(Shawnee, OK) - This was the first one -- a new competition put on by the Citizen Potawatomi Nation on their impressive grounds about halfway between the downtown areas of the neighboring Oklahoma towns of Shawnee and Tecumseh. Clearly they had hoped for it to be a much larger event that would include music, vendors and a whole bunch of cool cars. But then it rained. In the middle of a drought. And so the best laid plans went awry and a lot of hard work was for naught. But hey -- they still pulled off a fine barbecue competition and that is nothing to sneeze at.
It started out as just a single voice in the wilderness. In other words it showed up on the KCBS events page with little fanfare and a misspelled email address. A couple of phone calls and a little research yielded the email address of the organizer -- an already busy but still friendly man named Jason Boyce. He'd be the contact henceforth and was present for judging so we could all shake his hand and thank him for his hard work and for having us. We heard more as the year progressed and were then approached as we cooked in Norman in July and handed a flyer. Cool.
He had us set up in a comfortable reunion room next to the RV camping sites that would serve as cook sites. Plenty of room for everyone to spread out. Clara and Jonathan Williams served as reps and were glad to be back in the area. They hadn't been down since serving as reps for the Tecumseh event that was on hiatus this year (but happily is back on the calendar to return next year). So judges parking was set up over by the tribal grocery store -- other side of a field and bridge over a small creek. That would have been fine on a normal day but made for an adventure in the rain. No pavement but plenty of muddy holes to step in. Since there were no cars to be shown it would have been great if we could have parked in their spots -- they were still empty when judging was finished and we left.
Food was good, by and large, for an event with just 25 teams. It would appear that it served as a warm-up event for a few very successful teams headed for the American Royal just a week away. The top three overall finishers were all headed for the invitational (and open) contests in Kansas City if we're not mistaken. Alas there were some other less experienced and less capable teams on hand too. I would swear that one of the pieces of brisket we were given was boiled. It was gray and rubbery and flavorless with some gelatinous fat clinging to the bottom. There were only four tables (24 judges for 25 teams) and at our table we heard another had gotten a box of gray chicken breasts (!) with kale and scallions as garnish -- double no-no. Word is the reps went out to explain the DQ to the team and saw ribs boiling on the smoker. Nothing against rules in that but it seems like a waste of time, effort and money.
Oh, yeah, and don't let us forget the food poisoning. Can't trace it back -- that's impossible -- but we suspect someone wasn't practicing food safety techniques on the chicken. There were several of us at the table that ate a bunch of a few pieces of chicken because it was pretty tasty. Some had some cramping. Another had full on explosive from both ends along with fever, chills and body aches. Outstanding. Lesson learned -- just taste the chicken. Don't ever eat it all. Ever. EVVVVER. Still -- can't wait to go back next year as this is an event with the potential to be something great.