When the side fell off our trailer, we
decided to prop it up and turn it into a sign
We literally brought everything including a kitchen sink.
We used up more watts than any other team who didn't order an electric
feed. All this ran for 2 full days off two car batteries (and a bunch
of inverters, converters, and who knows what else.)
We used a whiteboard to keep track of our progress and turn-in times.
The Smoke Happens Team. From left, Cy Lee, Doug Seward, Jan Deruiter, and Jerry
Miller (who traveled all the way from Alabama for the contest).
While this may look like road-kill to some of you, this is the coveted "bark" consisting
of the rubs smoked for extended periods of time. Three butts on top and two briskets
on the lower rack.
Jan Deruiter trying to find the perfect lettuce for the presentation aspect
of each entry.
The PA State BBQ
Competition in New Holland
The following is Jan's report (initially reported on another site):
August 31, 2004 — About a year ago,
a old friend of mine (Doug) and I attended a BBQ class by the legendary "Baron
of BBQ" Paul Kirk. We loaded up our cookers, commuted 90 minutes
and managed to start our fires before 7 am. We learned a ton and
after it was all over, we were hooked to the taste of good 'Que and
decided to try our hand at the competition the following year. Shortly
after the class, we registered our team name "Smoke
Happens" with the Kansas City BBQ Society, the official
governing body of BBQ.
After a year of subjecting the fellows at Project
H.O.M.E., various Wanderers (the running club), dinner guests
and co-workers to our creations during the last 12 months, we thought
it took to compete. Well... kind of.
The event was the PA State BBQ Championships, held in New Holland,
Pa last August 27-28 (2004). New Holland is near Lancaster, PA set
in the middle of Amish country. A total of 54 teams entered the competition.
In order to compete, teams must enter the five mandatory categories:
sausage, chicken, pork ribs, pork butt (shoulder), and brisket. Optionally,
teams can also enter the Chef's Choice, Whole Hog competition, the
prettiest Pig In The Park, and the kids competition.
we could even consider the competition itself, we had to figure out
how we were going to bring our 450-pound, top-heavy and (very) breakable
Kamado cookers to the competition. The last time these cookers were
transported, they were lifted onto our trailer by a freight company's
forklift. Getting them down entailed the services of many friends
and neighbors. Rather than taking this route again, we bought a crane
and devised an elaborate shipping crate. First, we attached a 'sling'
made out of a long heavy duty rope. Then we lifted the egg-shaped
cooker, positioned it in the center of the trailer and then assembled
the crate around it. Before we were even out of my driveway, my system
was put to the test: between the 450 pound cooker, the 250 pound
crane, and the 150 pound crate, the trailer scraped the hell out
of the sidewalk. But it survived this first bump and we knew then
that the rest of the trip would be fine.
After delivering the first cooker to a 'staging area' near the site
of the competition (which would save us time in the morning), we
repeated the process. On Friday morning, before 6 a.m., we were headed
Holland. It took us nearly three hours to unload our cooker, get
the other cooker and unload the rest of our stuff. While I am not
travel light, my partner in crime is unbelievable. I am not kidding
when I say that we were barely able to fit all 'our' stuff into our
allotted 20x20 foot space. We literally brought everything including
a kitchen sink. We had many, many coolers, music, four BBQ grills,
charcoal starters, canopy, bedding, many boxes of charcoal, more
spices than any of you are likely to have in your kitchen cabinets,
pans, bowls, etc. along with many cases full of electronics, thermometers,
We knew things were getting serious when at
noon (on Friday) the official KCBS official came to perform the
mandatory meat inspection. They measured
the various temperatures, checked our general setup including disinfectant,
sanitizer (to neutralize bleach), meat storage coolers, etc. We
passed the test without a problem and as soon as we were done, we
'rubbing' the meat with our home grown dry rubs. (these spice-mixes
are called rubs as they are rubbed into the meat by hand prior
Before starting up the smokers, we devised a cooking
schedule and grill space plan. One of the requirements is that cooked
food is not allowed to cool down or re-heated. Since we were cooking
25 pounds of pork, 25 pounds of brisket, many sausages, three slabs
of ribs, and 3 whole chickens, we needed to plan our grill space carefully.
To make things more complicated, some of the foods (brisket) take up
to 22 hours to cook and different foods are cooked at different temperatures.
Finally, ribs and chicken both need to be finished off by cooking them
briefly at a higher temperature. All six entries are to be submitted
within 10 minutes of their respective turn-in times.
After figuring out what meat was supposed to go onto
what cooker and at what time, we started executing our plan.
