Even after a few days to recover it’s fair to say we’re all still feeling both exhausted and elated after an amazing Easter weekend at CraftedLive Wollongong. We were keen to step it up a notch and build on the momentum from our last outing at Crafted Orange. Even in our wildest dreams we couldn’t have imagined the weekend before us!
This was our second comp fueled by Heat Beads and our first hit out with the support of Campbell’s Superior Meats West Pymble – thanks to both for their support! We were also trying out the Bar-B Mop care of the team at Bar-B Shack and it was our first run with the new signage – I think everyone will agree it looked great!
Wollongong was a family affair, with AJ bringing along No.1 daughter, 11, and I brought along little JD, 1. It was a bold strategy, but it seems to have paid off! The event itself was great, with a good selection of craft beers, great BBQ being served up by the catering teams and bands all afternoon.
AJ was the advance party, heading down for bump in on Friday night and setting up the site and I appeared Saturday morning after all the hard work was done. The price of missing out on the setup was missing a great evening of open air cinema care of AJ’s projector and several (or more) cold drinks with the other teams. We had a fantastic spot, stationed between Pit’s Perfect and Highland Q, great people to spend a weekend with. The beer tents were directly across from us. Good work from Captain AJ as usual!
After 5 categories in a single day at Orange, the timetable for Wollongong was more relaxed, with 3 hands in per day. Saturday saw chef’s choice, chicken and pork ribs. Sunday was the big cooks, with pork, beef and lamb.
Chef’s choice for us was pork belly. Smoked slowly on the Weber kettle then finished with a high heat by adding in extra coals, we were expecting a crowd pleaser. Unfortunately the crackle didn’t set and we wound up with beautiful, succulent pork topped with tasty shoe leather. The Chef’s Choice doesn’t count for overall results, so we shook it off and kept on with the other cooks.
Chicken has always been our least favourite category. Getting that bite through skin while keeping the chicken tender and juicy involves an insane amount of work. After trying out skinless chicken breasts at Orange we went back to the traditional chicken thighs. These were all AJ’s work and looked absolutely fantastic. I’m not a big chicken thigh fan but after turning in our box I tried one of the leftovers – let’s just say confidence was high!!
Saturday wrapped up with Pork Ribs. This was out most disappointing category at Orange. After turning in what we thought was our best ever box, complete with (extremely manly) celebratory high fives, we failed to impress the judges, coming in 18th of 26 teams. Despite the disappointment we decided to stick to the plan we believed in. Come turn in time, it was pretty tense in the Doctor Cue tent. We’d cooked two racks and the first to come off was waaaay overdone. Just slicing them without the meat falling off the bone was a delicate two man operation. “We could be in trouble here”.
Then it got real quiet…
The second rack came off and at first we thought it was the same. As we sliced we found the ribs had in fact some decent texture. With time running out, we picked the best six, got the in the box and I headed on that long, delicate walk to the judging tent. Coming back and tasting from that second rack, I knew we’d actually done pretty well – that second rack was as good or better than our last turn in.
Sunday’s cooking really starts late Saturday night. We prepped the pork and beef in the early evening before settling in for some corn on the cob for dinner. It’s easy to hit your meat limit on a comp weekend, no really, so some veggies were just the ticket! Prepping the beef we were both massively impressed with the quality of the Brisket. Having previously run Costco briskets, the quality of the specimen we received from the guys at Campbell’s was outstanding. We were really looking forward to cooking this one.
After the revelry of Friday, Saturday was quiet along the row of comp tents as the darkness and light fog set in and brought the cold with it. As the night dragged on the odd lonely competitor would wander by for a chat as people took shifts sleeping and minding the pits along the park. We lit our pits around 11-11:30PM and hung out until around 12:30 AM as we got the beef and pork on for the night. With the temps dialed in, we hit the hay until little JD sounded the morning alarm at 5 AM. Apparently that’s a perfectly civilized time for a 1 year old, even on a freezing Wollongong morning.
During the quiet time of the morning, while the meat smoked and before the crowds arrived AJ knocked up some jalapeno Poppers – jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese and rub, wrapped in bacon the smoked for a couple of hours. I’ve heard of this mystical hors d’oeuvres often but never had them. I was reliably informed by AJ’s daughter I was “missing out on one of nature’s greatest gifts”. Something went a little wrong with these ones and despite being delicious, they were a tad nuclear for most of the neighbours! I smashed a handful of them anyway.
Sunday Hand Ins
The Pork was done early and had a good rest in the cooler. I was disappointed with the result – we had a great piece of pork but it was a tad overdone so we weren’t able to get slices in the box. The bark was also not as good as usual, impacting the presentation. We got some pulled pork and nice chunks turned in for a decent showing and the meat itself was tasty.
For lamb we ran with cutlets again. It turned out really well and got good reviews from the neighbours. As we posted to Facebook after that turn in” Easily the best lamb we’ve cooked regardless of what the judges think! ”
Last, but never least, it was time to slice the brisket. The flat had been resting for a couple of hours and the burnt ends were coming up nicely in the WSM. AJ pulled out the flat to slice while I sorted the burnt ends. The burnt ends looked magic, the time spent ensuring consistency of size paid off with lovely little adult beef lollies coming off the grill. As we cut the flat it was clear it was beautifully moist and tender. We picked the best section, plated up the box and it looked fantastic. A quick taste of an off-cut and we knew it was as strong a hand in as we’d ever done – beautiful!
After some quickfire packing, we headed over to the main stage for the results. Generally this is when we hope to hear our name in a top 10 readout for one of the categories – the idea of a call up, i.e. top 3, is far from our minds. This time it was only the top three in each category being read out, so we settled in to see who did well. Little did we know…
After all the tension of our pork ribs hand in, we were blown away to get a call up for first place! With such a competitive field and so many great teams, to get up on stage was an amazing moment, made all the better as we got to share it with the kids. Medals in hand we trotted back out onto the grass, beaming from ear to ear! As the Pork and Lamb results got read out we were still coming to terms with our win and then, boom, 1st in beef as well! AJ was so excited he started running for the stage and left behind our swag from our first call up leaving me scrambling behind him. What a day!!
When time came for the overall positions, I was hopeful of a top 10. With two 1st places, provided we didn’t bomb too hard in the other categories we should be there. By the time we got to No.3, I figured we must have tanked some of the other categories. Just as I turned to lament that to AJ, we got announced as Reserve Grand Champions. An absolutely unreal result in our third comp!
We still have some work to do. Despite our opinions, our lamb failed to impress again. The pork turn in was also sub-par compared to what we’ve been able to deliver on practice cooks. The time from now until Meatstock Sydney will be spent practising and refining our techniques and looking at new approaches to lamb. If you’re at the festival come by and say hi, we’re always up for a chat about BBQ! Well, except for those tense 10-15 mins before hand-ins when things get a little frantic at Doctor Cue HQ.
Lastly we’d like to thank the organisers of Crafted Live Wollongong, it was a great event and I think both competitors and patrons had a great day. Thanks also to our sponsors, Heat Beads and Campbell’s Superior Meats West Pymble.
The Doctor Cue Parsley boy, until he can convince someone else to do it. IT Ninja by day. BBQ God by night. There isn’t a recipe he’s found yet that wouldn’t be made better with bacon.