We're just back from the doubleheader Gold Ribbin’ BBQ Fest in Green Bay. What a weekend it was! It’s great to have a good cook and even better when you have one on both days, especially when you’re up against 58 other teams.
I scored my very first 1st place in Chicken on Day 1 which helped us land 9th overall. And we took 5th overall on Day 2 thanks to 3rd in Chicken, 11th in Ribs and 2nd in Brisket.
Let’s just say Pork continues to be an “opportunity” for us.
Here’s my Top 10 of all the Freakiest moments:
10. The Freak Force is real, and it was palpable before we even arrived in Green Bay
9. It’s never good to look out the window and see one of your 40-pound canopy anchors levitating from yet another freak storm
8. We were only 100 feet from a liquor store, but 1000 feet from turn-in
7. I ran into my wolf doppelgänger and her hat was WAY cooler than mine
6. I lost my wolf hat temporarily at awards when an adorable little boy borrowed it
5. We took a gamble and it paid off
4. The new Smoke Freaks lighters are battle-tested and proven to bring out the Freakage
3. I loved that chicken from the moment I first laid eyes on it
2. I was determined not to drop that 18-pound trophy when they presented it to me
1. Our pork was serenaded each morning for good luck - click here to see the video!!
Special guest blogger appearance by Mr. Freak...
We’ve always considered Brisket the Kilimanjaro of KCBS barbecue. It’s hard for a lot of cooks to conquer, not so much because it’s technically difficult, but rather because of the sheer expense involved in making the journey.
Most of us have to cook more than a few cases of those big, beautiful, budget-busting slabs of beef before we even get a glimpse of the summit. And that costs a crapload of money, even if you’re cooking CABs from Costco.
Fortunately we found a shortcut early this year that helped us make our run at the top of the mountain. We’re not there yet, but we got pretty close last weekend at Sam’s Club with a 178-point-whatever, having missed our first 180 by a tenderness point.
The shortcut? It’s called Mystery Beef.
This all started at our first comp of the year, CCS Fest in Indy. After a long winter off, we came out guns blazing with strong calls in Chicken, Ribs and Pork. But we finished in the bottom half of the pack overall, thanks to terrible Brisket that deserved every one of the 5s it got at the judges table.
We made the bonehead move of trying a hot new ingredient without even doing a test cook. Matter of fact, we didn’t even taste it before Mr. Freak went injecting that stuff into a $180 Wagyu brisket.
It turned out to be a lethal mistake, but from the ashes of that 139.92 box of horrors, Mystery Beef was born.
What is Mystery Beef?
Don’t ask Mr. Freak, he doesn’t know. And Ms. Freak doesn’t know either. All we know is the stuff evidently works pretty well on Brisket, and it was first perfected the night before Day 2 of Masters in May, where we RGCed thanks, in part, to the magical qualities of Mystery Beef.
Masters Day 1 had been pretty ugly for us, and Brisket had again proven to be our nemesis. We were still tuning our recipe in real-time on competition day, and it bit us in the ass AGAIN!
Confident the problem had something to do with the fancy new injection, Ms. Freak decided to do something about it. She changed the formula of the injection mix, trying something completely different than prescribed on the package. The end result: Smoke Freaks Full-Strength Beef mix.
Meanwhile, Mr. Freak had his own ideas, so he doctored the base injection as supplied by Ms. Freak, not knowing that she had already thrown the original recipe out the window.
By the time we pumped the new concoction into our Day 2 SRF Black Label, we realized neither of us had any idea what was actually in the stuff.
Mr. Freak was pretty bent out of shape about it, but Ms. Freak remained sanguine and simply labeled the remaining injection “??? Beef ???”
A few hours later we were driving home, smiling ear-to-ear the way BBQ teams do after a killer day. We’d not only RGCed, but we got a nice call in Brisket -- our first of the year!
Mr. Freak tried to take credit for fixing the brisket injection. And so did Ms. Freak.
That’s when we realized, not only did we not know what Mystery Beef is, neither of us knew exactly what we did to make it. So we spent the rest of the drive back-tracking every step until we were each pretty sure we’d figured out our respective parts of the formula.
I’d tell you what goes into my half of the injection, but Ms. Freak doesn’t even know that secret. Some things are best left a Mystery, and as long as our Brisket recipe is working, that’s what it will remain.
Next stop: Gold Ribbin’ BBQ Fest in Green Bay, our 4th double-header of the season. Freak ON!
We just wrapped up a much needed week off from the BBQ trail. The highlight of our week “off” was a 3-way pork test where we went back to basics for inspiration.
