March 24 Practice Run

On this day, our BBQ Competition team ran a mock contest in preparation for our inaugural KCBS event. We planned to cook and turn in our entries at the same time as a real comp (chicken-12pm, ribs-12:30, pork-1, brisket-1:30). There were even some friends over to judge our boxes.

According to the weather forecast all week prior, storms were suppose to put a damper on the overnight cook which began Friday. There was quite a downpour after I left work, but the skies cleared for the moment to set up the 10’x10′ canopy and umbrella to protect the smokers. I tried to be prepared for the inclement weather as much as possible because this is something that can happen at a contest.

A little later in the evening, still no rain. The brisket went on at 6pm at about 250 degrees. Meanwhile, I prepped the ribs for Saturday so they will be resting in the fridge until then.

While I had quite of bit of time on my hands, I drew up my time schedule. My competition schedule is known to be rather long, detailed and plotted on extra wide paper. It helps me keep my responsibilities in order and ON TIME. But for this practice run, my mock schedule was prepared on a notepad…1 page for brisket and 1 for ribs.

I passed the time overnight by checking the temps and cleaning the house. Still, there was no sign of rain. In fact, I saw stars in the clear dark skies. I’m glad the weathermen got it wrong again because I could look forward to excellent day of Qing!

After 10 hours of continuous cooking on the Weber Smoky Mountain cooker, the first meat temp check was done at 4am. Surprisingly, the 13lb brisket was already at 185 internal temp. No worries, I shut off some air to drop the temp to 220 degrees. Had the brisket been anywhere around 160 degrees, I would have foiled it. Another check at 6am, 187 degrees…right on schedule.

At the same time, the ribs needed to go on because the smoker temp was lowered to slow the brisket down. Since the ribs were already prepped yesterday (it didn’t seem like the next day to me since I’ve been up all night), they went directly on the cooker. Neither meats would be checked for the next 3 hours.

The next check at 9am was a little crazy. The ribs needed to be wrapped and the brisket was perfectly tender enough to pull off the grill. Before I did these tasks, my guests were arriving to set up their chairs and stack the coolers around the patio on this clear, sunny day in March. It was a little distracting and it was only about to get more convoluted as turn in times approach. I did what I could to stay on schedule.

Later, when all the family/friend introductions and pleasantries were exchanged, the chicken needed to go on the cooker. My teammate, Al, had the chicken and pork duties for the contests. He managed to cook the pork at home and bring it over while resting in an insulated cooler. To save time and just trying to be a good teammate, I started the grill for the chicken before Al arrived. However, this proved to be a huge gaffe, too much charcoal in the pit forced Al to adjust several times. He did a heck of a job working with what he had, I doubt this will happen when he has his own cooker at the comp.

All of our turn ins were early, but what the heck, everybody was ready to eat. All the kids that were playing in the mud in the backyard were told to clean up for lunch. At some point during all of this going on, my buddy from high school, Jason, arrived with some homemade beef jerky. He shared 3 flavors; Original, Sweet & Spicy and Peppered…all were fantastic. It was great to connect with an old friend again. (Thanks for taking pics of all the grub too!)

Sleep deprivation started to kick in while I was separating the brisket (I’ve been up for over 30 hours straight at this point) and that bottle of O’Fallon Gold brew compounded it. I felt a bit lethargic and indifferent and it showed. When I separated the point from the flat, I didn’t remove the fat and I sliced the burnt ends with the grain. As a result, the tasty morsels of meat were ruined by fat and stringy presentation, these were not going in the box.

While I was ruining the burnt ends, Al completed his chicken turn-in and it was met with rave reviews. A home run for the poultry maestro. The piece of chicken thigh I sampled was so succulent, the juice ran down my arm. And for the first time, I had a piece of chicken with bite through skin. This is an amazing technique that impresses the judges at competitions…great job Al, please tell me how you do it!

After tasting that phenomenal chicken, I went to work on ribs. One look at those ribs on the cooker and I knew they were overcooked. Some bones were popping out of the meat and every rack had shiners on the backside of the ribs. Normally, I would go Hollywood cut at a comp, but I wanted to make sure everybody ate some ribs. As a result, I sacrificed a little bit of presentation. Also, I thought the flavors were right on, but I got some negative feedback about some bold flavors. I’m glad to get that kind of feedback, it matters big time at comps. Even though it wasn’t a perfect box, I was happy with it and with some minor tweaks I think I can win.

Next, Al started to box the pork. He had a crowd around him (no pressure) that was waiting to taste the moist smoky muscle. But the pork butt proved challenging, after a little finagling, a beautiful box full of pork was achieved.

Just to throw out some facts about my brisket experience: this is my 2nd packer, my first  flavor profile attempt and I’ve never turned it a brisket box. With that said, I think my brisket is coming along just fine. I was disappointed with the burnt ends, but the flat looked and tasted good.

It’s a good thing this was just practice because after all the distractions and gaffes, I’m not sure we would have got our name called in the top 5 (top 10 isn’t good enough for me). In all, we learned a lot from this and we know that distractions happen and I think we were able to handle it very well. Furthermore, as we approach our first KCBS contest, the excitement is starting to build and our confidence is rising because we were able to complete all the categories on this pleasant afternoon.

Before I forget, I have to show this delectable turtle cheesecake that my wife made for our guests. It was amazing!

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