Comments Off on The Great Brunswick BBQ Throwdown Brunswick, MD
by Mark Gibbs, Pitmaster of The Checkered Flag 500 BBQ
The 2017 Mid Atlantic BBQ region kicked off in cold style in Brunswick, Maryland with the first annual Great Brunswick Throwdown. Beth Johnson and her team did a great job under some tough conditions to make this first year event a good one. There were a few logistical hiccups, which we find at most first year contests, but Beth was there to do her best to make us all comfortable! The small town of Brunswick was very welcoming to teams and we all did our part to help add to the local economy too. A couple of the local eateries were pretty packed when we visited them!
The weather was the story of the weekend. The high for the event may have been in the upper 30’s. I know that the thermometer on the big blue trailer was reading about 17 degrees at 2:30am on Saturday. Despite the chill in the air, the smokers were rolling and the 50 teams all were able to get turn in’s done and on time! Well done teams!
It was great catching up with old friends and meeting some new friends this weekend. The social scene was a little off because of the cold weather, but everyone seemed happy to be back out on the BBQ trail again in 2017. I know that the consensus among the teams that I spoke to was a resounding yes to a 2nd Annual Throwdown in 2018!
Congrats to Luke and Kim Darnell from Old Virginia Smoke on the Grand Championship and to Chiles Cridlin and the Wolf’s Revenge team on the Reserve Grand! OVS took home top Chicken honors with a 180 score, Beer Meets Grill brought home the big Ribs trophy, Wolf’s Revenge tore up pork with a perfect 180 and Lo’ & Slo’ won the Brisket category. A shout out goes to all of the teams that were called and we are looking forward to Urbanna, Virginia and BBQ Gives Back for the next stop on the Mid-Atlantic BBQ Association schedule!
First place winners:
Chicken – Old Virginia Smoke (perfect 180!)
Ribs –Beer Meets Grill
Pork –Wolf’s Revenge (perfect 180!)
Brisket –Lo ‘N’ Slo BBQ
Grand Champion –Old Virginia Smoke
Reserve Grand Champion –Wolf’s Revenge
Comments Off on Jerry Stephenson, Pitmaster of Redneck Scientific Opens The Redneck BBQ Lab
by Brian Walrath, Pitmaster of Brown Liquor BBQ and MABA Board Member
I know we’ve all dreamed about it…or to some had nightmares. What is “it?” Taking that plunge from competition barbecue and/or barbecue catering to opening your very own barbecue joint! Well, Jerry Stephenson of Redneck Scientific fame (yeah, the team that finished fourth overall in KCBS in 2016!), took the plunge in January! Jerry opened The Redneck BBQ Lab in Benson, North Carolina.
I happened to be not-too-far away from Jerry’s restaurant the first week he opened visiting some friends to attend a Tarheel/Syracuse basketball game and we decided to stop in for lunch the day after the game. The Redneck BBQ Lab is nestled in next to a gas station in a busy intersection on highway 210, just off of interstate 40.
The first thing you notice pulling in is the big painted logo on the side of the building. The rumor is that this impressive visual landmark was hand crafted by the Sean Manley, aka, “The Guv,” Jerry’s brother-in-law and husband of Roxanne Manley, Jerry’s secret weapon on the barbecue trail! The front of the joint is equally impressive with a bold series of words that make you want to see what’s inside…PROVEN. WINNING. COMPETITION. BBQ! The interior has a homey look with wood grain throughout and a country feel as local, historic pictures and signs with country slogans adorn the walls on your way to the counter. The other thing you can’t help but notice is the trophy shelf that sits right above the windows to the food service line where your order is plated. This trophy case is flat out impressive and I couldn’t help but look up and wonder about the times I’ve competed against Jerry and Roxanne and think of all the times they whipped my ass!