Pork has been our nemesis all year, and despite working on it constantly, we just haven’t been able to turn things around in the judges’ tent. Oh what I would give for my first pork call! But like the song goes, “you can’t always get what you want.” And true to the song, I guess I did get what I needed - some pork help from our BBQ family.
Yep, these are the folks that we go up against each weekend, and they’re also the same people who would lend you a hand and give you the shirt off their back. Their advice was much appreciated and it gave us the inspiration to do yet another test cook, this time with simplification in mind.
We tested our go-to pork recipe (T1) against an early 2017 recipe (T3) that earned us our only pork award of the year … and a new recipe (T2) created just this week. While we were at it, we tried our hand at some new trimming methods that seem promising and way more efficient.
(Truth be told, I’m feeling some pressure to get some pork points on the board as we head into our first appearance at the Qualifiers for the Sam’s Club National BBQ Tour. The top 6 teams advance to Regionals so we really need pork to be working for us vs. crushing our dreams.
We thought T2 was the clear winner on appearance, taste and tenderness. By a lot. The funny thing is all aspects of the recipe - trimming, injection, rubbing, wrapping, carving, saucing and boxing -- are super simple.
So it was decided, we’ll put it to the test at Sam’s Club this weekend!
Now we just gotta nail our entire cook, starting now.
I really needed this week off from the BBQ competition trail. After 10 contests, including a string of 3 doubles and a 1,000 mile journey for a Minnesota comp, it was time to take a break. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-by-day excitement and flurry of BBQ-related activities and for me, not so easy to take a pause, rest and recharge.
We had one of our toughest cooks recently in Kewanee, IL, which I attribute partially to not being rested from the previous week’s double and the 1,000 miles of driving our Wolf Wagon. I definitely didn’t see it coming even though I thought I was taking pretty good care of myself.
When we’re competing, I get a lot less sleep and average about 15,000 steps a day. What I hadn’t really paid too much attention to is the impact of walking up and down the RV steps hundreds of times in a weekend. Our Wolf Wagon setup is a vast improvement over where we started with a tent in the street, but it still forces us to haul a lot of stuff in and out and up and down. And at the end of the day, we’re still cooking out in the street under a tent.
It all starts to take a toll.
It’s been a great week off so far. We’ve surrounded ourselves with fresh vegetables and fruit, have hung out with family and friends and have been able to tackle plenty of other life priorities that were stacking up.
BBQ is still on my mind though.
Like today. It’s Wednesday which means it’s meat trimming day… but not today! Hooray!
And then last night when we had neighbors over for Taco Tuesday featuring last week’s competition leftovers. It was great to hear people rave about the pork, especially since the judges don’t seem to like it.
Although we’re laying low this this weekend, we’re another A/B/C test to dial in our pork recipe before Sam’s Club in Indianapolis next weekend.
One of my BBQ friends recently announced that he “wasn’t gonna change anything” after a disappointing showing at the Westmont Red, White & BBQ competition. Smoke Freaks were equally perplexed with our results from that event, as we had one of our best ever cooks, only to be nearly shut out at awards.
When something that’s always worked stops working, it really starts to get under your skin.
It makes you stop and think about whether it’s time to make an adjustment or whether to just hang in there through the rough patch, knowing (hoping) it will eventually turn around. It’s hard to know exactly when to make that pivot since judging has inherent subjective aspects (like “taste”) and you hit new judges each week.
And how do you ever know what the right answer is?
I’ve heard of a general rule to give it at least 3 cooks before you make changes, and then start with one change at a time. Others stay the course and continue to do what they do best. And some take on bigger risks with larger scale changes.
We’re facing that crossroads with pork this year. We had an early call at the beginning of the season and are cooking better than ever before, yet our scores aren’t what we want them to be. And that’s true even since before I became the pork cook.
We’re getting pretty tired of the status quo, so we’ve started to make some adjustments to pork. The first was a flavor element last weekend that carries into this weekend’s debut of some new Freakage at the Heritage Days BBQ Showdown in Belvidere, IL.
Last Saturday, in the middle of our chicken cook, I had a complete freak out. I couldn’t remember if I had actually made the turn-in boxes or not. All 4 boxes were ready to go, of course, but it really struck me that this momentary uncertainty could have gotten under my skin to the point of interfering with a cook that was going very, very well.
(Worst case scenario, we would have gone commando on the boxes. But shaking off that feeling of dread was not so easy, at least for me.)
