Part 1: BBQ and Bacon
aka The Blue Collar Foodie
The scene: On Saturday, November 7, 2015, if you were anywhere but Waterloo Village, experiencing The Beer BBQ Bacon Showdown, you missed your chance to indulge in not only some of the best local craft beer New Jersey has to offer but also a plethora of regional eats, treats, and meats. Whether you are a fan of beer, bacon, or BBQ—or all three, like most red-blooded Americans—this festival had something for everyone.
Most people who take pleasure in enjoying a few libations on a Saturday night have attended a beer festival, or at least have heard of these miraculous gatherings. These events are not new, and they seem to be popping up in just about every locale. However, this shindig was not your ordinary beer fest.
The atmosphere of this event was more party-like than the others I have attended, which may have been due to the spacious outdoor setting, the live band, the competition, or a combination of all three. Whatever the case may be, the ambiance was delightful, which added to my overall enjoyment of this soirée, and kept all the attendees in a pleasant mood (which I am sure the hops and barley helped with as well).
To separate itself from other food and beer events, the Beer, BBQ, Bacon Showdown invited four judges to help crown the best craft beer, bacon dish, and BBQ that New Jersey had to offer, thus forcing the vendors to bring their A-game, which according to this gastronome, worked swimmingly.
As one of the judges of this contest of gluttony and hedonism, I can assure you the struggle was real. We chomped, gnawed, chewed, and masticated on over 25 entries while washing each down with samples of close to 85 beers. Woe is me, right, but I can tell you that by the end I did not think I would ever be hungry again.
Nothing was bad, of course, being that professionals cooked it all. However, there were some standouts that made the judges squeal with foodie elation. I will start with some of the bacon dishes that missed the cut by only fractions of a point:
The bacon mac and cheese balls were simply divine. I mean how could it be bad? It’s a ball of deep-fried macaroni and cheese with bacon in it. If that does not scream ‘Murica, I don’t know what does.
The bacon cannoli won the judges hearts because the cannoli itself was expertly prepared and the bacon magically stayed crisp, even though it was dancing with the cream for quite some time.
After a difficult deliberation, the winner of the best use of Bacon was Kimchi Smoke’s ridiculously good and absolutely absurd bacon, donut, kimchi concoction that had all the judges swooning. This dish was sweet, savory, salty, extremely creative and innovative. I want another one right now!
The BBQ portion of the contest was equally as challenging as the bacon segment, but being that we are professionals we had to dig deep and pick a winner.
The pulled pork melt on Texas toast, which consisted of a wonderfully flavored pulled pork smothered in an enchanting sauce, was topped with just the right amount of cheese. This one almost took home the gold due to not only its tangy flavor but its imaginative design. The bread held together perfectly against the somewhat sloppy contents and paired quite nicely.
Among the myriad ribs, brisket, and other traditional BBQ items, which were of course remarkable, one dish proved daring, spicy, and delicious. This dish was the BBQ taco, which combined all the elements of spectacular BBQ in a convenient, portable, and edible pouch of yummy.
These dishes were lovely bridesmaids but there could only be one bride at this meat wedding and that beautiful beast was the Brisket from Texas Smoke. This slab of amazeballs was BBQ perfection, and to borrow from (and paraphrase) Big Daddy Kane, “brisketin’ ain’t easy.” The smoke ring was proper, there was no sauce to hide the flavor of the meat itself, and the texture was superb.
Handing out awards was not the only job the judges had during the showdown, the coveted People’ s Choice Award was also determined. Hot Rods BBQ took this trophy home for their mantle, thanks to their always impressive burnt ends. If you talk to a true BBQ aficionado, the burnt ends are the ultimate in BBQ excellence when done properly, and Hot Rods rocked these bark-laden beauties like the pit masters they are known to be.
This decadent event was not designed just to crown New Jersey’s preeminent beer, bacon, and BBQ. It was intended to allow the attendees to partake in all the mouthwatering bits of scrumptious edibles and carbonated alcohol laced awesome sauce that were scattered across the grounds of Waterloo Village. The Beer, BBQ, Bacon Showdown delivered just that to all the participants—and then some. Until next year, those who missed it will only be able to dream of it, while those who attended will tell the story that was the Beer, Bacon, and BBQ Showdown.
Part 2: Beer
Peter Culos, Beer Editor, Jersey Bites
The scene: Sensory overload is how I’d characterize it. Nearly 20 New Jersey (and only New Jersey) breweries poured three or four beers plus a rare or “event only” firkin or cask. Where exactly does one start? With that many beers to try, you want to have a game plan. And I did. But, like a fumble on the opening kickoff, bacon and barbecue swooped in and had me playing catchup immediately. Throw in a specially designed VIP buffet by the Brew Chef himself, Tim Shafer, and the playbook was in shambles.
On this mild but overcast fall day, my playing field was the concert area of historic Waterloo Village, in Stanhope. My challenge was to navigate some of the best players in the Garden State’s rising beer scene at the Beer, Bacon, and BBQ Showdown. Yikes. I was lucky though. I only had to worry about the beer part, which was daunting enough. Seeing all those great local brewers arrayed on one field in front of me was like Tom Brady facing the Giants in yet another championship game!
Who Came to Play: To be honest, they all did. While that’s no lie, it’s also a bit of a cop-out so I’ll try to elaborate on a few. Ramstein is a local favorite with rock solid traditional styles. They’re the dependable middle linebacker. Angry Erik presented a formidable front line of five beers that could either dance around you or knock you over with barrel aging. 902 from Hoboken brought a sneaky corner blitz of habanera and pineapple IPA while Demented Brewing ran a twist with orange peel.
The MVPs: The upstart, Magnify Brewing, brought home the judge’s prize with their Saison. It’s an all-around player that can line up with just about any food and still shine. The aptly named Funnel Cake by Forgotten Boardwalk was a the stadium favorite and won the People’s Choice trophy. If leather helmet nostalgia is your thing, Flying Fish and their Blueberry Braggot felt like something from earlier era. Bolero Snort put points on the board with a bacon porter because, well, bacon!
The B3 Showdown was proof that you don’t need a football game to throw a great tailgate party!