Starting a professional barbeque team was something that seemed to be a non-achievable dream, something that I played around with in my mind sometimes, like while at work, home, watching TV, while the wife is talking to me (sorry dear), sleeping, day dreaming … well, you get the idea. I spent a lot of time thinking about doing this. That is the way I am, I enjoy planning and problem solving, which may also be, in part, another reason I enjoy the sport of competition barbeque. It does take a lot of planning to execute and there are always problems to resolve, but I do like a good challenge.
This competition thing just seemed to be out of my range, especially when I saw teams that were competing using huge smokers, bringing supplies on over-sized trailers, and don’t even get me started on the tricked-out trucks these teams used. These folks have invested a lot of time, and money, into competition barbeque. I knew I was not able, financially, to obligate to barbeque at that level, so my solution was to find a partner. I knew it had to be someone who shared the same interest in barbeque, like I had, but there just are as many fanatics in the everyday world. Most everyone enjoys grilling on some level, but I’m talking about being crazy insane about barbeque—very hard to find someone like that. My friends and family would avoid me simply because they knew, if I started talking to them, that the conversation will end up on the subject of barbeque. No one had the same love for barbeque like I had, so I found the next best thing—someone with the same entrepreneurial spirit like I had. That person,was my friend, Suzie Stilp. Suzie and I had been investors in another venture that, let’s just say, did not end well. This will be different, everything will be in our control, and we are not afraid to take our time in allowing our efforts to grow into something we can not only enjoy, but also help become something we can have for our future. Up to this point it has really been about fun. We are putting minimal amounts of money out of pocket but we’re getting a lot in return. The returns, for now, are mostly in the form of camaraderie and finding our way into the sport of competition barbeque. I was always looking at equipment on-line—a great way to find and price smokers. We knew we needed a good smoker; the small box store purchase has seen its last day, I used it so much that there was a hole in the bottom of the firebox. I came across a local vendor that had a smoker he made out of an old 500 gallon propane tank. This was a bit large for us, but the vendor said he has a friend who has one just like it, but it was only a 250 gallon tank, and that it was for sale.
Breaking in my new cooker.
Suzie and I went to look at the smoker that week and we bought it. The smoker was in a bit of a sad state—it had rust, the tires on the trailer needed to be replaced, and it just needed a good overall cleaning. All these problems could be easily remedied. I knew that we had a good smoker and that it would meet our needs. I know a lot of folks do not like stick burners, but I think having a variety of cookers is the best way for us to go. This cooker has a lot of positive features I wanted in my first cooker: It has three, full-sized pull out racks, two fire boxes, attachable tables at each end of smoker, and a cage that runs the length of the trailer for carrying supplies. All these things, combined with the
right price, and we had our first professional smoker. Now that we had this “big” smoker, what were we going to do with it? How would
this smoker work for us? Competitions seemed to be the logical next step. Going out and vending barbeque could have been what we chose to do, but we both had a strong desire to put out competition-level barbeque, showcasing what we can do by competing with other great barbeque teams.
The first thing we needed to do was product development—we needed to get people to try our stuff and let us know what they thought. This again is where friends and family came into play, and they are usually willing participants in taste-testing, at least for a few months. I made many adjustments to my rub and sauces during this time. Apologies to everyone who tested my earlier products—it was necessary for me to test it out so that I could find the best products. The rub, sauces, and cooking did improve, and soon folks were coming and asking when I was going to cook again because they wanted some good barbeque. Wow, that was exciting; people actually enjoyed my products. We were onto something here. Now that I was getting good reviews from my friends and family, I wanted to put my products up against other barbeque teams—it was time to do a competition. When I checked the Florida Barbecue
Association (FBA) web site, for a possible first event for us I found something better.
HGW set up at 2010 FBA Fun Cook
HGW cookers at 2010 Fun Cook.
