Saturday, April 24, 2010

High on the Hog!

After spending the whole week in Cleveland attending OnBase training I flew into Nashville @ 4:30 PM on Friday (April 16th). Richard & Jeff (DoRag Apprentice) had already taken Casa DoRag to the contest site early Friday morning & gotten set up. Gary (aka No GPS) finally joined them after a tour of North Alabama around mid morning. Together with Jeff's help they managed to get meat inspected, injected, & back in the cooler. Richard represented DoRagQ on my behalf at the Cook’s Meeting. I arrived around 6:30 PM & began a brutal interrogation of the DoRagQ Gang to bring me up to speed on what I had missed. To my surprise everything was in order & on schedule! They even had supper on the cooker! Cool, I may have to fly in late for every contest!

After I had a few minutes (& a few beers) to get over my “jet-lag” it was time to begin “socializing”! Our neighbors @ High on the Hog for the past three years were good friends Buck & Lou of “High on the Hawg” the BBQ Team not to be confused with “High on the Hog” the BBQ Contest. We hadn’t seen them since back in February in Birmingham so we commenced to catchin up. Scenic City Smokers were set up next to HOTH. It was great to see Wade & Crew again. As we made our way around the contest site we ran into Debbie & Mike Davis of Lotta Bull, Bad Byron of, & Theresa & Walt of Smokin Scotsmen. It was quickly apparent to me that the level of competition at this year’s HOTH was second to no other. DoRag runnin buddies Long Dawgs, Team Top Chick, Warren County Pork Choppers, Team Allegro, Swiggin Pig, & Big & Twig were also in attendance & we stopped & visited with them all! I know I have said this before but we are truly like one big family (dysfunctional at times) but we are really glad to see each other. Several of the teams were participating in the ancillary categories. This year the “Anything Butt” was steak & Wampler was also sponsoring the sausage category. As they made their turn-ins we headed back to Casa DoRag for some supper. Joining us were Caryn & Brutha Bob Hatcher & their daughter Campbell, Karen & Mark of BBQ TV, Tana Shupe, Ron Harwell, & of course Buck & Lou of HOTH. Richard prepared wonderful smoked pork tenderloin & a potato & onion casserole. Brutha Bob made some kick-ass slaw & potato salad. For desert we had a healthy chug of “Apple Pie”. It don’t get much better than that! Good food, good friends, Tim’s Ford Lake, & BBQ! What you talking ‘bout Willis?

Richard & Jeff turned in for the night as “G” & me threw back a few “adult libations” while enjoying the sounds of the carnival rides & a nice glowing fire. Gary’s knee is healing nicely & he is almost back to 100%. Rob Marlow of Ulika joined us for some conversation. As I was just getting my 2nd wind I noticed the time! Midnight! Holy Crap-O Batman! It’s time to head for the Bat-Cave & hang from the ceiling! So after one more chug (ok three more) it was off to “sawin some logs”. The night seemed to drag on at a snail’s pace. Maybe cuz I had gotten accustomed to the elegant “Holiday Inn Suite” back in Cleveland but I just couldn’t seem to fall asleep. Another chug or two seemed to help & it wasn’t long before I was dreaming of winning the JACK! I was just about to collect my trophy when BAM! Jeff was climbing down the ladder from the over-head bunk but there was no ladder! Watch out, that first step is a doosie! Ok wide awake again…… Somehow I managed for fall back asleep just in time to hear the alarm. Nice….

As the sun slowly rose the smell of hickory filled the air. The carnival rides were silent & all was peaceful…. until the local fishing tournament launched from the boat ramp located right next to Casa DoRag! It sounded like the Royal Navy in pursuit of a German U-Boat! Oh well it was time to get bizzy cookin BBQ anyway. The brisket & pork butts were just about to temperature as we did final prep on the ribs & chicken. Our chicken & pork results from our last contest in Benton KY were less than desirable so we had made a few tweaks in hopes of a better product. The key here is to keep the adjustments small. Don’t make wholesale changes at a contest. Do that at home when you practice. Take it from one that knows!

