Friday, July 09, 2010

Hot Dog Heaven: Judging the Meat-in-a-Casing Throwdown

Alicia's family is a competitive bunch. Last year, they had a Memorial Day burger throwdown. This year, for the fourth, they stuck with the summer foods and held a "meat in a casing" competition. The entries could be cooked any way and could be anything, as long as they included a meat in casing.

But cooking alone wasn't enough of a competition for the Kelly crew. As an added bonus, the party, which was held at Alicia's Aunt Martha and Uncle Joe's house, was a "jorts" party, so the race for "best jorts" was also on. Jorts, in case you're wondering, are jean shorts. We looked good:

There were fourteen entries in all and as a judge, I tried them all. My co-judges, Cooper and Alicia's Uncle Joe, were just as lucky. The entries received a score of one to eight for each of three categories: taste, presentation, and overall, which included the general success of the entry as well as the strength of the concept. As it turns out, we took judging pretty seriously.

Here we are trying the very first entry, the nauseating, but hilarious "Babylicious." I think our faces convey exactly how we were feeling:

This is a close-up of the Babylicious and yes, that IS what it's supposed to look like. It was a Vienna sausage stuck in bean baby food. Words can't describe how bad it smelled. Or tasted:

Fortunately, the rest of the entries were better, starting with the "Italian Stallion," created by a bunch of Alicia's cousins (that's Kelly holding the platter). They threaded pasta through spicy Italian sausage and presented it on skewers, as an appetizer:

There was one additional appetizer presented - the "Redneck's Favorite," which included bologna as it's meat in a casing:

Once we got to the entree portion of the evening, we moved inside and settled down at a table, Top Chef judge-style. Kyle and Mary presented their offering, the "Red, White and Blue" first. Kyle's good friend Gaeten is a butcher up in Buffalo and he created a Buffalo chicken sausage just for the contest and overnighted it to the lake house.

The flavor of this sausage was really outstanding - it came in second for taste - and the Eddie's bun was an excellent match for the dog. Unfortunately, Kyle didn't realize that presentation was part of the score, so his presentation was limited to his outrageous jorts outfit:

Mike's parents put together a beautiful plate -it tied for first in presentation - and a very tasty "Maryland Is for Crabs" sausage. It was, obviously, topped with Maryland crabmeat. The crab was cold, which offered a nice contrast to the spicy sausage:

Alicia's aunt who made the "Redneck Favorite" appetizer also delivered a garlicky, tasty pasta salad, which offered a nice break from the traditional sausage-in-a-bun format (and a few very welcome vegetables):

Alicia's Aunt Martha (also co-judge Joe's wife) created a fantastic entry, the Sonora dog, inspired by hot dogs eaten in the Southwest. The hot dog was topped with guacamole, salsa verde, tomatoes, lettuce and chipotle mayonnaise and the whole thing was presented in a sombrero. This was a favorite overall, ranking high on all three categories:

Alicia and Mike, who tied with Mike's parents for first in presentation, started with their outfits, wearing matching shirts (Maggie had a onesie), saying "I Boh Dog" - unsurprisingly, they also went with the Maryland theme:

They presented their dog on a crab platter with crab chips, a Natty Boh and homemade Natty Boh mustard. The hot dog itself was topped with the mustard and cheese and Old Bay bacon. Old Bay bacon - it just doesn't get much better than that, right?

Another group of Alicia's cousins came through with the "Cardiac Arrest" - a name that scared us and impressed us all at once. Their hot dog was topped with macaroni and cheese, tater tots and ground beef. Yes, it was a lot, but you know what? It was good. We also liked that in all its excess, it seemed really and truly American:

Alicia's cousin, Jackie, and her fiance, Jim, live in Cincinatti (he's from there), so their entry included chili made Cincy-style, using a recipe based on the one used at Skyline Chili. But first, their outfits:
That's a wig, by the way. And the pictures on their shirts are of them drinking Chymes, which is super-cheap Canadian whiskey. They looked good. As did their dog, which had really nice flavor and was something of a judge's favorite. We loved that they used a regional specialty:

Unfortunately for all the other entrants, Alicia's Uncle Robert really brought his A-game. I met him for the first time the night before the competition and he seemed to be feeling a little nervous and he was a touch concerned that Cooper and I might be biased towards the Baltimore crew (his smack talk was pretty funny).

He didn't need to worry, though, as the "Devil's Delight" took home first place overall, first in taste and crowd favorite. He topped a white hot - a Rochester-area specialty - with a homemade grilled vegetable and black bean salsa and cheese. The result was pretty outstanding - the crunch and fresh flavor of the salsa provided the perfect contrast to the white hot (which had excellent snap) and the colors looked great together:

Alicia's parents - Big G and Nana - took their presentation up a notch, adding a musical element. Big G danced their "Dogzilla" in to the tune of Japanese drums:

The dog itself was topped with a spicy meat and onion concoction with great flavor. Unfortunately, by this time, all the "great flavors" were starting to run together:

Bill's entry was totally different from everything else we tried. A few weeks ago, upon learning that Cooper and I had never even heard of the Taylor pork roll - a New Jersey specialty - he decided to make his own version of the sandwich, which includes cheese, fried egg, and several slices of pork roll on a hard, round bun.

We loved the regionality of it, of course, and thought it had great flavor. So great that we had him make us more sandwiches for breakfast the next morning:

And finally, the very last entry came from Kelly family friend, Duffy, who grilled the absolute longest turkey sausage we had ever seen. It actually had great flavor and we were all pleasantly surprised to find out it was turkey. The best part, though, was her presentation. You can't read it here, but underneath the dog, in mustard, Duffy wrote, "A Woman's Dream."

In our food-drunk state, we thought that was just about the funniest thing we'd ever heard:

So that was it - all fourteen entries. This is what my plate looked like by the end:

Cooper's plate, however, was completely clean. He still might not be feeling quite right.

Of course, the meat in a casing contest wasn't the only competition that day. Alicia's cousin Joey won an overwhelming victory for his jorts outfit:

Yes, those are Rollerblades. And yes, he kept them on for almost the whole party.

All in all, it was a hell of a party. I had a blast judging and it certainly seemed like everyone had a really good time. The jorts costumes were hilarious - from the short-shorts on the guys to the high-waisted 80's jeans cut-offs on the girls, everybody made a serious effort. And even though there were no real prizes, the winners took a lot of pride in their victory.

In fact, Uncle Robert, the big winner, was so excited that he wore his "medals" (repurposed judges badges) out the following day:

Now THAT is how you celebrate America.


Anonymous said...

Just have to say nice bubble Nana

kitchengeeking said...

I am in awe. And I want to meet all of those people!

TheSlapster said...

Hot damn, Glory Glory Hallelujah! It does not get any more patriotic than conspicuous over-consumption of beef products. I'm proud to be an American!

citymouse said...

How fun! This sounds like an excellent way to spend the day. I love hot dogs/sausages, so this would have been right up my alley.

Kit Pollard said...

It really was fun. And seriously - So American.


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