Tuesday, July 31, 2007 

Howling Hog Barbecue ends their season with a bang!

Well folks, we’re back from our final barbecue event of the season, the Harpoon Championships of New England Barbecue. We’re pleased to say that it was our best Harpoon ever, and not just because it’s one hell of a good party!

The Harpoon Championships of New England Barbecue takes place at the Harpoon brewery in Windsor, VT. For those of us who are members of the New England Barbecue Society (NEBS), Harpoon is the regional championships and represents the end of the competition year, where the NEBS team of the year is determined. And to those of us who participate in the event, it also represents the biggest and best contest of the season!

The folks who organize and run the Harpoon competition treat the teams with a great deal of respect, and it seems as though many of them have as much fun at the competition as we do. We really appreciate all they do! They are a great part of what makes going to Harpoon so much fun.

Harpoon weekend features two separate competitions. On Saturday, 42 teams participated in the Championships of New England Barbecue. On Sunday, 36 teams opted to compete in the Summer Sizzler Grilling Competition. In addition to all of the barbecue and grilling, teams are vending, the brewery is selling their excellent beer on tap and live bands are cranking out the good tunes. On the whole, the weekend is a lot of fun for all who participate.

Looking down the midway toward the brewery

The weather forecast for this weekend had been quite sketchy, but as it turned out, we managed to get through with only a little rain. No doubt that the event organizers were pleased with the number of attendees. In our location right next to the entrance we saw pretty constant lines on both days as folks came in.

The weather broke and gave us a rainbow over the CT river

Howling Hog Barbecue arrived on Friday just before noon and claimed one of the less popular booths near the entrance. Although teams selling barbecue benefit from being further down the midway, we have found that our dessert products sell well because people see them on their way out. Making money at this event is important to many of us because it really can help defray the costs of the season. Old Bull and Bob the Amish Guy were first to arrive, and I was pleased to find our main tent up and the booth in a partial state of readiness. The layout at Harpoon enables us to back up to the snow fence they put up and unload without having to move our vehicles to another parking space. With the majority of our remaining supplies in my trailer, we were able to completely set up the booth with only the vending area left to be arranged by the ladies when they came later in the evening.

Once the meat was inspected in the afternoon, I focused on getting my larger cuts prepared for cooking over night. I trimmed my brisket and prepped up the pork shoulder. One of the perks of Harpoon (beside the beer), is that they provide the teams with dinner on Friday night. We enjoyed a Mexican-styled dinner put out by iQue, which hit the spot. The brisket and the pork shoulder went on the pit at about 8:00 pm to be cooked between 10-14 hours. Meanwhile, the Old Bull threw on several racks of ribs to be given to our most generous sponsors, “Doctors Without Boundaries”. He took them up to the Docs in the evening with a good sized sponsors’ package. The Docs got ribs, pulled pork, beans, cornbread and dessert. It was much appreciated! It’s our way of showing appreciation for their support of what we do – competition barbecue is an expensive hobby.

The ladies and the Boy arrived in the evening, having worked on vending materials and foods during the day. We finalized the booth setup for vending, and then settled in for an evening of socializing and pit monitoring. As always, my Backwoods Smoker hummed solidly along all night, with only one or two pauses to reload the firebox. Early Saturday, the ribs went on Old Bull’s pit, followed closely by the chicken. At 10:00 the brisket was wrapped and put in a hotbox. Not long after the pork shoulders went in the box too.

A well-cooked pork shoulder

As is the case with most Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) sanctioned events, turn in begins at noon. The timing is as follows: Chicken 12:00, Pork Ribs 12:30, Pork Shoulder or Butt 1:00 and Brisket at 1:30. It makes for a hectic hour and a half. The chicken came out ok, but I was quite concerned that I had left it on the pit a bit too long. One of the samples seemed pretty dry to me.

My chicken submission, a touch too dark for my taste.

The ribs, which we have been working very hard to improve, came out pretty well and looked good going into the box.

Our ribs, some of the best we've done yet.

I felt the most confident about the pork shoulder. It’s been very consistent for me and this time was no different.

Pulled pork. Yum.

I’ve been making some adjustments to my brisket lately, including more trimming and changes to both the rub and the sop. Although I thought it tasted great, I was pretty concerned with how dry it was when I cut it up. I had a very hard time getting it to cut smoothly. Personally, I thought this was my worst turn-in.

The brisket, a touch dry and falling apart a bit at the ends.

After the last turn-in, we pitmasters took a much deserved break, while the ladies and Bob the Amish Guy kept our vending operation running smoothly. At 4:00, we made our way over to the main tent for the awards ceremony. Awards in chicken, ribs and pork shoulder past us by, but we were excited to see so many different teams getting called. There are some very dominant teams in New England, so many of us get excited when other folks win awards. It reminds us that all of us have a shot at winning as long as we keep working at it. Team Howling Hog finally got called in the brisket category. Imagine my surprise when that brisket I was so unhappy with took 5th place out of the 42 teams who competed!

