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 & Head Cook for Smoke Freaks ... and she's fallen head over heels in love with Pork.