The Smoke Freaks method of competition BBQ is a series of hundreds and hundreds of little tasks that are all really important. Many things have to happen in a very specific way, and so many tasks are completely dependent on other tasks. When you’re having a great cook, all of those things happen in perfect harmony. It all just flows and the right things happen at exactly the right time.
But in order to pull this off, you’ve got to have your game face on -- AND -- you have to be ready to deal with the unexpected. Because something will usually happen that could knock you off course.
Supplies: Do you bring all the right stuff needed to execute your cook? What if you accidentally left the injections at home? Can you figure out a way to deal with it or are you SOL?
(Wo)Manning the Pit: Are you focused enough to keep an eye on your pit temps for the duration of the cook even when you have to multitask? If you had to crank open the exhaust to bring up the temp, did you remember to adjust it back down at just the right time so it doesn’t run away from you?
Boxing: Are you observant enough to find anything weird, like a worm in your kale? Because even a microscopic piece of foil will get you DQ’d. It could have happened to us in a brisket box last year in Indiana, but fortunately we discovered it in time and walked away with an RGC instead of a DQ.
Weather: Can you deal with 35 MPH winds or a huge downpour right as you’re getting ribs on? It’s no sweat for the teams who basically cook indoors, but those of us under popups have to batten down the hatches.
Equipment & Fuel: Can your cooker deal with these weather conditions and still run steady? (Our Hunsaker Smokers ran perfectly during two days of crazy weather.) Did you put the charcoal and wood somewhere where it won’t get wet?
Transportation: What if the lock on your RV door malfunctions and you can’t open it? Will you have time to find an RV store, locate the right part and be able to install a new lock? (Been there, done that.)
The Enemy Within: Can you deal with ever-changing conditions and all the logistics that are needed to pull off a winning cook? Can you handle all the uncertainty? Do you believe in yourself enough to rise above whatever comes your way? Do you want it bad enough?
Next up on the American Freakage Tour is stop #9, the Hog Capital Challenge in Kewanee, IL. Freak ON!
A week off from the American Freakage Tour 2017 has given me lots of time to reflect on our season after the 6 competition mark. As we prepare for a 1,000 mile road trip this weekend, Smoke Freaks have seen new achievements and even came close to BBQ glory… and we’ve been plenty disappointed.
Sometimes it comes from within. Like that nagging realization of not being on top of your game, when your focus was off and you knew you blew it. Yeah, that stinks. And other times, it’s a result of cranking out one of your best cooks ever, only for the judges to have other ideas.
The data illustrates that Smoke Freaks have clearly had more ups and downs this year than we did in our first season, despite the additional competition experience we’ve gained. I think we’re competing at a higher level this year, and when our scores tank, we’re sometimes left scratching our heads.
I’ve come to believe that the best and most consistent measure of success in competition BBQ is your own assessment of your performance. I think you return from the day’s last turn in with a very clear sense of how you did, if you’re brutally honest with yourself -- at least we do. In two recent competitions, I summed it up like this, “I don’t care what happens at awards, I’m proud of this cook and wouldn’t change a thing.”
Now in one of those competitions, we walked away as Reserve Grand Champions in a field of 59. And in the other, we got totally, and I mean totally smoked. So what gives? In the long run, I think a lot comes down to skill. But in the short term, there’s a whole lot of luck involved.
Sometimes, all you get is the personal satisfaction of knowing it was a cook to be proud of. Even if it was an amazing cook, the kind where everything comes together splendidly… that might be all you get. It doesn’t matter how hard you tried or how much money you spent or how many miles you drove to get there. Sometimes, that’s all you get.
And then sometimes, that makes you even more determined to hit the jackpot like we’re planning to do up at the Mankato Cookoff on June 10th and 11th. It’s our first competition in Minnesota so we’re excited to deliver the Freakage!
I never dreamed of being the pork cook, but I am always up for a new challenge. So it seemed like the perfect time to take on another meat in our quest for BBQ glory. I’ve been our chicken cook since last July so adding pork gives me control of half our cook, which makes sense, as Mr. Freak and I have always been equal partners.
But this is pork. I’ll admit that meat feels a little daunting since it’s such a different cook. With chicken, each thigh is an individual piece that may or may not go into the turn-in box. We cook plenty of extras, so if I screw up a thigh or two or four, I’ve still got plenty to consider for boxing. Pork is different. It’s a big meat, so it takes longer to cook, meaning there’s more effort to make sure everything runs smoothly.
And that big hunk of meat consists of a bunch of different muscles, which all cook differently. Timing is everything in the tenderness game. And for me, boxing pork is intrinsically more difficult, because you may have one type of pork meat to box with, or two, or three if you’re lucky. And it changes from cook to cook.
