Twenty creatively named teams and enough wood smoke to ground low flying aircraft, if there were any in Methuen, MA, heralded the 5th Annual Amateur Applewood Smoke-Off BBQ competition at Mann’s Orchard this weekend, and if you, like we, thought that meant tasting some of the best the region has to offer, you’d be wrong. According to the host, the Health Dept forbade sampling because the conditions under which everything was cooked could not be controlled. So we know who the winners are, but because they are amateurs without restaurants or catering businesses, we will never know how good they are, and that seems like a wasted trip to the event, though I do love to shop at Mann’s for exceptional produce and apples and pies. http://www.mannorchards.com/
Mann Orchard did however offer their own BBQ plate for $15 a head. It was less than exceptional (Brisket was off tasting to me, as was the cole slaw, the chips were too salty, the pulled pork kind of dry. The beans and the ribs were adequate, and my apple pie was mostly crust but that was the luck of the draw. The pink sprinkled pig-shaped cookies were good. Overall the food was meh; at least the music (regional favorites, The B Street Bombers) was exceptional.
So when you think you’re going to write a blog post about BBQ and find out you can’t taste it, what are you going to do? Mostly I got intrigued by the smoking apparatus, the characters/BBQers who stay overnight in tents and on lawn chairs to baby their ribs, and their wacky team names. Oh those team names…. If you enter BBQ competitions, the team name is almost as important as your secret recipe.
Methuen’s Own AKA Fish Camp – Mr. Oswalt had enough stories of smoking fish (hence the name), being a quasi CHiPs, and traveling the world in search of adventure and pursuit of opportunity to keep us in his booth for ages. We weren’t the only ones to gravitate to his booth.
The Big Bad Wolf team cleaned its grill with what seemed like a flame thrower that would certainly take out the houses of straw, sticks, and possibly convert the brick house into a supplemental grill without any of the germ-spreading huffing and puffing.
Other teams had names like Oinkstar, U Smokin’, Granny’s Gang BBQ (mentor to Young Gunz BBQ), Meat and Three BBQ, The Smokin D’s, Two Jerks BBQ, Smoke ‘Em if You Got Em, Stump Chunks BBQ, and Smoke Showing BBQ.
One team really caught my attention. Young Gunz BBQ. Anyone who’s seen a teen sleep until noon knows that it is so exciting and unusual to find a young entrepreneur that you want to hold him up for example to teens everywhere and announce “This is what you are capable of doing, if you get out of bed!” And so it was when I met Enrico Pasquale. He’s 17 (the youngest competitor) and lives in Raynham, MA and he attends the tech high school studying culinary arts. He had some impressive looking apparatus at this his second competition. And he gave credit to his dad who split the $1000 cost with him when he demonstrated both a talent and a commitment to BBQ. Enrico worked out a massive deal to get his setup that included 20 bags of charcoal, 60 qt stock pot, a locked cooler, as well as the smokers and some other stuff I didn’t understand. He bought used to get the most for his money. His mentor from Granny’s Gang BBQ who befriended him at his first competition called it the deal of the century.
His first venture (he’s only been at this a year) into competitive BBQ earned him my respect because he landed closer to the bottom than the top of the heap, but he picked up a mentor and some tips and entered again. He didn’t win this year either, and unfortunately the report cards given out after the event did not give a comparison so he could only see numbers with no reference points among winners or other competitors. But he’ll be back. And, that folks is the difference between winners and losers. Winners learn and grow from adversity.
Another quality that will take this man far is his insistence on giving credit where due. He requested that his BBQ partner Josh Cathcart be both identified and included in a photo. Cathcart doesn’t create the recipes or cook the meats, but he does spend long hours tending the charcoal, an essential task. Pasquale also credited his parents for their support, encouragement and for driving the trailer toting his BBQ equipment to events.
After seeing all the meat he prepared for each of the four categories (remember I wasn’t allowed to sample), I asked the obvious question “What’s your favorite vegetable?” He responded “corn on the cob” which just so happens to be the perfect accompaniment of BBQ.
So if you want to remember a name from this weekend, remember this one, Enrico Pasquale. I am sure we will be hearing much more from this young man. I know I’d go to the first BBQ restaurant he opens, and I haven’t even tried his food yet.
©2013 Alison Colby-Campbell
5th Annual Amateur Applewood Smoke-Off
#1 Meat and Three, #2 Big Bad Wolf
#1 The Smokin’ D’s, #2 Meat and Three
Pork (mostly pulled)
#1 The Smokin’ D’s, #2 Willis and Earls
#1 Willis and Earls, #2 Meat and Three
#1 Willis and Earls, #2 The Smokin D’s