Friday, September 3, 2010

Summerfest and BBQ Judging

Well, it took me a week but I finally downloaded pics from Saturday's BBQ competition.

After 3 weeks away from home we relaxed for a day and a half and then were up early Saturday morning to travel to the heart of Amish country for one of the most prestigious BBQ competitions in the East - the New Holland Summerfest in New Holland, PA.

It was an absolutely beautiful day for such an event. (Last year, we had a monsoon!) You could see and smell the smoke a block away and as we approached the park, every tent appeared to be busy getting ready for the first turn in of the day.

A KCBS (Kansas City Barbecue Society - the largest BBQ sanctioning group) sanctioned event, this contest features the four required categories of chicken, ribs, pork shoulder/butt and brisket as well as two ancillary categories - chef's choice and, new this year, chili. Quite a few teams also participate in the whole hog competition. Those last three categories are optional.

This shot, to the left, shows a team (Pork & Dean's from Phoenix, MD) preparing their whole hog entry.

**It should be noted that BBQ is the only truly American food legacy. People come here from other countries hoping to try real American BBQ!!

Due to space limitations, this event is limited to 72 competition teams. There is a long waiting list to get in and teams know time is of the essence when their application for this one arrives. The field is pretty much full within a week or so of the applications going out. This year, teams came from as far away as Ontario and North Carolina, with the majority hailing from Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware. These tend to be 72 of the very best in the region.

Likewise, it is quite popular with the judges. A contest this size needs 72 Certified Barbecue Judges (CBJs) as well as 12 Table Captains (usually also Certified Judges). This year, there was a judges waiting list of about 125 names. We also get our forms returned within a day or two of receipt. For years this competition has been able to boast that ALL judges are "certified."

Certified Judges actually attend a class to learn how to rate truly good BBQ. There is more involved than simply saying it "tastes good." (Although, taste IS important to the scoring!) Judges are taught to recognize the correct texture for properly cooked meats, appropriate uses of seasonings and marinades so that they lend flavor but still allow a meat's personality to shine through, and how a serving should look to appeal to our visual senses. Tenderness is also scored separately.

Cook teams have a lot invested in this venture. They provide their own meats and supplies, have thousands of dollars invested in smokers and other cooking equipment, travel long distances and spend at least 36 hours on site preparing their entries (ALL cooking MUST be done on site.) While you see star competitors on TV who have won thousands of dollars in competition, most cooks are extremely happy to receive even the smallest monetary reward for their efforts. They MUST enjoy the activity as they sure aren't in it to make a profit!!

Judges are also in it for the love of BBQ. We are not paid. Most of us travel long distances at our own expense - some stay in hotels. We spend 4-6 hours on site in the process of judging. We have judged contests in 100 degree heat on more than one occasion and also have practically frozen to death at cold windy sites. Most judging is done in tents not buildings so weather does factor into our comfort. (If you watched BBQ Pitmasters last season and saw the Dover competition, you saw the coldest and rainiest event we've ever personally judges!)

In return, we get to taste some of the best smoked food in the country!! We've made great friends with other judges and cooks and their teams. (Just for the record - All judging for KCBS is blind judging so friendship with the cooks is not a hand up to any of them.) We've attended some events with fantastic entertainment where we stayed all evening just to enjoy the music. We've gotten to know some fantastic folks working hard to put on quality events in their communities. The Big Guy and I have been happy to sit and talk with new organizers and give some advice as to what they need to do to pull off a great event. We've taken new judges under our wings and guided them a bit through their first experiences. Since we are quickly identified by our judging shirts and name tags as we stroll through an event we are always approached by spectators who ask questions about the judging process and BBQ in general. In effect, we are ambassadors for BBQ. ALL of the judges we know have done these same things. We want folks to enjoy and promote BBQ. It's as American as apple pie and Chevrolet!
A very full and happy judge!!

Each judge tastes and scores only six samples in any category but even at that rate, we are served approximately 2 lbs of meat at any one competition (This does not include whole hog categories. It takes a special appetite to judge Whole Hog. I have never done so.) Obviously, we cannot eat all of that in one sitting. Most of us take 2 or 3 bites of a sample and move on to the next. That is usually enough to reach a score. This means we each have lots of leftovers.

I've become a pro at using the leftovers in creative ways. Tonight for instance, we had enchiladas made with leftover pork and brisket. Enchiladas can really stretch a little meat a long way. I actually made 19 enchiladas from the leftovers we had. At least there's a few meals now stockpiled in the freezer!

We are not scheduled to judge again for a few weeks but, who knows, something unexpected often comes up!

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