Fortunately, I don’t need to learn a new pit. We’re already using Clownfish, our newest Hunsaker Smokers cooking machine for chicken, so I’ve got that down. Our plan is to continue to use Clownfish for pork in the early morning and then for chicken when pork comes off. That leaves Redrum and Pam for the rib and brisket cooks, respectively. It’s a massive advantage to be able to have three different pits running at three different temperatures as needed.
To prepare for this weekend’s doubleheader competition, we did a two-variate A/B test, consisting of 4 separate butt sections. We sampled a lot of pork that day, focusing primarily on taste. I won’t give away all the juicy details, but will say that we’re feeling good about the flavor profile we landed on. We hope the judges agree as they Taste the Freakage.
And as stubborn as I am to do the cook independently, I can’t deny the comfort that comes from having Mr. Freak as my pork mentor. We got this!
We’ll be putting Operation Pork to the test this weekend in Westmont, IL at the “Red, White & BBQ” competition in Ty Warner Park. Freak ON!
Smoke Freaks had a wild ride at our first appearance at the Masters in May doubleheader last weekend. We ended up 45th out of 56 teams on Day 1 -- aka totally smoked. We were disappointed, upset, distressed and pretty shaken up.
But somehow, we had to shake it off to have any chance of a good cook on Day 2. It took a lot of serious focus but we managed to pull it off. We danced and howled our way to the Reserve Grand Championship on Day 2 and our very first 1st place award (Ribs)!!
Here's what I learned from that experience:
10. Lock in 4WD before you drag an 8,000 pound trailer into the mud
9. The BBQ family takes care of each other
8. Get to "Walking Biscuits & Gravy" early
7. Mary makes the best Bloody Marys
6. Don't be downwind when Mr. Freak applies the Freakage Rub
5. Darren is the nicest guy in BBQ
4. The Matrix of Freakage works
3. Ask for advice and you'll probably get it
2. Be resilient no matter how badly you get smoked
1. Never give up on the box
We'll be back on the BBQ trail Memorial Day weekend at the "Red, White & BBQ" Competition in Westmont, IL. Until then, Freak ON!
There you have it -- the words that no BBQ competition team ever wants to see on a comment card. BURN!
How did this happen? What could we have done differently? And most importantly, what have we learned?
It all started 3 weeks ago at our first of 25 competitions this year, CCS Fest in Indianapolis.
After a long off-season, we were finally back on the BBQ trail, cooking and reuniting with our BBQ family. Despite a nagging feeling that we had forgotten something, everything was going well.
On cook day, the weather was still a little windy, but nothing our pits from Hunsaker Smokers couldn’t handle. The sun was coming out and it turned into a lovely crisp spring day. And we had a good cook. Things fell into place, and we worked well together as a team. It felt good to be back.
And then finally, it’s time for awards. Such anticipation… HERE WE GO! Chicken. 9th place. Alright, we’re off to a good start. 6th place ribs, also nice. Ribs have always been our specialty, and we were pretty sure we’d placed. And then pork. Smoke Freaks for 7th place!!
That means 3 of 3 calls, a fantastic place to be sitting in, especially for your first cook of the season! People around us were starting to chatter and consider the possibilities… and for a very brief moment, I allowed my brain to drift over into the land of BBQ glory. BUT WAIT. We knew something no one else knew … our brisket was a fail.
(And when I say “fail,” I mean it sucked. The slices were like leather, so imagine the fun I had boxing up an anemic looking collection of burnt ends.)
But maybe, just maybe, by some miracle, we hit 11th in brisket and that might be good enough for something, right? NOPE. 42nd in brisket. Out of 45 teams. That dragged our overall score from top-3 to 25th. OUCH.
When the winners were announced, everyone around us was perplexed, asking how we managed to get 3 good calls but miss the overall top-10?
Well, this comment card sums it up pretty well...
We used our laminator to preserve that comment card, which memorializes the worst score we’ve ever received. It now hangs on the wall of the Wolf Wagon. Between that haunting reminder and our own Freaky efforts to diagnose and fix our our brisket problem, I can promise you we will never let that happen again.
What else did we learn? Work hard and play to win, but never take yourself too seriously. Own your mistakes and move on. Be humble. Stay Freaky.
We’re putting those lessons to the test this weekend at the Great Wisconsin Tune-Up in Manawa, WI. Freak ON!
Smoke Freaks are all packed up and ready for our first competition of the year at CCS Fest this weekend in Indianapolis. CCS Fest is the first stop on our American Freakage Tour 2017, where we will cover 5 states, 10,000 miles, 1,500 pounds of meat and 25 competitions for 1 goal -- BBQ glory.
