What a huge weekend! It seems strange to me now that it did not occur to me until turn ins on Sunday that we had effectively competed in three competitions within three days. It's little wonder that now, four days later, I am still walking around in a zombie-like state, constantly wiping sleep out of my eyes.
Meatstock has become a huge event on the ABA calendar. This year there will be three Meatstocks: New Zealand, Melbourne and Sydney. For us, Sydney will be the highlight, since it is in our home state and only a short one hour drive from home. I have never been much of a "road trip" sort of person, but when we were offered free entry into the Melbourne competition, there was not a chance of saying no. Although at the time that decisions was made, we had yet to compete in any comps and had absolutely no idea of the logistical nightmare that comps become when you compete far from home.
Our first comp for the weekend was the Rib off, which was a fundraising event for the diggers and was held at the Vineyard Restaurant at St Kilda. Unfortunately the comp ran for the exactly the same hours as bump in for Meatstock so whilst our 11 year old daughter helped me with the ribs, Sam drove herself and our new smoker, Fat Amy, to the Showgrounds for bump in. The Rib off was an invitational only event, with three of the five teams having the three highest scoring ribs from 2016. We were the third highest behind Rub and Grub and Full Metal Kettle. Two wild cards: Rollin' Smoke BBQ and Bush Kitchen were also invited. We arrived late, tired and unprepared, but I was ready to give it my best. I stupidly chose the only BBQ without cover (and it seems that typical Melbourne weather usually involves a fair bit of rain) and I quickly noticed I was also missing a chimney lid - which made things tough as this is how I control the temps on a reverse flow. The BBQ's, ribs and fuel were all provided which kept everything reasonably fair. I was really happy with how the cook went - considering how unprepared we were, I felt my daughter and I did really well. I think my flavours were a bit lacking, but I thought the appearance and texture were just about spot on. In the end, Rollin Smoke took out first, with Bush Kitchen second. We came 4th overall.
A few beers later, and a catch up with Highland Q, we headed to our hotel for the night. We were asleep early, ready for the rest of bump in the next morning.
The next morning it was off to Meatstock. We were put down in the "naughty corner" with a few other teams, miles away from the judges tents and the other teams. I liked that we were on concrete though - it kept us nice and dry and mud free! Our first comp was the Steak Cookoff Association's "King of the Grill". This included 3 categories: wings, burgers and steak. We were all given two steaks, the rest we had to supply ourselves. I thought our steak was delicious - rubbed with the usually salt and pepper as well as a bit of Hardcore Carnivore, reverse seared and then rubbed with some rosemary and garlic infused butter - so good! Our wings were the KFC style - they were good but I had a feeling they just weren't at the level of some of the teams. Our burger was a taco burger. I had this idea one day out of nowhere - and whilst I do realise that other people have done these before, I had a few tricks up my sleeve. Everything ran relatively smoothly and before we knew it, it was time to announce the winners. I really thought our steak and burger would do well, but I never knew how well!! As it turns out, our Taco burger was a winner - we got first place! Our steak came 13th which we were very happy with. I was so proud of us, considering it was such a team effort and we were all smiles when we received our trophy.
After a lot of congratulations and celebrations, it was time to get serious and start thinking about the actual Meatstock comp. I had planned on doing lamb ribs, but I just could not get them right on a practice on Saturday night, so we made a quick decision to do a shoulder. Coles was on the outskirts of the showground, but there was no escape and since I am no good at climbing fences I had to enlist some help. Craig from Sandgroper BBQ kindly offered to find an exit - his task a difficult one considering Coles closed at midnight and it was 11.30pm at the time. Armed with my credit card, off he went, hell bent on sourcing me some Coles lamb shoulder. Within an hour, he was back, and I was the proud owner of two lamb shoulders! All the "big meats" were on by about 2am and we settled in for the night.
When the sun finally woke up, we were only a few hours off our first hand in - chicken. After stuffing up chicken at Wollongong, I really wanted to get this right. The sauce I had made was delicious and I was ready to put the chicken on just after 8am for a 10am hand in. 8am hit and I made a mental note to get the chicken on soon. I set up the Weber, went to the bathroom, did a few other little jobs and returned to see the clock say it was still 8am - I figured time was just moving really slow..... A good half hour later I again looked at the clock and it still said 8am! Now it hit me - the clock had stopped. The time was actually 8.45am and the chicken should've been well and truly on and the ribs were just about ready to wrap. We hauled arse and got the chicken on and the ribs wrapped and I started think about heating up the sauce to coat the chicken with. Guess what? No sauce! I had no idea where it was. Eventually I gave up looking and made a new sauce, pretty pissed off that I couldn't use or recreate the sauce that I wanted to use. All good though, we threw something together and it tasted ok. Now we had to start thinking about the lamb. I had no lamb "flavours" with me and all I could find in our kit was a gravox can of "lamb and rosemary" gravy. Desperate, we tried to put something together with this. I knew it wasn't great but we did the best we could with what we had! The lamb turned out well cooked and we tried to flavour it as much as we could but I knew it would be a let down. Oh well..... The rest of the cook was uneventful and we then started the pack down whilst waiting for the announcements.
By the time the announcements rolled by, I was feeling deflated. I had a sinking feeling that our food was rubbish and I was feeling very low on confidence. The top 10 for each category were announced and we were not called once. Very happy for our mates Highland Q who scored second in brisket - awesome effort! Eventually it was time to announce Grand Champion - this time they would call the top 20 teams overall. When I heard the names of teams called who had top 3'd in a category, I felt we had no chance of being in this 20 at all. Sam and I started to talk amongst ourselves, discussing who we thought would take GC. Around that time, Jess Pryles was announcing number 15 on the list and what a surprise - it was us!! 15th out of 50 with no top 10 call ups - I knew we must've been pretty consistent and that's what I had been aiming for. We were lifted! My apprehensions, fears and lack of confidence disappeared and I was so proud of us! What an effort!
A massive massive weekend, but one I wouldn't change for the world. We met a lot of people who we had only talked to in the cyber world, and we had some awesome neighbours. I am still so pleasantly surprised with the calibre of people involved in BBQ - it is so nice to meet such nice, gracious and helpful people. Our next comp is Sydney Meatstock in less than a fortnight. I learnt a lot at Melbourne (mostly don't forget the sauce - which I found in the fridge at home!) and I am hoping we can take these things into Sydney and manage a top half finish again. This sport is so damn tiring and such an emotional roller coaster, but we are well and truly hooked and so bloody happy we have started on this adventure. Til next time!