After breakfast & our 10:30 Early Times Shot, it was time to put our DoRags on & get serious about getting the product in the boxes & safely turned in. For the most part we have this down to a science. The hardest thing for me is waiting for Gary & Richard to tell me what they think when they taste the product. Richard just mumbles & Gary always says “Not our best”! Ok DoRaggers give me some feedback I can understand & work with. I am sure Jeff was about to bust out laughing as the “Three Stooges wearing DoRags” decided which rack of ribs to go with! The first rack was heavy with heat I was in a panic fearing the other racks would taste the same. After all, I used the same rubs & amounts on each rack so they must taste the same right? Wrong Young Weed-hopper! Each rack is different. Here is a tip for competition ribs: try to determine your best tasting rack & use only ribs from that rack to put in the box. Also be careful not to eat all the frickin ribs before you have enough to go in the box! Yes I am speaking from experience again! Somehow we managed to get the product in the boxes & get them turned in safely & on time without any casualties. A major accomplishment in its own right. All we could do now is to wait for the results.

After judging was complete, several of our judging friends came by for a visit. Most said they had “outstanding” food. Several commented the pork was really good. We could only hope that our’s was among those they were speaking of. Dennis Ricks, Richard Preston, & Fred & Maxine Kilgore all dropped by to visit & to wish us luck. As we normally do, Richard, Gary, & I sat down & reflected on our turn-ins. For chicken we all thought it was the best we had produced this year. Defiantly a step in the right direction with our tweaks. As for ribs, we all thought they were good & had great flavor. We had some mixed signals when it came to pork. We cook two butts & take samples from both to determine which has the best flavor. Richard normally makes that call & we commenced to fixin our box only to hear Nickelback exclaim “WOW”! The problem was he was tasting from the butt that we had not turned in! Fan-fricken-tastic! We still had a few minutes so we broke our rule & added some from the second butt to the box. I must admit the box looked awesome. I only hoped it tasted as good as it looked. Then we discussed our most consistent product which is brisket. We were coming off a win at our last contest in brisket & I had hoped that we could duplicate that effort at HOTH. We all agreed while it had good flavor, it was not comparable to Benton’s brisket. Oh well, not much you can do about it now. Maybe the luck of the table’s would smile down on us. All we could do now is clean up, pack up, & wait for the awards.

Awards began with the ancillaries & it was great to hear Swiggin’ Pigs name called out for first place in the Steak (anything butt) category. General Porktitioners took top honors in the Sausage category while DoRag friends Team Top Chick took first in desert! In the chicken category it was Fowl Butt BBQ (10th), Lotta Bull (9th), Music City Pig (8th) Pals, Team Bobby-Q (7th), Southern HawgsBBQ (6th), The EGGseQuative Council (5th), Ulika (4th), Big River BBQ (3rd), & good friends Long Dawgs (2nd)! At this point I was thinking we hopefully placed in the top 20! Wrong again Captain Krunch! DoRagQ got the call for First Fricken Place! Holy Crap-Ola! I could not believe it! In a field of 47 great cookers, we took 1st place chicken! As the rib calls began Team Top Chick got the 10th place call. We were still makin our way back to our seats when DoRagQ got a 9th place call in ribs. OMG…….WTF?........Sweet…..two calls at HOTH! The calls continued with (8th), High on the Hawg (7th), Smokin Scotsman (6th), Lotta Bull (5th), General Porktitioners (4th), The EGGseQuative Council (3rd), Bareknuckles BBQ (2nd), & Big & Twig takin first place! Nice! In pork it was Team Top Chick (10th), Warren County Pork Choppers (9th), ZZ-Que (8th), Steel Smokin’ BBQ (7th), Monty Pigthon (6th), Bareknuckles BBQ (5th), Music City Pig Pals (4th), Back Door Smokers (3rd), Long Dawgs (2nd), The EGGseQuative Council taking the win! The DoRagQ Gang managed a 16th in pork. An improvement from our first two outings this year. In the final category of the day brisket, it was Bareknuckles BBQ (10th), Southern Stiles BBQ (9th), Rub Won Out (8th), Long Dawgs (7th), The Golden Hogs (6th), High on the Hawg (5th), Swiggin’ Pig (4th), (3rd), Steel Smokin’ BBQ (2nd), & Team Top Chick taking the win! Again a 16th place showing for DoRagQ. We said it wasn’t as good as Benton’s & we were right! As they began to call out the overall, I figured we may be in the top 10 somewhere around 8th or 9th. Taking 10th was Rob Marlow’s Ulika, in 9th was Swiggin’ Pig, 8th was Music City Pig Pals, 7th was Buck & Lou of High on the Hawg, 6th was Lotta Bull, ok I was starting to worry now that maybe our no calls in pork & brisket were worse than I had thought! Bareknuckles came in 5th, & Team Top Chick took 4th. DoRagQ snuck in 3rd, Long Dawgs took RGC & The EGGseQuative Council took the Grand Champion! Wait, did they say DoRagQ was 3rd! Yes they did! WOW! Needless to say we were stoked with a 3rd overall in such a strong field. And what a job by Dan & Jen of Long Dawgs taking RGC! Congrats also to The EGGseQuative Council taking the GC & all the teams that got calls in such a tuff field.

