And oh how I love p❤rk. If you’ve read some of my previous blogs, you’ve seen me yammer on about all those moments of doubt and disappointment, anger and frustration, confusion and concern. But you see, those moments actually helped us sharpen our p❤rk game and finally… to break out of our 15-competition p❤rk slump!
That’s right, we got a 6th place p❤rk call at Day 1 of Death’s Door BBQ!! Out of 40!
It was incredible.
And I’d love to tell you how it happened.
Step 1: Diagnose the Problem
A friend, who is also an experienced Certified BBQ Judge, was in touch to make sure we understood how big of a p❤rk problem we really had. It was hard to hear, but that reinforcement helped put even more fire in our belly.
Step 2: Narrow in on Solutions
There are lots of levers to pull, so it helps to have some discipline on what to focus on. One day we were talking shop with some fellow cooks and we took away some new ideas. Namely, to go back to basics and look for ways to simplify things.
Step 3: Perfect the Technique
With a clear solution in mind, it was time to improve some techniques. Again, we did more research and found some new inspiration for our cooking and boxing. More practice, practice, practice.
Step 4: No More Head Games
This one’s great. It was at the welcome reception for the Death’s Door BBQ when my all time BBQ hero told me flat out, “You know what your problem with p❤rk is? It’s all up here,” as he tapped the side of my head. (And it was true. Before we even got to Washington Island, I knew we were getting a p❤rk call. I absolutely believed we would get the job done.)
Step 5: Freak ON!
So on competition day, it was as simple as putting it all together and cooking some p❤rk.
And we did!
We had to do some serious pitmaster gymnastics to adjust to a cook that was somehow running an hour behind schedule and craaahing into our Chicken cook. As our friends from Second Hand Smoke SLV pointed out, it was a 30-40 degree temperature drop from our last several outings, so that probably affected things.
But we figured it out, because we were cooking with love.
When we sliced those money muscles, we knew. I was literally beaming with pride and love for p❤rk when I turned in that box. It seemed criminal to set it on the turn-in table and just walk away.
At that point it was out of our hands. And with some time to kill before awards, we returned to beautiful Schoolhouse Beach to soak up some Island time. There’s good energy there.
That's where I found that beautiful heart shaped rock, my p❤rk rock.
At awards they called Smoke Freaks for 6th place and we lost our minds. The best part was sharing that moment with our BBQ family. These guys knew of our struggles, they felt our pain and they celebrated our success. But more than anything, it was a community celebration of the joy we all feel when one of us finally turns some BBQ corner.
(And then there was the time we all motorboated our p❤rk for good luck, but that’s a story for another time…)
With 15 competitions and an incredible 2-week break behind us, we’re headed into the last 10 competitions of The American Freakage Tour. And depending on how we score, every single one of these comps could count toward Team of the Year points.
As it stands right now, we’ve had nine Top-10 chicken calls, nine Top-10 brisket calls, seven Top-10 rib calls and one lonely Top-10 p❤rk call. In the mix were three First Place calls (two for Ribs and one in Chicken) and 1 RGC.
As of this writing, we’re #78 out of 2,482 in the international KCBS standings. But still, we can do better.
So as we head into the second half of our season, I’m feeling a strange blend of both urgency and zen. Urgency in that we’ve got to get points on the board with all 4 meats, especially our dear p❤rk. And zen in the sense that we just need to run our playbook and focus, because we totally got this!
I think the two-week break from competition BBQ will end up helping our game. Competition BBQ just wasn’t at the forefront of my brain, despite the 18 racks of ribs and 50 pieces of chicken that we trimmed for upcoming contests and the 1,036 pounds of charcoal we stacked up for the rest of the year. I really needed that mental break.
Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t take a vacation from BBQ altogether. In fact, we busted out Big Earl -- our Jambo Backyard -- for our Block Party After Party and served up some killer brisket burgers. I’d forgotten what a completely different cooking experience an offset is, not to mention the capacity. Plus that Jambo is badass. It just looks cool sitting in the front yard surrounded by friends and family.
And then we watched a friend of ours smoke some ribs for the first time ever, using Ugly Betty, our Pit Barrel Cooker. It’s satisfying to know that you helped turn someone on to the way of the smoke and to see them get into it. But the bigger surprise? It was literally the first time in a long while that I not only ate several ribs but actually took my time to savor them. (I’m the rib taste tester during competitions, so I’m pretty well sick of ribs after testing multiple bones off each rack week in and week out. Cry me a river, I know.)
But back to being zen…
I have to admit there was something nice about catching up on sleep, advancing a big consulting project for our client, enjoying the first tomatoes from our garden, surviving our epic neighborhood 4-day block party, doing a bunch of home improvement stuff plus squeezing in a drive-in movie and blissing out on our 14th wedding anniversary.
I’m feeling accomplished, yet refreshed. 100% ready to step back in and do what we do.
Next up: Ribberfest in Madison, IN, this weekend, where 60+ teams battle for BBQ glory. Freak ON!
Ann is Co-Founder and Pitmaster for Smoke Freaks. She loves being the Chicken cook and has fallen head over heels in love with P❤️rk.