After a handshake and some pleasantries with Jerry, he was off to run an errand as busy restauranteurs often do. My buddies and I decided to get a sampling of several barbecue meats that included smoked spare ribs, pulled pork, and brisket burnts ends and slices. The Redneck Barbecue Lab only sells burnt ends on certain days, and we were glad we hit the right one! Our sides included local collards and the jalapeno mac ‘n cheese. As a competition barbecue cook, sometimes our opinions are flawed when it comes to restaurant barbecue. But I can tell you confidently, Jerry is doing it right! The brisket was perfectly smoked and tender as a mother’s love. The pulled pork was true to this region and succulent with great mouth feel. The burnt ends literally melted in your mouth. The spare ribs were done just right…not overcooked and falling off the bone, but just the right doneness to give you a great bite and chew. The impressiveness didn’t stop there. The collards and mac were among the best I’ve dug in to as well.
Perhaps what’s most impressive about The Redneck BBQ Lab however, is the people. Our service was quick, friendly, and with the southern charm that always makes me come back to these parts! The joint is just that…a joint. It’s not a big place and if you want to be sure to get some tasty ‘que, you better get there early. As with all of the best BBQ hotspots I’ve found, they sell a finite amount and when they’re sold out, that’s it!
All in all, it was a great experience and the food was killer. It’s right off 40 and not too far off of 95. If you get a chance, go, you won’t be disappointed. Jerry and his team are doing it right. I will be back for sure the first chance I get!
Have you eaten great barbecue at a Mid-Atlantic barbecue joint lately? Tell us about it and we’ll feature other restaurants in the newsletter and the MABA website. Just email your review/story to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Comments Off on Get To Know Eric Forrester, The Ironman KCBS Competition, and Mason Dixon BBQ Supply
Eric Forrester, owner of Mason Dixon BBQ Supply in both Frederick, MD and the flagship store in Greencastle, PA has been in the barbecue game for well over a decade and has one of the most unique contests in the nation. He’s a wealth of knowledge of competition barbecue in the Mid-Atlantic and has always been a big supporter of MABA and a business member of the association for a long time. We wanted to get-to-know Eric a little better and find out more about his start in barbecue, his businesses, but mostly his KCBS competition, the Ironman. He was kind enough to answer all of our questions and I think you’ll agree, it was quite interesting and as Eric is, quite entertaining!
Tell us a little about your history in barbecue and how you came to be the owner of two barbecue businesses in the Mid-Atlantic.
I was born at a young age and everything after that was blur until I got my glasses at age 7….(Ha, thanks Groucho Marx!) At 14, my first job was in the restaurant business and that continued through and after college. I was recruited by General Mills (they owned Red Lobster back then) to become part of a 5-person team to open new restaurants along the Eastern seaboard. I opened 12 restaurants in 3 years and closed and re-opened another 4 stores.
When the GM stopped opening stores, I was assigned to the Red Lobster in Hagerstown, MD and I decided to go back to school for my masters degree and “escape” the restaurant lifestyle. I catered for a couple of years and after getting my masters, I got into manufacturing and eventually owned a part of a company that made construction equipment. I sold my share in 2001 and became the COO of Blue Ridge Mountain Cookery – BRMC made high-end catering grills for the military, restaurants, rental, and universities. My “foodie” side kicked in and I started getting into competition barbecue on custom smokers that we built and a Jedmaster Smoker. We competed in 10 competitions from 2004-2006 under the name Smoked Encounters of the 3rd Swine. Primarily in MIM (MBN) comps; our best finish was RGC at the National Capital BBQ Comp in DC. In 2007, I left BRMC and started my own company – CELF Services, LLC., doing sub-contract metal finishing work for military applications.
In 2009, things were moving along pretty wall and I was looking for more to do and to maybe get back in the food business. I had decided to purchase a bar/restaurant in Shippensburg, PA; so after my wife stepped on my head (in a good way), I decided not to go into the bar business, but to open a BBQ Supply Store instead – she was good with this! I was friends with the guys at Meadow Creek and was selling their units to the military through a GSA Contract already, so I modeled my store after their store in New Holland. That was it – Mason-Dixon BBQ Supply was born! I still have/kept CELF Services and thought Mason-Dixon would be a write off for me for a few years, but we have done well and it has never worked out that way!
After getting beat up by Maryland customers for a few years, I opened the store in Frederick in 2014 and have considered opening a 3rd location in Winchester, VA…we’ll see.
When was the first Ironman event here at Mason Dixon?