It’s been a long, long off-season. During our time off, we put a lot of time into other parts of our BBQ operation.
Practice, practice, practice. I lost track of the total number of test cooks we did over the winter and spring, but it was a freaking lot. So many pieces of chicken to prep… so many slabs of ribs… countless flavor profiles for pork… brisket, brisket, brisket…
Freak Rub development and final testing. Over the fall, we did a “BBQ Rub Taste Test” with about 50 people to get their reactions to things like saltiness, sweetness, spice heat level, what types of food they would envision it on and how much they liked it. Then we spent the winter applying that feedback to our final recipe tweaks with more test cooks. Coming soon!
Supercharging the Smoke Freaks brand. It’s so cool to apply your professional brand marketing experience to your own brand. I’ve done this kind of work many times in my career but it’s so much more personal and the stakes are so much higher because it is YOUR brand. I tell you, in all of my years in Corporate America, I’ve never worked so hard on a brand or had as much fun as I did with this one. It’s great to have a solid foundation in place that will help us tell the story of our Smoke Freaks brand… Freak ON!
Sprucing up the Wolf Wagon. Our BBQ war machine, aka The Wolf Wagon, has finally been fully repaired from last year’s accident… it only took 10 months. We also added a new set of tires just this week to get totally roadworthy.
Securing sponsors for 2017. We started working on our sponsorship plan back in the fall by asking ourselves how WE could deliver value to sponsors, not the other way around. We did lots of brainstorming on potential partners and the specific offerings that would make up each sponsorship level. In the end, we focused on brands where we already had strong relationships and natural synergies.
Drum roll please… our American Freakage Tour 2017 is sponsored by Wichita Packing Company (provider of our premium BBQ meats), Hunsaker Smokers (builder of our amazing drum smokers) and Windy City Wood Products (purveyor of everything we burn in BBQ). We’re so appreciative of their support!
So after all that, we’re finally ready to jump back into the competition circuit this weekend. Good luck to everyone competing at CCS Fest this weekend in Indianapolis!
It all comes down to this. Smoke Freaks have one more shot at BBQ glory this weekend at our 10th and final competition of 2016, the "Central Illinois Bragging Rights" in Arthur, IL.
Right now we're sitting on #25 in Ribs in the nationwide standings for teams that have cooked up to 10 events, and we're hoping a great rib cook at Arthur will push us into the Top 10.
There's nothing like a little extra pressure to go along with all the cobwebs that have accumulated in the 9 weeks since our last competition. Yikes.
Mr. Freak says "don't worry; it's just like riding a bike."
And you know, he's right. Our bike might be rusty, but no guts, no glory baby! We'll just have to activate our Freak Force Powers (aka howl) to get the job done.
We're about to call our 2016 competition season a wrap, but will soon have plenty of exciting news on our new line of Smoke Freaks BBQ rubs and seasonings. That's right, you'll soon be able to Taste the Freakage right in the comfort of your own home.
Stay tuned to our website and Facebook page for all the latest updates.
Until then, howl whenever you can, stay freaky and SMOKE ON!
We always get a little uncomfortable whenever we take time off of the competition BBQ trail. Sure, the extra time is nice, but we start to get antsy and ask ourselves, “just what have we done lately?” Well that moment started to present itself as I sat down to write this blog post. Turns out, we did quite a lot.
First we watched two of our friends get drawn for The Jack! The Jack Daniel’s World Championship BBQ Invitational contest is the Superbowl of BBQ and at the very top of every pro team’s list of dreams.
Teams make The Jack either with an automatic entry (such as by winning 7 Grand Championships at qualifying events) or by being lucky enough to have their “bung” (barrel stopper) drawn.
Last Friday was “Draw Day” and Smoke Freaks was stoked to see that two of our friends got in! We’re so proud of our friends Bill (Thunder Hog BBQ) and Mark (Smokin Aces at thebbqsuperstore.com) who are headed to Lynchburg in October. Wishing you all the best!
We think our friend Mark from Smokin Aces at thebbqsuperstore.com said it best:
"A journey that began in 2009 with my good friend Scott.... Since that journey began I had 1 goal, to make The Jack. Well after almost 175 contests, 15 Reserve Grand Champions and 8 Grand Champions, tens of thousands of miles and dollars spent chasing a dream, that dream finally came true!"
(The Jack. One of our goals for Smoke Freaks in 2017.)
And then we started a business. Smoke Freaks, LLC. It's real. We're going to make something of Smoke Freaks. We're on our way with several business paths that we're working on.
