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)
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)