Hey readers! I know it has been a while, and I hope you are still with me. As you know, I have been writing regularly about positive restaurant experiences for The Beach Reporter. However, I’ve decided that I miss blogging and want to devote more time to getting back into “Megan’s World of Food”. Obviously my voice has changed since I started publishing my writing online at age eight, but I intend to keep updating the blog for as long as possible.
The experience that inspired me to write today is one that you have not yet seen on my blog. Last Saturday, my dad and I entered a rib-making contest at Playa Del Rey’s The Shack, along with our friends Ken and Eric. Our team of four had never entered a BBQ competition before, but we were excited and ready to take on a challenge!
The way this competition worked was that competitors would get supplied with nine racks of ribs on Friday night, and would come to the bar the next morning to actually smoke them. The winner was decided by judges, but a “People’s Choice Award” was given to the BBQ team with the most votes from visitors. If interested in the rib contest, a customer could buy tickets and go around to the teams. A ticket per rib, visitors would taste their way through the parking lot and decide on their favorite.
However, like all good competitions, there are ways to cheat. But at this one, bribing and getting on the voters’ good side are actually encouraged! Each team made treats for throughout the day to make a good impression on the voters. Ours consisted of homemade New Orleans Chaurice sausage, my dad’s grilled wings, and pralines.
Preparation for the “big day” started days in advance; my dad stayed up late making sauces and I assisted in making the pralines. My dad’s new smoker was painted (with the face of former University of Iowa football coach Hayden Fry, of course) and our friend Travis’ truck was ready to transport our supplies to the bar. Everything was in place, it seemed, but I knew so much could go wrong…
My dad told me weeks in advance that my job on the day of was to smile, pass out bribes, and get the voters on our side. Well, that would be easy if I were the least bit charming. Naturally, I woke up on Saturday and put on a waitress’ attire: jean shorts and a black shirt with converse and, of course, a fresh coat of sunscreen. I was convinced I was ready to face the day!
The morning of the competition, Eric, Ken, Travis, and my dad were all standing in front of our garage loading and packing. At 7:30, we got the truck ready and piled in three cars to head to the bar.
Our team’s name was Tailgate Trail, so aside from focusing on BBQ (obviously), our theme revolved around sports (mostly college). Besides the painted smoker, we also advertised a love for sports in our clothes. With Eric’s University of Virginia shirt, Ken’s Kansas City shirt, and my dad’s Delta State University hat, we were supporting plenty of teams!
The first thing we did after we set up under the tent we were given was to light the smoker and get things started. At 10:00, we were allowed to put the ribs on, and we let those cook until about 3:00. Next to the ribs, we put on my dad’s homemade, hand-ground spicy New Orleans Chaurice sausage, shaped into small bites for sample sizes. When they were done, Eric stuck toothpicks in each individual sausage and I cut them apart. We served them alongside little cups of garlic aioli, and they were a crowd favorite for sure. A friendly competitor from the tent next to us was named Antonio, and he loved our sausage so much he said we should sell them!
Next up, my dad grilled some wings on our make-shift grill (the smokebox– see left) and tossed them in his home-made buffalo wing sauce. A wing per plate, we handed them out as samples and got just as good feedback as we did on the sausages. People chose between Ranch and Bleu Cheese dressing on the side, because the wing sauce definitely had a kick to it.
My pralines were given out last, a sweet reminder to “vote for Team Tailgate Trail”. It was a nice treat to have after standing in the sun for a few hours, and the crowd seemed to like them a lot. The leftovers went to me and Emma, a girl I met at the event and really liked.
Finally, it was time to get the ribs plated and to the judges! We took the foil off of them and sliced up all nine racks, putting 8 ribs on a single plate to give to the judges and keeping the rest for customers. A ticket per rib, we gave away every single rib except the last one (which we ate). People chose between our South Carolina mustard-style sauce or our original Red, and both were well-liked. My personal favorite is the mustard-style, but my dad’s friend Ken (being from Kansas City) preferred the red BBQ sauce. All we were waiting for now were the awards!
After we cleared up a bit and socialized, the owner of the bar decided to announce the awards. Antonio’s team, next to us, won the People’s Choice Award, which I think was the real winner. Another group, who we hadn’t talked to, won the judges’ pick. Last up, the host chose his own favorite… “Team Tailgate Trail”. He said that our team was what The Shack was all about, and that he was glad we had come and hoped to see us next year! We may not have really won anything… but we weren’t there for a trophy. We were there to make good food that the people enjoyed, to have this experience as a memory and (hopefully) the first of many rib trials, and just to have fun! What can I say, we did just that.
The Shack’s Annual Rib-Off– see you next year!