So as we complete another year at Winchester’s High on the Hog contest we can hold our head high. Our tweaks seemed to take us in the right direction. We improved in most categories with the exception of brisket. I am not too worried about that. Brisket has been one of our most consistent over that past two years. I am very happy with our chicken. The DoRagQ Gang really stepped up to the plate this week. Richard & Jeff did a great job getting Casa DoRag to the cook site & set up. Gary picked up garnish & collectively they prepped meat & had things right on schedule when I arrived. They were most defiantly the “Do” in “DoRagQ” this week. It is a pleasure to have them as on our team & as friends. Congrats to Dan & Jen of Long Dawgs. You guys are due for a GC. I hope I am there when it happens. And thanks to the High on the Hog organizers. Again you guys set the bar for a well run event. I love the “goodie buckets”! We look forward the next year. As I drove home I reflected on my week. I managed to pass my software certification, was a guest on the BBQ Central Radio show, visited the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, ate at Michael Symon’s Bar Symon & spent time with the Ops Manager & the Head Chef with good friends Robert & Nikki, & came in 3rd overall our of 47 at a BBQ contest. I guess you could say that I am truly living “High on the Hog”!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Jersey Shore on Lower Broadway?

I can remember in the early '80s watching the latest "Hair Band" to hit the MTV play list.  A band fronted by it's namesake sounding alot like every other band of that era.  They had a catchy song "Runaway" which featured good vocals, harmony's, & a staccato keyboard hook.  They really didn't stand out but then who could with the likes of A Flock of Seagulls & Twisted Sister!  Jersey band Bon Jovi looked & sounded like a dozen others on MTV.  I lost track & interest in Bon Jovi until 1986 when they released their third album "Slippery when Wet" which caught my attention & apparently the attention of millions of CD buying fans.  The rest as they say "is rock & roll history"! 

Bon Jovi's April 21st visit to Nashville would be my first chance to see & hear them in person.  It was time to see for myself what these guys were all about.  I gotta tell you I was impressed.  Not only was JBJ's voice as good as it has ever been, then band was tight & precise.  The stage show while "high-tech" complete with rotating LCD screens but did not take the audience's focus away from the music.  JBJ's stage presence captivated the crowd with tightly choreographed movements but not over the top.  I got the impression that he really "liked" singing their hits for the millionth time.  The band churned out 23 songs & the crowd responded to every on of them.  I will admit there were a few that I was not familiar with but I must say I liked them all.  Especially the one's which featured the screaming guitar playing of Richie Sambora.  Hey you gotta like a guy that was married to one of the hottest chicks on the planet (Heather Locklear)!  Richie is often overlooked when you talk about great guitar players.  His love of the guitar is apparent in his mannerisms & respect for the 6 & 12 string.  He played a variety of  guitars, Les Paul, Telecaster, Martin, Ovation, & some I could not make out. He played them all with the same passion & emotion.  He also did a great job on vocals taking the lead on "Lay Your Hands on Me" & various other backing vocals & harmonies.  Tico Torres made playing the drums look effortlessly.  I don't think he even broke a sweat.  Make no mistake about it, Tico's drums contribute just as much as Richie's guitar does to the Bon Jovi sound.  Rounding out the band was David Bryan on keyboards,  Bobby Bandiera on guitar, & Hugh McDonald on bass.  There was also a chick playing the Fiddle but I don't know who she was.  As I said, JBJ's vocals were "spot on" but so was his guitar work  Banging mostly on a Martin acoustic JBJ is no stranger to the guitar.  His rhythm guitar filled the voids & made for a nice full sound. 