The first official event we did was in 2012 – The Go Naked BBQ Show(down) – a ribs & chicken Backyard Event that forbade the use of any electronics to prep, cook, or finish with. No pellet cookers, no Guru controls, no electric knives, no stay-in thermos, etc. We kept it as Go Naked for 2 years and then added THE IRONMAN component and turned it into a 4 meat competition in 2013.
Eventually I wanted to grow this into a full-blown KCBS Comp. I had run several other competitions – Smoketoberfest (3 yrs) and the Memorial Day Pignic – and wanted to get sanctioning, but ran into issues with KCBS. Our format was fun, hard, and the teams seemed to like the challenge, but KCBS said we couldn’t force teams to limit their meat…that’s when I had an epiphany (or stroke, who knows) that we could be KCBS sanctioned if the teams voluntarily agreed to the limitations. So that’s what we did and went KCBS in 2014. This is officially our 4th year as a KCBS competition as THE IRONMAN.
Talk about the special rules association with the Ironman format?
1. No electric devices to be used in the prep, cooking, or presenting of competition meats – no Guru/Stoker/Flame Boss controls, no Pellet Cookers, no electric rotisseries, no electric knives, no stay-in thermometers. Just you, your pit, and meat. (Maverick/Thermopen/stick-in thermos are OK – food safety!).
2. Limited meats! If you call yourself a Pitmaster, you should be able to cook! In most comps you can cook as much meat as you want…but at THE IRONMAN, you can only cook (1) brisket, (1) pork butt, (1) rack o’ ribs, (7) pieces of chicken (1 to taste). There is even a “challenge group” now that puts all (7) pieces of chicken in! (Editor’s note – I have it on good authority that the winning chicken box in 2016 contained all 7 pieces!)
What made you decide to do a contest in this non-traditional way?
Eric: As with all good ideas, this was hatched in a bar and drinks were involved. Some of you might remember Tim McMaster (Porter Mac’s Rockin’ Q) and Dave Nash (Pot Belly BBQ)…well, we were all drinking (not sure how that happened) and started talking about the Pitmaster TV show and how one of the competitors on there couldn’t operate the Egg without the Guru…some of you might remember that…ugh. See, I still feel the same way about it. Don’t get me wrong, electronic controls are marvels of science, but you should know how to operate your Pit without one – especially if you call yourself a Pitmaster on national TV. Anyway, one thing led to another and Go Naked BBQ was born.
Two years later we were trying to make it even more challenging and Mark Flanigan suggested limiting the meat. I thought this was a great idea, so we did it and THE IRONMAN was born – incorporating the “no electric” clause as well! We have toyed with the idea of having teams bring their meat in and putting it in coolers, then having a blind draw where the teams “draw” for meat coolers, but I think this will put KCBS over the top and will threaten our sanctioning. This would, however, make the field more level when it comes to meats being cooked, i.e. – one team can afford the expensive Wagyu brisket and another team can’t…but again, I don’t think we can get this through KCBS.
This has been a very popular contest over the years, why do you think so many teams like it so much?
Well…like any good comp, it has a lot to do with the organizer…ha! We’ve traditionally been the first cook of the season for many of the Mid-Atlantic teams and we are an “inexpensive” contest to start with. A lot of teams really like the different format as well. It’s a challenge and makes you really tend to your pit and your food – one mistake can cost you, there’s no “fallback” entry!
THE IRONMAN now sells out each year and we attract teams from 7 different states and Canada. We are also what I call a “cooks competition” in that, while this is in conjunction with the Mason-Dixon BBQ Open House, we don’t attract 10,000 spectators, so the atmosphere is much more relaxed and the public doesn’t get in the way. The cooks can socialize and have some fun without any concern for the public interfering with their cook…or their fun.
THE IRONMAN has also introduced 22 new teams to BBQ competition over the past few years. This year we’ll have 4 teams that have never competed before. At $200 it’s inexpensive and you don’t have all of that meat cost normally associated with a competition. Also, because it is low-key, these newbies can really talk with other teams and get a leg up.
Let’s talk about the weather shall we? Your contest has always been at the beginning of the typical “BBQ season” in the Mid-Atlantic and sometimes the weather can be, I’ll say…interesting in Pennsylvania in late March, early April. Can you comment on that and also give us your annual promise for weather conditions for this year’s contest?