It turned out that we had several additionally solid scores, coming in 13th in chicken and 14th in pulled pork. With those scores our over all rank among the some of the best 42 teams in New England was 16th! At our first event (Harpoon 2005) we came in second to last. We are very pleased with how far we’ve come in only six barbecue competitions. As team captain, I couldn’t be happier with my fellow teammates. This is a great group of family and friends who love to cook and know how to work well as a team.

One of the high points of the awards ceremony, was finding out who took home the title of Grand Champion. This year, one of our favorite teams, Lunchmeat took home the great big trophy! Congrats to Gary, Sully and all of their crew. Lunchmeat is the type of team that makes those of us who don’t cook or cater professionally believe that we have a chance among all of the teams to win and win big. They’ve been working hard for years and even had to endure an extended period of Grand Reserves (2nd place)! Congrats to Congratulations Gary, Michelle, Terry and Sully and good luck at the Jack Daniels Invitational and the American Royal competitions!

The extra tall Harpoon Grand Champion's trophy and a free Big Green Egg to go with it. Pitmaster Gary is in the background.

Needless to say, after such a strong showing, Saturday night was full of celebration. We socialized with family and friends who dropped by to see us and enjoy the event. At dinner time we ate grilled flatbread, visited with our neighbors and enjoyed hanging out at our front table. Meanwhile, the ladies practiced for the grilling competition on Sunday, working on their Chef’s Choice submission.

Many family members dropped by to see us. Lots of babies.

Morning came too soon for those of us who had been up late partying. The Old Bull and I stumbled around for a bit trying to figure out what we were doing, and getting things organized for the Sizzler contest and our meat vending day. The event organizers set the submission times back about an hour, they went like this: Chef’s Choice 1:00, Chicken Wings 1:30, Sausage 2:00, Pork Chops 2:30.

The Chef’s Choice category is an opportunity for teams to go hog wild (so to speak). It’s an open category, which means that you can submit absolutely anything. It’s also “open garnish” which means the KCBS garnish limitations of green leaf lettuce and parsley don’t apply. Last season we saw the winning teams putting out high-end restaurant type entrees (lobster tails stuffed with filet minion, for example). Knowing that we’d have a hard time competing with such foods, we decided to use the ladies strong skills at dessert. The only requirement of the Harpoon Chef’s choice category is that you us some sort of Harpoon beer in a sauce. So, the ladies grilled up apple cake with a Harpoon Munich Dark caramel sauce. When the submission left our booth, I had little doubt it would win us an award.

Grilled apple spice cake with a Harpoon Munich Dark caramel sauce.

We realized as we were working on them, that the chicken wings were simply not going to win us any awards. We had gotten a bag of fairly runty wings. When you submit wings for a competition, you want them to be fat, juicy and good looking. Unfortunately, even without Old Bull’s powerfully good sauce, the wings just weren’t big enough to get us a prize.

The wingage. They taste great, but aren't big enough.

The sausage, although wonderfully tasty, really wasn’t enough to compete with the crazy stuff others submit. We’ve realized that we need to get more creative with the type of sausage we use. I’ve seen teams submit stuff as gourmet as lobster sausage!

The sausage.

The pork chops were rubbed with cumin and sugar and then brushed with a bourbon caramel glaze. In hindsight, we should have made the glaze thicker, but it definitely gave the chops some great color.

Maple cumin pork chops with a bourbon caramel glaze.

The afternoon awards ceremony went very much as we expected. We failed to draw awards in either pork chops, wings or sausage. However, when the calls came in for Chef’s Choice, we were hoping to see some sort of ribbon. The success of the day for Howling Hog Barbecue was a first place trophy! Needless to say, the Mamer and Farmer Girl were ecstatic!

The ladies sporting their trophies and the winning smiles!

When all the scores were in, I was thrilled to see us standing in 10th place amongst the 36 competitors. The most astounding thing about our success was the scores we received for the Chef’s Choice – out of the six cumulative scores, three of them were statistically perfect! I have no doubt that we have never scored so highly in any category ever.

The rest of our day at Harpoon was dedicated to vending and packing. In the end all that was left of our booth was our private porta-potty.

Trust me. This was worth $135.

This was by far our best season yet. After being so successful at Harpoon, it’s hard to not want to sign up for one or two more events for the rest of the season (other teams will be competing well into the fall), but we’ve spent a lot of money and we’ve got other events including two family parties to fill our time. Needless to say we’ll be barbecuing a lot between now and next year. Will we do more events next summer? It’s hard to say, but I would be surprised if we didn’t try to squeeze in at least one more.

