Danger: men cooking

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:54

SUSSEX COUNTY-Dave Schumacher was running late. He had planned to be at the Sussex County Fairgrounds at 5 a.m. to fire up his barbecue pit and start the Memphis-style spareribs that he hoped would bring him a trophy and a $125 cash prize at the Third Annual Champion of the Grill cook-off sponsored by the Sussex County Chamber of Commerce. But the Highland Lakes resident had overslept. Now it was 7:30, and he was going to have to work real magic to have a chance to win. Under an open-sided tent, four other crews were already well underway. I had been smoking a 12-pound brisket for 14 hours and my baby backs had soaking up hickory smoke for two hours. Ed Shelton of Ogdensburg, who brought his Direct TV satellite dish and a television to watch his beloved Steelers, had been smoking an eight-pound pork butt since about midnight. Under a neighboring pavilion, Lisa Becker of the Hampton House restaurant had two briskets and some ostrich going in a propane-fired range, and Mike, Patrick and Greg from Mountain Creek were working over an oil drum that had been cut in half and fitted with a grate. In the south end of the compound, eventual Grand Champion - for the second straight year - Jarrod Cofrancesco of the Laddey, Clarke and Ryan law firm and the Homestead Rest restaurant, both in Sparta, was chucking an endless supply of logs into a trailer-borne pit that held eight pork shoulders, about 20 slabs of ribs and a pile of beef and pheasants. Schumacher, meanwhile, was still cutting the membrane off the backs of six slabs of ribs. When he threw the ribs on the grill in a stack like so much cordwood, they sizzled - a bad sign for cooking that's supposed to be done over indirect heat that doesn't get hotter than about 240 degrees. To keep the ribs from burning, Schumacher juggled every five or ten minutes, giving each slab a turn at the top, the middle and the bottom. It's not supposed to work that way. The mantra of pitmasters is "low and slow." But Schumacher, who grew up in Memphis, knew what he was doing. I've been smoking meat for nearly 20 years and thought I was getting good at it. I thought wrong. After 20 hours, I ended up with a decent brisket and some ribs that you could shingle your garage with. But, thanks to Dave's friend and first-year Grand Champion "Charcoal Charlie" Galvano of Highland Lakes, who came just to kibbutz, I learned more in a day than I had in 20 years.. I crust my ribs with dry rub and smoked-on sauce. His went in naked, were juggled all over the grill, got a light coating of home-made sauce the last hour or so, and, when he gave me one to taste, I knew I'd wasted 20 years. They were perfect. He won the amateur division - he also did chicken breasts. Cofrancesco repeated his victory of last year in the professional division. Ed, who cooked for the Knights of Columbus, and I drank beer, watched football, and thought about next year. The winners: Children's Beef - Zachary Sullivan Children's Pork - Jonathan Sullivan Children's Chicken - Ray Thompson, Jr. Amateur Beef - Warren Delivery Services, Inc. Amateur Pork Spare Ribs - Dave's Memphis Ribs Amateur Pork Shoulder/Butt - Hickory Chip Smokers Amateur Chicken - Dave's Memphis Ribs Professional Chicken - The Homestead Restaurant Professional Pork Spare Ribs - Laddey, Clark & Ryan Professional Pork Shoulder/Butt - The Homestead Professional Wild Game - The Homestead Professional Beef - Hampton House