The results are in….

2019 BBQ Fest shoulder final results (shoulder is the category in which my team competes)

2019 BBQ Fest full list of winners

I was encouraged coming into BBQ Fest ’19. You never want to get arrogant and automatically assume you’re going to get a trophy, but there were signs that we might move up from our seventh-place 2018 finish in shoulder.

One reason was a conversation I had with our team secretary Drew a week ago yesterday as we were at the Blind Bear handing out team bags. He told me that at one point cooking the 2018 competition shoulders, the smoker’s temperature got way too high. The issue was quickly corrected, but still, there’s almost no room for error when you’re competing against so many great teams. Having still got seventh after the temperature problem, I thought, if out pitmaster takes steps to assure that won’t happen this year (which I knew he would), maybe we would have the potential to move up even higher in the 2019 standings.

I led off yesterday morning at Bardog and Blind Bear, then got down to the park a little after 2. Our team’s ambassador had not come back by after the 11 AM-noon judging session to tell us to prepare for a second round of judging. That meant we were out of the top three. However, trophies and cash prizes are awarded 4-10 as well, so we still had a good chance at finishing in the money and possibly eclipsing last place’s finish.

Good news: All three of our judges came back to the booth and asked to speak to our pitmaster Kris. That’s a good sign, when they think enough of you to come back by and share feedback. Even better, one of the judges asked for a to-go bag of our competition shoulder to take home to his family. That is a great sign.

One of our cooks, Mac, told me, “all three of the judges told Kris they gave us their 10.” Judges are allowed to award only one of the teams they judge their perfect 10 score. There are only so many 10s to be handed out, and if we had them across the board, we had likely beaten a lot of the other shoulder teams.

Of course, there was one element from which we couldn’t get feedback before the awards: the blind boxes. This is where teams put competition meat into a nondescript box, with only a number on it. Blind judges have no idea what team’s meat they were eating.

The 4:00 hour came and went, and that was a letdown. What happens at 4:00? If your team has a trophy awaiting, your ambassador will come by and strongly suggest you have a presence at the awards ceremony. That didn’t happen, letting us know we’d dropped out of the top 10. We didn’t even bother going to the awards. We were all dead tired and just didn’t feel like standing there for over an hour.

As you can see from the results, we got 19th out of 49 teams. I’m still puzzled how that happened. I’m not the foremost expert in BBQ Fest math, but either we misunderstood about one of the judges giving us their 10, or we got murdered on the blind box component of the competition.

Still, though, even though it’s not the result we were hoping for, I would not say I’m disappointed. I am so proud to be on a team with Kris and the other cooks and all my teammates who went out of the way to make life easier for the cook team. We still finished in the top 40%, damn good compared to most of our team’s historical results. Plus our cook team is really good at avoiding the #1 thing that torpedoes team results, which is what I call “doin’ too much.” We learned that principle about 2 years ago – I’d say Burger Fest ’17 was the first competition at which we applied it – and our results have seen a world of difference. We haven’t had a bottom 50% finish in a major competition category since then.

The most important thing is, we all had fun, we bonded as a team, and many, many people told us that the food they had was amazing. Also, we had a beautiful space in which to party and break bread, although it finished fourth in Best Booth, one spot shy of getting a trophy. Still, I am pleased that we honored The South’s Grand Hotel.

The one result that really surprised me was the turkey ancillary category. If there really are 27 teams that do it better than we do, then there is a lot of damn fine turkey in Tom Lee Park. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that people who cook BBQ do turkey well: I’ve long said that the turkey is the sleeper item on Central BBQ’s menu that too many people overlook.

About 5 it started to rain. Thank goodness the park wasn’t so full that AT&T’s LTE grinded to a halt like it did the previous two days. I checked the radar and saw that the showers we were experiencing were advance cells of a strong line of storms over Little Rock at the time. When I looked again at 6:15, the line had advanced to Brinkley, half the distance to Memphis. That was quicker than I expected and I realized I had at most two hours to get out of the park. I grabbed a “roadie” beer for the mile walk to the north entrance and made my way to the safety and comfort of the Blind Bear.

Thank you to each and every one of my teammates. Love you all, and if you have feedback on what you’d like to see for 2020, share it with me and I’ll make sure it gets to the other team leaders.

I want to apologize for being a bit quiet and introverted at times in the booth, especially on Thursday. My back was killing me to the point that I could barely even pick up the shampoo bottle in the shower that morning. Allergies were killing me and the effect was compounded by an eye infection. For a couple of hours there I just needed to sit there and drink bottles of water until I got to feeling human again.

Out and about today, then tomorrow I’ll start getting back in the groove and figuring out what to do with my life. Applying for jobs, getting my hair cut, connecting with a couple of key people I couldn’t meet with last week due to BBQ. Hopefully I’ll be back with a news update post no later than Tuesday.