Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Pork in the Park - Salisbury, MD

Pork in the Park was held on April 15 - 16 in Salisbury, MD. This is a competition that many of us east coast Q'ers start our season with. It is a huge event organized by Sandy Fulton. The KCBS has recognized this event as the largest BBQ competition east of the Mississippi River. Sandy and her crew rise to the occasion every year making it a very team friendly competition.

We headed to Salisbury Friday morning with the disturbing weather forecast looming over us. Severe conditions were expected to hit the area Saturday afternoon bringing heavy rains and winds gusting over 28mph. Our setup was complete by 2pm Friday. It took a bit of time to get the 10X10 tents wind ready, the spiral dog stakes made for secure tie-downs! After a long off-season it was great to see all those folks that share the same BBQ addiction. "Hello, my name is Tom and I'm a BBQaholic."

With the 5 o'clock cooks meeting and initial bout of socializing over, it was time to get to the real reason we were all there - competition BBQ! The wind was steadily increasing and the temperature was dropping so I fired up the Meadow Creek a bit earlier. I also wanted to get the big cuts (pork butt and brisket) on a little sooner to compensate for the weather. I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to the large meats, I stopped injecting a few years ago and had some good results so I stuck with it. Butts and brisket were dry rubbed and hit the smoker. Now it was time for a few more beers while I got myself ready for the long night of tending the fire. Luckily I had Marie there to bail me out as I slept through most of the night, and she did a great job keeping the temp in the smoker up in that fail weather. I did get up in time to get the ribs dry rubbed (most of which blew in my eyes) and on by 6am.

The organizers of the event always set up a nice breakfast for the teams and this year was no different even with the bad weather. They had eggs, bacon, scrapple, sausage and potatoes along with bagels and pastries. With 116 teams to feed it was no small feat! After taking full advantage of the breakfast it was time to start thinking about the turn-ins, first one being chicken at noon.

I've been trying some new techniques to bring up my chicken scores. On April 2nd at the Go Naked BBQ event in Greencastle, PA my chicken came in dead last! Even with this fresh on my mind I decided to stick to the same method with a few tweaks, one was cooking time and the other was switching to Bell and Even's chicken available at whole foods. My gamble payed off, the chicken finished 20th out of 116 teams. I can live with that!

Next up were ribs at 12:30pm. I love cooking ribs in competition, I've been using the same rubs and glaze for 3 years now and it's been good to me. When it came time to cut the ribs and get them into the turn-in box, I knew they weren't ready. The ribs needed another 1/2 hour to get them to that perfect bite consistency. But time was up and I pick the best I could and away they went... 93rd.

At 1pm the pork entry was due. The butts came out very tender. too tender to slice so I presented pulled pork to the judges. And how did they like it? Well... 64th.

Time for the final entry at 1:30pm, brisket. The wind was really hitting us in heavy bursts making it difficult and exhausting both mental and physically. This was one of the best briskets I have cooked, tender, beefy and it looked damn good. But, to my disappointment, not good enough - it took 62nd place.

We finished a miserable 67th out of 116 teams. I hope this isn't a sign of how our season will go, we'll see. The Pork in the park competition also had a whole hog category along with a chefs choice and desert entry, we didn't enter these. The complete results can be found on

Overall, this is always a well organized and very team friendly event. Too bad about the the weather, I'm sure it hurt the other attractions of this large festival which included many vendors and live music. They also had amusement rides for the kids. We made it through the weekend with no ill effects from the wind - well... other than being setup in ash can alley. The hot ash dump can was so close to us that every time someone dumped we got covered in ash. I hope they plan this out better for next competition. Our friends, the Zombie BBQ team, did not fair as well with the wind. They were next to us and we had tied our EZ-up tents together for extra support. The competition was over and we were breaking down equipment when the wind caught the other side of their tent and bent it over ours. If not for some quick reactions from some neighboring teams, our tent would have also been lost. Thanks guys! We will be back next year - hopefully without the winds!

Next up - Smoke in the Valley - Green Lane, PA on May 13 - 14



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