Saturday, August 20, 2016

BBQ Competition: Smokin' In McMinnville

Our BBQ team rattled the rust, shook off the dust, and got back on the competition trail this weekend. We headed out West to McMinnville, Tennessee for the Smokin' In McMinnville KCBS BBQ competition.

You'll have to excuse the potato quality of the pictures.  I didn't take my camera so these are all just camera phone pics.

Ramsay was excited to see my sister arrive.  He always brings her these toy flowers.  He thinks she comes here to see him....don't tell him it's for the competitions, it'd break his heart ;)  [Photo credit: Rhonda H]
Nibble Me This competition BBQ team
I always refer to "the team" but have never actually had a picture of all of us in one shot.  From left to right:  Rhonda (my sister), me, John (my neighbor), and Alexis (my wife).  [Photo credit: Rhonda H]

Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
We got up at the butt crack of dawn, towed our stuff across the Cumberland Plateau and got set up by mid-morning Friday.  [Photo credit: Rhonda H]

Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
Contest sites vary pretty widely.  This was a new configuration for us because our site was a little too narrow for our normal set up.  You have to be flexible and adjust because every contest location is different.

Victory Lane BBQ
I knew we were going to be facing a talented field when I saw some of the teams. Heath has been doing sanctioned BBQ contests for 19 freaking years. 

Jackie Price Knoxville
Jackie Price of Smoke on This and Donny Bray of Warren County Pork Choppers are perennial favorites on the BBQ comp circuit. 
Did that make us nervous?  No.  When we started 2 years ago, we decided to skip the backyard division and jumped right into the professional group.  We want to compete against the best.  It's been a trial by fire but we are learning a lot!  

Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
Since we were traveling further away from our home base of Knoxville, there were teams we were used to seeing like Smoke Me Silly and teams that were new to us, like Big Papa's. 

Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
There were a lot of stick burners (horizontal offset smokers) here like this Jambo pit that belongs to South Pork (one of my favorite team names ever). 
Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
Some of them were bigger than your standard Lang offset pit.  This big pit belongs to Hammondville Hawg Mafia.

Another big one.

Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
This is more like your typical black steel stick burner. 

Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
Tiny houses have been all the rage, I loved this team's compact trailer. 
Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
Another stick burner....did I mention there were a lot of stick burners here?

Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
I had trailer envy with this one.  What a comfortable looking set up. 
Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
These were our neighbors across the way.  I love the detail of the graphic, especially how the zombie-hawg's arm has fallen off but it is still holding onto that beer.  Congrats to Spooky's for the first in ribs-backyard division.

Also major props to Rooters-N-Tooters, not only for the 5th overall but for "getting their bung pulled".  That means that they were selected for the Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational Barbecue - one of the 4 majors in the world of BBQ competition.  You have to be great AND lucky to get into that contest.  There are a few automatic qualifying events, but most teams get in by "the draw".  You have to win a state championship and then your name goes into a drawing.  They only select a few teams - thus the "lucky AND great" part.

Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
Fantastic logo.

Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
This was another one that was new to me but as soon as they rolled in Friday, I loved their team logo and name (assuming their last name is Cole). 
Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
The eventual Grand Champion

Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
Soggy Bottom Smokers is another of our favorite teams.  Henry is a class act and funny as all get out.  With us as a new team, he's helped us out a lot in the past year and a half.

Grilla Pellet cooker review
Yes, we had a new cooker on the team.  Our team received a Grilla pellet cooker for being on their team at Memphis In May this year.  We used it for our wing turn in and later for brisket.  [Photo credit: Rhonda H]

Rhonda and Alexis made a killer team dinner - Alice Springs Chicken sandwiches.  Chicken breast slathered with honey mustard sauce and seasoned with our basic chicken rub grilled about six minutes.  Flipped, topped with cooked bacon, cheese and green onions.  Let it go another 6 or so until 160f internal.  It will get a few minute rest while we put the plates together.  [Photo credit: Rhonda H]

Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
That on toasted buns and a baked potato makes for a fantastic "last meal" because we probably won't eat anything substantial until late the next day.

Dining al fresco with our grills.  [Photo credit: Rhonda H]

Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
Pretty cool ice cream truck, right?  Great stuff, too.

They serve the ice cream to you on this little conveyor belt.  [Photo credit: Rhonda H]
There's not a lot to do on Friday evening, it's actually pretty relaxing.
More "relaxing".   [Photo credit: Rhonda H]

Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
As the sun goes down, the smoke goes up.
Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
John and I start our pits around 1:30 to 2 in the morning.  [Photo credit: Rhonda H]

Since we had the Grilla along with us, we bought an extra brisket to cook.  We planned to pick the best of the two.

Firing up the Egg for the pork.  It's the only kamado we use without a cart, because despite our team having 4 Big Green Eggs, none of us have a BGE cart.  We use tables at home and they are a pain to move and take up too much space on the trailer.

Flame Boss 200 controller for competitions
I always put one of my Flame Boss 200 controllers on my brisket cooker at contests.  I like the extra set of eyes on my grill.  It lets me get some sleep during the early hours and then it has my back when things get crazy busy after dawn.

Speaking of sleep, we set a team record for amount of sleep at a BBQ contest this time.  We all worked in about 4 hours.  Our first contests were brutal with no sleep.  The biggest change for us was organization - I took Donny Bray's (Warren County Pork Choppers 2014 Team of the Year) class and it made all the difference in the world.  I highly recommend forking out the bucks and taking a class like this if you are getting into competitive BBQ.  It is worth the price, believe me.  [Photo credit: Rhonda H]

Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
John checking on the pork butts. [Photo credit: Rhonda H]
Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
First light breaking at the contests is one of my favorite times of the event because it's when all of the real crazy action starts - no more waiting around.

Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
Sun coming up and throwing long shadows across the vendors and backyard section.  [Photo credit: Rhonda H]

Dawn breaking also means it is time for "go juice".  [Photo credit: Rhonda H]

Too much "go juice".  ;)  [Photo credit: Rhonda H]

Checking on the CAB brisket on the Grilla.  Despite being the smaller of the two, this one turned out way better than the larger Choice brisket we bought.  I switched back from Wagyu because they just haven't scored well on my last 3 contests.  

Cheshire Heritage pork ribs for BBQ competition
These are my ribs before trimming, just the way they came right out of the package.  I use Cheshire Heritage ribs from Butler and Bailey Market in Knoxville.  The meat guys let us pick through their stock in the back so we pick out nice 3.25 pounders except that monster on the far right that was 4+.

Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
For my rib program I have switched back to black pepper, Smokin' Guns Hot, and Cimarron Docs.  I was using Meat Church Deez Nuts, which I love personally, but I score better with this combo.  [Photo credit:  Alexis G]

Ribs prep finished 30 seconds early, lol.  The clock is a new addition.  Time lines are your life blood in a BBQ competition and we got tired of asking for a time check and everyone having to reach somewhere for a phone.  

Here's the choice brisket flat on the kamado, the point is already foiled. 

Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
John working his pork butt program.

Getting the butts ready for their wrap.   [Photo credit: Rhonda H]

Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
Why so serious?   [Photo Credit: Rhonda H]

Cheshire Heritage pork ribs on the cooker at Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
Ribs going on to the silver Grill Dome on an Adjustable Rig rack. I like this set up because of the oblong heat deflector protects the ends of the ribs - something that a round stone or place setter leaves exposed.  These are made and sold by the Ceramic Grill Store - great customer service.  [Photo credit: Rhonda H]

Grill Dome is our choice of rib cooker
Our faithful rib cooker - John's silver Grill Dome.  The black background lets you see how light the smoke is, you don't want big plumes of thick white smoke - just a light blueish or clear smoke.

Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
I love home brewed rigs, smokers, and trailers.  This was a team in the backyard group.

Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
How cool is this cooker?  Brilliant!

Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
Another view of the mailbox cooker.  The propane is just a starter (weed burner), no gas cookers are allowed.

The main difference between the backyard and pro divisions is 1) level of competition and 2) most backyard comps only do chicken and ribs, leaving off the big meats.

Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
Clouds rolled in but we actually got no rain at this event - a rarity.

Merica Smokers with his patriotic shorts.  Jay recently moved to our area from Texas and has done well transitioning his flavor profiles for the TN/NC judges.  Jay uses a pair of barrel cookers, a Kamado Joe, and a red white and blue kettle grill.

Another kamado grill sighting.  This one is a Big Green Egg.  Notice the modifications to his stand, my guess is this is for making it easier to roll and more secure with the heavy duty locking casters.

Champion Smoker in action at Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
Smoke Me Silly is a team that scores well and scores often.  They use a Champion Smoker and Grills which are made right here in Knoxville.

A lot of teams use patio style trailers like this which makes your set up much easier.

Jackie Price of Smoke On This has a gorgeous rig. It turns me green with envy! 

Another stick burner rig.

Here's the choice brisket cook data from my Flame Boss 200.  The yellow line is the meat temp, red is the cooker temp, and the green is the fan usage.  Notice how the meat temp jumps right up and then stalls for hours, which is typical.

Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
Our chicken turn in - we use the muffin pan technique which is popular.  You snip the ends of the thigh bones and cook them in muffin pans with a butter mix, resulting in the freakishly round shape.  I like the more natural square style but we get all 9's for appearance as is.

Cheshire Heritage pork ribs Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
These ribs were quite good - great balanced BBQ flavor (smoke, heat, salt, sweet) and perfect tenderness.  Some of the best I have turned in.

Our pork turn in box.  Pulled meat on the left, money muscle in the middle, and chunks on the right.  We want to offer the judges a variety of smoked pork butts.  The flavors were spot on.

Certified Angus Beef Smokin' In McMinnville BBQ competition 2016
Our brisket turn in - we ended up going with the CAB brisket from the Grilla as it was perfectly cooked tenderness-wise and had the best flavors.  The burnt ends were excellent so I put in a lot of them.
This was a loaded field with tight competition.  I don't think we've had a contest where I was as proud of EVERY SINGLE THING that we turned in.  Usually something doesn't turn out exactly the way we want but this was a solid performance for us.  We've scored better at other contests but I can tell you this is the best food we have turned in to date.  But the professional division is always tough and we finished middle of the pack.  We did get an award and a check for our top 10 brisket (9th) and the ribs got 12th place.

The hardest part is always loading 1,000 lbs of kamado grills and everything else back into the trailer when we are already tired, dirty, and hot.  [Photo credit: Rhonda H]

About 36 hours later, the contest is finished and we are DONE in all senses of the word.  [Photo credit:  Alexis G]

A lot of folks heard our scores and said things like "the judges are stupid" or "they don't know what tastes good".  Judging can definitely be a factor and I am doing to do a whole post explaining how BBQ judging works.  But this was just a very talented group and we got beat fair and square.  Doesn't change the fact that I am still 100% proud of my team and what we turned in, so I'm happy.

[FTC Standard Disclaimer]  We received no compensation for this post.  We received our Grilla and Grill Domes as part of sponsorships.  I paid full price for the Flame Boss shown but have received free equipment from them as well.  We pay full price for any of the rubs/sauces mentioned.