I set out about a week before my first contest of the year, Carmel, IN to write about the dreaded sophomore season.  I had lots of talk about worries and trepidations, concerns, and how my own expectations might not be fulfilled.  Things got busy, I didn’t get to finish the article, and the first contest came and went. 

BAM!!!

Sure enough I was kicked square in the teeth with the reality I didn’t want admit prior to the contest…I just might not do as well as I think I should.  Yep, we had our worst performance since our very first contest.  Chicken was OK, Ribs were OK, Pork just didn’t come together, and brisket, it was like I’d never seen one before.  Have you ever cooked a brisket so much that when you go to pick it up it just crumbles in your fingers?  It disintegrated right there in my finger tips.  I had to make slices about as thick as a politician’s head.  The taste wasn’t bad, but knowing how judges have a tendency to eat with their eyes first, I knew I was doomed. 

I really didn’t want to walk to the awards ceremony that day.  But I did.  As we were walking up, I looked at my wife and told her we were going “oh-fer-four” today.  Just a feeling I had.  And no there’s no “feel good” story about how bad I thought our food was, but the judges didn’t see it that way.  Our food wasn’t great that day, and the judges let me know it!

That day was another Newbie experience in the books.  After spending a year of making constant improvements, we were relegated to the middle of the pack.  Humbling?  Yes.  Deserved?  Absolutely.  Discouraging?  A little bit.  A wake up call?  No doubt about it.

I tried coming up with excuses for our poor showing, but what it came down to was we just didn’t prepare, cook, and serve the best food we could.  I never quite hit the BBQ stride that day.  I felt one step behind where I should be.  I felt too busy.  I felt cheated that I wasn’t able to visit my buddies as much as I would have liked, or sit in a chair with my feet up and relax.

In spite of this, there were the midnight strolls.  The chatting with new and old buddies.  Catching up with the guys from Hoosier Hogs who were instrumental in getting me started in this game.  Learning about some new pits that I had my eyes on.  The teasing I got from my neighbors when they saw the crowd gathering to watch me trim chicken on Friday night like I was some sort of cooking show host or something.  There was sitting around with my teammates, sipping our midnight spirits, and enjoying the cool evening air.  The smell of BBQ everywhere.  The sounds of doors banging.  The laughter echoing through the night.  It was great seeing my oldest daughter’s face light up as she received well deserved praise from my fellow competitors after showing off her first attempt at making chicken thighs (which turned out very good I might add).  The allures of what competition BBQ is all about were all there that weekend.

So come 4:00p on Saturday, knowing my fate, I made that walk up to stage area anyway.  They announced the chicken winners, I of course wasn’t called, and that was the only category I even had a chance in.  Ribs and Pork and Brisket prizes were awarded.  Some familiar names got called up, some new comers also.  They announced the reserve grand champion and I let out a cheer as genuine as they come.  At the Carmel contest last year, I got my first calls ever, and at the end I can remember Fred from Hoosier Hogs being genuinely, enthusiastically, thrilled that I got those calls.  It was time for me to reciprocate, and it just came naturally.  I was thrilled to see these two guys marching up there.  Grand Champion that day went to Ulcer Acres…another one of the teams that was so instrumental in getting me started.  Again, with no feigned enthusiasm, just an authentic feeling of jubilation, I cheered as Randy, in his red shirt / overall uniform, sauntered up to receive the prize he and Marla deserved.

Was it being a good sport, no, it’s much deeper than that.  It was a genuine happiness for these folks I respect, admire, and call friends. 

The Sophmore season.  I can tell it’ll be difficult to accept results that are merely mediocre, especially having sniffed the bigger rewards that are out there.  But that sophomore season also brings more familiar faces.  There is more camaraderie with old and new buddies.   More chances to cheer for them.  More chances for them to cheer you. 

As I prepare for my second contest of the season, those feelings of trepidation have subsided.  Any cockiness that was present has been whittled down to subdued confidence.  Mistakes that were made were noted and not to be repeated (like cooking a brisket to the point where it crumbles…dummy!). 

Some teams have had their start of the season and are in full stride.  I’m just now getting my season rolled into high gear.  It should be fun seeing what other Newbie lessons I’ll learn during this sophomore season. 

Hope to see you out there soon. 

Joey Mac