One thing JBJ knows how to do is connect with his audience.  I'm not talking about running around from one end of the stage to the other, although he was active, his eye contact, pearly white smile, & emotional investment let you know he was there to sing for you!  He also gave thanks several times to the fans for supporting them & even thanked them for attending the concert on a work night!  It was refreshing to hear an artist that actually knew what night of the week it was much less thank us for paying to see them.  Very classy guy & band.
Here is the set list:
Blood on Blood
We Weren't Born to Follow (New to me but I really liked it & so did the crowd)
You Give Love a Bad Name (The place went crazy)
Whole Lot of Leavin'
Born to Be My Baby (This tune still rocks)
Lost Highway
When We Were Beautiful
Superman Tonight (great song, excellent vocals)
We Got It Goin' On (fun tune)
Bad Medicine w/ Roadhouse Blues [The Doors cover] / Shout! [Isley Brothers cover]  (Awesome)
It's My Life (I forgot how good this song was)
Lay Your Hands on Me [Richie Sambora on lead vocals] (Richie did well on this, he has a great voice)
Hallelujah [Leonard Cohen cover]
I'll Be There For You
Something for the Pain [acoustic]
Someday I'll Be Saturday Night [acoustic] (nice tune)
Keep the Faith (lots of rocked! Nice guitar work Richie)
Work for the Working Man (good tune)
Who Says You Can't Go Home (I kept waiting on Sugarland to join in!)
Love's the Only Rule
Runaway (as good as the first time I heard it)
Wanted Dead or Alive (superb guitar work & vocals)
Livin' on a Prayer (one of my favs)

All in all a great evening of entertainment. Bon Jovi gives 110% & the audience give 120 % back! I enjoyed the evening & have a stronger appreciation for what Bon Jovi has accomplished throughout their career. I even bought a fricken T-Shirt! Sadly they had no DoRags! I think they are missing out on a great marketing opportunity. My only dissapointment was they did not play my favorite Bon Jovi tune "Dry County"! But one thing is for sure, the boyz from Jersey can rock & roll with the best of them! Thanks Bon Jovi for Rockin Lower Broadway!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

DoRagQ's Next Event: American Bass Anglers BBQ Cookoff Lake Hartwell South Carolina

Saturday May 1, 2010
Anderson, SC (Civic Center)
Host: Anderson Convention & Visitors Bureau
Host Hotel: Home-town Suites
151 Civic Center Blvd.
Anderson, SC 29625

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Benton Kentucky Tater Days

Tater Day is a large festival in Benton, Kentucky held on the first Monday in April. It was started in 1843 as a celebration of spring, and a time when all of the townsfolk would get together and trade in sweet potato slips, used to grow the plants. For several years a BBQ contest has been held the weekend before the Tater Parade. In 2007 this contest was our first official contest as DoRagQ. It was also the first contest I did with Gary "Nickelback" Lackey. In 2008 & 2009 we competed in Clarksville but for 2010 Clarksville moved their date so Tater Days was once again on our schedule.

