Friday, August 24, 2012

Best in smoked meat at 'Up in Smoke'

Nadine Kam photos
Judging the pork entries—and there were way more than this—at the 4th annual "Up in Smoke" smoked meat cook-off Aug. 18 at Aloha Stadium were 3660 on the Rise chef Russell Siu in the foreground, and Craig Nagano with his son Kyle.

I just couldn't say no when Fresh Catch asked me to be a judge in its 4th Annual Smoked Meat Cook-off Aug. 18, inviting "backyard chefs" to bring their secret recipes to compete for cash and prizes including a grand prize of a Las Vegas vacation for two.

The event took place in the Aloha Stadium Salt Lake Blvd. parking lot, where there were a couple dozen tents devoted to all things smoked: beef, pork, tako, mouflon sheep, goat and macadamia nuts. I hadn't had mouflon since my days dating a hunter. Smoking the meat on site on the Big Island was necessary for preserving, moving and divvying up the game, and everyone's process is elevated to an artform. At home, it wasn't so mythical. Our diet also consisted of teriyaki dove meat from birds he shot in the backyard for practice.

I was told I would be judging smoked fish, but when I got there and saw all the pork samplings, I couldn't resist. When judging, there's always the fear you'll fill up before your work is done, but given the 1/2-inch to 1-inch sampling portions of the delectable smoked meat, I figured I could get away with tasting some of it before the contest started.

A handful of entries in the Smoked Beef and Anything Goes categories.

When Fresh Catch chef/owner Reno Henriques started the competition four years ago to honor the work of hunting friends, judges had to try all the entries. Now it's divided into more manageable beef, pork, fish and "anything goes" categories. Based on my sampling at the tents, I would say the pork is the most difficult category to judge because of the range of flavors involved. Some of the marinades used were more soy based, some sweeter, some very spicy, yet each was so smoky delicious, the winner just had to come down to personal preference after all the other criterion had been met. Entries were judged for flavor, tenderness and appearance, with 75 percent of the vote weighted toward judge's picks, and 25 percent for people's choice.

One of the smoked salmon entries. Judging was blind so we weren't able to match teams with their entries.

The 1st place Pork category winner and 1st place People's Choice would then compete in the "Up In Smoke" throw down challenge with the Vacations Hawaii Las Vegas Getaway Vacation grand prize, valued at $3,500-plus.

While waiting for contest results, attendees could grab a bite from Fresh Catch and other vendors, as well as ogle the more than 70 classic, street rods and vintage cars that were part of the concurrent "Nobody Cares" car show. A portion of the funds raised from the event will be donated to the Hawaii Chapter of the National Kidney Foundation.

A couple of the best fish entries. Loved the Guava Smoked salmon belly on the right, enough to be able to find them at the Farmers Markets. It was the second choice of the other judge, who deemed it "too easy." The salmon bellies sell for $12 a pound. Guava Smoked's winning smoked pork sells for $10 per pound.

I also liked this dynamite-style salmon dish topped with smoky mushroom, surimi and lup cheong, but I'm afraid the salmon itself wasn't smoky enough for a smoke challenge.

Hunters were well represented.

Below is the winners list. Alas, because of the backyard nature of the offerings, you can't easily find most of these, although some people do offer their specialties by the pound. For instance, you can find 1st place Pork winner Guava Smoked at the Kapiolani Community College Farmers Market on Tuesdays, and at the Blasidell Farmers Market on Wednesdays.

Judge Steve Akana checks out the Smokin Tiki's booth, one of the only ones to offer smoked tako, below.

GRAND PRIZE and People's Choice winner: Souza's Smokehouse

1st place: Guava Smoked, $1,000 cash award and trophy
2nd place: All Game, $ 500
3rd place: Giggles, $100
4th place: VRM Pit Crew, $50
5th place: Smokin Tiki's, $25
Honorable mentions: FBI Smoked, Hard to Beat Smokemeat, BK Smokers, Simply Smoked ABCDE, and Foundation Smokers; $25 gift card each

1st place: DeeDee's, $250 and trophy
2nd place: Guava Smoked, $100
3rd place: Team Nixon, $50
4th place: Flamin' 7's, $25
Honorable mention: Green Bottle, $25 gift card

1st place: VRM Pit Crew, $250 and trophy
2nd place: Guava Smoked, $100
3rd place: Shiggy Smokers, $50
4th place: Capt. Smokey, $25

1st place: Prime Time Smoker, $250 and trophy
2nd place: VRM Pit Crew, $100
3rd place: DeeDee's, $50
4th place: Smokin Tiki's, $25
Honorable mentions: Buck Wild, and Smokey; $25 gift card each

1st place: Souza's Smokehouse, $250 and trophy
2nd place: Guava Smoked, $100
3rd place: Peterson & Sons, $50
4th place: Koa Alii, $25
5th place: Smokin Tiki's, $25
Honorable mentions: Lani's Cattle Co., and Action Smokers; $25 gift card

Contact Fresh Catch for more information.
Fresh Catch Kaimuki is at 3109 Waialae Ave.; 735-POKE (7653)
Fresh Catch Kaneohe is at 45-1118 Kamehameha Hwy.; 235-POKE (7653)
For more information, visit or

The "Nobody Cares" auto show was also going on.

A grill inspired by the autos.

The man who started it all, Reno Henriques, with his wife Mahea.

Smoked mac nuts.

Attendees check out the pork and fish offerings from Guava Smoked, which won the pork prize and placed in fish, chicken and anything goes categories.

"FBI" stands for "From Big Island," where owner Cisco Cordero Jr., pictured, is from.

All Game took second place in the pork category.

The beef entries looked great, so after judging the fish, I wanted to sample the best of the beef. I asked a judge in the beef and anything goes categories which is the best ... and she passed over this chicken. I was disappointed to see the barbecue-sauce slathered chicken, but she was right. It was really, really good and spicy. The beef all looked delicious but didn't measure up.

Goat meat is pretty tough.

From the Kumuloa Foundation, the smoked pork was combined with onions and herbs.

Weapons of choice, a cache of kiawe and below, apple and hickory chips.

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