When spring rolls around my meat-and-smoke loving alter ego, Joey Deckle, awakens from his wintry slumber to partake in the joys of competition barbeque. Grillin' on The Bay kicked off the season in New York City this past Saturday. I had every intention of judging the contest held in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, but since I am a Queens boy, I didn't realize how long it would take to get there. By the time I arrived the judges were already tasting the fish category. Truth be told it worked out better that way. It would have been impossible to both judge and blog about the contest, which was graciously sponsored by RUB BBQ, and organized by Robert Fernandez.
Doug Keiles of Ribs Within broke out this nifty retro cutting board for the competition.
Keiles adds a touch more rub before putting his chicken back on the grill. His team took fifth place overall, garnering a check and a nifty infrared grill. (Top honors went to Blazin Butts BBQ a team from Long Island. A full list of the winners can be found here.)
Pitmaster Big Lou Elrose of Wildwood Barbeque graciously permitted me to photograph and taste his succulent apricot-glazed chicken breast just moments before submitting it to the judges.
Big Lou and Alan Hochhauser must have done something right; their chicken took first place.
Sam Barbieri, owner of Waterfront Ale House slicing ribs just before the 1:30 p.m. turn-in. I'm sure at one time Fuhgeddaboutit was "The New York City Barbecue Team," but these days that's just simply not the case. At least Barbieri and teammate Steve Harkavy use the preferred spelling for the classic Brooklynese expression.
Fuhgeddaboutit's pork ribs. Note the nice brown exterior crust and pink smoke ring.
"Only in Brooklyn would I consider doing something like this," Barbieri said while preparing his Chef's Choice entry: a Reuben made with hanger steak pastrami, bacon, and topped off with pickled green tomatoes.
Fuhgeddaboutit's finished product: Good-looking and tasty, too. Apparently the judges didn't feel the same way. Top honors for Chef's Choice went to Purple Turtle, who say they cooked "just a plain steak." I didn't get a chance to see or sample their entry, but something tells me there was nothing plain about it.
Judging a contest is serious business. Check out Steve Silverberg's vintage BBQNYC T-shirt.
In addition to the New England BBQ society-sanctioned contest there was a People's Choice Chili Smack-Down wherein spectators paid $10 for the privilege of tasting 36 different chilies. My favorite was Porchetta's, which was more of a cassoulet than a chili. Nevertheless it fell within the contest guidelines, which read in part "Chili is defined as whatever the contestant determines it to be...can be composed of meat, fish, fowl, grain, fruit, candy or any combination thereof." Thankfully nobody submitted any candy-based chili. There were some delicious oddball entries though, like Brother Jeff's Desi Lambgasam Chili, a green concoction seasoned with Indian spices. I didn't even attempt to try them all. Nor did I taste the winner, which came from Wildwood BBQ.
"Yeah, I cooked it for 16 hours," Big Lou said after marching up to the stage to grab his trophy. On the ride home he revealed another secret to the winning recipe: Just before bringing it to the judging area he cooked some chunks of brisket deckle in beef broth and added it to the tray, ensuring a wallop of beefy goodness with every spoonful.
"Charcoal is very difficult to obtain in Brooklyn during the spring," or so the contest info packet read. Oddly enough the Robert Meat Market just around the corner had plenty of Royal Oak lump charcoal on hand. The Russian owners didn't seem to even know about Grillin' On the Bay. I was particularly intrigued by their pomegranate-marinated chicken. Maybe they'll field a team next year.
Speaking of Roberts many of my fellow 'cue enthusiasts asked after Robbie Richter, who is no stranger to competition barbecue and has scads of trophies to show for it. Apparently he has his hands full as pitmaster at the newly opened Fatty 'Cue in Williamsburg. Look for a full report on New York City's first Southeast Asian barbecue restaurant from me later this week.