A Grilling Good Time
Barbecue, Beer and Banter at Annual Harpoon Festival
Vermont Maple BBQ owners Pauline Poulin, left, and Dave Langhans, both of Randolph, deliver orders to a line of customers at the Harpoon Championships of New England Barbecue at the Harpoon Brewery in Windsor on Sunday. Vermont Maple BBQ placed fourth overall in the championship. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »
Four friends at a bachelorette party make a toast while listening to music at the Harpoon Championships of New England Barbeque in Windsor Sunday. The bride, third from left, planned the party and weekend getaway date around the festival. From left: Amy Altman of New York City, Marcie Ladden of Bristol, Vt., Erika Hall of Middlebury, Vt., and Nicole Tatro of Barre, Vt. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »
Windsor — For the past nine years, any number of the seven Langhans siblings have come to the Harpoon Championships of New England Barbecue to help out their brother Dave, who co-owns Randolph’s Vermont Maple BBQ.
Yesterday, the second day of the annual event on the fields outside the brewery, all seven came out. They moved between a cart that served as a storefront, catering to a perpetual line of hungry customers, and a tented area in the back, where specific dishes were prepared for the day’s competition.
“He’s kind of got a following,” said Tom Langhans, standing under the tent as his brother flitted around the cart. “He’s got a reputation.”
Though the Vermont Maple BBQ stand was particularly popular over the course of Saturday and Sunday, thousands of people visited the grounds over the weekend to sample both Harpoon beer and barbecue offerings from all over the northeast. More than 30 vendors — from the Upper Valley to New York to Rhode Island — came to the event to compete and sell their food.
There were two days of competition. The first day was cooking food without a grill while on the second day, participants were required to grill all their products.
“It’s a lot of fun seeing all the different license plates in the parking lot,” said Merrill Maloney, Harpoon’s communications manager.
Maloney said the Saturday half of the festival welcomed about 4,500 guests, which was its second-best Saturday ever.
Since the festival boasts so many barbecue brands, some of which make a habit out of bringing their product to various competitions, it doesn’t hurt that the Langhans’ boast three chefs among their ranks.
There’s Dave Langhans, who runs Vermont Maple BBQ and yesterday was caught up in a back-and-forth between preparing food for the crowd and putting together dishes for the judges. There’s Shultz Langhans, a chef at The Prince and the Pauper in Woodstock. And there’s Don Langhans, a chef who works in Seattle, who came cross-country to help out over the weekend.
Shortly after 1 p.m. yesterday, Don put a tray full of sugary balls of dough onto a work table, and began to cut small holes in each. Beside him was a custard, made partially with a Harpoon Hefeweizen, and a tray of chocolate ganache, also beer-infused. He said the dough itself was made to rise with yeast, but used beer instead of milk.
After getting custard into the dough with a decorating bag and dipping the top of it in the chocolate, Don gave his first completed chocolate stout glazed donut to Linda Caruso, the eldest of the siblings.
“Oh my god,” she said, taking a bite. “That is unbelievable.”
The donuts — a strange choice for a barbecue competition, maybe, but maybe that was the point — would ultimately be Vermont Maple BBQ’s submission for the so-called “chef’s choice” round of judging, the final category of the competition. Vermont Maple BBQ finished 25th in both days combined, along with a second place in the grilling chicken wing category and fourth in grilling overall.
Just before, Dave Langhans ran a take-out container full of shrimp, stuffed with crab meat and mango salsa, to the judge’s table for the day’s shrimp competition. Don Lovely, a Kansas City Barbeque Society representative who was manning the booth, noted that Langhans made it with about five seconds to spare. When he returned to the Vermont Maple BBQ tent, he was met with cheers.
A short walk away, on the path that stretched from the festival’s entrance to a stage where music played throughout the day, Q Haven BBQ had set up shop. About three-quarters of its front counter area was dedicated to food sales. The rest was reserved for a plethora of trophies won at various barbecue competitions around the country.
One banner, said Q Haven BBQ’s founder Ted Lorson, denoted the company’s participation in the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue (“It’s like the world series of barbecue,” he said). One trophy revealed that the Orange, Conn.-based barbecue had been the grand champion at the Harpoon festival last year. Overall, they came in eighth place this year.
“This is one of our — if not our — favorite event,” Lorson said.
Unlike Vermont Maple BBQ, which operates a storefront in Randolph Thursday through Sunday off exit 4 on Interstate-89, Q Haven BBQ exists primarily for competitions. According to Lorson, the family-based company calls itself a “barnstorming barbecue team.”
However, Lorson said he prefers the Harpoon festival to others because it gives barbecuers the chance to sell their product to the masses. At many other competitions, he said, the competitors exist only to make food for the judges.
He started Q Haven BBQ in 2006 while he worked as a reporter out of the Connecticut statehouse. In the brand’s earliest days, he’d bring samples of his barbecue to work for other reporters to try out.
“We were like the taste testers,” said Av Harris, of Massachusetts, who was lingering near the booth. He’s known Lorson, who still works as a full-time reporter, since 2004. Harris is currently a spokesman for Connecticut’s Secretary of State Denise Merrill.
“You can see how much preparation it takes to make this operation happen,” he said, as Lorson retreated to his tent to check on the food. “There’s a real art to this.”
Jon Wolper can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3242.