Been way too long since I wrote an article. I guess that’s the way life tosses you around in her sea of volatility. Nevertheless, here I am again. A lot has happened since the last article, and as luck would have it, season number 3 is magic for us. We took our first GC in Clinton IA, managed to squeeze into the Royal with the minimum number of teams rule, which also made us eligible for the Jack Draw. In keeping with the spirit of our semi-charmed season, we got our name selected as the delegate from the Iowa contests for the Jack. Are we the best cooks that won Iowa contests this year…heck no. I guess we used a little skill to put us in a place to benefit from a little luck, and that’s what happened this year. And this good fortune has firmly placed me back in the ranks of a Newbie…or at least I’m getting to experience things for the first time.

Newbie experience #1: Winning a Grand Champion. Was an absolute thrill. It also felt like a little burden had been removed. Sure it was a load I put on my own shoulders, the knowing I had pretty good food most of the time, and that eventually those 4th place finishes will turn into additional walks to the stage. That day on the Mississippi River was grand in all ways possible. The people of Clinton and the bevy of volunteers make this a great contest. I got the lucky draws that day, but that newbie experience, the thrill of finally satisfying that GC goal, was unforgettable. Most important though, my family, even some extended family members, some good friends, and of course several BBQ friends who have been so encouraging over the last couple years, were there to share in the excitement.

Newbie experience #2: Waiting for the Royal Invitational letter and the notice letter from the Jack Daniels. Not knowing what to expect, I spent the next couple of months wondering when those notices will come. Some time in August, I opened the mail box and saw a nice envelope addressed to me from the Jack Daniels Distillery. My heart raced as I thought for sure this was it. Strolled into the house, opened the envelope and pulled out its contents. To my surprise, it wasn’t a letter of notification about the Draw, it was an invitation to become a Tennessee Squire. Wasn’t what I was expecting, but it’s a darn cool honor nonetheless. So thanks Keith for the nomination :-). A couple weeks later the rest of the mail started trickling in, from the Royal, and of course the Jack. Simple communications, that spoke volumes. There, I had accomplished some other goals, getting those invitations to cook, or enter the Draw. At the same time, there was a sense of humility that came with those letters. Oh I knew the other cooks who were also receiving them, folks I most often can only admire from afar. I knew how little I really know and understand about BBQ, yet I was being allowed to play in their field. Again, just feeling lucky.

Newbie experience #3: September 6th, 2007. My wife’s birthday, marathon Jr. High parent orientation that evening ruining the possibility dinner w/ my wife. And for those of us in the BBQ world, the day of THE DRAW. There we sit, hitting the refresh button on the Forum. Again unfortunately for me, got busy at work and couldn’t even do that. I checked every now and then, saw friends getting their chance at the dance…I was thrilled for them. I was standing at the copy machine, like any good office worker should be, when my phone went off…Seth Porkrastinators scrolls across. I saw they just got a bid, had to answer it to congratulate them. I say “hello”, and the reply “Dude, congratulations…” “No WAY”, I belt out, having the sense to step out of the office, but not before I got some pretty strange looks from my colleagues. Couple phone calls later, I’m still in disbelief. Once again this wonderful year’s luck gives us a nudge. My heart raced, I could barely talk, and nobody in my office could even come close to understanding the excitement I was experiencing. I’m not sure that was the birthday present my wife was expecting, but at least she was excited for us.

Newbie experience #4: watching others play, while you stay home. The first couple years in this passion, I could pretty much pick and choose when I wanted to cook. For the first time, the months of August and September had too many other conflicts that didn’t allow me the time to dedicate to doing competitions. Don’t get me wrong, I have not one regret about choosing some other things over BBQ, Dad’s 75th birthday, a weekend w/ friends we hadn’t seen in nearly a decade, and soccer games every Saturday. It was a bit of a wake-up call, that there are other things in life that are just as fulfilling. And most of them are about family. For our family, the best balance is when the support for mutual interests is balanced. In the summer months, the scale tips towards BBQ, I just guess it was time to rebalance. Sure I missed out on some things I really wanted to do, cook in several contests, participate in the Royal open, but again, its all about achieving a net balance on our limited time. Maybe next year.

Newbie experience #5: humiliation on a grand scale. Alright, that’s a little severe, but one lesson was learned; cooking the Royal Invitational after 8 weeks of down time is not a good idea. First of all, getting the Royal was an adventure in itself, new trailer, new truck, first time to the Royal. Getting situated to cook in the new trailer was a little difficult. Dealing with the spectacle of the Royal, unreal is all I can say. A little luck blessed us that day. We got a call in Pork, took 14th place, but the rest of our food, just a little piece of humble pie. Funny thing is, I thought it was very fair. My scores were fair. I don’t have a single complaint about how I was judged. Even with the humbling results of the invitational contest, I had a great time and hope I have that honor again.

A week later, we cooked another contest, little better results, in chicken, ribs and brisket. Seems they didn’t like our pork. Someday they’ll all hit.

Newbie experience #6: Jack week anticipation. This one is interesting as it’s multifaceted. First, of course there’s the thrill of prepping for what some consider to be the most prestigious BBQ contest. But honestly that part is about the same as for any contest. You still have to purchase your meat, greens, prepare rubs, sauce, or marinades. You still ponder best driving routes to a new place. This will be our last cook of the season, so there’s bittersweetness associated with that. I have told myself, I just have to get there and enjoy the contest for all it has to offer. I won’t let myself get worried about everything. This might be a once in a lifetime event for myself and my family. I wouldn’t want anything to get in the way of me enjoying everything Lynchburg, Tana, and the spirit of the Jack has to offer. In that sense, it’s the most relaxing competition I’ve prepared for.

Newbie experience #7: On 7/7/07, we took our first GC. My birthday’s on the 7th. I was accepted as a Tennessee Squire in 07. I have a daughter who turned 7 this year. 7s have been lucky, very lucky for me this year. So, I’d like to thank good Old Number 7 for the luck we’ve had this year. And when you get a chance, raise a glass of Old No. 7…here’s to…BBQ 2007, thanks for a great year!!!

Joey Mac