Friday came around & I was not sure if we were going to make it or not! Problems at work had kept me occupied for most of the wee hours of the morning & sleep was the first thing on my mind! It all seemed to work out & after only a few hours of shut-eye we were on our way to Benton. Gary & Richard joined me & made the 2-hour drive seem like 120 minutes.... and soon we were pullin into the contest site. We had heard the contest was full with 38 teams which was great considering last year there were only 13 entries. We arrived right behind our good friends of Shade Tree Cooks. Already set up were J Mack Cookers, Son Seekers, & a few others. We found our spot & commenced to getting setup.

During setup the "Meat Inspector" paid us a visit & gave us his seal of approval so it was time to prep. David & Pam Wilson of Gettin Piggy With It would be driving in from "Elvis Town" to hang out with the DoRagQ Gang. David & I are working on a project together & since they were not cooking this contest we invited them to come & hang out. They arrived as we were starting to prep. As many times as we have done this routine it is still easy to mess up if you don't focus. We seemed to have an issue with one of our ingredients that threw our rhythm off a bit. Some quick thinking & a borrowed kitchen appliance & we were back on track.

With meat prepped & GTG (good to go) we headed to find some grub. Tater Days is like a big midway & Flea Market combined. You can get anything fried (Twinkies, snickers bars, taters, corndogs, GIANT corndogs) & find all kinds of stuff to purchase. We managed to walk past the vending trailers & found a local Diner/BBQ joint. We avoided the BBQ which is their specialty & opted for burgers which are not their specialty. Suddenly a friend Ding-Dong was sounding pretty good! So we headed back to the contest site to do some socializin!

During our Tater Days culinary tour several more teams arrived! It was good to see Podge (MoonSwiners) & Scottie (Cancer Sucks BBQ), Team Allegro, Smelly Butts, Music City Pig Pals, Blues Hog BBQ, Ole Man Larry! We would have to be on our game to compete with these heave hitters! J Mack is fresh off a big win in Mobile & Cancer Sucks & MoonSwiners were World Champions in 2006 & 2007 respectively! Even though I was a bit "star-struck" by these great teams, I knew that we have as good a chance as any of them. That's what is cool (or not) about competition BBQ. On any given day anyone can win! All you can hope for is to do your best & let the taters fall where they may! After a few hugs & catching up it was time for the Cook's Meeting. Ron & Mary Cato who were the KCBS Reps gave us the low-down. Organizer Ed Jones was kind enough to give one of our sponsors Early Times Whisky a shout out! Of course I had to bribe him with some ET SWAG for the "Goodie Bags". But he, we love representin ET! Good Time with Early Times!

After the meeting adjourned it was time to prepare for DoRag's Friday Night Feast! Richard was preparing our usual pork loin, BBQ-baked taters (bought locally), & hot sausage. Several of our Kentucky friends would be droppin by & hanging with the DoRag Gang. The Tabors, Robin, Shawn, & Justin brought some delicious slaw & a fab Carrot Cake! Donny & Tracy Bray of Warren County Pork Choppers joined us & brought more pork & taters. Lisa Apedaile & friends & the Hatchers, Caryn, Bob, & C bell arrived & before you knew it the DoRagQ Gang was in full "Party Mode". Of course after dinner it was time for "Pie"! We had plain, peach, & apple! Aunt Bee would have been proud or at least Buzzed! Mighty fine mighty fine! Once all had left we made a late night stop at WC Pork Choppers to meet Donny's Brother-In-Law Jeff who is also a music freak like me. I had to make myself head back to Casa DoRag if I was goin to get some rest. After all we are here to compete in a contest. You have to be "on-point" to finish well in any contest now days. Concentration & stamina or lack of can make or break you at a contest. So off I headed to get a few hours of shut-eye.

We had been expecting rain during the night but as we woke up at 4 AM it hadn’t arrived yet but by 5 AM the wind picked up & a steady rain began. Pork & brisket were on track as we made final prep on ribs & chicken. Everything was still going as planned! Then suddenly out of nowhere the sky turned blue, the wind died down, & the sun began to shine! I was not sure if we could cook in these conditions! We are so accustomed to cooking in the pouring rain how would we adapt! Except for a few muddy spots & some standing water here & there you could not have asked for a better day! The rest of the cook went off without any major issues. We are still a little rusty & struggling with some flavor profiles. Nothing more cooking won't cure. We had our traditional "Early Times Shot" & managed to get everything in the box & turned it on time! Yippee!