As I explain to everyone, weather is a state of mind. Do you see birds whining when it’s cold? No, they just freeze to death and fall off the line! But they don’t feel sorry for themselves at any point! So, while weather at THE IRONMAN has been temperamental at times, it’s still fantastic if you have the right mind-set! And if you freeze to death, we’ll give you a nice send-off!! That’s how we roll!
We’ve had cold, windy nights (I think the record for lost canopies is only at 9!), nice nights, rainy days (maybe a little sleet), and one beautiful day!! So THE IRONMAN, like me, is well-rounded.
Last year, we had a great weekend with temps in the mid 50’s, partly sunny, and no 50mph winds until after 3pm on Saturday. Despite rumors that I had sold my soul to the devil for good weather, that’s completely untru…there might have been some dancing and sacrificing of chickens, but that’s voodoo and not the same thing! This year I’ve sent a letter to Donald Trump asking for an Executive Order for tree-e-e-mendously good weather! I think I’m in!!! But just in case, bring a long sleeved shirt.
What else about your contest makes this event special?
As with all my events, we do some fun stuff for the teams…on Friday evening we have a pizza party – free pizzas for all teams and team members – after all, who wants to eat BBQ?! I always think we get enough and it’s like a wave of vultures when we bring them – and I never get a piece – but I digress. In an effort to stem the pizza purge we also offer free “Boat Drinks” to all of-age competitors! A fruity concoction of rum and juices to make everyone happy! It’s a grand effort to have everyone relax and visit….because, if nothing else, the BBQ family is great and it’s a lot of fun to visit with everyone.
All of my events also involve charity…gotta give back. This year we are raising money through The Wing Thing – a People’s Choice Wing Competition! All the teams cook 10lbs of wings that are sold to, and voted on by, the dreaded public. This year we are raising money for the Greencastle Relay4Life. They are a good crew and because we work with the local branch, the money stays here and they do great things for the local community. I am a big believer in giving back.
We also invite other charities to come and set up displays at THE IRONMAN. Better Days Animal Shelter will be here, Make-A-Wish is coming, etc. Also, instead of paying Mason-Dixon BBQ, all food vendors and craft vendors have to donate their vending fee to the charity…which is also pretty cool!
LAST, but not least, it is FREE for the public to get into THE IRONMAN. We don’t charge a parking fee or a gate fee. This is a great family event that revolves around the love of BBQ. We don’t run THE IRONMAN to make a profit for Mason-Dixon BBQ. All proceeds from the event go to supporting local charities, team pay-outs, and the coveted IRONMAN trophies!
Ok, here’s your chance to plug the business(es)! Anything special going on during the contest weekend for customers, teams, enthusiasts?
As I mentioned before, we do THE IRONMAN as a part of the Spring Open House at Mason-Dixon BBQ – Greencastle. In addition to the Competition, we have sampling and demonstrations all day long – I think last year we gave away 400lbs of food! There is also live music, door prizes, etc.
We have a modified Eggfest with demonstrations, huge discounts, tastings, and 15% DISCOUNT ON BIG GREEN EGGS! In addition, if you purchase an Egg that day, we team you up with an Egghead and give you meat – that way you not only purchase an Egg, you cook on it too!
EVERYTHING IN THE STORE (with the exception of Backwoods and 270’s) IS 10-50% OFF. When you have decided on your purchases, you get to pull your discount at the register….and yes, there are 20%, 30%, 40%, and even 50% off discounts in the jar! So Weber, Meadow Creek, Uuni, and Bradley cookers are at least 10% off; as are all accessories – Mavericks, Flame Boss, Spitjack, etc.; all rubs and sauces; and charcoal, pellets, etc. – you get the idea!
270 Smokers will be $100 off and we will waive the freight and crating fee off Backwoods, so they will sell at retail alone!
For teams, we will be offering these discounts on Friday after 2pm as well! We’ll also be offering financing (with pre-approval) for 6 Months same as cash purchases! (If interested in this, let us know at least a week prior!)
Discounts will only be available at the Greencastle store! We are looking to put together an Open House at the Frederick store sometime in May! Any ideas for something cool?
Any parting words for our readers or folks on the fence about signing up for the Ironman?
