Tuesday, July 26, 2016

BBQ Competition: Sevierville Bloomin' BBQ and Bluegrass 2016

Scenes from our first contest of the year.  It was actually 2 months ago, I just never got around to posting these.  I'm posting these in a typical contest week timeline for us so you can get an idea of what is involved.

Sunday the Weekend Before Contest
First order of business is cleaning up the trailer and getting it ready with everything except the grills and food which will be loaded later in the week.  The trailer is a 7' x 16' Freedom dual axle concession trailer with food safe walls, floors, and ceiling.  

My Freedom Concession trailer is the best for BBQ contests and vending.
Trevor mopping the floor. The interior looks so small here, it's hard to believe 4 of us fit on this with everything else once it is fully loaded.

Freedom concession trailers are top of the line.
Loaded back up until we finish midweek.  This usually takes 4 to 5 hours.

Tuesday Night - Shopping Night
We get our supplies from just a few places.  I get our wagyu brisket and pork butts from Willy's Butcher Shop.  Our ribs, coal, and dry goods come from Butler and Bailey Market, an independent local grocery store here in Knoxville. We usually make one last run to Kroger's to get drinks, any other supplies, and chicken.

Best butcher in Knoxville area
Willy's is in the Homberg Shopping District of Knoxville and is the premier butcher in the area.  He's got top end meats like wagyu beef and has a large aging room for producing succulent dry aged steaks.

We store the big meats in my Yeti 75, sandwiched in ice, and that keeps them fine until Friday.  I have a love/hate relationship with this cooler.  It's big, bulky, heavy, stupidly expensive and way over-engineered for 90% of my needs.  But for that 10% of the time, there's no better cooler.
Wednesday- Thursday Night
This is an important time because anything you can get done in the way of sauces, rubs, etc means less you have to do onsite.  You can trim the meats, you just can't season them at all until meat inspection Friday morning at the event.

Sometime between Wednesday and Friday morning, my sister, Rhonda, gets into town from Florida.  Ramsay LOVES his "Aunt" Rhonda, can you tell?  Photo Credit: Rhonda H.

Now we load the kamados and perishable foods into the trailer. Notice that the kamados are in our "kamado krates" to keep them secure. They are sitting on 2 layers of foam padding to absorb any shock from bumps en route.  This usually takes a couple of hours.  Once we shut it Wednesday night, we won't open it again until at the contest. 

Inside of each kamado, we add more padding.  A pad under the ceramic fire bowl and then one between the fire bowl and fire ring.  There are only 3 of the rings because the Vision has an integrated fire bowl and fire ring.

Thursday night or Friday morning we drop the trailer off at the site. It pays to get there early to make it easy to get your rig into place. Once everyone else gets there, navigating 40 feet of vehicle through tight spaces with a lot of foot traffic is not any fun.  We go ahead and hook up our water and electrical connections.

Friday Morning
Friday morning is all about set up.  We put up our cooking tents, tables, and set up four 150-200 pound kamado grills. It's hot and physical work so I've learned to bring extra clothes just for this part. We also have meat inspection, when contest officials examine our 4 contest meats to make sure that they are unadulterated, food safe, and that we haven't brined, injected, or seasoned them.

You can already see the rain clouds starting to form up.  This one was going to be a frog strangler.
Getting set up includes getting our signage and sponsorship materials out.

Friday Afternoon
Friday afternoon I like to walk around and talk to our friends and fellow competitors.
Jambo pits are expensive but some of the best made.
Walt switched to the cart style Jambo pit instead of the J3 he previously used.

Under the Radar my butt....Allen and Katherine are fantastic competitors and always get their calls.  We'd hate them for being so good if they weren't so nice ;)  

Myron Mixon's team was set up away from all of the other teams.  Too good for the other teams?  No, I think they just wanted his team set up on the main drag since that name is a draw for crowds. 