Coincidentally, our business became official on the 39th anniversary of Elvis’ passing. And so, I leave you with an Elvis quote that sums up our drive to build Smoke Freaks into something that matters.
"You only pass through this life once, you don't come back for an encore."
Stay tuned for our next freaky chapter of Smoke Freaks...
It was a glorious weekend with absolutely perfect BBQ weather. Highs in the 70s with clear skies and sunshine. And no rain!! After a long drive, we pulled up at a local campground for a quick overnight before arriving at the Manitowoc County Expo and Fairgrounds on Friday monrning.
With 26 other teams competing, we got to see old friends and make new ones. We even slipped away on Friday night to catch a few races at the Speedway, which was right next to the competition area.
Saturday got off to a great start, thanks our wake up song, Werewolves of London…
... and a killer biscuits and gravy breakfast from Tim’s Full Belli Deli!
Saturday’s cook went really well and we had many laughs (and howls) throughout the day, including many at the awards ceremony. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the moment we got 2nd place in chicken, our best chicken score to date. I was beaming with pride over that that chicken score, which combined with 5th in ribs and 4th in brisket was good enough for 4th overall!
But no rest for the weary as we had to do it all over again on Sunday. Another beautiful day and man, Smoke Freaks were totally in synch and our cook followed our timeline almost to the minute. We scored 7th in chicken, 3rd in ribs and 5th in pork, giving us another 4th overall! (We missed 3rd overall by .6 points!)
We were thrilled with our consistency over the last few competitions, but now need to get all 4 meats scoring well within the same cook.
Thanks for reading our blog for a little Taste of the Freakage!
Smoke Freaks took last weekend off for some much needed R&R at home. It was our first weekend off after 7 contests in 6 weeks and we didn’t really appreciate just how much we needed that recharger.
Of course we were busy during our week off. Lots of time with our nieces and nephews mixed in with everyday life stuff that can get away from you when you’re so busy: oil changes, cleaning and laundry! We even picked our first beets from the garden!
It was a nice week… but… we didn’t expect to be haunted by BBQ the entire time. BBQ was always there, always on our minds and even taking over our dreams. Lots of BBQ dreams. Most of them were BBQ nightmares, which was too damn freaky for us:
We’re ready to shake that mojo off and hit the road for the Badger Brew & Que this weekend. We’ll be in Manitowoc, WI for another double-header and lots of freakiness.
If you’re in Manitowoc on 8/6 and 8/7, stop by to Taste the Freakage!
Smoke Freaks survived the brutal heat of the Effingham BBQ Jam last weekend. It was a weekend of blood, sweat and…. brisket!!
There’s nothing better than standing over a hot cooker all day, except snagging 4th place pork and 3rd place brisket! Our best brisket result EVER!!
We were happy to get our Freak Streak back on track and seriously stoked about our brisket performance. Our brisket is back, but now our chicken needs some work. Turns out we missed another Reserve Grand Championship by less than a point, due to my 19th place chicken!?!
The Effingham competition was staged on the streets around the town square, which was a pretty cool set up. We even got to turn in our meats to the judges at the Effingham county jail building!
So we're taking our first weekend off after 7 competitions in 6 weeks to enjoy the comforts of home. It does feels a little strange not to be loading up for a competition and we’ve both had BBQ nightmares about forgetting to cook a meat or bring one of the smokers.
(Oh, and you better believe that I’ll be practicing my chicken cook to get that back on track. Game on.)
If you’re in Manitowoc on August 6th and 7th, come out to Taste the Freakage!
Here are a few Freaky moments from Effingham…
We arrived at the New Palestine Wine, Brew & BBQ Too competition with a simple mission: cook our #@%&s off. Smoke Freaks rose to the occasion and snagged our first RGC, or Reserve Grand Championship!
It was a fierce battle facing 38 teams on Day 1 of the double-header, including 5 of the top 25 teams in the nation. We cooked this double-header weekend as a 2-man team, for only the second time. Much of our success that day should be attributed to our level of organization and planning, both of which we needed to lean on heavily.
When it was all said and done, I got my second-ever chicken call (9th place) and we also snagged 4th in Ribs. We couldn’t believe our ears when they called Smoke Freaks again for 4th in Pork. And we lost our minds when we were named Reserve Grand Champions!
And just like that, they wiped our names off that great big check and wrote in our friends Thunder Hog BBQ as RGC for Day 2. We, on the other hand, got totally shut out. We cooked exactly as we had the day prior, but it just wasn’t our day. Those judges scored some killer BBQ, that’s for sure.