The brisket went on first, on Friday afternoon, then the butts later
that night. We spent the rest of the day making sauces, tending
fires, etc. It didn't take long before we were surrounded in
heavy clouds of smoke. We use special high-density extruded coconut
which does not emit any smoke by itself. We impart the smoke
flavor we do want by adding first-size chunks of wood on top on the
charcoal: hickory for pork, cherry for the beef, and apple for
It didn't take long before people started walking past our setup
snickering. By virtue of our team name ("Smoke Happens"),
a kitchen sink that we plumbed to connect to a standard garden hose,
and a wall of
temperature measuring equipment, data loggers, laptop, lighting,
battery power, inverters, etc., we were clearly the geeks in the
park. My partner
is an ex analytical chemist who brought just about his whole lab
to the park. For those of you who are interested, the graphs of the
points of 6 or 7 therma-couple meters are posted on the web somewhere.
We spent the night tending to the fires and making sure things
were on schedule. Anyone can make a hot fire; making sure your fire
(measured at the grill level as well as the dome) doesn't exceed
225-250 is a little
trickier. With our types of cookers, this task is a lot easier but
still requires work. Several times during the night, we were wakened
of our alerts/alarms to adjust draft door openings, poke the coals,
wood (for smoke), or move or turn over meat. By Sat morning, I was
fried but in good spirits and things were going as planned.
On Sat morning, we had a brief period of time to relax. Rather than
kick back and relax, I picked this time to... pick a fight. Among
odd competitors and food vendors, there was also a booth manned by the
local Republicans handing out bumper stickers, signage, and collecting
While some of the motorcyclists with their german helmets bothered me,
at least this was a fight I could pick. So I waited for the right
there was a sizable group of people in line. I jumped to the front and
loudly started my assault. Without getting into the details here,
my goal: people left the scene immediately leaving only the speechless
RNC workers. The best they could do was give me a number to call
for my questions
and to express their condolences for my loss. A low blow even by my
standards but these were desperate times. After a kick-ass Amish milkshake,
I felt re-energized and ready for the competition.
Later on Saturday morning, we put on the ribs, then the chicken, then the
sausage. That's when things started getting out of control. Even though we
had brought the two large Kamados, a Weber bullet (water cooker), and a regular
Weber kettle, we quickly ran out of grill space. Furthermore, our sausages
were cooking faster than anticipated and so did our chicken. In contrast,
one of our briskets felt good but showed it was slow in coming up to it's
target temperature. Amidst all this craziness we had to worry about... lettuce.
I will never look at lettuce the same way again. You are only allowed to
use certain types of lettuce and I went through several heads of the eligible
greens to find the perfect leaves to use to line the styrofoam containers.
While presentation counts for 33% of your score, you are not allowed to make
any decorations. Doing so results in disqualification. To present the various
entries, you have to have at least 6 identifiable pieces of the meat on a
bed of the lettuce. You would be amazed how few leaves of lettuce don't have
a little nick, ding, hole or some other 'problem'.
When we submitted our sausage entry (the first one) we almost
got disqualified for being late. We assumed that a 10 minute window meant
10 minutes after the specified time, not 5 before and 5 after. But we survived
and every half an hour thereafter, we submitted our various entries. Thanks
to our atomic clock, and having timed our walk to the entry table, we were
comfortably in time for the remainder of the entries.
After, we submitted the last entry, we all but collapsed
from exhaustion. We started to speculate about our placement in the various
categories. We knew we had messed up in various ways: the presentation
was lacking here and there, the sausage didn't have grill marks on them,
the skin on the chicken wasn't very crispy, and so on. It wasn't until
the awards were announced that were learned that we were squarely placed
in the back of the pack. Specifically, 44th out of 54 teams! We were very
disappointed although we realized is was probably just. Clearly, if the
logistics of our team bringing our 450-pound Kamado cookers to the site
were taken into account, we would have swept the contest.
of our two Kamados and a Weber Bullet along with more temperature equipment
and data logging devices than can be found in most scientific laboratories.
Now, a few days later, we have been able
to figure out what to do better next time. There is another competition
next month which we
are considering entering. We plan to change our rubs and sauces and try
again. Specifically, the judges tend to like sweet entries better than
the spicy so we went pretty bland with our entries. We are now speculating,
however, that our entries need to be a little spicier in order for them
to stand out. Furthermore, rather than "pulling" the entire shoulder
and mixing it with sauce, we are going to try to only submit the darker
strands of the pork shoulder along with some bark for maximum flavor.
Our brisket entry. Six (partial) slices flanked by some
Jan with the pulled pork entry.
I think we got deductions for my attire.
The ribs about an hour before they came off. They are
when the meat starts pulling back from the ends (of the bones).
The skin on the chicken looked better than it tasted.
Jerry's Chef's Choice entry did best and
saved us from complete humiliation.
Doug submitting our last entry. Time for beer and showers!
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