Pork In The Park: Getting Humbled In Salisbury

PITP2010_002The weekend of April 16 and 17, 2010, was our first competition of 2010 and the first competition we had ever done after doing serious research and practice. While we had competed in Dover in 2008 and 2009, we blindly went into both of those competitions with the arrogant attitude that we would simply take the skills we had honed in our respective backyards and put them to work in the world of competitive BBQ. I guess it didn’t really sink in that first year, but after the second year it was pretty obvious we needed to step up our game in a serious way.

From that point in October 2009, Mike and I hunkered down through the long, brutal winter and discovered the encyclopedic wealth of knowledge in these here internets. Yes, there was literally a University of competition BBQ at our fingertips. After endless reading and practicing competitions in our respective driveways, team Slower Lower was cruising right along. Things were going even better than I had expected in only 6 months of research and practice.

PITP2010_001Anticipation finally gave way to reality on Thursday, April 15th as I drove down to Mike’s house in Milton to get the van packed and ready for the following morning.  Then we arrived at the park in Salisbury at exactly 8am on Friday morning and proceeded to find a spot to setup shop.  We found a great spot next to our friends in Pigheaded BBQ which also happened to be right next to the electrical and water hookups and just few dozen feet from the judges tent.  Perfect!  And to add to that great spot was the gorgeous weather.  What a great way to start the season!

Once we got our canopies and tables setup and our meat inspected (hee hee), it was time to start prepping.  Tonight we would be participating in the Anything Butt and Anything Seafood competitions at 7PM and 8PM respectively.  Mike had the seafood and I had the anything.  For Anything Butt, I would be making a smoked meatloaf that I had first made a couple months prior.  You can read all about this in our Cooking Blogs, but I thought it might be a hit with the judges.  Mike was going to make a something he had made a few years ago at a comp in Maryland that fared really well with the judges at the time-a dish that Mike had kind of made up on the spot-you might know it as a crab pastry puff.  It is a mixture of crabmeat, cheese and roasted peppers stuffed inside of a crescent roll.  Very tasty indeed!  And since the timing was so good, we made extra and planned to have this for dinner.

I was so nervous about the first turn-in, which was my meatloaf, that I totall forgot to take pictures.  It was really a glorious dish surrounded by my garlic mashed potatoes and sauteed broccoli rabe.  Oh well.

PITP2010_005I finally got it together a bit and got a shot of Mike’s crab puffs.  Since there are no garnish rules for these 2 categories, we were sort of lost on what to use for this dish.  Mike was thinking red would make a nice backdrop, so we used a red cabbage.  The colors were a bit off in this pic…but you get the idea.

After our 8pm turn-in for seafood, we nibbled on our the fruits of our labor.  My wife and daughter had come in around 7:30 and were there to join us.  John from Delaware Blue Hogs was there to join in the good eats, too.

Mike and I had been so busy all day prepping for Saturday and trying to get our Anything turn-ins ready for tonight, we barely made it around the grounds to meet the other teams and say hi.  There were 132 teams total and we got to catch up with 2 or 3.  By the time we finished these turn-ins and ate, we were both pretty well exhausted.  Once dinner was finished it was time to fire up the first WSM.  Pork butts went on the smoker at about 10pm.  After that, it would be an early bedtime for us.  We had developed a cooking schedule that allowed for about 5 hours sleep before the big day on Saturday.  Once the  WSM was on cruise control, it was nighty night.

Saturday Morning, 5am

PITP2010_003Stupid Alarm!  We both tried to sleep in the back of the fan.  Now I use the term sleep here, very loosely.  When I’m at home I usually don’t have any trouble getting to sleep (staying asleep is another story), but alas sleep was not in the cards for me.  I know Mike got some sleep since I heard him snoring, but I got nothing more than about 5 hours of resting my eyes.  Oh well…LET’S COOK!

Overnight the WSM for the pork got down to about 200, so we threw on another 3/4 chimney of charcoal and quickly got her back up to cruising temp.  Next we fired up the 2nd WSM and on go the ribs and in short succession, fire up the 3rd WSM and start the brisket.

PITP2010_006Now that we have some time to kill, I whipped up a breakfast of scrapple and egg sandwhiches with some skillet potatoes and corned beef hash along with about 3 pots of coffee.  Remember, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, kids. 

Shortly after we ate breakfast my wife and daughter, who had slept in a hotel room the night before, strolled into the park.  At this point I quickly put them both to work trimming parsley and making turn in boxes.  Well, let me clarify that.  My WIFE did all the work, my daughter got bored after 5 minutes and pretty much quit helping with the parsley.  Can’t say as I blame her since it’s pretty tedious work.  But Carolyn was a trooper and got the 4 boxes finished for us.  Thanks, dear!

Since Pork In The Park is a pretty big event with carnival rides and such, there was more for my daughter to do so my wife took her around for awhile while we moved on to making…CHICKEN!  Ah yes, every competitors nightmare.

I must say that so far all the research, practice and preparation Mike and I had done is paying off handsomely.  The competition so far has really presented no major problems that we couldn’t overcome.  And according to our cooking schedule, everything is almost dead on the money. 

Oh wait, did I say money?  What money?  We didnt win any freakin’ money??? %^$$%%^…..ah, that’s another story….we’ll get to that later.  What I meant to say was that everything was going according to plan, right on schedule.  Yeah, that’s it.

PITP2010_007Anyhoo…I finally threw the chicken on my Weber kettle around 9am with hopes of getting that ever elusive crispy amber skin.  I think I got a pretty good skin color.  What do you think?

