Turning the Tide: Que & Cruz

“You gotta come to Louisa!”

It’s what everybody told us. And so we added another competition to our inaugural competition season. But let’s be clear, it wasn’t like they had to twist our arms. We’re junkies now. Hooked hard and looking for any chance to squeeze in another competition.

Que & Cruz is held on the Small Country Campgrounds in Louisa, VA. For you trivia buffs, it’s approximately 20 minutes driving to the nearest gas station. How do we know this? Well, let’s just say that we’re glad we didn’t have to be towed there. The campgrounds were filled with folks enjoying their summer vacation, but special sections were cordoned off for the competitors, their cooksites, a bandstand, and vendors.

After getting the cooksite set-up, we spent Thursday evening hanging with our friends with big motorhomes up on “Millionaire’s Row.” Thank you to JD’s Smokin Misfits, Pepper Monkey BBQ, Hog It Up BBQ, and Southern Maryland Smokers for an enjoyable (if blisteringly sweltering) evening of good food and great company. Lukie D and LAT got out the guitars and played for folks until well into the wee hours. Here at OVS, we’re happy to sing for our suppers!

After meat inspection and prep work on Friday, we launched ourselves into the dessert and Anything Butt competitions. There was pie crust dough to be made and baking on the Smokey Mountain Weber to be done. The end product were two scrumptious pear pies, an old Darnell family secret recipe culled from a Morgantown area coal miner’s employee newsletter from the 1950s (have brother Lukie tell you the story). Meanwhile, Ms. Kim also resurrected a piece of her childhood by cooking up a big ol’ pot of California baked beans, a recipe her family created after moving to California. They don’t stock cans of Grandma Brown’s Home Baked Beans on the West Coast. In order to retain that aspect of their upstate New York upbringing, they had to create their version.

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We presented both items and shared the recipe stories with the judges before retiring to a long night of box making. Thank you to our cooksite neighbors 3-Eyz BBQ for sharing some awesome huli-huli style chicken for supper on Friday night.

It was a tough Saturday. It was easily the hottest day we’ve cooked to date in this ur inaugural competition season. We each sweated through several t-shirts on Saturday, fighting rising temperatures and intense humidity. Still, we had meat that both looked and tasted mighty fine throughout the day. Thankfully, our cooksite location was a brief 30 second walk to the judge’s tent. This was a spread-out competition, and there were some folks who were likely hoofing 4 and 5 minutes to turn their food in.

In a shocking development, the awards ceremony started late. After our goose-egg performance at Winchester, we were struggling with a variety of mixed emotions waiting for the man to step up to the microphone. Maybe we have unrealistic expectations about our performance. After all, we once heard Tuffy Stone congratulate a winner by saying, “Way to go! It took me four years of competing before I heard my name called.” That made us really think. Do we have the patience for this? Are our recipes that far off-course? What do we need to change? Is this really worth the effort? These are heavy thoughts to ponder.

They all went away when we heard “fourth place chicken – OLD VIRGINIA SMOKE.”

There were tears. There were cheers. There was jumping up and down. There were high-fives up from folks as we walked up to the stage and back. “This is their first call EVER!” said the man with the microphone, and the crowd roared in approval at our unabashed glee. Validation. It’s such a comfort. The weariness drains from your body. The doubts fade. It was hands down the most awesome moment of the summer, and something we would all remember with reverence. We took turns passing around the trophy, hugging each other, and slapping each other on the back.

Then they said, “ninth place brisket – OLD VIRGINIA SMOKE,” and we pretty much collectively shit our pants.

To get a brisket call in our first year of competition is such an amazing blessing/motivator/acknowledgement. Especially since we’ve been fighting with this tough ol’ cut of beef for several competitions. We’ve been tinkering – subtracting this, adding that, sacrificing the occasional chicken in tribute to the BBQ gods. And then to hear our names – such sweet joy.

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We were at a BBQ competition, so of course it had to storm. The awards ceremony got cut short, and we fled to our cooksite for shelter and to do happy dances. The final tally – 4th in chicken, 9th in brisket, and 11th in pork. Our ribs . . . well, our ribs remain a problem. We ranked 14th out of 45 teams, and there was some stiff competition on that field.

The doubts are gone. The fervor has been stoked to new levels. It’s amazing what a little hardware can do for the ol’ self-esteem.

Next step – COF-A Que!

One thought on “Turning the Tide: Que & Cruz”

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