Hogs Gone Wild was scheduled to compete in its first professional barbeque competition in Sebring, Florida. I had gone over the schedule many times in my mind; drive to Sebring, cook some great barbeque, win a big trophy, then drive home, easy right? Wrong! The one thing about that fantasy was that there were 29 other teams there with the same scenario running through their minds as well, and only one team that could realize their fantasy. I wish I could tell you that it was our team who took home the GC, but like I said we
are dealing with reality here. I think my team did a GREAT job, especially for our first competition.
Our set up, with my old ’81 F150. Haines City, FL
HGW in Sebring, FL
Overall, the entire experience was a good one for us. That’s not to say there weren’t some hectic moments for my team, especially for me. Those moments materialized as soon as we arrived on our site. I drive a 1981 Ford F150, not much to look at, but the original straight 6 engine has only 109,000 miles. It is a very reliable vehicle, and the manual transmission makes it a good towing vehicle. We arrived in Sebring with no problems, got our site assignment, backed the smoker in, unhooked it, then went to unload the truck, well, the tailgate was stuck. The handle finally broke, and we were unable to lower the tailgate. What timing! This could be a problem. Sure, we could unload everything over the side without lowering the tailgate, except for my Green Mountain Grill, that would be very difficult to unload with the tailgate up, and even harder to reload after the competition ends. We tried for a while with no success. When all else failed, it was time to get out the hammer that I had in my tool box. I beat the tailgate into submission. What a stress relief!
Chicken at Sebring, FL
Finally, we had everything unloaded and set up, our work had just begun. We had to get our large cuts of meat on the GMG for overnight cooking, but first it was time for us to have dinner. What does a barbeque team eat at a barbeque contest? Well, pizza, of course. The last thing we wanted was more barbeque, we have been eating it non-stop for months, and just can’t take anymore. I love
cooking barbeque, but I do not think my family will ever request barbeque at birthday parties anymore. We brought along some frozen pizza, and cooked them up on the grill. Too bad there’s no category for pizza because they came out great. It could have just been that
Pizza on the GMG
we were just hungry, but I was just happy to have a hot meal, and a cold (adult) beverage to enjoy. We had planned on vending our barbeque at this event, but that did not work out well. The barbeque event did not bring in the crowd we had been told to expect. However, the folks that did eat our barbeque loved it! That made it all worth while. To me, there is no greater reward than to have someone enjoy your food. I spent a great deal of time and effort to prepare and cook this food, and for someone to 1) pay me for it , and 2) tell me that it is the best barbeque they have ever had—that’s my trophy. The few dollars we took in vending I think all went for iced tea and lemonade at the event. The weather was not bad, it was warm, but not hot. Our biggest complaint was about the thousands of love bugs. If you have spent time in Florida around March and October, you know what I am referring to—love bug season. Love bugs do not hurt anything, they are just quite pesky, getting into everything. We were feeling them crawling on us for days after the event ended.
Chicken turn-in, Sebring
Ribs turn-in, Sebring
Overall, our team had some obstacles to overcome, and I feel we did a fine job doing just that. There were only three of us at this event,
Biggi (my wife), Sue (my co-worker/team mate) and me. We safely set up, and did what we set out to do—turn in competition-level barbeque. Just completing and turning in all four categories on time is a major accomplishment. Think about it, you have four different meats, each prepared in different ways. They all have different cook times, different seasonings, and different techniques for turn-in appearance. All four meats have only a 10-minute window to turn-in for judging. So, you have to be very good at planning and executing your plan in order to make turn-in time. If you are late, your product will not get judged, all that effort would be for nothing. If your product is not done, you will be disqualified. I heard horror stories about teams who, having just turned in their product, see a FBA representative walking toward them holding a turn-in box. Your heart just drops, and a sick feeling comes over you. All you can do is hope they walk past your site. After all your efforts, to get disqualified, that’s got to hurt! I’m happy to say we got everything turned in without any disqualifications. We placed 19th out of 30 teams, with an overall score of 691, which was about 60 points off the first place team—not bad for the first time out. I did get to hear our name being called, but it was only that they need me to move my truck, not quite what I had in mind.
