The Critical Mass

Baby Back Ribs (Human Division) and hugs

Autopsies can really hurt. Especially if that’s you under Jack Klugman’s scalpel.

The Smokin’ Dopes have spent the past week re-examining our efforts at the Memorial weekend’s Roc City Rib Fest. Especially in light of the fact that according to the judges – and this is certainly a feeling shared this week by the Newt Gingrich For President Campaign – our numbers are not what we’d hoped for. Despite the fact that entries such as our African-spiced Cornish game hens, tri-tip steaks and grilled scallops on star fruit seemed like winners, our approval ratings were trapped down around Anthony Weiner’s underwear.

Damn, I wanted to be walking up to the stage to claim a trophy, just like the Smokin’ Hoggz BBQ, high-fiving with such vigor that one of their team members accidentally poked another in the eye with a finger. When the grand champion was announced, and it was the Smokin’ Hoggz again, I wanted to be the one who went up to the stage to claim the trophy, while holding a ice-cold beer can to my eye, to keep down the swelling.

Some of the judges stopped by The Smokin’ Dopes site after the smoke had cleared, mainly because we seemed to have a lot of beer (At last, we’d found something the judges liked). Other teams drifted over, including Al from The Smokin’ Hoggz, and the team’s mascot,  a darling little dog named Shakes. Prodded by beers and tequila, these folks shared secrets. Secret handshakes with barbecue-stained finger stuff  like how to cut your brisket into tasty little blocks. And don’t let too much sauce obscure your rib rub.

Of course, maybe it’s all just a crap shoot, like one of the judges told us. After Saturday night’s competition, three of us stayed overnight at the site, smoking the big meats for Sunday’s showdown. At about 1 a.m., two dozen guys (these competitions are mostly beer-keg shaped humans) were dipping chips into a big cast-iron skillet of a spicy Mexican cheese/pepper/bean/chorizo dip that one of them had just concocted. And here’s some guy bragging, “I smoked my ribs for 2 1/2 hours, and still  finished in 52nd place. I beat more than half the field.”

Sometimes half-assed gets ‘er done. Everyone else had their ribs on for six to eight hours. That’s the accepted standard. Gotta break down the meat, is what I’ve read.

But no sage hit home like Al of The Smokin’ Hoggz. “Two years ago, we were just like you guys,” he said. “Then we took the barbecue class.”

Barbecue class? Isn’t watching Steven Raichlen on The Food Channel good enough?

So we gathered at Scott and Sue’s house for Monday’s post-fest autopsy leftovers. Claire’s cupcakes topped with a piece of candied bacon was the most-popular thing the team had made all weekend, and it wasn’t even an entry. We should have slipped those into the bacon category, instead of the Korean pork belly wraps I did. We should have taken the advice of our next-door neighbors, Sweet Chicken, and scraped the fat from the underside of the skin on our chicken thighs. And we needed more planning and practice time. A team bowling meeting was called for next January, when the categories were announced, so we’d have plenty of opportunity to lay our evil plans. Please, please, let there be a Baby Back Ribs (Human Division) at next year’s competition.

And this week, Karen found a July barbecue class in Buffalo. It’s expensive, but a handful of The Dopes seem ready to sign up. Take it to the next level. We are well positioned for Comeback of the Year.

Even the champs never stop learning. “No more high fives,” the Smoking Hogs’ Al had said, thinking of his poor teammate’s swollen eye. “Just hugs.”