The FBA was hosting their annual Fun Cook in Clermont, Florida, on September 3-5, 2010. During that event, the FBA was also hosting a “no holds barred” barbeque cooking school, which would be geared toward cook teams within the FBA who are just starting out or want to improve their scores. I thought this would be the perfect start for my team. The cook school was going to be run by Pitmasters who have all won Grand Championships in the past, and they would be sharing competition “secrets” during this school. All teams in the school participate in classroom instruction and were to cook in all categories for a competition, which would be judged by students taking another class to become FBA certified judges. What a great idea. The event was well-planned and executed by the FBA. This was a good opportunity for us and a good way to evaluate where we were as a team without putting out a large chunk of change. To have my food blind-judged, just like in a true competition, would be a great way to hear untainted feedback. Family and friends sometimes consider your feelings when asked how they like your cooking. I was sold, and I signed up. Hogs Gone Wild BBQ was going to make its first appearance at the FBA’s “no holds barred” cooking school. The FBA supplied a syllabus for the class, with a list of suggested items to bring for the “competition.” We had most of everything listed, except for somewhere to sleep. I thought who’s going to be sleeping? We’ll be fine. Right? Wrong! More on that later; on to packing. We got up early on September 3rd and packed the truck, trailer, and car with everything we thought we would need for the next couple of days. Come to find out we took many items that we never even touched—we had everything but the kitchen sink; this time, though, we needed the sink. Finally we hit the road. It’s only about a one hour drive north to Clermont. We found our site with no problems and set up camp. Classes started at noon; by that time I was ready to get inside to some A/C. In Florida, the weather during first week of September is hot and humid. The classes were informal yet highly informative. The instructors relayed a lot of information to us in a short time, they answered many questions I had about cooking at a barbeque competition without me even having to ask. One concern I had was: How can there be enough time to prep all your meats? I was surprised by the answer. Now this information pertains only to FBA rules. If you are cooking in an event sponsored by any other barbeque association please read and know their rules before you compete. For the FBA, you can trim all your meats for the competition before your meat
inspection. All original labeling, most importantly the USDA seal, must accompany the meat, and you must maintain the proper temperature to store the meat. The meat may not be marinated or seasoned in any way before the inspection. Had I known this before
the Fun Cook, I think my stress level would have been much lower. One of the first rules of running a barbeque competition team is to read and learn the rules of the association sponsoring the event in which you plan to compete. Another important piece of information learned for this event was if you plan to use the power source provided by the event organizer, come prepared. I thought I would just show up with my 110V power cable and everything will be fine. Well, this event was being held at an RV resort and the sites were
set up for an adaptor coming off an RV trailer, (30amp) much like the plug used to hook up your washer and dryer. However, my washer and dryer were still at home, with my kitchen sink that I did not pack. Fortunately, a friend of ours, Jeff Cottier, decided to join our team for this event. Jeff knew what we needed and he was off to get it. After checking all the hardware stores and RV dealers in the area, Jeff found “the last adapter in town,” as the shop keeper put it. We were thrilled to have power, it would have been a tough weekend with out fans. We worked non-stop from the time we arrived Friday afternoon, until well past midnight. Between setting up camp, figuring out the electricity issue, battling the camp site’s fire ants, fighting off mosquitoes, dealing with the heat, prepping ALL
our meats and, oh yeah, going to classes, we had a little bit going on. One thing you should always plan on is to expect the unexpected. There will always be issues to overcome. Part of having a successful team is working together to overcome obstacles, I feel like my team won this category hands down. We had to have our large cuts of meat on by Friday night, so they will be ready for turn-in on
Saturday morning. The GMG is a lifesaver for this, just put the meat on, set the temperature, be sure it’s full of pellets and your good to go. After getting the large cuts on, and finishing the prep work on the others, we were looking for some down time. Like I said before, we thought of everything except a place to get some sleep. My wife and I thought we would just get some rest in our car. Well, I am not the smallest guy in the world, so I paid a big price for that decision. I had to keep the windows closed due to the fact that the slightest
crack in the window would let in hundreds of mosquitoes; so it got stifling hot inside our car. I did not want to run the car all night, for obvious reasons, (yes, I’m cheap). To say the least that was a long sleepless night. I can remember at one point saying to myself, “Well what the hell am I doing here? I can pack up what I have, go home get into my comfortable bed and end this. I can sell the smoker, and all the equipment on eBay, and make some money.” Then I looked in the backseat of my car, and saw my wife sleeping there, knowing
that she was there because this is something I wanted; she was willing to go through this for me. Well, I decided right then that I would not give up. I wanted to complete this competition more now then ever before; then, I can collapse.