Here are a few Freaky moments from New Palestine...
We cooked our first double-header at the Gold Ribbin' BBQ Fest at Lambeau Field this past weekend. Not only did we survive, but we kept the Smoke Freak streak alive!
From that moment on it was a constant blur of activity. A blend of focus and fun. Smoke Freaks are totally serious about serving a great product to the judges, but we're Freaks, so we like to have a good time. Take for example, our team rally cry: "Smoke Freaks. Arrrrrrrgh. Hooooooowl. SMOKE FREAKS!" (That's because we're part pirate, part wolf and 100% freak.)
So how did we do? We wrapped up Day 1 with 10th in Chicken, 14th in Ribs and 17th overall out of 66 teams. We were thrilled.
But no time to celebrate as we had to turn around and do it all over day on Day 2. Except this time we were down a Freak. Our Chicken Specialist couldn't join us so not only we were down to two Freaks, but I had to do the chicken cook on my own. No small task... just my first KCBS competition cook EVER.
Things got pretty hairy on Day 2 with that chicken cook. But we ended up with a 9th place call in Chicken, 12th in Pork and 23rd overall out of 55 teams. Yep, I got a chicken call! I couldn't believe it when they called for Smoke Freaks to come on up and get an award. I froze on stage and then was prompted to say or do something... so apparently I let out a very enthusiastic howl!!
Here a few Freaky moments in Green Bay...
Just as soon as we got back and organized from the Grillin' in Grafton contest, it's time to get loaded up and ready for the next one. We ended up with a 9th place call in Ribs and while we were happy to keep our streak alive, we weren't thrilled with our overall results.
And with no comment cards from the judges, it's hard to evaluate our performance, other than our own take on how things went. But hey, it's BBQ and we'll figure it out.
Our next competition is the Gold Ribbin' BBQ Fest in Green Bay and it's a double header, our first ever.
It's sure to be quite an experience and Smoke Freaks is ready to bring it to Green Bay! One thing's for sure, Lambeau is about to get Freaky.
So if you're in Green Bay this weekend, stop by to Taste the Freakage!
It definitely could have been a lot worse. There were no injuries in either vehicle and the parts are ordered and repairs are happening. There was a time when we thought our entire season would be up in the air, and are really relieved to be getting back on track.
But Smoke Freaks aren't going to let a fender bender get us down. So when we're not competing, we're spreading the Gospel of Freak. Earlier this week we had the honor of presenting at the "Smoking with Wood" event put on by the Illinois BBQ Alliance. We did a demonstration on our Ugly Drum Smokers to teach the finer points of starting the fire, selecting smoke wood and pairings to impart different smoke flavors on whatever you're cooking.
We love talking BBQ and this event was really special since we were able to talk directly to folks just getting started in their BBQ adventures. In our experience, it's easy to overthink equipment, supplies and wood selection -- we know this because we did just that. But over time, we experimented and had that pit running as often as possible to see what worked for us. So one of our messages was simply to start. Start anywhere. Just start experimenting and in time, you'll be the best pitmaster on your block.
Smoke Freaks are giving our first States-side BBQ seminar on Monday, 6/27.
The "Smoking with Wood" event is produced by the Illinois BBQ Alliance, a fantastic group of BBQ enthusiasts dedicated to their mission of "Do Good, Have Fun, Eat BBQ." "Smoking with Wood" has been carefully designed as a 101-level seminar teaching the finer points of starting and maintaining the perfect fire for smoking low and slow or hot and fast. And we'll be sharing tips about the types of smoking woods and how to use them to impart flavor and enhance anything you cook.
We think it's the perfect introduction to the Smoky Arts and Sciences and can't wait to share our experiences with you. We'll be cooking on "Fang" and "Ugly Betty," our trusty Pit Barrel Cookers. We LOVE this style of Ugly Drum Smokers: reliable, affordable and easy to transport anywhere you go! (They easily fit in the backseat of our Subaru Outback, just be sure to buckle them in first with the safety belt;)
Smoke Freaks are part of a lineup of BBQ experts including Weber Grills, The Backyard BBQ Store, Smokin' Deal BBQ and Duces Wild BBQ. And you don't want to miss Meathead from amazingribs.com signing copies of his new book, Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling.
Wood is at the center of the event, so we'll be smoking with wood from A1 Country Firewood in Chicago. A1 carries endless varieties of cooking woods, fruitwoods, hardwoods and all-natural 100% wood lump charcoal for grilling and smoking.
And A1 is the signature wood of Smoke Freaks because "it's the wood that makes it good!"
That's some serious wood, right?