Lang reverse flow smoker
Paradise Que's Lang smoker.  It's a reverse flow pit - you can tell because the smokestack and fire box are on the same end.  The rains had already started by mid-afternoon so cooks had to cover up all of their wood.

Champion Smokers in Knoxville are premium smokers.
This sweet rig is a Champion Smoker made right here in Knoxville.  It has a double wall fire box that reduces the number of time you have to refuel.  This pretty one belongs to Chairman of the Boar.

The big boys with their big toys are usually grouped together in RV Row like this.
Mojo Bee Company Sevierville TN Knoxville local honey
At this contest there are lots of vendors and artists selling their goods.  This was my personal favorite. We bought some of their Mojo Lightning (hot pepper infused honey) which is insanely good. Mojo Bee Company is a local business in Sevierville.  Local honey is great for fighting seasonal allergies.

Dolly Parton is from Sevier County and has done a lot to bring business and tourism to the area.

Love this pig!  

Towards the end of the afternoon, we prep our brisket and butts.  Here I'm trimming the point of the brisket because I didn't do it Wednesday night.  Then we inject and season the meats and let them rest on refrigeration for 10-12 hours before going into the cookers.  Photo credit: Rhonda H
Friday Evening
Friday night is typically when contests have ancillary categories, which are things other than the four standard KCBS categories.  This includes things like "anything but", seafood, sausage, desserts, wings, or beans.  I usually don't enter these unless there is an event sponsor behind the category and in those cases, the contest organizers pretty much expect you to participate, which is fair.  

We also try to do a team meal Friday evening because there is a chance we won't eat again until Saturday evening.  

All set up and starting to cook.

For the sausage category I used the Swaggerty's sausage to make a fatty stuffed with jalapeno cream cheese, shredded cheese, a sweet rub, and a spicy rub.  Our beans were a mix of Bush Beans products, chopped brisket (I brought leftover), and a few other things.  Of course I cooked the fatty over the beans to collect the drippings.  Photo credit: Rhonda H

We're always very serious, stick to our game plan, and don't cut up.  Photo credit: Rhonda H

Our team meal this time was tri-tip, baked potatoes, and our brisket pit beans.  I don't even remember what we seasoned this with, just stuff that we had on hand.

How to grill a tri-tip
Ruh-roh....when we went to sear the tri-tip after roasting, the fire had dropped down and lost power after cooking the ancillary categories and then our baked potatoes.  There were hot coals, just not enough to sear from down there.  That's when inspiration struck and I had a great idea.  

Kick Ash Basket caveman style technique
We always have Kick Ash Baskets in our kamados at contests.  I thought, why not pull the Kick Ash Basket out with the hot coals in it, shake off the ash, and sit it directly on the roast for 1 minute per side?  Thus the "upside down Kick Ash Basket caveman style" technique was born out of necessity. Photo credit:  Rhonda H

It worked perfectly. That is what shows a grill master.  Anyone can follow a recipe.  A real master shows his/her stripes when things aren't going right and he or she makes it work.

It might be paper plates and plastic forks but this meal was fantastic.
Friday Night

Where'd everybody go?  The fans and vendors from the bluegrass festival disappeared because the rains shut everything down early.  It was actually kind of creepy.
About 2am, the teams start stirring.  Here Bubba of K-Town Daddy's BBQ is firing up one of his sweet barrel cookers using a propane "weed burner" torch attachment.

Using my Grill Dome kamado at the Sevierville Bloomin BBQ Bluegrass contest festival.
Getting my Grill Dome started up for brisket.  Since it was raining I had my Flame Boss 200 controller inside that plastic case.  My dad came up with that idea at our second ever contest in Franklin, NC.