The IRONMAN is about 6 weeks away and we are full at 60 teams! Yeah, I know that’s a surprise…it’s a surprise to me too! Ugh. It’s like an addiction, I just can’t say no! But WE ARE NOW DEFINITELY FULL!!!
I’m looking forward to the warm Spring weather and seeing everyone!!!!
This KCBS competition was held as part of the 53rd Annual Das Awkscht Fescht. Located in the private Macungie Memorial Park which boast a robust 43 acres full of classic cars, vendors, community swimming pool, and auto flea market. The auto fest offered live entertainment from noon until 10:30 pm Friday and Saturday. If you enjoy classic cars, classic 60’s era music, lots of fair food, and an awesome professionally produced fireworks display, this is one competition you need to put on your schedule for next year. Did I mention the fireworks display Saturday night to end the days event…which were set off right across the street where competitors were set up. The sight, sound, and percussions could be felt from each and every one launched, you will be hard pressed to find a better location and display of fireworks.
The organizers did a great job with this 1st time event, making sure competitors had ample electric and city water from one of the parks fire hydrants. There were oversized team sites as well as 20 x 20 regular sites to accommodate teams of all sizes. Fortunately the competition area was on grass to help absorb the hazy, hot, humid, dog days of summer, unlike those that baked on the asphalt of Sam’s Club in Laurel, MD this same weekend. So it is easy to see with 52 years’ experience running the auto fest that this new event has the possibility of longevity and becoming a team favorite in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Twenty-three teams went at it for the title of Grand Champion at the 1st Annual Pit in the Park. As the sun was setting in the early August evening the title fell to the well-known, well respected, 5-time Pennsylvania State Champions Tom & Michele Perelka of Lo’ –N- Slo’ BBQ. The event also held a chefs choice and dessert categories which were cooked and turned in on Sunday. Eight teams were registered for these two categories which were to be done in German or PA Dutch cuisine theme. The overall winner of the combined categories went to Tom & Stacie Feil of Christmas City BBQ.
First place winners:
Chicken – Smokin’ Tex BBQ
Pork –Christmas City BBQ
Brisket –Top Gun BBQ
Grand Champion –Lo’ -N- Slo’ BBQ
Reserve Grand Champion –Smokin Foolz BBQ
by Mark Gibbs, Pitmaster of The Checkered Flag 500 BBQ
The Checkered Flag 500 BBQ has hit a nice stride this year. People have asked, “What has changed?” When are you going to have a class (self-serving plug my first class is September 2nd and 3rd and there are still spaces available!) But seriously, much of the success can be attributed to finding consistency from week-to-week and producing as close to the same product as possible as a result of simple, repeatable, proven processes. There is an old saying, “the cream always rises to the top”. I have heard that for years in both business and in sports. I really saw that saying in action in the BBQ world here in the Mid-Atlantic region. How is it that the same teams can always be found at the top of the results list week after week? 3 Eyz BBQ, winners of many contests and numerous MABA ToY honors are always right there every week. 4:20Q, Aporkalypse Now, Old Virginia Smoke, Lo & Slo and too many others to name are always right there even if they have taken a few weeks off. I wondered what they did to always produce winning results and here are my thoughts and observations that I have put in place in my own competition BBQ program.
Repetition of a GOOD process results in consistency. When you find a process that works with a meat category, write it down! Put it in a spreadsheet and commit that process to memory. Successful teams did not start out cooking all 4 meats great. Most conquered one meat and repeated the process of finding that success with the other categories.
Remember to do all of the “little things” consistently. Little things might be as simple as setting up your work area at the same time at each comp, loading your pit with fuel at the same time or lighting your pit at the same time. I noticed that successful pit masters could be in the midst of a conversation with me and just say out of the blue, “gotta run….I have to do something back at my site.” I realized I could set a clock to some of these guys doing the little steps each week. I try to do all of those things I mentioned above and more at the same time each week. That includes something as simple as tearing aluminum foil for everything on Friday after I trim meats. Consistent prep practices are your friend!
