The BBQ Experience – Part III

Competitive BBQ will whoop your ass!

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In the past two articles in this series, I told you about my BBQ experience with Southern Thunder’s ‘Que University and my competitive BBQ team, The Heavy Smokers. In this, the final article of the series, I will tell you how we did in the 2019 Pigs & Peaches BBQ Festival in the Backyard BBQ contest class, and how it straight up whooped my ass!

It started for me at 7:30 PM on Friday, August 23rd. I arrived a little on the late side in anticipation of spending the night out at our cook site to help monitor the smoker. Two our my team members, Jobst Elster and Jeff Crimm, had arrived earlier in the day; and while braving a heavy rain storm, set up the cook site. All I had to drag in where my coolers, camp chair, and a couple of bags of provisions. And it was during the time I was bringing out my stuff that I realized how disgustingly nasty, and sticky, the humidity was. It was absolutely horrible! But I was eventually able to settle in and get the low-down on what was going on.

The Heavy Smokers’ cook site.

The KCBS (Kansas City Barbecue Society) officials had already been by and inspected our meat, and the ribs had been trimmed and put back on ice. The pork butt needed rubbed and placed on the smoker at midnight, and the chicken legs were going to need to be prepped for brine before the morning. That meant that until 11:00 PM, it was time to sit back and enjoy a cold beer or more, and try not to move around much in the disgusting humidity! Team member Jason “JJ” James showed up to pull the over-nighter with me, and Jobst and Jeff took off for the evening.

The evening before JJ and I had to get to work passed nicely, as it eventually began to cool down a little and JJ and I talked endlessly about food. It was interesting watching the other teams; some were working feverishly on food prep while others were relaxing and enjoying the festival atmosphere. Around 11:00 PM, we got to work on prepping our pork butts for the smoker by getting it out of the cooler to come up in temperature and to rub in our blend of spices. Jobst had pre-loaded the smoker for us, so all I had to do was light the starter chimney and let the charcoal go. By midnight the smoker was holding steady at 250° F so the pork butts went on for the all-nighter.

JJ rubbing the butts!
The pit is lit and holding steady at 250° F!

After a little while, once we were satisfied the smoker was holding steady with our pork butts, I decided I was going to take an hour and a half to see if I could get a nap in. I went out to my old Ford Explorer, lovingly called “The Turd”, and climbed inside for a nap. It was a little rough and I only got 45 minutes of sleep in before I went to relieve JJ so he could get some shut-eye. Later, I returned to “The Turd”, set my alarm for 45 more minutes of sleep, and fell asleep instantly. When that alarm went off, it was so hard not to go back to sleep! But I had to get up because work needed to get done!

My bedroom for the night!

JJ and I got to work on prepping our chicken legs; this meant pealing back the skin to wipe off any fat from the meat, trim the bone on the knuckle end, and then slice the tendon; this had to be done for 24 legs!

Prepped chicken legs!

The sun eventually reappeared and Jobst and Jeff returned to the cook site so we could get things rocking for our first turn-in; the chicken. Luckily Jobst brought us coffee, so I was able to kick my day off the right way; with an ice cold PBR and a hot cup of black coffee!

Breakfast of the deranged?

After a short time in a brine, the chicken went onto a smoker after the pork butts were wrapped in foil and consolidated to the same rack of the smoker. The ribs were also brought out to be rubbed. Once rubbed, the four racks of ribs also found a spot in a smoker. Then it was time to relax for the last time before the mad rush to the first turn-in started.

Ribs almost ready to be foiled.

Once the ribs hit a target temperature, they came off to be wrapped in foil with a combination of honey, squeeze butter, turbinado sugar, and apple juice. The chicken legs came off the smoker to get their first BBQ sauce glaze coat and were returned to their smoker.

Ribs getting wrapped to go back on the smoker.
The first BBQ sauce glaze is on the chicken!
Jeff having too much fun glazing the chicken!

Box prep started, and the wings came out again for another glaze coat of BBQ sauce. The ribs were also unwrapped and placed on the smoker racks to have a BBQ sauce glaze applied to them. Then the chicken went in just long enough for the glaze to set and it was time to box them for the first turn-in!

The ribs have been unwrapped and are getting there first BBQ sauce glaze!
Photo credit: Craig Easterwood
It’s time to build the first box for turn in!
Photo credit: Craig Easterwood

Boxing a meat for turn-in and delivering it for judging is always a very action packed, exciting time. The team gathers around and the best looking pieces of the particular turn-in item are selected to be carefully placed into the box. Great care is taken to ensure the box has a clean appearance without any sauce dripped anywhere. After the meat is placed in the box, it is touched up with BBQ sauce and a brush. Then, someone carefully wipes up any drips of BBQ sauce from the styrofoam box, the box is closed, and it get’s carried across the festival grounds to be delivered for judging.

Our chicken turn-in box.
Photo credit: Craig Easterwood

Once the chicken was turned in, we had thirty minutes to box and turn in our ribs. The ribs are all removed from the smoker and placed on a cutting board so the best looking ribs can be cut from the center of each rack. The team then picks the best of these ribs to be placed into the turn-in box. The ribs are stacked nicely in the box and touched up with BBQ sauce and a brush before they too are whisked away for judging.

Preparing to box some ribs!
Photo credit: Craig Easterwood
Ribs, boxed and ready to turn in!
Photo credit: Craig Easterwood
Here I’m escorting Jobst to turn in our rib box.
Photo credit: Craig Easterwood

Once the ribs had been delivered for judging, we had just another thirty minutes to prepare our pork butt turn-in box. The pork butts were first unwrapped and placed on the smoker to dry out just a touch. A BBQ sauce glaze was then basted onto them and allowed to set. Then the butts were brought out of the smokers for the meat to be pulled by hand and placed into our turn-in box. A little touch up to the flavor and appearance is done before the lid of the box is closed and it’s rushed off for judging.

Pork butts about to be pulled for boxing!
Photo credit: Craig Easterwood
Pulling and perfecting the pork butt!
Photo credit: Craig Easterwood
Boxing and touching up the pork butt.
Photo credit: Craig Easterwood
Our pork butt turn-in box is looking good!
Photo credit: Craig Easterwood

And just like that, all of the boxes are turned in and the cooking is done! The problem at this point is you can’t allow yourself to relax at all; and it’s damn tempting to do just that. It’s hot, you’re covered in BBQ sauce, and you’re dead on your feet. All you really want to do is get off your feet and re-hydrate. But there is a ton of clean-up that needs to be accomplished and the cook site needs to be packed up and loaded into cars. Only after most of the cook site is cleaned up can you sit down and drink some beer and water. My wife Stacey arrived at the festival around this time and I was able to take some time to walk around with her and check out all of the vendors and food before it was time to report to the main tent for the awards ceremony.

During the awards ceremony, I was please to see our friends Sandi Edelson and Southern Thunder BBQ win awards in the desert and the “Anything Butt” categories. The Heavy Smokers had a call for 4th place in the ribs category. Unfortunately, that was the best we did in any of the categories, and we locked in a 4th place finish overall out of 15 teams in the Backyard Contest category.

The pleasant surprise though, came from one of the teams directly next to us at our cook site. The TFS Pit Vipers, a team of students from the private Talluah Falls School, totally dominated the Backyard Contest. These kids took 3rd in chicken, 1st in ribs, and 1st in pork butt! We got beat, badly, by a bunch of high school kids! But it was great seeing them working very diligently through the competition and then winning the Grand Champion award in Backyard BBQ. You could tell they are a dedicated group of students with some great coaching and the results prove this out!

Congratulations TFS Pit Vipers!
Photo credit: Tom Tilley

The take-aways from the 2019 Pigs & Peaches BBQ Festival:

  • It was incredibly HOT and HUMID!
  • I like my sleep!
  • Cooking with The Heavy Smokers is always a great time!
  • We’ve got some adjusting to do to elevate our turn-ins.
  • We got beat by an awesome group of high school kids!
  • BBQ with friends is the best, even if it is hotter than hell!
  • I was a whooped ass at the end of the Pigs & Peaches BBQ Festival!

Thank you Craig Easterwood for taking photos of this fun hell!

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