Heated Competition At BBQ Throwdown

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It was hour two into the Builder BBQ Throw Down and chef Tom Rutyna was feeling the heat.
He wandered over to his competition’s table, East Patchogue-based Designscapes, and sampled the dishes—naan pizza with pesto sauce and spicy Tuscan garlic oil, and garlic bread topped with skirt steak and mozzarella—mentally weighing them against the top butt sirloin, clams and chicken he’d served up on behalf of his team, Westhampton Beach-based Sea Level Construction.

This was going to be close, he thought.

“It was pretty even-steven,” he said. “But somebody’s gotta win.”

With a $1,000 prize on the line, two teams rolled up to Ocean Spray Hot Tubs and Saunas’ outdoor showroom in Westhampton Beach shortly before 3 p.m. on Friday afternoon. They were armed with pounds upon pounds of fresh ingredients to be grilled, smoked, braised and baked on Big Green Egg barbecues to help raise money for a Hurricane Sandy relief fund of their choice, according to marketing coordinator Beth Anne Bentley.
The winner goes home with the check, she explained.

“The theme is rebuilding Long Island and having some fun with the Big Green Egg, and we’re going to judge who made the best food,” Ms. Bentley said. “It’s going to be pretty subjective.”

The showdown marked day one of a free, weekend-long Backyard Living Event at Ocean Spray Hot Tubs and Saunas, featuring a meet-and-greet with landscape designers and decking experts, as well as a demo for the store’s hot tubs and saunas. But getting ready for summers outdoors should rightfully begin with a barbecue, Ms. Bentley said.

A dozen or so of Friday’s participants agreed. And they came with raging appetites.

“This. Is. Delicious,” Gwen Artis said in between bites of steak from team Designscapes.

Her boyfriend, Tony McCray, bit off a mouthful of pizza. “We just bought the grill yesterday,” he said, chewing, of the ceramic grill whose manufacturer recommends natural lump charcoal made from a selection of hardwoods, as opposed to the more common briquettes. “They make it look so easy to use that thing and it cooks so much better than a gas grill. We started it up yesterday. Done. You sold me. I’m going to tell all my friends.”

He paused, eyeing Ms. Artis, who was stealing a glance at his slice. “I’m going to put this down before she gets hungry,” he teased.

The chefs made sure there was plenty to go around. Designscapes owner Daniel Steigerwald and his team—IT Manager George Canellis and “girlfriend extraordinaire” Tracey Lynde—came in with six pounds of steak, five giant baguettes and a couple dozen naan breads, plus spicy Tuscan garlic oil, pesto sauce and three pounds of mozzarella and roasted peppers for the pizzas, not to mention ingredients for sangria.

“I started cooking about three years ago and I’ve been loving it, experimenting with different flavors and ingredients,” Mr. Steigerwald said. “This is my first Big Green Egg. Just got to learn it a little, the first two pizzas I burnt, but I’m past it already.”

Ms. Lynde laughed and said, “I taught him how to cook, but I didn’t teach him that. I love it. I don’t have to cook anymore.”

“She don’t have to cook no more,” he smiled.

Speaking over each other, she said, “Are you kidding me? I used to be a little disgruntled and now I’m like, ‘What’s for dinner?’” while he added, “She gets me to cook. It’s an ingenious plan she has.”

Not to be outdone by Designscapes, Sea Level Construction owner Anthony Bonner delivered a smorgasbord of his own: nearly a dozen 2-inch-thick top butt steaks, 20 pounds of chicken cutlets and 500 clams—served steamed and on the half shell, the latter with a homemade cocktail sauce.

“I did this on the first one,” said shucker Chris Roffe, holding up his bandaged right thumb. “The knife went through and just kept cutting, right down the middle.”

He picked up another clam and got back to work, joking, “Oh yeah, it feels good. But I’ve got the Heineken back there.”

Mr. Rutyna laughed and clapped Mr. Roffe on the shoulder. “You need some help with this one?”

“Yeah, where’s the other clam knife?” Mr. Roffe asked Mr. Bonner.

“Hey, you’ve got the other clam knife, brother?” Mr. Bonner asked the last member of his team, Rosario Miano, who handed it off to Mr. Rutyna.

“Freshy fresh, my friend,” Mr. Miano said, checking out the half shells on ice.

With a full tray properly shucked, the men split off on different tasks. Back at the team’s two Big Green Eggs, Mr. Rutyna flipped steak on one—“Doesn’t that look gorgeous? Insane flavor,” he said—and prodded nearly 40 clams on the other, paying zero attention to the temperature gauge.

“Cooking is all about feel. And when these clams overcook, they almost get caramelized and a little crunchy. They’re really good like that,” he said. “I’m doing it with my take on a classic French beurre blanc, but we’re livening it up a little bit with lime juice, diced jalapeño peppers and white wine. So we’ll roast these clams and dance that sauce around them.”

Ocean Spray owner Joseph Musnicki stood nearby, a stack of five empty shells in one hand, a sixth clam pressed up to his mouth with the other.

“You killed it with these clams,” he said. “Forget about it.”

“Fugettaboutit!” a couple of bystanders yelled with the team, laughing, before helping themselves to the seasoned chicken.

“Wait ’til you try this chicken, guys,” Mr. Bonner said, as he sliced the cutlets on a cutting board, pointing to a couple pots. “This is a hot sauce. This is a butter sauce. All homemade, all the real stuff, man. Don’t be shy. Grab right out of here. Here you go, hon.”

He slid a piece onto Abbigail Bentley’s plate. The 10-year-old girl smiled.

“Oh, chicken!” she exclaimed.

“Here, have another one,” Mr. Bonner said, forking over a second piece before she skipped off to her mother, who chuckled at her daughter’s overflowing plate.

“This has a lot of flavor to it,” Abbigail said, taking a bite.

“Maybe we’ll make you one of the judges,” Ms. Bentley said.

“Yay!” Abbigail replied.

“We have a fantastic spread. The food is amazing,” Ms. Bentley said. “And now I have to decide who’s getting a check.”
The time came at just after 5 p.m. Ms. Bentley cleared her throat and reined in the crowd’s attention.

For their unique and clever use of the Big Green Egg as a cooking medium, she declared, the winner was Sea Level Construction.

“The clams put them right over the edge,” Ms. Bentley reported. “It was a very, very tough choice.”

“It was,” Abbigail agreed.

Cheers exploded from behind the Sea Level Construction table. “Ayyy!” Mr. Rutyna yelled, grabbing hold of Mr. Bonner’s left hand with his right and yanking it into the air in celebration.

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