My first attempt at competition style chicken. (Yes that is a toothpick…)
Chad Ward helping me out at the funcook 2010.
I had always heard how friendly folks are in the barbeque world, but I had no idea just how true a statement that is. Everyone was so welcoming and willing to give a hand or advice. It was truly inspiring. Sue, Jeff, and I work together in our “real jobs.” The environment there is more of a dog-eat-dog mentality. It took us time to really understand that these folks were being genuine. One team that really went all out to help us is Whiskey Bent BBQ and Pitmaster Chad Ward. I’d been talking with Chad for a while on-line. The team of Whiskey Bent BBQ is well on their way to becoming one of the premiere barbeque teams in the country. Chad let us use one of Whiskey Bent’s Green Mountain grills. He assisted with some cooking and setting up turn-in boxes. Chad also helped calm me down several times when my nerves got the best of me. Before the sun came up on turn-in day we had all showered, pumped up our caffeine levels, and got down to business. Ribs had to go on; we needed to finish getting the chicken ready to go on; and the pork and brisket were ready to come off. One thing we had to do that none of us had ever done, was build turn-in boxes. Chad really help us out by building the boxes (I have since found out that these are the first and only turn-in boxes Chad has ever made) we were all just a
bit freaked out by the timing issue. I think there were a few nails chewed off. We made one turn-in by less than one minute. What a relief when all our turn-ins were completed! We all felt good about the products we made, and thought we would do OK in the judging. All I kept saying was, “please don’t let us come in DAL (dead ass last).”
Chicken Funcook 2010
Our team had some free time before “graduation,” and decided we would not stay a 2nd night. Although we had a great time, we were all tired and needed a good night’s sleep. So we packed up and headed to the graduation. One more piece of advice is to wear closed-toe shoes, at all times. I knew better, but I was hot and was not thinking of what could happen. While on the way to graduation I slipped and almost fell down, in the process of catching myself, I ripped half the nail off my big toe, not good! I had to wrap it up fast and get into the awards. This was the only time I did not mind not getting a call. Well that’s not entirely true, not getting a call was a bit of a let down. I did feel a little better when I saw the score sheet. We got 21st overall out of about 40 teams, with our pork entry coming in at 13th. Our overall score was 701, and I achieved my goal of not ending up “DAL,” not too bad. I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank one other member of my team my wife, Birgit; or as she is known and prefers—Biggi, her German nickname. Biggi was a reluctant member of my team; barbeque was just not her thing. But Biggi, Sue, and Jeff really stepped up their game and did a great job. I could not have asked for a better team. Next on the calendar is our first real competition, held October 1-2, 2010, in Sebring, Florida. This will also be a FBA event. Normally I would be looking to do a backyard category for some more experience. Sebring does not offer a backyard category this year, and I just do not want to wait any longer. Hogs Gone Wild BBQ will be making its competition barbeque debut at the Sebring, Florida, Barbeque Festival. Please look for the out come of Hogs Gone Wild BBQ in our competition debut, the best is yet to come.
Chicken turn-in funcook
Ribs, Funcook 2010
Pork, Funcook 2010
The First brisket I EVER cooked, Funcook 2010.