Tickets include a first-class event experience from Sweet Baby Ray's Events, including a whole hog from #PorkMafia's Phil Wingo and Greg Gaardbo's "Rockin Rodizio" famous chicken.
Want to up your smokin' skills and be the star of your block? Want to Taste the Freakage?
Tickets still available at http://ow.ly/nPpq300ETTc
Our first BBQ competition of the year didn't go completely as planned, but that had nothing to do with the actual event itself. Keep reading for the "bad news," but first here's our recap from the event. There's good news, too!
We traveled about 160 miles on I-80 on our way to Kewanee, IL, the Hog Capital of the World. It was a lovely, uneventful drive with miles and miles of open road and big skies. We were putting the Wolf Wagon to the test for the first time and she was riding well. Smoke Freaks were thrilled to arrive in Kewanee!
Upon our arrival, the contest organizers checked us in and we got settled into our space. These guys put on one heck of a show. They thought of everything. Not only were water, power and space abundant, but there were signs everywhere of the smaller details that made for a great experience. (And we learned Dan's secret of the 7 Ps, but that's a blog post for another time... )
Our cook went well and we were pleased to take home 6th in Ribs, 10th in Brisket and 10th overall. Not bad for our first competition of the year. Oh, and if there were an award for most enthusiastic team, we would have won 1st place hands down. We are SMOKE FREAKS!!
So, here's where the bad news comes in...
We were headed out of town and got rear-ended. Fortunately, there were no injuries in either vehicle. We sustained damage to our beloved Wolf Wagon that puts our season in jeopardy but we know that objects can be replaced. It could have been much, much worse. We're so grateful for the well wishes from our friends and family.
So while we're working with the insurance company on the repairs, we are bringing out our Freak Force Activate powers to get us back on the road as quickly as possible. As our good friend George says, "you can't keep a Smoke Freak down."
That's right. Smoke Freaks will be back, better and stronger than ever. Taste the Freakage!
After a successful double test cook last weekend, we are ready for battle. Our war machine, The Wolf Wagon, is all spiffed up for the season, our smokers are running great and the team is ready to let our Smoke Freaks flag fly high in Kewanee.
We can't wait to see our fellow competitors and friends, some who we haven't seen since last fall. Sure, we're all competing with each other, but that doesn't mean a thing to the camaraderie and friendships we've made on the circuit. Awards may come and go, but our BBQ family remains.
Get ready Kewanee. The Freaks are headed your way and it's almost time to Taste The Freakage!
Man, it's a lot of work.
Our first competition of the year is next weekend, so we've been busy getting ready.
While we think we have a pretty good plan in place, we won't really know how everything works until we do a test cook. We do this to simulate a real competition environment and to work out the kinks and fine tune the Smoke Freaks operation.
The test cook: setting up our cook site as we would at a competition, managing our timing to hit all 4 turn-in times and presenting our best pieces to eager judges.
Even though the test cook will take place in the driveway, we won't be ducking in the house if it rains or using the dishwasher or enjoying any of those other "luxuries."
We always learn a ton from our test cooks so this weekend we're going to do a double. That's 2 full days of cooking with 2 days of turn-in to judges. Our first double-header competition EVER is in just 4 weeks at Lambeau Field so we really, really need this test cook.
Smoke Freaks will be rolling smoke soon!
Some describe professional BBQ competitions as "camping with a purpose." We agree, except the food is better.
Taste the Freakage!
And so it begins...
Smoke Freaks are gearing up for our first KCBS competition of the year. Sure, we've competed before and we've been BBQing all winter and spring. But this one is different.
You see, we're changing pretty much everything in 2016. Gone are the days of sleeping in a tent or in the car! From now on, we'll be lounging in The Wolf Wagon, our BBQ war machine.
Finally, we'll have better shelter, privacy and comfort for those long competition weekends! (Ms. Smoke Freak is pretty stoked to have a shower as well.)
But wait, there's more! We're going to be breaking in some new UDSs. This beauty is the newest edition to the Smoke Freaks family and we've named her "Redrum." She's a fine specimen made by our friends at Hunsaker Smokers.
Our first competition is in the Hog Capital of World - Kewanee, IL. We'll be loading up the Wolf Wagon with our smokers, equipment, supplies, meats, rubs and sauces and hitting the road on June 17th.
This isn't too far from the truth --
Smoke on and look for the Smoke Freaks in Kewanee, IL on 6/17 and 6/18!
Taste the Freakage!
Ann is Co-Founder and Pitmaster for Smoke Freaks. She loves being the Chicken cook and is learning to love Pork just as much.