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July 28, 2009

Harpoon Championships of New England Barbecue

There is a day I nervously look forward to all year. It's not Christmas, my birthday or my anniversary — it's the day that I get to drive 101 miles to Windsor to eat some ribs. Not excited yet? You should be.

Summer 2009 093 Every July, Harpoon hosts all the best competitive barbecue teams in New England in a knock-down, drag-out contest. I always eagerly anticipate trying new slow-cooked substances, but this year was a banner one. I ate the best pulled pork sandwich of my life.

It was prepared by Rob Mongeon of Colchester as Green Mountain Smokeshack. A longtime foe of Big Fatty's on the 7 Nights Guide, it turns out Mongeon was not just blowing smoke. His meat is luxuriously moist without the patina of fat that sometimes coats tender butt. As any 'Q authority will tell you, it passes the most important test: No sauce required. A subtle maple flavor pervades the meat, facilitated not just by smoking with maple wood from his brother's farm, but by a coating of maple syrup Mongeon helped tap himself on Poor Farm Road in Colchester. A smattering of garlic doesn't hurt either. Green Mountain Smokeshack is currently considering a space in Winooski for a storefront, but until then, I will be ordering pig flesh from Mongeon by the pound. If I hadn't brought home extra, I would be doing so right now.

 I tried to keep my ordering fairly local, but the Pig Wings at Dr. Frank'N'Swine of Orleans, MA swayed me. The bone-in nuggets of tender pork were covered in a berry-based sauce. I also had to give a little love to The Purple Turtle Catering Company, originating from my native town-next-door, Stamford, CT. Their ribs were disappointingly dry, but had a unique soy-based marinade, not unlike spare ribs at a Chinese joint.

I fared better when I stayed closer to home.

Summer 2009 096My boyfriend, James, was particularly fond of Smokin' Dog BBQ of Hinesburg. Their luscious brisket sandwich also needed no sauce, and was one of the few of its kind available. Not much of a beef guy, James' ringing endorsement: "It's so good, I thought it was pork." We also went for a cob of their sweet corn, cooked husk-on. Among the booth's condiments was a tub of butter with a brush, creating a fun DIY experience. James called the result "exquisite."

Not all the dishes that compete are for sale. That's why I was lucky to pass Vermont Maple BBQ of Post Mills, VT — a small town on the New Hampshire border — when I did. They had just barbecued a bass for competition. Drenched in a lemon butter sauce, their free fish was truly delish. Their ribs were also the best of the day, with a unique citrus-cumin rub. Their thick maple sauce was tasty, but overwhelmed the already excellent ribs.

Though there is a lamb category, only one vendor offered theirs to the public. The Black Box BBQ and Friends of Benson served me a whopping platter of ultra-tender lamb covered in a subtle honey mustard sauce. Lamb was one of my top goals for the day, but the Black Box fulfilled my other one as well: Try my first fried Twinkie. I popped my fried Oreo cherry at the fest last year, and it proved to be a gateway drug. The crisp, battered crust was drenched in maple syrup. The filling melted into the spongey cake, preventing the surging molten explosion I was expecting. My Twinkie turned out to be just a hot, super-moist cake. A little disappointing, but not so much that I won't have one again next year.

Thanks for the kind words Alice. Nothing beats a nice coating of maple slather on a trimmed pork shoulder. It turns into a sweet candy bark on the outside of the meat. We are not the only team using maple and I learned this method from the 2 best teams in New England: I Smell Smoke and I-Que.

Our pork ended up taking 6th and chicken 9th in a field of heavy competition in which some teams came as far as Kansas City. I posted our team schedule. We're in Eliot Maine next weekend competing and vending which should be challenging.

It should be a busy summer.


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