Pork turn-in, Sebring…WTH were we thinking?
Brisket turn-in, Sebring…thick cut.
I went over everything in my mind before arriving on site, but my execution just wasn’t there. There were times we found ourselves confused as to what we wanted to do, and in which order to do them. When it came to building our boxes, at times we were just standing there staring at the box and each other, not quite sure what we wanted to do. All this showed in our turn-ins. We were not happy with the barbeque we put out at this competition. I knew I needed to get some prospective on
where I want our team to go again, and look at what we could do to improve our next outing. I needed to get a good understanding of what the judges are looking for. Our taste scores weren’t too bad, and our tenderness and appearance needed some work. So, I decided to judge at the FBA’s Mulberry, FL, event. I feel that judging is a good way to keep up this what the judges are looking for, and it gives me a chance to look at what other teams are turning in. I recommend that anyone looking to start a barbeque competition team get
involved with judging. It is an inexpensive way to get an inside look at what the judges want and like, plus you get to eat some really good barbeque. Mulberry is always a good event, bringing in some of the top teams in the FBA. I knew this would be a good opportunity for me to check out some good product. I was chosen to judge the backyard portion of the event, and I was not disappointed. Some of the backyard entries were as good as some of the pros—these folks can cook some “Q.” Not only did the Mulberry event help me see where our product stands compared to other competitors, it also gave me a chance to relax and remember what it is all about—having a good time.
After judging at Mulberry, I went into our next competition with a renewed outlook. I was almost dreading the Sebring competition, only because my nerves were just that bad. I wanted everything just right, which ended up stressing us all, and that effected our product. We decided to do the Backyard competition at the 3rd Annual Bartow Bluegrass & BBQ in Bartow, FL. We also again decided to vend our products, which went well for us at Bartow. We all just felt more comfortable, and things went much smoother for us. Biggi, Sue, and I were there again, but this time we also had the help of our son, TJ, and Sue’s son, Jay. Our sons ran the vending side of the house, and we ran the cooking and competition side. We all worked hard, and we put out some good product. Overall this was a very
good event for all of us.
Up to this time I’d had only some on-line interaction with other teams, but that changed during this event, I was able to put faces with the teams. Funny thing, many folks are remembered more by their team names than their given name. At this event, we made some new friends, and were able to catch up with friends we met in the past. We do not have any, what I would consider, “old friends” yet, we are still the newbies in this group. It is nice to meet people who are so welcoming. We actually had time to do some visiting with fellow barbeque teams. Shawn from Boca BBQ stopped by a few times, and we talked some shop. I had
a great time talking with the guys from Beachneck BBQ, real friendly folks. I got down to talk to Chad from Whiskey Bent BBQ for a short time, they were quite busy keeping the crowd happy with some of their outstanding chicken wings. Many teams were settling in for the night when I noticed a light show going on in the middle of the woods, I had to go check this out. For a moment I felt like I was in a bad Wi-Fi show, then something unexpected happened. Is that…it can’t be…it is, it’s Michael Jackson. I found myself at The Team Unknown
site, they had a full light and sound system show going on. There was one guy from Th e Smoking Guns BBQ) who was putting on a hilarious show that I’m sure would make Michael Jackson rethink becoming a dancer. Today cooking barbeque, tomorrow, “Dancing With The Stars?” Probably not, but it was good for a laugh.
Some barbeque enthusiasts came by to visit, some were interested in talking about starting their own team and had questions about how we got started. Talk about flipping things around in a short period of time; it was less then a year ago when I was on the other side of the fence, asking the questions, and dreaming about starting my team. I did take time out and was happy to talk to these folks, I also gave the advice I received when I was starting my team—just go for it! We were pleased with our turn-ins, we especially felt good about our ribs. They came out quite nice. I got a better knife, which helped me cut the product easier and with better results. Biggi was really on her game building our boxes; we got much higher scores on appearance, which really helped pump up our overall scores. I need to work on our flavor profile, and we need to get a consistent taste that will speak to the judges every time we do a competition. If we can have a consistent cook in each category, the overall results will fall into place. It is nice to do well, even win a category, but it is
nicer to win the Grand Champion or Reserve Grand Champion—that, after all, is the ultimate goal of each competing team. We made all of our turn-ins, and spent the remainder of the afternoon cleaning up, and anxiously waiting for the results. As I said before, I just wanted to hear our name called, just once!
