From Church Picnics to Death's Door BBQ Competition

By Jon Gast | June 01, 2016
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Becky and Tom MacIntosh winning Deaths Door BBQ competition
Becky and Tom MacIntosh took home the top prize from Chairman Dick Jepsen at last year’s Death’s Door BBQ competition. Contributed photo

If anyone living in Appleton who had become accustomed to the mouth-watering aromas from Tom and Becky MacIntosh’s home and were wondering where they went, they’ve moved to Sturgeon Bay. Congratulations to their new neighbors. The MacIntosh’s, who comprise the T-Mac Smokin’ BBQ team, will again have their deliciously handcrafted smells cascading across Washington Island when they defend their Death’s Door BBQ championship Aug. 26-27.

With every passing year the couple’s reputation grows in the world of professional meat grilling as they criss-cross the Midwest with their trailer looking to again land a spot in the premier event on the Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS) circuit.

But T-Mac Smokin’ has nearly been to the mountain top and they have the good people of Washington Island to thank for it. The team won the original Death’s Door competition in 2012 and with it came a spot in the Society’s American Royal Invitational. It was there the little known team from Northeastern Wisconsin fired up the grill and turned out some tender and tasty cuts that earned runner-up honors among the top 100 teams in the country.

death's door BBQ
The Death’s Door BBQ on Washington Island. Contributed photo

“It certainly gave us a lot of confidence,” said Tom, probably understated but certainly not undercooked.

Just two years earlier Tom had decided to try his hand at competitive grilling after developing his talents at the church picnics with pulled pork sandwiches.

“There were just 12 teams and we took second place, good for some $800 worth of gift cards,” remembers Tom.

There’s nothing like a fist full of gift cards to stoke your interest in anything. With their children grown, Tom and Becky set out into the dog-eat-dog world of competitive grilling and the marriage has survived “even though we’re known on the circuit as the Bickersons,” Tom adds with a chuckle.

Last year the MacIntosh’s topped a field of 35 teams at Washington Island, a competition that not only provides the challenges of a well-prepared brisket or slab of pork but the demands of getting dozens of trailers to probably one of the most remote stops among the many dozen on the KCBS schedule.

It’s one of four KCBS-sanctioned competitions held in Northeastern Wisconsin this year. Appleton hosted the “Masters in May” tournament April 30-May 1 where Tom and Becky placed 13th in the overall standings. The Badger Brew & Que competition will be held in Manitowoc Aug. 5-7 followed the next weekend by the Golden Ribbin’ BBQ Fest at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. The grand champion is determined by combining the points from a team’s score in four categories – chicken, ribs, pork shoulder and beef brisket.

But these events have become much more than the scoring as the weekend jaunts often have them competing against many of the same teams.

“They are wonderful people and we’ve made some good friends,” said Tom, looking forward to another trip to the Island.

English Inn Knight
LEFT: Miles Amorelli with this stallion made from Harley Davidson parts and aluminum power line scraps. CENTER: The new knight and steed at the English Inn north of Green Bay. RIGHT: The medieval moat in the new patio at the English Inn in Fish Creek has some far more modern repurposed elements.

Anyone who knows Randy Daubner knows it was only a matter of time before a medieval knight was going to show up in front of his English Inn that is located off Highway 57 north of Green Bay. But the story behind it is a classic reclamation tale. Eight years ago, Daubner placed a pair of striking steeds complete with armor in front of his original English Inn in Fish Creek. Atop them he placed his knights after locating authentic coats of armor in Great Britain while surfing the internet and having them shipped overseas.

It set the tone for what continues to be an ambitious effort by Daubner to offer more than fi ne food and service.

“It’s all about the ambiance and not just going to dinner,” said Daubner, who realizes the competition in a tourist environment like Door County and growing restaurant options in the Green Bay area. While the Door County restaurant carries its medieval theme inside with shields, armor, stained glass, etc., Daubner has taken a slightly different approach to his Green Bay establishment and its more modern aura. Besides a stunning view of Green Bay may be attraction enough.

But that doesn’t mean he isn’t trying to indulge his diners with some of the same unique appeal that has helped make his Fish Creek location popular.

Take the 11-foot all-bronze, hand-detailed fountain he had shipped over from England that will be located in Green Bay.

While the knight and fountain certainly add to the English appeal in Green Bay, Daubner further enhanced the Fish Creek establishment as patrons now must cross a drawbridge to reach the restaurant. He’s also added an extensive outdoor patio with garden and waterscape in front of the restaurant lit by 30 fi res that Daubner feels offers a blend of modern appeal and a medieval flavor.

But it’s the knights that pull the two restaurants together.

This newest piece was designed and created by Miles Amorelli of Sturgeon Bay.

“It’s stainless steel and entirely made by him,” said Daubner, who seems particularly excited about the little added touches like the red eyes that light up and the smoke that comes out of the nostrils. Like any piece of art, there’s a story behind it.

Amorelli likes to say he was born to be an artist. It just took some time to find the right medium.

As is pointed out on his website, Amorelli, skipped high school and attempted to make a living through different paths.

“I was pretty much a bum,” he admits.“I was dying. I was doing the wrong things.”

Realizing he had nothing to lose because he had nothing, Amorelli startedworking with and for family at a manufacturing company. Over time he started seeing objects like pipe as artwork and he would spend his lunch breaks welding things. People began to take interest in his work and Miles Amorelli Design was born. Amorelli is particularly fond of working with recycled materials and Daubner’s knight may one of the most interesting.

The stainless steel used to fashion the piece comes from the holding tanks in the milk houses of dairy farms. Amorelli explained the steel is rarely used because of the difficulty in separating it from the insulation. As is often the case with Amorelli, there is a way to solve such problems.

He needed chain mail to add authenticity to the medieval piece and though some waiting was involved, Amorelli found an ideal candidate at a disposal site. It had served as a conveyor in a pizza production facility.

You need smoke to spew from the horse’s nostrils? No problem for Amorelli who hooked up an old dance fl oor smoke machine to some Harley Davidson exhaust pipes. As for those glowing red eyes, the artist used the taillights from a 1940 hot rod.

“Working with recycled material is more gratifying than new!” insists Amorelli, whose reclamation artworks are located in a couple of other Green Bay area restaurants. “You don’t need new stuff. This way it becomes a far more passionate piece. Obviously, it’s very cost effective because you are using things that people don’t want.”

The end result is just the opposite.

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