As team captain I just have to say thank you to all of my teammates. Old Bull, Farmer Girl, Mame, the Boy and Bob the Amish Guy are a bunch of wonderful people. Without them there is no way we’d be able to do as well as we’ve done in such a short period of time. Here’s to continued success and lots of barbecue!

The best group of friends and family a team captain could ever want.

And lastly, I want to thank those of you who helped us by donating money to our cause. We appreciate the support. You helped make this happen. Thanks very much to Pete and Melissa Fellows, Chuck and Lora Wise, Rhonda Barr, Ken Colby and Suzanne Nothnagle, Rob Hurley and Tara Race and, of course, Doctors Without Boundaries. We look forward to having your support again next season. You can be sure we’ll come up with something new to make it worth your while!

The Howling Hog pit crew with our largest sponsors, Doctors Without boundaries



Sunday, July 08, 2007 

Best. Ribs. Ever.

In my last post, I mentioned a plethora of other treats that were going on my smoker. From that good stuff I made chipoltle smoked deviled eggs and atomic buffalo turds. I also used the time to practice working on the bane of my existence - ribs.

Using feedback from veteran cookers like Billy Bones and Phatboy, I stepped back and tried to simplify my method. I did two racks slightly differently, both with rubs and spritzing with juice, but a few other variations among them. One of the key tips I got from the comments was the internal temp of a pefectly done rib - 185 degrees. I've never taken the time to check the temp of my ribs with a thermometer. I'm sure glad I did this time.

Sexy color, eh?

The first rack out was done perfectly. The meat didn't fall off the bone, but neither did it resist when bitten. As I understand it, this is exactly what the KCBS judges are looking for. The taste was excellent, although to my way of thinking they were a tad sweet. I will probably use a more salty rub in the future. Regardless of that criticism, these were without a doubt my

best. ribs. ever.

Now if only the KCBS judges would think the same thing.


Saturday, July 07, 2007 

Why I love my wife

Yesterday, July 6th, was our 16th wedding anniversary. Most folks would go out and have a fancy meal or go to a show or perhaps even travel to celebrate the event. Us? We stayed home. And what did we do?

We practiced for Harpoon!

And it was my wife's suggestion to do so. This is why I love my wife.

We tried an interesting approach to pork chops with a peach glaze. It was interesting but will require more thought and tinkering. Farmer Girl, however, did a brilliant baked item on the grill that we might try using in the Chef's choice category during the Harpoon grilling competition.

Later on in the evening, I cranked up the pit and stuffed it with eight little pork shoulders. I'm cooking them in advance of a benefit we're vending for next weekend. So far, they seem to be coming along nicely. I wish we had the blog equivalent of smell-o-vision. They smell fantastic.

Next on the smoker are a pair of St. Louis-style pork ribs, each treated a little differently to give me a feel for how I could be cooking better ribs. In addition, I'm throwing some eggs on the top shelf because we're bringing smoked deviled eggs to a party one of our sponsors is holding tonight. And...then there's the Atomic Buffalo Turds. They'll go on after the pork comes off.

And to think...it's only 9:00am!


Thursday, July 05, 2007 

Howlin' for a good cause

For those of you who live in our neck of the woods, and would love to sink your teeth into some Howling Hog Barbecue, your opportunity is coming up. Howling Hog Barbecue has volunteered its services in support of the Randolph Area Family Farm Fest, a wonderful festival that celebrates agriculture and agricultural history in Randolph Vermont.

We'll be selling pulled pork, ribs and brisket as well as the traditional sides you find with barbecue. All profits will go to help RAFF pay the bills and keep the festival rolling! Please come out and support this event, and have a little taste o' Howling Hog Barbecue!



For more information on the event, go to www.raffarms.org.

Editor's Note: Robert from http://Whitetrashbbq.blogspot.com correctly pointed out that I made no mention of when this event is. It takes place on Sunday the 15th at the Vermont Ag Museum site in Randolph Center, VT. See the event link above for details and directions.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007 

We completed our second competition in two weeks this weekend, and although we came home empty-handed, we are pleased to say we had a wonderful weekend.

The view from the ILBBQF (note the ski jump, lower left)

Although it’s only in only its second year, the Lake Placid I Love Barbecue Festival (ILBBQF) is one of the most well-run competitions I’ve ever seen. It’s a charity event that raises money for the Shipman Youth Center of Lake Placid. Last season’s event only featured 16 teams, but in the past year the events reputation of spoiling the competitors and treating them so very well seems to have gotten out and teams were jumping at the opportunity to get in. In fact, we almost didn’t make it in ourselves, but we were able to ferret our way in with the promise of vending our homemade baked goods.

