Learning to Smoke
My first barbeque experience was a complete disaster. Twenty years ago I put a whole chicken on a small smoker from Home Depot, feeling confident as I watched the white smoke billow from the unit all afternoon. What I didn’t know then was that successful barbeque uses heat to cook and smoke to flavor. After four hours of trying to cook with smoke, what I had was a raw, blackened chicken. Further efforts to salvage the bird were unsuccessful but this experience only spurred me on.
After that, everything I read and learned from those around me taught me that there was a science and an art to cooking low and slow. It required persistence, care and attention to every detail - and I was hooked. I’ve since moved from being a scientist by day and home cook by night, to running my own successful private dinner business, in addition to barbeque catering. During that time I also founded the Mount Desert Island Garlic Festival, an event celebrating a love of food, farming and music. As a vendor at that event, I’ve shared my love of the low and slow barbecue cooking process for many years and still find great satisfaction in seeing people taste the result when meat and wood smoke come together.
Over the years, in addition to refining my own barbeque, I’ve followed many barbeque competitions. More recently I had the idea of bringing those that love to cook barbeque together with the great energy of barbeque competition at the MDI Garlic Festival. And so in September of this year, the MDI Garlic Festival will become the site of the first ever Great Maine Barbecue Challenge
I learned as I worked closely with the Kansas City Barbecue Society and the New England Barbecue Society that I needed to attend a barbecue competition event as part of my effort to establish a sanctioned competition in Maine. I chose Pig Fest in Florida in January of 2016 - what better time to travel to a warm climate for a barbeque event. I expected to be merely tolerated as a tag-along when I shadowed the event, but to my amazement I was embraced in a way I did not expect. Every judge, team member and organizer welcomed me with open arms, answered all of my questions, shared their experiences, and made me feel valued. They put me to work hanging posters and setting up tents and even let me be a non-certified judge at the backyard competition.
I had an incredible experience around the table with the judges, tasting and touching the food and learning what it took to be a contender. Through all of this activity I was profoundly moved. Despite having to deal with thousands of people and over 120 barbeque rigs onsite, they made me feel as if I was a part of their team. I even had the opportunity to talk with Carolyn Wells, the founder of KCBS. At no time was she or anyone else I spoke to during those three days too busy to share their knowledge or give me their time and attention.
I have always been of the mindset that when it comes to cooking, I love what I do so much that I have to share it with others. I felt that I had been introduced to an entire new world of amazing people that feel the same way I do about food. With this experience I traveled home to Maine with a new-found focus on how to make the Great Maine Barbeque Challenge the best ever. It is my goal to give the teams and judges the best experience they have ever had at a competition. I want every participant to feel taken care of and embraced as I was embraced during my life-changing visit to the Pig Fest in Florida.
For more information on the Great Maine Barbeque Challenge including sites and activities of the surrounding Acadia National Park please visit www.greatmainebbqchallenge.com.