Today was the final day of the Fall Festival in Harvard, MA (no relation to the university). In addition to many events such as a Trebuchet demonstration, classic car show and live music, it hosted the New England Barbecue Finals. Tim and Wendy are perennial contenders.
I have wandered around such competitions before, but all I did was sample some wares and occasionally bought some while taking in the atmosphere. Today, thanks to Tim and Wendy, I learned what really goes on behind the scenes at these events. There is a well defined agenda for each weekend, and it doesn't change much. Saturday is the grilling day with competitions in four categories: wings, sausage, shrimp, and dessert. Sunday is barbecue day with, again, four categories: chicken, ribs, pork, and brisket. Are you hungry yet?
Here’s what I learned. Each of the four submissions to the tent-full of certified judges must arrive at a certain time +/- 5 minutes. Late entries are DQ’d. For each submission the competitors present to the judges under a blind numbering system a 9" by 9" Styrofoam tray of greens with the meat artfully arranged on top. There must be at least six pieces as there are six judges at each of several judging tables. Subsequent submissions are routed to different tables. What came as the biggest surprise was the amount of meat that is cooked in order to present those 6+ pieces. With the ribs, for example, they cook six racks of ribs. At the appropriate time (more on that later), Tim will carve off a rib. Then he will taste one end and Wendy the other. They will comment to each other on appearance, taste and tenderness, and go on to the next rack. Eventually they agree on which rack(s) will provide the competitive ribs. Below is a picture of their ribs.
If you think they would melt in your mouth, you are right. They are not falling off the bone, but are still tender, juicy and tasty. As you can imagine, this generates a lot of wonderful food that is far beyond their needs. Let me attest that the “worst” of the rejected ribs are ribs that you would be proud to serve to your most discriminating guests. I asked about the reason for the variations (which I could barely discern). The short answer was, “different pigs”. Fat content and other features vary. The same thing occurred with the brisket. There were two complete briskets from which were selected only a dozen slices for presentation. In this case, Tim and Wendy both agreed that the “burnt ends” were not up to snuff, so they just used whole slices. Meanwhile, I sat there in their Toy Hauler Trailer by Raptor happily nibbling on all the rejects. When I left, they sent me on my way with at least six to eight pounds of outstanding ‘Que.
The timing of all these events is only slightly less rigorous than a space launch. A submission one second late is DQ’d. Prominent in the Boucher’s rig is a large, wall-mounted atomic clock. The judges’ tent is similarly equipped.
In addition there is the “time line”. This is a detailed, minute by minute, schedule for each of the meats. In my framework from decades ago it is accomplished with military precision. These competitions are won by the folks who are obsessive to details.
The next picture is of their brisket. Let me assure you that the backyard hobbyist never achieves this level of perfection. I've tried.
Below is a picture of Wendy in the back of their "Toy Hauler" at the end of the competition getting ready to secure all of their paraphernalia. Trust me when I say that this sort of barbecuing is not just a matter of "throwing another shrimp on the barbie".
This shot shows the three large cookers properly stowed.
Below, if you can stand a few more pictures, are some shots of their competitors...a small tribe of good friends who count on each other for help when a calamity occurs.
If you should find one of these competitions in your area, get off your duff and attend. It is a wonderful piece of Americana.