Butcher's Daughter BBQ - One Woman 2011

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One Woman, Two WSMs and an Avalon

March 25, 2010

by Donna Fong

They say cooking begins from the heart. I suppose that is how it started because it makes no sense to compete in professional barbeque. The reasons to not compete are innumerable: long distance driving, the endless search for the perfect brisket, the prettiest bunch of parsley or the best tasting rub, the hours of sleep you lose worrying about the temperature in your smoker, and the way you smell after cooking four meats in a compressed schedule over two days. None of it makes sense to your family and friends, though they appreciate the output of your labor. How I found myself on the California barbeque circuit, cooking out of my four door sedan is a difficult story to explain. I usually have to tell the story twice for it to be understood in part.

It starts at Lake Havasu, AZ, after 10 hours of driving from northern California, with all of my gear packed into a rental van. I’ve been on the judging circuit long enough to have a large group of CBJ friends willing to help me pack or unpack, as the case maybe. Thank goodness for them because when I arrived, I was at a complete loss as to what I should do at my first contest. Eventually, I set up everything the way I planned it at home. The only thing I didn’t factor is was the wind. 5 gallon buckets were filled with desert water and my canopy held its ground. Still, I worried about the temperature of my thin skinned WSMs as night approached. I regretted not buying that silicon jacket I was considering.

As I entered the tent for the cooks meeting, I was glad to see the familiar faces of Gene, Kelly, Kathleen, Merl and Carol at the front. It was a big crowd of cooks. There were 85 teams and mostly men, strong confident men. If I could cook this contest solo, drive this distance (with the help from my friend, Tracy), and do well, the rest of the year would seem easy. Someone must of have been watching over me because I was next to some of the best teams around who helped me with their sage advice, good will and enthusiasm. I will forever be grateful to Dan Daniels and Bill Keyes from Tropical Heat for assuring me my tent wasn’t going to fly away, to Steve Madule from All Hogs Go to Heaven for unmercifully ragging on my Raiders shirt and making me feel like one of the guys, Dan and Kelly Fox from BBQ Junkie who proved to me their name was well deserved and Tracy Mescha’s all women team, BBQ Phoenix, for keeping me laughing the whole time. Thankful to finally be on the other side of the fence, I trusted in my training and nervously feel asleep as the drunk team two spots down celebrated into the wee hours of the morning.

Before daylight approached, I woke to my van swaying from gusts of wind. I peeked outside and though my tent was still there, it was being severely tested. Situated at the edge of the parking lot, I felt like I was bearing the brunt of the wind for the rest of the competitors downstream. “EZ-UP, don’t let me down!” I prayed. A glance at the Stoker confirmed my fear; I was 50 degrees below my targeted temp. I accepted that possibility that I might not turn in all four of my meats and then over the next hour wrestled to bring the temp back up. After that small victory, I felt that turning in my entries was icing on the cake. I regained my composure, and every box was joyfully turned in early. The award ceremony came and went and teams celebrated their well deserved victories. I survived, placed in the middle of the pack and went home thankful for the opportunity to participate and for the village that supported me.

A week later, after all of the bills came back, I calculated the cost of Havasu. I knew I couldn’t financially keep it up for the whole season. Suddenly, a joke I made two months earlier on the forum about cooking out of my Avalon didn’t seem so funny. The hardest part was packing two WSMs into the trunk. They had to fit in the trunk; otherwise, my plan wouldn’t work. Within 24 hours I had proved to myself that with a few modifications, I could fit everything I needed into my mommy car. I was giddier than a fat kid in a candy shop. So that’s how I ended up driving 8 hours south to the city of Wildomar in my Avalon and all of my barbeque equipment meticulously stuffed inside. If people thought I was crazy, they politely kept it to themselves.

Now that I’m two contests deep into my rookie year, I know that I’m competing in barbeque less because of the food and trophies but more because of the opportunity to rub elbows with some of the best souls on earth. What better way to celebrate life than to share it with those you love and admire. That’s the barbeque community I know and come from. So bring it on. I’m ready for what’s ahead.

Donna Fong Butcher’s Daughter BBQ Alameda, CA

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