Monday, June 29, 2009

Living The Dream

Well, where do I start? Things have been unbelievably busy for me as of late. Last weekend I competed in the Oregon BBQ Championship at the Tigard Balloon Festival. What a kick in the pants. We had to be down there by 10 am on Saturday, so of course I got there early at 9:55. It was kind of like your first day at a new school, most everyone was already there, they all know each other, and they're looking right at you like "who is this guy". Right off the bat, I backed up traffic as I had to unhook the BBQ to park it. I got the BBQ parked, and parked the Ex so that the guys who were coming in could get to their spots. I looked around at the other teams who already had their spots all set up, a lot of guys came in on Friday, and figured out I'm going to look pretty ragtag. These guys have bottles of sauce and rubs all set up in a pyramid, huge banners complete with logos, multiple canopies, stereos, trailers and tables galore. I've got one 6' table and two wobbly card tables, one borrowed canopy, and a decent, but small, banner (thanks to Colombia Litho). I reminded myself that these guys and gals have been doing this for awhile, and if I do well, someday I can have a sweet set up like them.

From there on out, things went pretty smoothly, save for a little issue with the generator. People came up and introduced themselves and many offered all kinds of tips and tricks. Kim and the boys hung out and helped me until about 4 or 5 and then I was on my own. It was actually pretty easy from there on out because I had already put on my heavy meats (pork shoulder and brisket). My chicken was in it's marinade and the ribs didn't need any tending until the morning so my main job was making sure the generator didn't run out of gas. The rest of the evening I mingled with the other participants, listened to the radio and checked out the carnival. I felt kind of weird walking around the carnival by myself, so that was a very short trip. As the evening progressed, I realized that it was getting quite cool and because I didn't remember a coat, i was in turn going to be cold. To make matters even better, the rain we had earlier in the day had soaked my bag which contained the extra clothes I did remember to bring, so I couldn't put an extra shirt on. I managed to shiver my way through the evening until it was time to call it a night at 2. I had to stay up so that I could make sure the generator didn't run out of gas, which in turn would cause the BBQ to quit running. That would be very bad. So I hop in the back of the Expedition where I've got a nice air mattress all blown up and a very warm and inviting sleeping bag laid out. I maneuver around and finally get myself into the sleeping bag of warmth I had been looking forward to, only to find it's my son Brandon's. This means it's not 31 year old large man size, it's 10 year old skinny kid size, BIG difference. I hunker down as much as possible and try to get some sleep. At 4, I wake up and need to use the restroom, so I head over there and open the door to feel a joyous thing. Heat. I actually stay in the bathroom a few extra minutes to defrost. I've never been happier to be in a public restroom at 4 am.

After the eventful and cold evening, I woke up about 6 to the beautiful hum of the little power plant that could. The BBQ was chugging smoke and I was ready for competition day. I went to check on the meat, and found any BBQ'ers worst nightmare. My pork was like a basketball, hard and firm. I was not a happy camper, but I had to pull it together if I had any chance of winning as I was only 5 hours from pork turn in. I played with the temperature over the next few hours to try and get the meat somewhat ready and about an hour before turn in, I noticed one of the shoulders was actually looking good. By that time, Kim and the boys came over and had gotten the lettuce needed for the all important turn-in box. I pulled the shoulder off that was ready and let it rest for awhile before it was time to pull it and turn it in. I was so happy when it pulled clean and was as tender as can be, it was such a relief.

Next up was brisket. It was terrible, absolutely terrible. I wrapped up the brisket in aluminum foil to let it soak in the baste I made for it. I removed it from the BBQ only to find a hole had ripped in the bottom and all of the juice ran out. The meat I turned in, which was part of the "flat", was dry and in my opinion, inedible. The "point" part of the brisket was absolutely wonderful, with juices running like the Salmon of Capistrano. I gave away the entire brisket to the "taste hounds" that were walking around in about 10 minutes. I knew I was going to get destroyed by the judges, but I definitely learned something.

My ribs were alright, but I messed up and used spare instead of baby backs. Big screw up, I hadn't cooked spareribs in probably two years, and it showed. The ribs didn't pull off the bone like they should, but the flavor was still good. I'll do much better next time I think, as I know baby backs are where I need to be.

The chicken was another learning experience for me. I used bone in thighs, which is what most everyone else uses also, but where I screwed up was using frozen thighs instead of fresh. I also found out that I need to "de-feather" the thighs, something I'd never heard of. Low and behold, not every feather is completely removed from the chicken and this is something the judges are sticklers about. I was very happy with the flavor of the meat, but I need to clean up the appearance in order to really be able to win anything.

After all of the turn in mayhem, it was over, just like that. It was kind of like after you open up all of the Christmas presents, you've been building up to this moment for so long that you don't know what to do when it's passed. Well, I remembered quickly that it was now time to clean everything up and get ready for the awards.

We walked over to the area where all of the awards presentation would be, and I thought the only division I've got any chance is pork. The give awards and money to the top 8 places, but with 26 competitors, I didn't know if I had any chance. Well, evidently I did, as I received 5th place in pork and I was only 2 points away from second place. I was very happy with the finish, and making the walk up to the presenter to get my ribbon made all of the work the past day and half worth it. It was a hell of a feeling, and something I want to do again.

I didn't fare so well in the other categories, but I know that with what I learned and the comments I received from the judges, I'll be in a much better position to place in the future. I can't wait to do it again. I've also got to mention my Aunt Sara for sponsoring us in the event, THANK YOU SO MUCH!

From here, we go to events. We've got a nice schedule coming together that will possibly kick off this weekend at the William Clark Park Fourth of July Celebration in Washougal, followed by Harvest Days in Battle Ground, Beaverton Relay For Life, the Concert In The Park series in Camas and some other events that are still up in the air.

Life is going great, the other ventures I'm involved with are swimming along and the family is happy and healthy. I couldn't ask for anything more.

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