Windy, Cold, Wet, and Brutal
One word sums up the Diamond State BBQ contest aka Episode 6 in Dover, Delaware: brutal, as is brutally cold, wet, and windy. It was already raining with temperatures in the 40’s when we touched down in Philadelphia enroute to our hotel 70 miles away in Dover. With the “licking” from the American Royal Open two week ago behind me, I wondered how we could push ahead, dig deep, and bring on our A-game amid the dismal weather conditions. Dismal, at least, to a Californian like me, who likes to dress in shorts and tee for a BBQ contest. Being swaddled like a Michelin man in winter-wear and soaked to the bone cooking BBQ outdoors was really not my cup of tea.
The next morning, we suited up like gladiators battling wind, rain, and cold with thermal undergarments, sweaters, and jackets as ventured out the contest site which was the center oval of the Miracle Mile NASCAR racetrack at the Dover Downs Casino complex.
Mark and I cooked this contest without Gary as he struck out on his first solo contest and first outing on the East Coast. Since Gary learned many secret details about how I cook, it would be like a Star Wars plot where Anakin the Paduan tries defeats his Master Obi-Wan. Gary combined the BBQ secrets he learned being on our team with his formidable skills as pitmaster of his Notley Que team to try to defeat us using equipment borrowed from other teams after posting an SOS on the Internet BBQ forums. The specter of two California teams cooking to win at this windy Siberia-like contest motivated both teams to do well amid the 80+ teams who showed up.
We were wet and cold by the time we finished setup Friday morning. I was worried because I saw several teams wearing tees saying “I survived Dover 2007” as a badge of honor as tornado-like conditions swept through then and sent many EZ-ups to the dumpster and many teams home prematurely. I was nervous as we tied our EZ-up down to the van as the wind was gusting.
I had to put our two WSMs under our 10X10 canopy, so things were pretty cramped. I started the long-haul butts and briskets at 8 pm instead of our usual 11 pm due to the adverse weather. Our crude water heater blanket insulation around the WSM worked quite well and I had to refuel after 6 hours when temperatures dipped in the early morning. During the night, Mark and Gary sought refuge in our rental car and ran the engine and heater while I retreated to our minivan for shelter.
By daybreak, I was hoping for a respite from the rain and cold but that was not forthcoming. The contest by now was becoming an endurance battle and my focus shifted from winning, to finishing the contest. I was tired and chilled to the bone. I was thinking about my new tee which would say, “I survived the wet, windy, and cold Dover”. Of course, the other East Coast teams that stopped by were unfazed by the weather and were amused that a little weather would bother our California team. I would too if I had a nice warm RV or trailer.
At awards time, we edged out 52 teams and lost to 29 teams coming in 29th overall out of 81. Not a terrific finish but not a bad one. Congratulations to Gary who beat us and came in 26th overall despite us beating him in three categories: chicken, ribs, and brisket. For reasons unknown to me, the judges hated our pork and that low score really set us behind allowing Gary to edge us out in overall standings.
I’d like to thank the organizers, hosts, judges, and TLC for making it possible for us to cook our first East Coast event. Thanks also go out to our sponsors: T&H Meat and Sausage, TheSlabs.com, and Rock’s Barbecue Systems.
The rain finally let up as we boarded our plane back to LA. Gary will drive our van home as this was the sixth and last episode. Epilogue: TLC decided to extend the show based on favorable ratings and two more episodes were added.