Chicken turn-in, Bartow, they look very dark in the picture.
Ribs turn-in, Bartow
We made our way to the awards. My stomach was in knots, I know we were competing in the backyard division but, to us, it could have been the Super Bowl. It was a defining moment, this will let us know whether or not we are on the right path, or if we just wasting our time. The organizers took the stage, took care of some business, then were ready to announce the Backyard winners. The Bartow competition only announced the top three teams for each category, each of which received a trophy. First up, chicken, I was not happy with our chicken, the flavor was good, but the skin was not bite through, and I was right we did not get a call. Next up, ribs. This was it, I was on the edge of my seat, but I did not want to let anyone see it. I knew if we did not get a call here, it was not going to happen. But it did—we were called for our ribs! We took 2nd place and got a trophy. When they called our name, I don’t think my legs worked at first. We just all stared at each other not quite sure if we had heard correctly. We decided to go to the stage together, what a great feeling! So many folks in the crowd knew what this meant to us, and really gave us a great cheer. We had done it, at that moment, everything I had been working toward came to a climax. This was it, we achieved what we had set out to do—produce award winning
barbeque. All the time spent out at my old smoker that I received from my family all those years ago, all the books, all the research, everything, has lead me to this moment, and it was all worth it! We did not get another call that day, but I was happy with
our results, for the moment. Chad and his Whiskey Bent BBQ team got Grand Champion for the pro division. They had a great
cook, scoring an overall 756. I was finally able to congratulate Chad on his team’s great win, but all Chad could do was congratulate me for our call; what sportsmanship. This guy just won the biggest award offered that day, Grand Champion, and all he could do is talk to me about what a great job MY team did. Chad has been a great mentor to me through out this journey, and I owe more to him then I think he realizes, Thanks, Brother!
Pork turn-in, Bartow, still looking for a good style.
Brisket turn-in, Bartow
At the end of each competition, the Florida BBQ Association provides each team with a score sheet, which gives teams feedback. It records and breaks down the scores for each category by table where it was judged. This way you can see what score each judge gave each of your entries, the rankings for each category, and an overall ranking. I went to get our score sheet, with expectations of our team placing somewhere in the middle of the pack of 16 teams for our division. Well, much to my surprise, I was wrong. Normally the sanctioning body personnel hand out awards for the Grand Champion(G.C.), and the Reserve Grand Champion (R.G.C) in the backyard
division, but this event, they only recognized the G.C. No one knew who got R.G.C. What a surprise when I got our score sheet in my hands—we were awarded R.G.C.! I could not believe it, the first thing I thought was there must be some mistake; there were teams that took home three trophies yet we placed ahead of them overall. As I was stated before, if you have a consistent cook in all categories, you will have good overall results. Along with our second place ribs, we also had 4th place in both pork and brisket, and 5th in chicken,
we ended with an overall score of 722—not bad at all. We were all extremely pleased.
I do not even remember the drive home, my head was so high in the clouds. We did it, I kept thinking, we did it. The special spot in my home I had reserved for a trophy is finally occupied, and we are all saying to each other, “We now have ‘award-winning barbeque,’ how great is that?” When I started down this road, I had no idea how much was involved in making award-winning barbeque. I, like many of
my friends thought, “Oh just throw some meat on the grill and let it go.” There is so much more to it then that, but it is also a more rewarding experience then I ever expected. I know now, barbeque will be a presence in my life from now on. I will be competing as much as possible, and hopefully adding to our trophy collection. Whether or not we ever get a call again, no one can deny that Hogs
Gone Wild BBQ, makes “Award-Winning BBQ.”
2nd place ribs!!!