Crunch time leading up to the first turn-in at noon kicks in.  We rush around and get the chicken ready, sauced glazed and in the box.  To my shock I was just able to nicely fit 8 thighs into my turn-in box.  JUST!  That leaves some extra for the table captains and volunteers.

Next up….PITP2010_008ribs.

Let me just say here that I’m not really a big fan of spare ribs.  From everything I’ve read (it was on the Internet so it must be true), the judges prefer spares over baby backs.  So since we want to please the judges, spare ribs it is.  But I goota say Mike and I both prefer the flavor and the look of baby backs any day.  Besides not liking the flavor of spares, these buggers are horribly difficult to cut and get nice straight bones from.  If you look at what we turned in, you can probably see the middle 4 are nice and straight, but the 2 on the outside look kinda hacked up.  You shoulda seen what didn’t make it to the box.  SHEESH!

Next time out, I think we’re gonna switch back to baby backs.  Go with what ya know, right?


Now we’re quickly moving into pork!  Here’s where we got everyone in on the action. 


Two nice big butts and we got everyone pulling, even my daughter.


And then finally into the turn-in box….


PITP2010_012Then we proceeded to start getting the brisket ready.  Pulled the burnt ends off the smoker and start slicing up some brisket.  As soon as I started slicing I had a feeling it was a little tough.  We have been doing a high heat brisket for a while now.  When doing the brisket, we will normally wrap it in foil at about 165* and put back on the smoker.  For some reason, the temps shut way high within a very short period of time.  I mean these guys shot up to almost 220!  Who knows what happened, but I knew they couldn’t be done so I went with my gut and left ’em in a bot longer.  Then I pulled them out of the foil to go back on smoker naked so as to firm up the bark a bit.  In hindsight, I think they ended up being underdone and a bit tough.  But we did get some nice au jus from them which I saved for later to baste the slices.  For me, they had a nice bold, beefy taste that I thought would at least give us decent scores on taste.  I knew we were hosed for tenderness.

Looking at our turn-in box now – and this is why we take pics – I think the burnt ends…errr…I mean cubes look a little goofy in that box.  We’ll need to rethink that part of the presentation.  Maybe bigger chunks for the burnt ends.  At least they were MIGHTY tasty!

OK…deep breath…WHEW…we got through that.  We got through that whole process really, really well. 

Getting stuff ready for turn-in can be incredibly stressful and hectic.  But I gotta say, for me anyway, those 2 hours went pretty smoothly.  In fact, we had planned so well that Mike and I found that we were actually waiting around between turn-ins staring at each other so we didn’t start the next box too early and turn in cold food.  That dance with the clock is the next thing that I hope we can smooth out over time.

More than anything, I say this for the benefit of anyone out there thinking of competing.  When you have only a half hour between each of your turn-ins to get ready a box full of hot food – yup, you gotta keep it warm, too – organization, practice and planning are critical.  In our case, this paid off very well.  Each competition that we do from here on out can only get better.

Now that we had our final box turned in, it was time to crack a beer…and wait.  It was now shortly after 1:30 and judging wasn’t until 5:00.

As we were winding down from the turn-in frenzy, Mike’s wife and 2 sons finally arrived.  His older son, Evan, had started his baseball season that day, so couldn’t be there for the comp.  At least they arrived in time to get some warm left-overs, help us pack (hehe) and go to awards with us.

The next lesson we learned was when we started packing everything.  Where did all this CRAP come from????  In this area, we probably over-prepared and brought too much stuff – WAY too much stuff.  What we found is that we had either duplicates of some stuff and too much of others.  At least now we now where to scale back.  And you know my wheels were turning the whole time we  were packing: too much of this, didn’t need that, brought 2 bags of that and barely used half of one…you get the idea.  Nothing is worse than being dead tired and having to pack up your gear after a comp.  This is where the RV envy sets in.

OK, van is packed with every sqaure inch taken up.  I swear it took me half and hour to get those last 3 boxes fit so that I could close the back door.  and I can’t believe it took us well over 2 hours to pack everything.  Oh well, on to awards.

PITP2010_013Needless to say, we all stood there as team after team got called to the stage to get their awards and we…well…we watched them get their awards.  No mention of Slower Lower BBQ to be heard.  Disappointed?  Yes.  Surprised?  Nah.  In hindsight, looking back on what we turned in, how our entries ultimately came out, we didn’t really do as well as we’d hoped but we probably scored about where we should have…for the most part.  What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, right?  We’ll learn from all our mistakes and keep getting better.  Besides, we competed against the best teams on the East Coast.  This was an incredibly tough group to compete against.  And we didn’t come in last…thank GOD we didn’t come in last.  All in all, we had a great time at Pork In The Park, got to meet some great people, got to spend time with family.  Plus, we can back next year and take it all!  Or at least get a call.

Next stop, Middletown, Delaware.



Final results for all teams

Final Results: Appearance/Taste/Tenderness
Category Judge 1 Judge 2 Judge 3 Judge 4 Judge 5 Judge 6 Place Score
Chicken 8 7 7 8 7 7 6 7 7 7 8 9 7 7 6 6 7 7 93 of 132 144.5714
Ribs 7 7 5 9 6 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 6 6 7 7 8 104 of 132 137.7142
Pork 7 6 6 7 8 8 7 7 7 7 7 7 7 6 6 7 7 8 92 of 131 141.7142
Brisket 8 6 5 7 4 4 8 7 5 9 5 4 8 6 5 6 7 6 125 of 131 121.7144
Anything Butt 8 9 6 7 6 8 8 8 8 9 7 6 7 7 7 8 7 7 42 of 66 148.5716
Seafood 6 6 7 6 6 6 6 6 6 9 8 9 9 9 9 6 6 6 53 of 64 142.8570
Overall             119 of 132 545.7142

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