits, Black Truffle, Country Ham, Field Greens

Competition Style Chicken Thigh - Blues Hog BBQ Sauce, Watermelon Pickles

Hog Jowls - Collard Greens, McBride Family Maple Syrup, Pot Likker Jus

Grass Fed NY State Brisket - Late Summer Succotash, Cornbread Pudding

All American Apple Betty - Caramel, Mint, Fresh Farm Cream
Courses matched with fresh Harpoon Ales and Elk Creek Vineyards Wines

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Roc City

Off to Rochester NY for the Roc City Rib Fest.

A very well run contest at one of the nicest venues on the East Coast

Monday, April 5, 2010

Competition Chicken

If you follow the various Competition BBQ forums you'll see a lot of discussion about the chicken category as it seems to be a sore spot for many teams. Since appearance is an important factor you see teams heavily processing chicken thighs to create extremely uniform, perfect rectangle pieces, that do look great in the box. Tippy Canoe BBQ has a very nice example here. However, some comment that this type of preparation looks artificial and really doesn't look like chicken.

The appearance score in KCBS is supposed to be judged on the appearance of the meat only (not the garnish). The few times I've judged I gave 9's in appearance to those entries that looked REALLY appetizing. It's a roll of the dice though. Some judges may tend to give a 9 in appearance because the box looks uniform, neat and tidy... others may give a 9 because the meat just looks really tasty.

Could the uniform chicken rectangles actually be a bit synthentic looking and not as appetizing as the imperfect pieces with features like bits of caramelized fat around the edges? Also, could the process of removing lots of fat in order to create the perfect rectangle actually be detrimental to the more heavily weighted judging criteria - Taste? I ran a practice cook this weekend where I tried to answer these questions.

I started out with some Wicked Good Charcoal and apple wood in a Big Green Egg in dire need of a good cleaning.

Each bag of WGC usually has at least one mammoth piece of lump.

The Naked Whiz claims it takes 4 pieces of newspaper to start WGC in a chimney. While WGC is definitely not the easiest charcoal to light, I usually get it started with only one sheet, it helps quite a bit to sit the chimney inside the BGE with plenty of open space underneath and the vent to the BGE wide open.

I used Plowboys Yardbird rub and Blues Hog Tennessee Red (and drank a few Harpoons)

Prep entailed taking the chicken out of the packaging

Apply bbq dry rub

And that's it. No trimming, scraping or molding the chicken at all.

A bit of sauce applied at the end of the cook and we had some very tasty, very nice looking chicken that I believe could score 9's in taste, tenderness AND appearance with very little fuss, and it looked like real chicken.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Little Rock

On Thursday we are off to compete in the USA BBQ Championship in Little Rock, Arkansas. They have a pretty good prize pool at this one.

We are flying in and it is always a challenge to pull together all the meats and equipment required to have a good chance at winning the event. Luckily there are some really nice folks on the BBQ Circuit, Matt from Jacked Up is hauling some gear down for us, and Candy from BBQ'rs Delight is loaning us her Jambo Pit.

Briskets were sent down with Matt frozen in a Cambro. Ribs and Chicken I am buying now and will check on my flight Thursday in an insulated cooler bag. I still need to figure out where I am going to source Pork Butts for the contest. Good news is I found some fantastic, well marbled spares today.

Friday, March 5, 2010

BBQ Karma

2009 was quite a ride. The year started off with picking up our new pit, teaching a class and attending a class. Taking delivery on a brand new Jambo pit was a thrill and a definite highlight of the year.

As we got into the meat of the season our contest results were uneven. We were getting some good calls in Ribs and Chicken but really having some serious issues with Pork and Brisket. I think there was more to our struggles than just getting used to a new pit.

After the NEBS major, Harpoon, our BBQ Karma seemed to shift for the better. For starters I switched our Pork recipe back to a method we used back in 2004 and it seemed to make a big difference getting important Pork calls in Maine, Massachusetts and Lynchburg that led to Grand Championships. I think the other change was learning how to relax a bit and let the chips fall where they may. During the early part of the season I REALLY wanted to win an event and get myself back the Jack for the 8th year. I think it was a bit like a baseball player trying too hard to hit that game winning home run. I fussed too much, often adding last minute adjustments that were not needed and ultimately sabotaging some of my cooking. I was not trusting my recipes.

After getting whooped again by I Smell Smoke at Harpoon I came to terms that I was going to miss the Jack in 2009. I think most of our team was OK with that. They saw me get shut out of BBQ calls at the Jack for the past 3 years. My wife Jenny thought I was a glutton for punishment wanting to head back to Lynchburg. The Team just wanted to cook the Royal.

I did decide to go cook the last New England Jack qualifier up in Maine at the last minute in August. While it may not have been completely true, I convinced myself I didn't care if I won the event. I showed up late, relaxed and tried to cook like I do at home. And that's when the luck started to hit. I tried to replicate things at Massachusetts, showed up late, trusted our recipes and it paid off again. We scored consistently across the 4 categories and brought home our first Mass State Championship.

I was determined to keep the same vibe at the Jack. In 2002, our first year at the Jack, we actually came fairly close to winning the damn contest. We took 5th Chicken, 4th Ribs and 10th Pork.... and bombed Brisket for 10th overall. It wouldn't be the last time we bombed Brisket at the Jack and while we had some nice calls in individual categories over the years we were never able to replicate our first year results... until 2009.

(Clear evidence of a bombed brisket at the Jack a few years ago)

(One of my Jack highlights, cooking the event with my son Ethan)

(A confident team pre-awards at the Jack 2002)

I'm fairly superstitious so I took it as huge sign of good luck and BBQ Karma when I saw this right as I drove over the Tennessee state line on my trip down to the 2009 Jack:

I saw the #8 everywhere... the most important sighting was when Carolyn Wells dropped off my entry boxes numbered "8". Again we were one of the last teams to arrive, it was just my team-mate John Delpha and my brother Jamie. We enjoyed the local product in moderation and focused on the cook. I visited Ms Mary Bobos for the 1st time for a serious feed and my table had a great laugh when our hostess corrected me on the approriate time for competition teams to put meats on the smoker.

We were lucky again to have all of our meats come out great and to hit the right tables to edge out Myron Mixon for the win. Its an incredible honor and my wife still catches me looking at the Grand Champ trophy that sits on our mantel.

Uh Chris, so what happened at the Royal? Well we got completely shut out. Not a single call.

(The team getting it's ass kicked at the Royal)

The excuses are as follows... the Invitational had what seemed to me the toughest field in the history of Competition BBQ. Go watch the BBQ Pitmasters American Royal episode and Myron will tell you the 500 team Open is a damn crapshoot. The last reason is I don't think I ever fully recovered from a lengthy visit to the Jamaican National Teams site and the bar well stocked with Appleton Estate Special Reserve Rum.

(Ya mon at the Royal)

Time to move onto 2010. One of my favorite contests is this weekend, the Snowshoe Grilling Challenge followed by big KCBS contests in Little Rock, Salisbury and Rochester. Hope to see you on the BBQ Trail in 2010