For the second time since becoming a KCBS certified judge, I judged a contest this past weekend. It was the battle of the BBQ Brethren in Sayville, Long Island, New York. This experience reminded me again that I am really a cook, not a judge.
Before I go any further, I want to say that I respect those who come and judge BBQ contests. They take time out of their lives, and spend in some cases a great deal on gas or hotels to come and serve as a judge, and do not get paid for their efforts. From what I have seen, most come and make their best effort to be fair and judge each entry on its merits. They have an important role in BBQ and I appreciate them as a cook.
The only thing that really bothers me about the judges in the two contests that I have done is that many will take the tiniest nibble of their food, then pack all the rest into plastic bags and coolers to bring home. This process kind of creeps me out. I picture them sitting down to dinner with the family, with this nice platter of BBQ with one bite out of each piece at the center of their dining room table.
They should not allow judges to take food they have scored home. I feel the judges that only take the tiny bite are not doing the cooks any good by doing that. They should take at least one big bite, maybe two. Maybe bite both sides of the rib. But saving any of the entry to bring home should not be an option.
I would rather that they require 10 samples in the box, so there is extra food for judges to bring home afterwards.
But that is not my biggest problem with judging. One of the main reasons I like to cook BBQ contests is being there for the weekend, seeing friends, enjoying adult beverages and what not. And of course, the actual cooking of the food, and the challenge of cooking it just right.
When you judge, it is different. You arrive Sunday morning, and you are not allowed to converse with the teams. You can kind of walk past and wave, but you are not really supposed to stop at anyone's site and talk to them. Then, when it is over, it is also hard to visit with anyone. The teams are all in breakdown mode, they have been there all weekend, and really all they want to do is get their gear packed up so they can get out of there as soon as the awards are over. You kind of feel like you're in the way.
However, the hardest part for me yesterday was the drive. Out the door at 5:30 a.m. and it was two and a half hours to get to my brother's place in Montrose, New York to pick him up. Then, another two hours driving to Sayville. We decided to stay until the awards were handed out, but it turned out they were not scheduled to begin until five and didn't actually start until 5:30. We didn't get on the road until 6:30, and it was just before midnight that I walked in my door at home. And because I took the SUV, I spent around $60 on gas alone.
When I judge in the future, it will be a lot closer to home.
Oh yeah, the food. I'm not going to be one of the haters who says "everything was terrible." There was some of what I consider to be bad BBQ, but I also tried some really good food. One of the rib entries was outstanding, and we didn't have any really tough brisket out of all 6 entries. Several chicken entries were good too, with both nice flavor and bite through skin.
The worst entries of the day were two of the pork turn ins. Both had the appearance of cat food, this cold, mushy pile of unappetizing pork. Both tasted a little better than they looked, but all at our table agreed that these were the worst two entries of the entire day.
I do take my judging responsibility seriously though. I feel that my scoring is fair, accurate and thoughtful. I don't give out too many 9's, but I also don't give out many 5's either. I actually did give a 4 yesterday, it was a rib that was so tough you could barely bite it.
So in the end, it was an OK day. The weather was nice, and it was nice to visit with friends, and see Clint and Smoke In Da Eye win the contest. However, all things being equal, I would have rather picked up some BBQ from one of the local slop joints, spent the day with Sheila and Max, and watched the Giants-Steelers game on the plasma.