Competition Grilling: Transformer BBQ Wins Grillin' on the Bay; Wildwood Takes Reserve
Two weeks earlier, it was a New York City team—Wildwood Barbeque—who took the grand championship at the Snowshoe Grilling Challenge in suburban Boston. Transformer BBQ of Canton MA returned the favor on Saturday, driving into Brooklyn and winning the fourth annual Grillin' on the Bay, a competition that doubles as a fundraiser for the St Mark School.
Brendan Burek takes the Grand Championship trophy as contest reps Michelle Taft and Andy King look on.
Transformer's Julie and Brendan Burek built on their earlier success at the Snowshoe. Although the husband-and-wife team finished fourth overall at that event, they were one of only two teams to receive three calls to the stage, one of which was first place for pork loin. On Saturday, Transformer duplicated the balanced attack and was the only team with calls in all four categories: first place pork, second place chef's choice, third place fish and sixth place chicken.
New York City barbecue restaurant Wildwood Barbeque took reserve grand championship honors, also receiving calls for first place chef's choice, third place chicken and fourth place fish. As at the Snowshoe, Wildwood pitmaster Lou Elrose teamed with Robbie Richter, who two summers ago was the pitmaster at New York City's Hill Country Barbecue.
1st place chicken: Ribs Within
1st place fish: Ribs Within
1st place pork: Transformer BBQ
1st place chef's choice: Wildwood
Ribs Within, led by Doug Keiles of New Jersey's Grub Hut, finished third overall, taking first place trophies for chicken and fish and a third place trophy for pork.
IQue finished fourth overall. The Boston-based team, led at this event by James Beard nominated chef Andy Husbands of Tremont 647, received calls for second place chicken, second place fish and sixth place pork. Fittingly, IQue also took first place in the "RUB Rapid Fire Challenge," cooking a secret ingredient (hanger steak) supplied just 45 minutes before turn-in by co-sponsor Pat LaFrieda Meats.
With a shortage of judges, I was called into duty as a table captain, responsible for distributing entry boxes to the judges for the actual tasting and scoring. Although I've judged many times, this was the first time I had fulfilled this role. The downside of being a table captain was not being able to taste all the food (not such a bad thing) and not being able to observe the action outside. The upside was that I got to see all the entries that hit my table (there were three judging tables), play along in my head and then compare my mental appearance scores with the judges' actual scores for appearance, taste and tenderness.
Only when teams supply more than six portions for the six judges are there opportunities for table captains and contest representatives to also sample the entries. Two such opportunities came with two of the only three entries reaching my table that visually wowed me. Both tasted as good as they looked and both I later learned were cooked by ultimate champions Transformer BBQ. One was their chicken breast from the first round and the other was their steak with lobster from the chef's choice. The other entry that wowed me was beef short ribs on a bed of risotto with mushrooms, which received several perfect scores from the judges. This later turned out to be Wildwood's first place chef's choice. At a neighboring judges' table, there was much buzz about IQue's stuffed shrimp entry.
It was both a treat and a humbling experience to not count myself as one of the top bloggers at the event. Eric Devlin of Home of BBQ was one of the contest officials. Food writer Josh Ozersky of The Feedbag traded in his notepad for an apron and competed in a couple of the contest categories. Husbands pens the Fearless Chef blog; both Bureks take turns writing the Transformer BBQ blog; Clint Cantwell of Smoke In Da Eye regularly shares cooking tips and food porn on Blog In Da Eye. Ted Lorson of the QHaven blog and Lisa Fain of the Homesick Texan blog served as judges. Nick Solares of Beef Aficionado and Serious Eats was on hand to cover the event and join me on a panel who judged the surprise RUB Rapid Fire Challenge. Matt Fisher of the Hampton Smoker blog was onhand vending ribs and chicken to passersby who happened upon the event. And Robert Fernandez of the White Trash BBQ blog put the whole event together.
Fernandez, sponsor RUB BBQ and contest New England Barbecue Society (NEBS) representatives Andy King and Michelle Taft all ensured that the day's events unfolded rather smoothly. Despite heavy winds, it turned out to be a great day.
For complete contest results, see www.nebs.org.