They traveled by van, car and pickup. From Brooklyn, N.Y.; East Orange, N.J.; and Northeast Philadelphia. The venue? Hava NaGrilla, the kosher barbecue contest held at the Willow Grove Day Camp in Hatboro. It was a day of entertainment, music and food — lots of it.
Sponsored by the philanthropic Golden Slipper Club, the funds are used to send underprivileged children from all different backgrounds to summer camp.
Until recently, there was only one major kosher barbecue contest in the country, and that was in Memphis, Tenn. As Howard Levin explained, "Memphis begat Philadelphia — and Philadelphia begat Birmingham — now there are three."
In 2009, Levin and Michael Demar — inspired by the Memphis activities — set to work organizing what was to become an annual event here in Philadelphia. This year, the duo again took on the mammoth job of co-chairing the event.
Planning began immediately after last year's inaugural June contest. At meetings throughout the year, these two met with volunteers, pulled sponsors on board, signed up barbecue teams and held organizational meetings.
Dr. Walter Hofman, a certified barbecue judge in his spare time (and who also just so happens to be my husband), also helped organize the contest so that the rules and regulations would reflect those of the KCBS (Kansas City Barbecue Society).
Under a tent, tables were arranged with place cards for each judge (for full disclosure, I was one of them). Cold water and crackers helped cleanse the palate between tastings, and a plentiful supply of unscented wipes was on hand to clean juices and gravy off fingers.
Categories in barbecue contests sponsored by the nationally recognized KCBS include beans, chicken, brisket and ribs — pork that is! But simply substituting kosher beef for pork won't make a food contest kosher. Everything from grill to cooking utensil to each ingredient used must be certified as kosher. Grills — purchased last year from Old Smokey Grills in Texas — were kept solely for this event.
Generous sponsors donated other supplies. Genuardi's gave rolls and condiments; Mehedrin supplied the chickens; Canada Dry Delaware Valley offered limitless bottles of water; there was potato chips from Herr's; and the treats for the kiddie contest were donated by Tastykake, with Just Born throwing in candy.
The amount of $360 ensured a team's place in the contest. Seventeen teams signed up. The fee also covered the meats, spices for "secret rubs," sauces, and everything needed to barbecue the meats and cook the beans.
Michael Demar, the chef for Brock and Company, a food-service group, explained that "to cook a perfect brisket, you have to have patience … you have to control the heat and keep it at a low temperature," which is what the teams attempted to do, some better than others.
And to make sure everything was strictly kosher, kipah-clad maschgiachs Rabbi Eliasar Admon and his assistant, Avi Zahar, kept a constant vigil at every booth.
Booths and team garb were witty and creative. The Jewish Exponent/Inside magazine team "Meat the Press" — Greg Salisbury, Joe Kemp and Denise Powell — won first place for "Best Ribs." The assigned smokers and work tables for "BBQ 911: Where's the Fire?" were set up in front of a bright-red, restored fire engine. Then there was " 'BB' Netanyahu and the Mieskeets." And how about "Hog Sameach!"
On the judges panel, there was Jeff Nathan, the renowned chef and television host of "New Jewish Cuisine," and his wife, Alison. He is the executive chef of Abigael's, a glatt-kosher restaurant in Manhattan. Myra Chanin, a New York radio personality, author and recognized culinary maven, came with her husband, Alvin.
Locally, there was Daniel Rubin, from The Philadelphia Inquirer, who lived in Berlin for three years and so has an appreciation for international dishes; and Irene Rothschild, food consultant, author, cooking instructor and a member of the board of directors at the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College.
Plans are already under way for a September 2011 Hava NaGrilla to take place before the Jewish holidays. Watch for information so you don't miss out on a fun-filled experience for the entire family.
Best Team Name — "Chag Wild"
Best Team Booth — "BBQ 911: Where's the Fire?"
Best Baked Beans — "Chag Wild"
Best Chicken — "Chag Wild"
Best Ribs — "Meat the Press"
Best Brisket — "The Hebrew Nationals"
Grand Champion —"The Hebrew Nationals"
Howard Levin's 'Winning' Brisket
Note: As an organizer, he is not permitted to compete.
1 whole brisket (12 lbs.), lightly trimmed
1 cup molasses
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup paprika
1/4 cup chili powder
1/4 cup cayenne pepper
Warm the molasses and then spread it over the brisket.
Mix all of the dry ingredients and rub over the brisket.
Place brisket in an uncovered aluminum pan.
In a 250° to 300° grill over indirect heat, place brisket on the opposite side of the heat source. If you are using wood to smoke the brisket, place in a smoker box or in a pan filled with water directly on the coals.
After 2 hours, turn brisket and cook 2 hours more, still uncovered. Turn brisket once more. Cover and cook for 1 hour more.
Remove brisket from pan and place on the grill for 30 minutes. Reserve the pan juices. Remove from grill. Let rest 15 minutes.
Slice. Enjoy with pan juices.