Incomplete Truth: I won a BBQ competition this past Saturday
More Complete Truth, But Missing Some Context: I won first place in BBQ Baked Beans and fourth in BBQ Ribs at the annual parish Rib Run event.
Reality: I won first place in BBQ Baked Beans in a field of four competitors, and fourth in BBQ Ribs in a field of eight. The other beans were… not good. The guy who finished fifth in ribs had never made them before.
Yes, last Saturday was the annual OLP Rib Run. You start with a 5K in the morning (and I mean the royal “you”… I sure as shit didn’t run a 5K) and then a rib and bean competition the rest of the day.
Incidentally, I’d like to point out that this is the very same event that I won two years ago by parboiling my ribs. I’ve learned the error of my ways and set out to make actual competition-style St. Louis cut ribs. I have to say that they were really good, though I could have sauced them a little more. The tenderness was nearly perfect and the seasoning was spot on. I didn’t have much of a smoke line and I failed to garnish my box. The first place guy is a pro BBQer; second place is a caterer who baked her ribs in an oven (don’t get me started on that); and, third place was a very skilled and experienced rib BBQer.
Who did I beat? Well, let’s see. Fifth place went to a guy who had literally never made ribs before. He showed up at 12:30pm with an 18″ Weber kettle and a rib rack in it’s original packaging… a rib rack too big for his grill. He wound up setting the lid on the rack and wrapping the kettle in a column of foil to get a seal. Seventh place went to a guy who made a sauce out of blueberry jam, chipotles and stout beer. Sounds interesting, but the judges didn’t seem to like it.
So fourth place is unimpressive given the field. Plus, adding insult to injury, over a dozen people came by asking about or looking to get a sample of the apple parboiled ribs that I no longer make for competitions. Lots of disappointment.
On to the beans! I started with olive oil, half a chopped white onion, and minced garlic in a sauce pot over hot coals.
Once that got nice and brown, in went a chopped pound of uncooked hickory smoked bacon.
Once this got brown and the bacon began to crisp, I added red beans along with two PBRs for a reducing liquid. The prior night, I water-soaked a dry pound of red beans and changed out the water a few times, careful to rinse out any gunk.
At this point, I mixed in about a 1/2 cup of brown sugar, a tablespoon or two of full flavor molasses, and a small squeeze of Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce.
Every 15-20 minutes, this concoction needed a good stirring. I didn’t want the beans to burn and I wanted even saturation of the beans. As needed, several more PBRs were added. The fire was maintained a few times with fresh coals as well.
In parallel to these beans, I happened to make a massive 6-7 lb. brisket on the smoker. Before foil wrapping it, after four hours of smoking, I carved off the burnt ends from three sides, chopped them up, and tossed them in the beans as well.
Eventually, the beans thickened and darkened.
For service, we were each given six little plastic ramekins and lids. I placed a generous slice of brisket along the side and bottom and a scoop of beans on top.
In the space next to me, where the eventual rib winner was cooking, I wandered over to spy on my competition’s beans. This guy had four pork shoulder bones, pork shoulder meat, carrots, celery, onion and stock all reducing in a cast iron dutch oven over a propane flame. He mixed in some navy beans and tons of seasoning. The aromas were unreal, and I didn’t feel very good about winning next to him.
However, he had a little problem. His son had gone to New Orleans and returned with some local seasonings, spices, rubs, etc. for his father. Maybe seven or eight tablespoons of some kind of seasoning went into the beans. We all sampled it and… woah. About the saltiest thing I’ve ever tasted. In a panic, he added cubed potatoes to soak up the salt, but it was too late. The beans were hyper-salty and I could only manage a few bites. This guy came in second.
Third place? A team that literally opened two cans of Bush’s Baked Beans and poured them into an aluminum pan on the grill. I can’t even fathom what the fourth (and last) place team did.
So, pretty much by default, I won this trophy.
I took the photo from a down angle and close up to make it look more impressive, though it’s kind of pathetic given the context of how I won.
On the plus side, the parish made some money and I spent the day grilling, eating, and drinking beer with a bunch of guys who share my passion for grilling, eating, and drinking beer. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday.