Despite an "on again, off again" drizzle (which occasionally became a heavy downpour) and a few mud bogs, we did judge the 10th Annual New Holland Summerfest in New Holland, PA on Saturday.
Luckily, they didn't get quite the amount of rain we did in our area between midnight Thursday and early Saturday morning. (Our neighborhood received between 7 and 9 inches of rain during that time.) Their heaviest rain hit there in the afternoon on Friday after most cookers had their rigs in the park and actually had their tents up. While not ideal weather, it was better than plowing the heavy equipment through a wet field and trying to set the tents up while dodging raindrops! The rain after that came in bits and pieces with only a few heavy downpours. (Only 90 minutes away, we had monsoon-like weather most of Friday!)
New Holland always features 72 contestants cooking in the standard four KCBS categories of chicken, ribs, pork and brisket. They are required to submit entries in each of these categories. There are also two ancillary categories of sausage and chef's choice. Cooks may also participate in the whole hog category and, this year, contest organizers also accepted those who ONLY wanted to cook whole hog. Twenty cook teams undertook this huge challenge!
As most cooks participate in a number of shows in a geographic region just as we judge more events within a few hours of our home, we have many that we see at most events and this was no exception. "Pork & Deans" is a team based in our immediate community and we see them often. They win frequently and are highly respected, especially when it comes to chicken and whole hog. This team takes their BBQ seriously and it shows when you see their popular bright red rig. The Big Guy leans a bit to "Smoker Envy" when they're around!
There are also a few who travel a major distance to this particular contest and this is the only place we get a chance to see them. Within the past year, I have subscribed to a blog by a BBQ team but could not recall having met them personally. Smoke in Da Eye is a team from Garden City, NY so our events only overlap occasionally. They recently mentioned they'd be at New Holland, again, this year. (They've won in the sausage category there for the last two years! What can I say, 72 smokers can start to blend together in your mind!) I purposely sought them out this year. When I found their set up after judging, only one team member was in the tent and he was on the phone. I decided to be polite and come back later to say "Hi!" Unfortunately, the clouds burst right after that decision and we ended up leaving without backtracking that way. Well. maybe next contest!!
I must say, the submissions at this contest were the best in overall quality of all the contests we've judged this year. KCBS scoring is based on a 2-9 scale, with 6 being "average", 2 is "inedible" and 9 is "excellent". I found myself giving more 8s and 9s than I think I have ever given in the years I've been judging. The Big Guy came away with the same thoughts. (Spouses cannot sit at the same judging table as couples tend to share similar food preferences and it skews the scores. Therefore, we did not taste the same submissions.)
When it is time for the whole hog judging, some judges need to participate on the "Pig Patrol." Both The Big Guy and I have done this for the last several New Holland events. One member of the Pig Patrol is assigned to each team producing a whole hog entry. It is our job to stand by and watch the team carve their entry and verify that every piece of meat submitted came off of that particular hog and no substitutions were made from other sources. (A team cooking in all categories may also have cooked multiple racks of ribs and several butts which they may feel turned out better as they are easier to control while cooking. They cannot use any of these individually cooked "pieces" to create a whole hog entry.)
I had the pleasure of overseeing a hog prepared by the Colombo Family BBQ team who were making their first attempt at competition cooking. Mr. Colombo has done many hogs at home for family events but made this a family activity. He was well supported by family members and friends, there to lend their moral support as well as a physical hand where needed. I enjoyed seeing the enthusiasm of this first time cheering crew. They did produce a beautiful pig!!
I must say, I also appreciated the fact that a more experienced cooking team that was set up next to them but not participating in the whole hog competition was also watching their effort and lending a few suggestions. We find cooks tend to have a special camaraderie and don't mind sharing advice. Just don't ask for their secret rub or sauce recipe!!
As chief cook, Mr. Colombo was heard to exclaim, "This is really nerve wracking!" As a team cannot begin carving until a Pig Patrol member is present at their site, their time is limited to only about 45-50 minutes in which to carve 6 perfect samples from 5 areas of the pig - shoulder, ham, loin, rib (bone-in or bone-out) and bacon. They then need to arrange them in an attractive manner on a tray provided by the contest organizers and then carry them, carefully, to the turn-in site. In this case, he had to negotiate a muddy field without disturbing his perfect tray. Turn in occurs on the hour and submissions must be presented within the span of 5 minutes to and 5 minutes after, no exceptions! Yes, they do use a time clock for this. Yes, Mr. Colombo, it is nerve wracking!! As a judge, I'm pulling for everyone. I don't want to see anyone fail.
In the Mid-Atlantic area, the health department rules do not allow contestants to sell their products to the general public from their cook sites. (In some states this is allowed. Many of those areas hold a People's Choice competition the night before the main competition.) However, there are a few competitors at every contest that also have Vendor Licenses and do sell their fantastic meats to festival attendees. Smoke'n Dudes are one such cook team. They are always plagued by long lines but the food is well worth the wait. People even stood in line in the rain this year!
We normally wait around to watch the awards ceremony as judging is all done by a double blind system so even we don't know who was "best" until these announcements. While we were sitting, waiting for the awards to be presented the skies opened and it began to pour heavily. We gave up and made a run for the car. We'll just have to wait to see how our various friends, and the Colombos, made out when the organizers update the website with the winners' names later this week.
Now, all I have to do is figure out what to do with all these leftovers this week!!