Big Green Egg at a BBQ barbecue contest.
John getting the Big Green Egg ready for the pork butts. 
In case you're wondering, we always do the same meats in the same kamados. Brisket - blue Grill Dome, Butts - Green Egg, Ribs - silver Grill Dome, Vision (black) - Chicken.  Why?  Partially fit for some of our set ups and partially just out of habit/familiarity.  
  • Pretty much have to use the blue Grill Dome and Green Egg for the big meats because the other two grills don't easily fit our controller/blowers.  We only use blowers on the overnight cooks for the big meats and just use vents for the ribs/chicken.
  • The Vision is bigger and fits our chicken pan set up much better than the other three kamados.
  • Adjustable Rigs that we use are too small for the Vision and too tall for the Grill Domes.  So we use one on the Green Egg which fits fine.  
  • We have found that the Adjustable Rig will fit in the Grill Dome if you swap out their fire bowl with a Big Green Egg firebowl which is 3/4" shorter for a perfect fit.

In the dead hours, I like to walk around and take pictures of the teams.
If you love competitive BBQ, support the companies that sponsor it.  We actually used Evergreen Tree Service last month because of this sponsorship and we made sure they knew that was why we used them.

Every time that I see the courthouse at night like this, I keep expecting Doc Brown to come sliding up in a Delorean.
I like the mood that the rising smoke sets during the early morning hours.

The rain just kept coming through in waves about every 30 to 45 minutes.

I like this shot Rhonda got of me, with my reflection in the puddle.  Photo credit:  Rhonda H

Brisket flat on top, point underneath.  

At some point, you try to catch a few z's.  Here's John getting some shut eye.

Rhonda crashed out for awhile once she got warm with a stadium blanket that I keep in the truck for times just like this. 
I slept in the truck for about an hour or two.  I failed to get a picture of me sleeping, my bad ;)

Saturday Morning
Grill dome with rib set up.
Ribs go on about 7ish.  This was the last time using this set up.  After this contest I got the oval heat deflector for my Adjustable Rig  which protects the ends of the ribs which stick out over the regular heat deflector or plate setter.

BBQ Contest Sevierville Bloomin BBQ and Bluegrass
John seasoning the chicken thighs.  They are the last food onto the grills and the first one served to the judges.

Our chicken set up on the Vision.  The grate system is the standard 2 level grate that comes with the Vision.

Time to make burnt ends, my favorite part.

Another Big Green Egg.  We aren't the only ones using kamados at the contests we go to but usually there aren't other teams using kamado grills exclusively. 

K-Town Daddy's BBQ
Bubba has a nice set up with 3 Gateway Drum smokers and his son is checking the offset (Lang I think) on the trailer to the left.

Our chicken turn in box.

Almost our rib turn in.  I switched to one level of 6 instead of the 4 and 4 because it wouldn't fit the way I wanted.
I didn't get a shot of the pork turn in but it was very pretty.  Somehow I didn't get a shot but I think I was probably tied up with getting the brisket ready.

Brisket turn ins.  I wasn't thrilled with it but I've turned in worse. When you are up against this pro level of competition, everyone is good, so you have to deliver your best every time.

It finally happened.  My Grill Dome fire bowl fell apart.  It had started cracking early last year and when it got bad, I put it back together with kiln cement.  It held very well for almost a year before it finally died again. After this event,  I bought a Big Green Egg fire bowl to replace it which works out since now I'll always be able to use the Adjustable Rig in my Grill Dome.

I think the rain kept the crowds away.  Usually at this festival, it is wall to wall people in the vendor area.

The clouds and rain finally cleared away for the awards ceremony at the courthouse.  It's a fitting location since that's where you go to hear the judges' decision.

John collecting a check for our team in the pork category...from a pig. We got a call for the fatty and pork, that was it.
Glad to be done!  Photo credit: Rhonda H

And just like that...the contest is over.  Ramsay always gets down for a few hours after Rhonda leaves on Sunday morning.

Then it's clean out the trailer and get ready for the next one....


  1. Great article! Thanks for the mentions and use of our sponsor's business!!

  2. I love that you got to do this with your sister. Everything you cooked and turned into the judges looked delicious and well presented. I know you are going to be big winners someday!!

    I must say... that last photo of Ramsay just melted my heart! Adorable!