Have you ever asked a top competition BBQ team how they did before awards and they respond with, “well, we hit all of our marks, so we will see”? Those guys just told you that they did everything according to a preset timeline that they repeat on a weekly basis. When a team can do that with a proven process, they will be successful more often than not. For me, hitting my marks is not like KCBS turn-in times. There is no five minutes before the mark and five minutes after that mark. If 3am is the time to put meat on the pit, that is my mark and I shoot for it every time. As a solo cook, you will rarely hear me say I hit my marks because it sounds self-serving, but teams with multiple members that are successful set and hit marks like a well-timed dance routine.
Don’t be afraid to measure rubs, sauces and wrap ingredients (honey, sugar, agave, butter, etc.) until you find the process that works for you. I was a baker for a lot of years. Commercial baking uses formulas, not recipes to make breads and sweets. Recipes have room for change and are open to interpretation. Formulas are more precise. Competition BBQ results can hinge on a little bit of this or that in the wrong place making a big difference in your final product. Use shaker cups and measuring cups when measuring out sauces, injections and rubs. A sauce or rub mix is a formula, not a recipe! Be precise! Once you find the right combination, you may stick with those cups and bottles or you may be confident enough to shoot from the hip and measure by eye. I don’t recommend that, but I am guilty of it sometimes.
Write down what processes worked or did not work on the back of the KCBS scoresheet that you get from a contest. Keep your contest results in a binder or folder and refer back to them when going to contests at those same venues or geographic areas. There is no substitute for experience at a contest and as the pit master, you have a wealth of information at your disposal after you have some contests under your belt. If the judges liked that hickory-habanero mint jelly combination on your chicken at the Sons of Italy Competition in New York City, write it down because you probably will not remember that next year!
My final though is that looking back on my 76 competitions at the time I am writing this article I thought that my first GC would never happen. Three years into my competition BBQ career and no GC’s. I had category wins and a couple of RGC’s but I never saw my name at the top of the list. Well, financial advisor Dave Ramsey says, “Nothing happens without focus. Don’t try to do everything at once. Take it one step at a time!” Rarely does a new team or a team that does not compete much have a run of GC’s or top calls. It happens, but it is rare to see it. Focus on your competition program one step at a time. Build on successful processes, repeat them, learn from them and watch your competition program step up to new levels!
Most importantly have fun! That is what the sport of competition BBQ is about first and foremost. Success will follow if you keep it fun! I look forward to seeing you all on the BBQ trail soon!
Comments Off on Sun BBQ Fest (Mohegan Sun), Uncasville, CT
by Mike Fay, MABA Past President and Pitmaster for Aporkalypse Now
So it’s not quite in the Mid Atlantic but in spite of a bit of a drive ten MABA members joined 59 other competitors for a weekend BBQ competition at the Mohegan Sun Casino. Not only is this a big money event but the resort and staff go out of their way to make sure that all the team’s needs are met and exceeded. A special thanks need to be added for providing a free entry to this year’s Sun BBQ Fest for the MABA banquet raffle.
Sun BBQ Fest is a unique event in that the teams that choose to do the People’s Choice competition on Saturday split the $2 per sample income with the casino thus allowing the teams to recoup and in some cases cover all of their competition expenses. People’s Choice competitors served the items of their choice both Saturday and Sunday to a large and enthusiastic crowd.
For those teams not doing people’s choice; Friday night was the party night. Much revelry could be heard across the parking lot where the festival was located and we were even treated to a surprise visit from Mr. Jack himself.
Sunday was showtime and all the teams put forth their best. Big Ugly continued their outstanding showing in the dessert category with a 2nd place finish. When the KCBS completion smoke cleared it was Shake ‘N Bake BBQ on top for Grand Champion with Meat @ Slims earning Reserve. MABA members had a respectable showing with 3 top 10 overall finishes and 8 of the top 20 slots.
First place winners:
Chicken – Smokin Hoggz BBQ – MA
Ribs – Smokin Bulldogs
Pork – 5-Alarm Backyard BBQ
Brisket – Que and a Half Men
Grand Champion – Shake ‘N Bake BBQ
Reserve Grand Champion – Meat @ Slims
All in all this is a very well run event with good prize money paid deep, fabulous infrastructure, great staff and amenities, plus several opportunities for teams to recoup their costs and interact with their new fans. I know we’ll be back, if for nothing else the Pepe’s pizza!