Grillstock – A 2-day festival with Bluegrass music and a barbecue competition. And when I say barbecue, I mean like American-style barbecue where briskets and pork shoulders are cooked low and slow, not like burgers and sausages like we would do over here in the UK. The more regular readers of this blog will know that I’m really lucky to be able to call Nick and Lap from smokeandumami my friends and have long gone on about how good their barbecue is. So when we all heard about Grillstock and the guys entered the King Of The Grill competition. Well, I simply *had* to go – not only to support my friends (I think it’s only right that this Brummie Tummy supported a team called the Backyard Brummies), but given the festival itself was going to be at the Bristol Harbourside, it was also a good excuse for a weekend getaway, too. I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow account of it all – You can read it first-hand at the Backyard Brummies site, but I wanted to give an overall impression of what it was like – Not only of the festival itself but what it was like to see a team in competition.
Well, by the time we got to the site on Saturday afternoon, we had already missed the Chef’s Choice. I had already known that they were planning to do a lobster dish with alphonso or even badami mangoes to the point where I’m pretty sure Lap managed to secure the last 2 boxes of mangoes in Birmingham! The pictures I had seen from trial runs looked amazing and I was sure that it would score highly amongst the judges. So the first thing we saw was the dessert – smoked apple pie with smoked ice cream. Trust me, this was utterly delicious and whilst the base of the pie served looked black, it wasn’t burnt at all – There was no acrid taste to it. Genuinely, the base was caramelised so there was a sweet, slightly smokey flavour to it which enhanced the overall dish.
And then it rained. My GOD did it rain! It was pretty much horizontal rain at one point so we quickly took shelter where we could, but it meant that we didn’t really wonder around too much so rather than stay out, we headed to a cafe nearby for a hot beverage and a sit down (and to dry off a little).
Heading back, I was let into the competitor area and what struck me was the conviviality between all the teams – Everyone was really lovely and friendly, even though they were also competitors against each other. As the day went on, I think word began to spread that the Backyard Brummies were producing some good food as every time they came to send another dish out for judging, more and more people came over to their pitch. Most of them were there because they wanted to try the free food, but I like to think that they came back knowing that what they ate previously was good enough for them to warrant coming back. By the time it came to plate up the brisket, the crowd was 3 or 4 people deep all around on the outside – Even in the pouring rain and I could see them drooling as the Backyard Brummies studied each brisket carefully to select the best bits for judging. I felt so proud for the Backyard Brummies as they left their pitch to a chorus of whoops, cheers and applause from the gathered crowds as they took their dishes to the judging tent for the last couple of dishes.
By the end of the day, it was announced who had won the day’s dishes and the Backyard Brummies had not only won the Chef’s Choice dish, but had also come second in the dessert. With that news and the very favourable response they got when serving the brisket (Apparently Dr BBQ himself, Ray Lampe, was interviewed by someone and asked what he looked for in a good brisket and pretty much pointed to the Backyard Brummies’ entry and said: “this”). You could sense the mood in the camp shift to a really optimistic one that perhaps, just perhaps, these guys could really win it..
Day Two for me started the same way as Day One, in that I missed the first dish of the day, chicken. Lap wasn’t too happy with what was served, but he is the ultimate perfectionist – He wasn’t really happy with his Chef’s Choice dish until it was announced that it won! I may have missed it, but there was also one thing about the Backyard Brummies over the weekend – They mass-catered and I don’t think I’m wrong in saying they had the most food available for people to taste – As was demonstrated by the mountain of “extra” jerk chicken an hour or so later. Now Lap had said that the grills were a bit dirty when cooking these so they were over-smoked, but the meat was so juicy inside that I think it could handle it. If anything (and forgive me guys for saying this), there wasn’t much jerk flavour to it and despite being labelled as over-smoked, the smokiness was still quite subtle.
Beans-wise, the guys got extra inspiration from Mr Monkington who became an honorary Backyard Brummie and helped with the presentation. Mainly, using some cooked ham, andouille sausages and borage flowers, they made a little pig’s face on top of the beans. It was quirky – some might say a bit gimmicky, but there was no denying that these were porky beans.
Finally, we had the pork shoulder (including pulled pork). I think that given it was the last dish, a lot more extra effort was put into it as I’m sure the guys wanted to end on a high. By this time, pretty much all the teams were dishing out food for the masses to taste and whilst I enjoyed the Backyard Brummies’ effort, I can see why the “Bunch of Swines BBQ” team won that round.
So that was it, a Herculean effort from the Backyard Brummies and I couldn’t help but feel immensely proud of them. And whilst there was still a bit of time before the final results were announced, I think they more than held their own against other (some professional) teams. I didn’t realise that only the 4 main meats (ribs, brisket, chicken and pork shoulder) went towards the final result otherwise I’m pretty sure the Backyard Brummies would have placed even higher. Overall, the Backyard Brummies came 8th in the King of the Grill competition (out of 21) which is a brilliant achievement – especially when this is the first time they’ve entered such a competition. But there’s also room for improvement which makes me (and my tummy) very excited about helping to taste-test recipes in the forthcoming year.
Personally, I had a brilliant time – I ate some damn fine BBQ and got to spend time with my friends and family. I’m incredibly grateful to the Nick, Lap, David and their families and friends for putting up with myself and my family, letting us invade the competitor area to shelter from the rain and eat such delicious food. We initially went to Grillstock because we first heard about it not long after the Mothership had passed away and I think my sisters and I were keen to get together in any way we could, knowing that’s what Mum would have wanted, But it turned out to be one of the best weekends I’ve had all year – Even with the horizontal rain and a couple of us with dodgy legs having to limp everywhere. I believe that the guys are already thinking of what dishes to do next year and if they do enter I’ll be there too not only eating the food, but supporting them all the way.
You can view all my photos from the weekend at my Flickr page