Dan had already had the meats inspected, so I assumed that trimming and meat prep would be one of the next tasks at hand; I was wrong. Dan had already done about 98% of the prep work beforehand, so there was little to do. I procured some water from a neighboring team, hooked us up to some A/C, ran some lights, hung some banners, and read over the Cook’s packet supplied to Dan. I took advantage of a little down time by running an errand for Dan and walking around the park grounds and checking out the other teams and the vendors. There were 72 teams competing, and being a first timer at a competition, I thought it was pretty wild.
I attended the Cook’s meeting at 7:00 pm in the building used for judging/turn-ins. The meeting started late due to some snafu regarding the kid’s Q scoring. After about 45 minutes I was on my way back to the site with our boxes. When I arrived, Tom and Christy of the VA BBQ Pirates had just arrived. They had also offered to help out Dan, and they brought another much-needed EZ Up. We put up the EZ Up as the rain began to fall. They are really great people. It’s a pleasure to have met them.
I took a walk with Dan and company to Big Ugly’s site and the rain really was coming down at this point. I met Ron from Pig Headed BBQ and a couple other cooks there, and was generously offered some lettuce wraps. They looked delicious, but I had to leave to drop off two cakes at the Cook’s Pot Luck dinner. I dropped the cakes off and made a plate; some really excellent grub. It was a full house, which I assume had something to do with the torrential rain now pouring outside. After eating, I headed back to the 3 Eyz site.
After a delicious beverage or two, it was time for the big meats to go in the smoker. Besides opening and closing the smoker door for Dan, I did next to nothing. The rain continued to pour and the ground started getting pretty soupy. We had gotten some hay earlier in the evening, but it wasn’t doing the job. As luck would have it, an ample supply of mulch found its way to our site which kept the footing tolerable. A few more beverages, and it was time to get some sleep. It was about 1:00 am and the rain had finally died down to a drizzle.
In spite of the fact that I slept in my truck, I still managed to get some decent rest. I would have preferred my cot, but with all the rain there was no way. I got up about 6:40 and I’m pretty sure Dan had already been up for hours. We walked down to the pavilion and had a great breakfast provided by the contest organizers. We then headed back to the 3 Eyz site.
Things were relatively slow going until roughly 9:30. Tom and Christy arrived at the site. Tom had volunteered to make the sausage entry for 3 Eyz for the event. Tom and Christy prepared the boxes and I did what I could to keep things clean and out of everyone’s way. Things started to get fast and furious about 11:00, a half hour before the sausage submissions. Dan had me run that entry to the judges, which was my first time doing so … pretty cool. The seemingly endless mud puddles and slick spots made me quite conscious of my footing. No problems … that went well.
After that I assisted Dan as he prepared the KCBS meats for submission and Tom ran the boxes. I essentially did very little, but learned so much during this time period. I would help clean the area, and wash knives, bowls, and assorted tools of the trade to prepare for the next entry. Either before or after each box left, Dan would offer a sample to see what I thought of it. I almost shit … the BBQ was by far the best I have ever eaten. I had thought my BBQ was quite good, particularly my pork and ribs. After comparison, I’d have to say those are mediocre … at best. I now think my chicken and brisket probably shouldn’t even be fed to the homeless, for Christ’s sake! That’s when it hit me …. My BBQ sucks! Dan generously offered me countless tips and tricks which I appreciate beyond words. So, maybe it’s not hopeless afterall.
After the last entry was submitted, it was time to pack up. We went right to it and had everything packed up by 3:30 pm. At least for me, exhaustion started to set in at this point. It’s amazing how tired I was considering how little I really did. Maybe it was the shitty weather coupled with sleeping in my truck. I called my wife and sat in the truck to soak up some air conditioning for a little while. Before I knew it, it was time for the award ceremonies.
The first awards announced were for Sausage. “8th place – 3 Eyz BBQ” Tom and Christy did a great job on that one. Way to go, 3 Eyz BBQ Pirates! LOL! Next up was Chicken, “2nd Place – 3 Eyz BBQ”, after some prodding from Dan, I joined him to collect the trophy. Next up was Ribs … “9th Place – 3 Eyz BBQ”, Dan was indisposed so it was my task to collect the rosette and check. Next was an honorable mention for Pork with 11 place going to 3 Eyz BBQ. 3 Eyz didn’t get a call for brisket, but having tasted it, I figured it had to be close to the pack. The overall awards were last. 2nd Place, Reserve Grand Champion – 3 Eyz BBQ! After a little prodding I again took the walk with Dan for the trophy and check. It was so gracious of Dan to have me walk with him, but in hindsight I kind of felt like a tool walking considering he did everything. It was super generous of him sharing the whole competition experience with a newbie like me. I owe him big time!
Everyone I met was friendly and the camaraderie among teams was something I had never experienced. The whole experience was great and I can’t say enough good things about Dan Hixon! I now have a much better idea of my game plan and all of the things I need to work on. I probably got in his way more than I helped him, but he never seemed annoyed. Great guy! The fact that Tom and Christy drove 3 hours to help Dan and deliver an EZ Up shows me that BBQ people are truly great people.
It’s official. I’m addicted. I have my wife, Jennifer (she has an art degree) working on the Coal Cracker logo. I’ll probably get my ass handed to me, but you can bet on seeing Coal Cracker BBQ in the future.