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!
Ann is Co-Founder & Head Cook for Smoke Freaks ... and she's fallen head over heels in love with Pork.