A three hour ride across Vermont and into the Adirondacks took us to our destination. This was my first time in upstate New York and I have to say that the scenery was breathtaking. The festival itself is set up in the center of the Olympic speed skating ring, right in the village of Lake Placid. When we arrived, we found our spot and began to set up. I think this was the first contest where a 20X20 space was actually 20’X20’ and we were a little concerned that all of our stuff might not fit in it. But, to our surprise, we arranged the most efficient use of space we’ve ever had! Special thanks to the event organizers, particularly my Russian friend Dmitry Feld who gave us a prime corner spot to vend our goods.

The boy, hanging out in our booth.

On Friday night, we participated in the midnight grilling competition, an unsanctioned competition event. There were two categories, grilled chicken and NY Strip steak. We turned in a chicken dish done West Indies style with grilled bananas as an edible garnish, and the strip steaks were crusted with spices, grilled, and garnished with bleu cheese. Neither product resulted in an award, but frankly they did better than we expected they would. We placed 17th out of a field of 26 (not all competitors opted to compete in the grilling event) with our steak coming in at 17th and the chicken at 16th. Considering how little thought was put into either of them, I thought we did reasonably well. The night ended with a fireworks show set up right next to the skating ring. We had front row seats!

The following day was dedicated primarily to vending, and the ladies did a fantastic job. A week of baking in advance of the ILBBQF produced many tasty desserts and snacks including cookies, brownies and chocolate pudding cake. On a whim, we also smoked up three dozen eggs and they turned out to be a real hit! In the afternoon, we participated in the buck-a-rib contest. We failed to estimate the right number of ribs that we’d sell and were sold out in less than ten minutes. No doubt we’ll be bringing three or four times the number of racks that we brought. The lack of ribs for folks to vote on (it was a people’s choice event) left us out of the running for the prize of two round trip tickets on Southwest Airlines to anywhere in the US.

The evening brought us closer to Sunday’s KCBS sanctioned barbecue competition. The weather, which was Lake Placid chilly, turned a bit damp and the skies opened up on us. But, we were happy to find ourselves dry under the tents with few problems caused by the water. Undoubtedly there was some pretty fancy drainage under the ring so the ground stayed nice and dry. The briskets and pork shoulders went on in early evening, and my Backwoods Smoker chugged happily into the night. In the early morning, we put our chicken and ribs on. The day before, during the buck a rib event, the Old Bull and I felt like we really had a breakthrough on the ribs. The bones we produced for folks were by the best I’ve ever done.

And yet the results of the competition didn’t reflect that feeling. The field of teams at Lake Placid included some of the best we’ve ever competed against, and some teams from pretty far away, including CancerSucksChicago.com who have had national success, and Canada’s Barbecue Bob and the “Eh” team. Bob was our neighbor, and a lot of fun. When our time came to submit, we felt pretty darned good about what we’d done. The pulled pork looked and tasted great. The ribs were the best we’ve ever done. The chicken was good; although I had issues with inconsistent size which I think can have an impact on the score. I’ve been re-working my brisket recipe and feel like I’m on the right track.

Alas, our turn-ins had a hard time standing up to the stiff competition. We did acceptably in chicken and pulled pork (coming in 18th and 14th respectively out of 36 teams),

Our chicken turn-in, not as pretty as last week.

Pulled pork, nice layout in box, but I forgot one of my secret ingredients when I was prepping!

but we got completely hosed in ribs, coming in dead last.

Ribs - We need to start cooking baby-backs instead, they'll fit in the box better.

The brisket wasn’t quite so low, but came in at 21st, which isn’t where I thought it would be.

Brisket turn in, nice layout, needed better smoke ring.

Truth be told, I didn’t figure us for a high medal in anything, but would have been pleased with a 6th or a 5th place in something. Not this time, but there’ll be a next!

We were pleased to see our neighbor Barbecue Bob take 2nd in Brisket, but the days success went to Purple Turtle, a veteran team that really knows their stuff.

Barbecue Bob accepting his medal

Congrats to Nancee and her crew! Great Job!

The folks from Purple Turtle celebrating their win!

We wrapped up our night with pizza at a local Italian restaurant and then dragged our exhausted bodies home to Vermont. The high point of the ride home was a spectacular and uniquely shaped rainbow, the likes of which I've never seen.

I had thought I’d be sick of cooking barbecue, but to my surprise I was already planning the next event. We’ll be back to Lake Placid again next year (we’ve already signed on). Special thanks to Dmitry and his entire staff of volunteers for pampering us with generosity and care! You guys are the best!

Our next competition is at the end of this month at the Harpoon Brewery in Windsor, VT, not far from home. Until then, keep on barbecuing and remember to make’em howl for more!


Tuesday, July 03, 2007 


Hi Folks,

The update from Lake Placid should appear some time tomorrow. Until then, have a happy Fourth of July. Grill safely!