Once we finish turn-ins we sit down for a few minutes & share our thoughts about our product. We always say "not our best .....". I thought the chicken was too spicy & a bit dry. Ribs were just ok.....nothing to write home about. Pork had good flavor & looked great. I was most excited about our brisket. I had heard about Ragu Brisket from the BBQ Pitmaster show on TLC. Ragu seemed a bit out of place in BBQ but he I'll try anything once. So I had injected our brisket with Ragu Sauce. If it didn't work out I could always just add some pasta & have brisket spaghetti!

It was finally time to hear the results! Rick’s Pit Stop took the win in chicken with Kentucky Koolers, De’Boners, Ole Man Larry’s BBQ, Big JT’s Smokin BBQ in 2nd thru 5th. A shout out to our friends Music City Pig Pals (7th), Smokin’ Hose Grillin Team (8th), & Team Allegro (9th). No call for DoRagQ….bummer! In ribs Rollin’ Rumps took 1st with Verner’s Barnyard BBQ, Cancer Sucks BBQ, K&K Kookers, & Shade Tree Cooks coming in 2nd thru 5th. Great job by Son Seekers BBQ (6th), J Mack Cookers (7th), & Smelly Butts (9th). Again no call for DoRag….bummer! In pork it was J Mack Cookers takin top honors with MoonSwiners, K&K Kookers, Blues Hog BBQ, & Steel Smokin BBQ in 2nd thru 5th. Congrats to Team Allegro (7th), WC Pork Choppers (8th), & Cancer Sucks BBQ (10th)….Again no call for DoRag……DAMN! In brisket Cancer Sucks BBQ was 2nd with Smelly Butts, Florida Skin & Bones, & MC Pig Pals 3rd thru 5th. Oh I forgot to mention who took 1st……HELL YES! DoRagQ that’s who! We took first frickin place! No spaghetti tonight! A shout out to Ole Man Larry (6th), Son Seekers (9th) & Redneck Grillers (10th). Congrats to Cancer Sucks BBQ for taking the overall Grand Champion with K&K Kookers Reserve GC. J Mack a strong 3rd, Rick’s Pit Stop, Florida Skin & Bones, Team Allergro, Rollin’ Rumps, Smelly Butts, & Shade Tree Cooks 4th thru 9th. Thanks to that Ragu brisket we managed to squeeze in the top ten with a 10th place finish overall. The 23rd place chicken, 14th place ribs, & 23rd place pork needed a strong score from brisket to save the day.

Ok, plenty of room for improvement. If this was easy everybody would be winning right? We gotta re-think some things. I am not ready to make wholesale changes but we have to make some tweaks here & there. We had great weather, saw some BBQ friends & family, & had a frickin great time cooking BBQ! Livin the dream!

Gotta thank our sponsors, Wireless Plus & Early Times Whisky. Thanks for your support. As always, thanks to Gary “Nickelback” Lackey & Richard “New-Do” Finley for being the Do in DoRagQ! You guys make it fun. Glad you are willin to put up with me for another year.  Also thanks to David & Pam Wilson for hangin out with us all weekend.  You guys are a blast!  Next up, High on the Hog in Winchester! One of my favorite contests. Hope you can make it out. Drop by & visit if you do. We love company! Until then “if your lookin, you ain’t cookin…shut the damn smoker”.

P.S. I got to thinkin if the Ragu worked so well on the brisket maybe I should try Ragu on the chicken, ribs, & pork. I’ll get back to ya on that....later Gator!

American Bass Anglers Early Times Whisky BBQ Contest Results Gainsville, GA

March 13, 2010
I just realized that I did not post our results from Gainsville. Please click the link below to view the results of the ABA Early Times Whisky BBQ Contest in Gainsville, GA.  A full recap will be posted soon.